This Month in History

December anniversaries—momentous or merely memorable

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230 YEARS AGO: BANNER DAY

On December 3, 1775, the flag of the 13 original Colonies is raised for the first time. Navy lieutenant John Paul Jones hoists the Continental Colors, also called the Grand Union Flag, aboard the warship Alfred anchored in the Delaware River. The Colonial banner, a combination of the British Union Jack and one stripe for each Colony, is adopted by the young Continental Army less than a month later, amid rising tensions between Colonists and Great Britain. In 1777, Congress orders the creation of a flag featuring "stars in a new constellation"—the Stars and Stripes.


140 YEARS AGO: FREE AT LAST

The New York Times, reporting that North and South Carolina and Alabama have endorsed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, implores Mississippi to do the same: "We should like to see them hasten themselves." But it is Georgia that becomes the 27th state legislature to ratify the amendment, December 6, 1865, ending slavery in the United States. Secretary of State William Henry Seward proclaims on December 18, 1865, that there will be no human bondage. Mississippi ratifies the 13th Amendment in 1995.


250 YEARS AGO: BRUSHED BY HISTORY

Gilbert Stuart is born on December 3, 1755, in Rhode Island. As an adult he will paint the portraits of some of the most prominent Americans of the Federal period. Stuart's affable manner puts his subjects at ease, though one subject proves more difficult than most—George Washington. The artist complains that the founding father's lack of interest renders him "most appalling to paint." Today, one of Stuart's 104 portraits of Washington graces the dollar bill. Stuart dies in Boston in 1828 at age 72.


25 YEARS AGO: HALFWAY MARK

Fifteen months after setting sail from England, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and two fellow members of the Transglobe Expedition team reach the South Pole on December 15, 1980, the halfway point in their attempt to be the first people to circumnavigate the globe across both poles. Sixteen months later, they will be on top of the world, planting a frozen Union Jack on the North Pole to cap a 52,000-mile journey that Prince Charles describes as "mad but marvelous."


80 YEARS AGO: ROAD TRIP

Americans hit the open road; between 1908, when it is introduced, and 1927, more than 15 million Model T Fords are sold. Pasadena architect Arthur Heineman cashes in on the new mobility, coining the term "motel" for his new motor hotel design. America's first motel, The Motel Inn, opens December 12, 1925, in San Luis Obispo, California, offering "every comfort and convenience of a first-class hotel" for less than $3 a day. In 2004, the average U.S. hotel/motel room cost $86.24.


125 YEARS AGO: LIGHTING UP

Broadway burns bright when Brush arc lamps electrify nearly a mile of New York City's historic avenue, December 20, 1880. "Fine type [on signs] could be readily perused 100 to 150 feet away," says the New York Times. By 1910, more than 20 Broadway blocks are covered by electric signs and lamps, reflecting the lane's new nickname: the Great White Way.

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