25 YEARS AGO: Fertile Ferrets
Federal wildlife biologists announce on November 6, 1981, that a black-footed ferret, a mammal feared extinct, has been discovered alive and well and living in Wyoming. The 2 1/4-pound male, found at home in a prairie dog burrow, is fitted with a radio collar and released. By 2006, captive breeding and reintroduction helps the wild population rebound to some 700 animals in five Western states.
40 YEARS AGO: Wet Work
Torrential rains collapse the river Arno's embankment on November 4, 1966, inundating Florence, Italy, killing at least 40 people and damaging or destroying millions of rare books and works of art, some by Renaissance masters. A second flood, of "mud angels"—volunteers from all over the world—rushes in to salvage the treasures. The disaster inspires new conservation techniques, but hundreds of works still await restoration today.
50 YEARS AGO: Soviet Reprisal
With Hungarian revolutionaries taking up arms to end Communist domination, Soviet forces attack Budapest on November 4, 1956. Tanks crush the mostly working-class and student rebels in six days, killing 2,500. Mass arrests follow; some 13,000 people are imprisoned. The message: take on Communism and you take on the U.S.S.R. It will be 1990 before Hungary holds its first free elections.
90 YEARS AGO: Lady of the House
Jeannette Rankin is the first woman elected to Congress when Montana votes her into the House of Representatives, on November 7, 1916. After campaigning for women's suffrage—it will be four more years before women win the right to vote in national elections—and child welfare, Rankin makes her mark as a pacifist, voting against U.S. entry into World Wars I and II. She dies in 1973, age 92.
100 YEARS AGO: Sending Out Signals
The International Radiotelegraphic Convention adopts three dots, three dashes and three dots—SOS in Morse code—as the standard wireless distress signal, on November 3, 1906. Chosen because it is easy to send and hard to misinterpret, the signal, which doesn't actually stand for anything—not even Save Our Ship—can't save the Titanic, which sends out SOSs in 1912. In 1999 a global satellite system replaces SOS on all large ships.
130 YEARS AGO: Modest Maestro
Johannes Brahms, 43, debuts his Symphony No. 1 in C minor in Karlsruhe, Germany, on November 4, 1876. Critical of his own work and burdened by his reputation as the next Beethoven, Brahms has worked for 15 years on the piece, which he deems "long, and not exactly lovable." The critics are kinder, praising its "Homeric simplicity" and quickly dubbing the dramatic work "Beethoven's Tenth." The form conquered, Brahms produces three more symphonies in the next ten years. He dies in 1897, at age 66.