20 Years Ago
On Christmas Day 1990, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, 35, demonstrates the workings of his new creation, the World Wide Web, over the Internet. Programmed to link information on any computer to information on any other, and allow it to be shared, the Web turns the Internet from a largely academic tool into a global fabric for communication and commerce with more than 200 million Web sites in 2010.
120 Years Ago
As U.S. troops attempt to disarm a band of Hunkpapa and Miniconjou Indians at a camp on South Dakota's Wounded Knee Creek on December 29, 1890, a single rifle shot rings out. In short order the 7th Cavalry—there to arrest Big Foot, a leader of the Ghost Dance movement feared by whites to be inciting rebellion—opens fire on the camp with rifles and Hotchkiss guns. More than 150 Indian men, women and children and 25 Army soldiers are killed in the last major confrontation between Indians and soldiers in the West.
150 Years Ago
Charles Dickens publishes the first installment of Great Expectations in his weekly magazine All the Year Round, December 1, 1860. Building the novel of class and ambition on a "fine new and grotesque idea"—the unexpected tie between Pip, the orphan narrator, and the convict Magwitch—he adds such indelible characters as the unrelentingly bridal Miss Havisham. A popular success, the autobiographical novel—now considered among Dickens' best—saves the financially troubled magazine, and when published as a book in 1861, sells out three editions in a month.
150 Years Ago
South Carolina votes to secede from the Union, December 20, 1860. Citing the Northern states' refusal to enforce federal fugitive slave laws, and the election to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who opposes the spread of slavery, the state declares "All hope of remedy is rendered vain." The first of 11 states to secede, South Carolina sees the Civil War's first action, the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, in April 1861.
175 Years Ago
A blaze in a New York City warehouse quickly grows into the Great Fire of New York, December 16, 1835. Volunteer firemen battle winter winds that spread flames and freeze water in hydrants and hoses. In 15 hours the fire destroys 674 buildings, devastating the financial center of New York and the nation. With a revamped fire department and a new water system, the city rises again.