60 Years Ago
On May 14, 1948, the eve of the expiration of British rule in Palestine, Israel declares its independence—becoming the first Jewish state in the Holy Land since Roman times. David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister, asserts the "right of the Jewish people to be a nation." The Arab League, opposed to partitioning the territory, responds that only a unified Palestine will make the area secure. Within hours, Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon and Syria invade. The war, but not the conflict, ends in 1949.
70 Years Ago
Tick, Tick, Tick
Oklahoma lawyer and newspaper publisher Carl Magee patents the parking meter on May 24, 1938. First deployed three years earlier in Oklahoma City to deter people from parking all day in front of shops, Magee's nickel-eating meters overcome protests—What's next? A sidewalk tax?—and spread quickly; 140,000 are in use by 1941. Today parking meters have joined the digital age: in some cities you can feed your meter with a call from your cellphone.
100 Years Ago
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game," by Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth, is registered for copyright May 2, 1908. The song about a girl who'd rather go to a ballgame than a show gets more play that summer in theaters—illustrated by glass lantern slides—than in ballparks. But when the fall Cubs/Giants pennant race gives the nation baseball fever, three recordings of the song hit the top ten. Now a staple of the seventh-inning stretch, "Ball Game" will be the first song featured on a postage stamp, in June 2008.
110 Years Ago
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Commodore George Dewey leads the U.S. Asiatic Squadron against the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines, May 1, 1898, in the decisive battle of the Spanish-American War. "You may fire when you are ready, Gridley," Dewey orders at 5:40 a.m. By noon the Spanish forces are devastated. Dewey gets an admiralty and President McKinley opts to take over the Philippines, a U.S. possession until 1946.
140 Years Ago
Civil War D-Day
The first national observance of Decoration Day honors Civil War dead on May 30, 1868. By order of Gen. John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans group, graves are strewn with flowers (by orphans at Arlington Cemetery, right). After World War I, all American war dead are remembered. Later renamed Memorial Day, the holiday moves to the last Monday in May in 1971.
510 Years Ago
Sailing into History
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama lands in Calicut, India, on May 20, 1498, the first European to find a sea route to the East. Though his gifts—cloth, scarlet hoods, strings of coral, wash basins, sugar, oil and honey—are scorned by the local ruler's agents, who prefer gold, his discovery enables Portugal to dominate the valuable spice trade.