May Anniversaries

Momentous or merely memorable

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50 YEARS AGO: ON THE FAST TRACK

Despite winds gusting across the Oxford, England, track, Roger Bannister, 25, surges through the “sound barrier” of sport to become the first person to break the four-minute mile. “Once I started to run I forgot everything,” says the medical student, whose record 3:59.4 time will stand for only a month. Today, Bannister, a retired neurologist, lobbies against the use of steroids in sports.


50 YEARS AGO: EQUAL, NOT SEPARATE

Plaintiff’s attorneys in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, stand victorious as the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules to end state-sanctioned segregation in public schools on May 17, 1954. “Separate but equal” policies, declares Justice Earl Warren, violate the 14th Amendment. Integration will take decades, and will still be hotly debated in 2004.


100 YEARS AGO: HOW DOES IT KNOW?

Invented by physicist James Dewar in 1892, the Thermos first goes on sale for commercial and home use in May 1904, in Germany. A vacuum separating an inner and outer flask impedes heat transfer, keeping contents, ranging from strong coffee to human tissue, hot or cold. By 2004, four out of five Americans will own a Thermos.


160 YEARS AGO: T-MAIL

Samuel F.B. Morse transmits the first message across his electric telegraph line from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore on May 24, 1844. Keying “What hath God wrought!” in the dot and dash code that will immortalize his name, Morse proves the practicality of his system, which within ten years will connect American cities over 23,000 miles of wire.


200 YEARS AGO: ABLE WAS I...

Affirming a plebiscite vote, the French Senate proclaims France an empire and Napoleon Bonaparte its emperor May 18, 1804. As the “little colonel” battles to conquer the rest of Europe, he imposes a standardized civil code, a legacy that will outlast his reign, which ends in his exile in 1815.


250 YEARS AGO: MARCHING TO WAR

Forty men led by Lt. Col. George Washington and Half King, a Seneca chief, skirmish with French soldiers in the Ohio country on May 28, 1754, igniting the French and Indian War. Debts resulting from Britain’s nine-year battle with France over North America prompt taxes that lead to another skirmish: the Revolution.

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