120 YEARS AGO: IT'S A GAS
Internal-combustion engine maker Gottlieb Daimler demonstrates a pedal-less, gas-powered bicycle—arguably the first modern motorcycle—in November 1885. Daimler's son Paul takes the first spin, six miles down a rural road in Cannstatt, Germany. It's no easy ride: the bike, fitted with a four-stroke, one-cylinder engine, has a chassis made mostly of wood and iron-banded wooden wheels. Daimler concentrates his subsequent efforts on automobiles, founding the Daimler Motor Factory with Wilhelm Maybach (designer of the Mercedes) in 1890. Gottlieb Daimler dies in 1900.
240 YEARS AGO: RIOT ACT
The Stamp Act goes into effect in the American Colonies November 1, 1765. Passed in March by Britain to tax documents, almanacs, newspapers, cards and dice in order to pay debts from the French and Indian War, the act incenses Colonists, who protest the "taxation without representation" by petitioning, boycotting and even stringing up the odd tax agent. Parliament rescinds the act in 1766, but can't retract the spirit of revolution it unleashes.
200 YEARS AGO: SOUR NOTE
Ludwig van Beethoven, 34, conducts the première of Fidelio, his only opera, in Vienna, November 20, 1805. His timing is bad: most of Vienna's opera-goers had fled a week earlier as Napoleon’s army occupied the city, and the tale of Leonore, a loyal wife who disguises herself as a boy to save her imprisoned husband, is a flop. The composer revises his opus for ten years, declaring it "of all my children, the one that cost me the most birth pangs...the one most dear to me." Beethoven dies in 1827 at age 57.
110 YEARS AGO: X-RAY VISIONARY
While experimenting with cathode rays on November 8, 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers radiation rays that render many objects transparent, and soon realizes that a photographic plate can capture the image. Within months, hospitals are using X-rays, as Röntgen calls them, to see broken bones. Röntgen wins the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.
140 YEARS AGO: CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER
Mathematician Charles Dodgson, 33—a.k.a. Lewis Carroll—publishes Alice's Adventures Under Ground in November 1865. His story, first told to 10-year-old Alice Liddell in 1862, of a girl's capers with such quirky fellows as a hookah-smoking caterpillar and a mock turtle—"deliciously absurd conceptions," says a critic—is an unexpected success. Today, Alice is the world's most quoted book after the Bible and Shakespeare's works. Dodgson dies in 1898 at age 65.
25 YEARS AGO: HOT SHOT
It is the answer to the question of the decade: after eight months of suspense, on November 21, 1980, the world finally learns "who shot J.R." Triggered by TV's most famous cliffhanger, which left J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) of prime time soap "Dallas" felled by bullets from an unknown assailant, 83 million Americans, 250 million viewers in 57 other countries—and bookies everywhere—tune in to see sister-in-law Kristin hold the smoking gun. It's TV’s most watched show until the finale of "M*A*S*H" claims the record in 1983.