December Anniversaries

Momentous or Merely Memorable

20 YEARS AGO: Fuel's Errand

After nine days aboard Voyager, an experimental aircraft, pilots Dick Rutan, 48, and Jeana Yeager, 34, land in California December 23, 1986, completing the first nonstop around-the-world flight without refueling. They end the 24,986-mile trip with only 106 pounds of fuel left in the craft's 17 tanks. Voyager is now on view at the Air and Space Museum.

50 YEARS AGO: Baby Face

The first gorilla born in captivity makes a surprise entrance December 2, 1956, at Ohio's Columbus Zoo. Colo, the four- pound female Western lowland gorilla, arrives unexpectedly—a gorilla's gestation period turns out to be slightly shorter than a human's. Now a mother of 3 and grandmother of 16, Colo is still queen of the Columbus Zoo. Some 1,000 Western lowland gorillas have been born in captivity; 94,000 exist, endangered, in the wild.

60 YEARS AGO: Reaching Out

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is created December 11, 1946, to aid children left at risk by World War II. A grade school in Carson, Washington, makes the first donation: $2.16. In 2005 UNICEF spends more than $2 billion on programs to help kids in 157 countries.

90 YEARS AGO: Live and Let Die

Grigori Rasputin, adviser to Russian czarina Alexandra, whose son suffers from hemophilia, is assassinated December 30, 1916. The "mad monk"—so-called for his licentious behavior, wild looks, reported supernatural powers and medicinal prowess—is detested by aristocrats for his influence over the czar. Plied with poisoned wine by conspirators, Rasputin doesn't die. Prince Felix Yusupov shoots him; still he lives. After two more shots, the killers toss him into the Neva River, where Rasputin finally dies, age 44.

120 YEARS AGO: Clean Machine

Tired of having her dishes chipped by servants, Illinois socialite Josephine Garis Cochran patents the first commercially successful dishwasher December 28, 1886. Wire racks hold the dishes in a boiler while a hand-operated pump shoots sudsy water at them. Cochran builds her business by targeting hotels, and a later version of her invention shines at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. She dies in 1913, age 74; her company evolves into KitchenAid.

230 YEARS AGO: The River Is Wide

Pelted by sleet and rain, George Washington leads 2,400 troops, 18 cannons and some 75 horses across the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey (by night, rather than in daylight as depicted in Emanuel Leutze's fanciful 1851 painting) on December 25, 1776. The general's successful surprise attack on a Hessian outpost at Trenton reinvigorates the flagging American cause and ensures Washington's fame as a strategist.

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