August Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall Wikimedia Commons

40 YEARS AGO: Mister Civil Rights

By a Senate vote of 69 to 11, Thurgood Marshall, 59, is confirmed as the first African-American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on August 30, 1967. Marshall, most recently solicitor general, had successfully argued before the court 29 times, notably against school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Ruling initially with the liberal majority, and later frequently dissenting as the court swings conservative, Marshall opines against capital punishment and for affirmative action. Illness forces his retirement in 1991, and he dies in 1993, at age 84.

60 YEARS AGO: High Seas Hoopla

Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl and crew crash-land Kon-Tiki, their 45-foot balsa raft, on Raroia Atoll August 7, 1947, some 101 days after leaving Callao, Peru. For Heyerdahl, the trip proves that Polynesia could have been settled by South Americans. For many scientists, it just means balsa is stronger than they thought. Heyerdahl's film of the adventure wins an Oscar in 1951.

100 YEARS AGO: Master Scout

British veteran Robert Baden-Powell leads 22 boys in a camping experiment that becomes the Boy Scouts, in August 1907. Teaching army scout skills—woodcraft, deduction, boatsmanship, chivalry—Baden-Powell tests his ideas on making boys into "real men and good citizens." In 1908 he publishes Scouting for Boys; 11,000 scouts attend a 1909 rally. Today some 28 million scouts—girls and boys—seek badges in 155 countries.

110 YEARS AGO: Miracle Worker

German chemist Felix Hoffmann, searching for new drugs for Bayer, his employer, synthesizes aspirin in August 1897. Using formulas developed by Frenchman Charles Gerhardt, Hoffmann makes acetylsalicylic acid, a stable form of a willow tree derivative known since antiquity to ease pain. Easier on stomachs than tree bark, aspirin—70 million pounds of it annually—is used today to treat heart disease and other ailments. And it still works on headaches.

130 YEARS AGO: Martian Moons

Astronomer Asaph Hall, after secretly searching for satellite objects around Mars for several consecutive nights at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., sees a faint object on August 11, 1877. On August 16 it is still there, and "the thing was too good to keep and I let [the secret] out." The next night Hall spies a second moon. He names the moons Phobos and Deimos (Fear and Terror) after the sons of Mars' Greek counterpart, Ares. The tiny moons—Phobos is 16.5 miles in diameter, Deimos only 9 miles—are irregular in shape and are thought today to be asteroids captured by Mars' orbit.

420 YEARS AGO: Little Girl Lost

Virginia Dare is born August 18, 1587, on Roanoke Island, the first child of English parents in America. Days later her grandfather, the colony's governor, leaves for England for supplies; on his return in 1590 the settlers, and the girl, are gone, leaving only the word "Croatoan" carved in a post. Killed by Indians or gone native (J.L.G. Ferris' take, right)? Dare's fate and that of the "Lost Colony" is a mystery.

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