September Anniversaries | History | Smithsonian

September Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

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25 Years Ago
Fit to Print

While researching the ways genetic variations are inherited, British geneticist Alec Jeffreys, 34, discovers DNA fingerprints, repeated sequences of DNA that vary from person to person. Reviewing his data on September 10, 1984, Jeffreys recalls he "took one look, thought 'what a complicated mess', then suddenly realised we had patterns." Within months DNA fingerprints are used to prove family links in immigration cases; in 1986, they alter the future of criminal investigation by proving the innocence of a murder suspect. Jeffreys is knighted in 1994.

50 Years Ago
Smashing Success

On September 14, 1959, Luna 2, a Soviet probe loaded with scientific equipment and a USSR pennant, crashes into the moon to become the first spacecraft to reach the lunar surface. Says one American astronomer of the moonshot—which neatly coincides with Nikita Khrushchev's U.S. tour—"good science, good technology and good theatre."

70 Years Ago
And So It Begins

On orders from Adolf Hitler, Germany unleashes 1.5 million troops on Poland by land and air September 1, 1939. Two days later Britain and France, their demand for withdrawal ignored, declare war on Germany, and World War II is on. The United States' neutrality in the conflict, declared on September 5, will be blown to bits two years later by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

230 Years Ago
No Guts No Glory 

In an attempt to disrupt English shipping during the Revolutionary War, Continental Navy Capt. John Paul Jones attacks the frigate Serapis off the English coast September 23, 1779. In the heated 3 1/2-hour battle, Jones' own ship, Bonhomme Richard, is badly hit. His retort when asked to surrender—"I have not yet begun to fight"—won't be reported for 46 years, but whatever his words, fight Jones does, winning both the battle with the Serapis and the sobriquet "Father of the American Navy."

400 Years Ago
Up The River

Henry Hudson, hired by the Dutch East India Company to find a new passage to the Orient, sails his ship Half Moon, on September 12, 1609, into the river that will bear his name. He and his crew are the first Europeans to explore the 150 miles of the "River of Mountains," as Hudson dubs it, from today's New York City to Albany. They trade for furs with—and kidnap—local Indians and establish Dutch priority in the region.

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