Momentous or merely memorable
50 YEARS AGO: And They're Off
The space race goes into high gear when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth, on October 4, 1957. The 184-pound satellite does little more than beep, but it readjusts the priorities of an America suddenly chastened by the Soviet advance. A new focus on science in the United States leads to breakthroughs such as microelectronics, while fear of Soviet ability to deliver nuclear weapons fuels the cold war. Sputnik falls from orbit in January 1958.
60 YEARS AGO: Boom, Not Bust
Flying an experimental rocket-powered plane at 43,000 feet over California's Mojave Desert on October 14, 1947, Air Force captain Chuck Yeager, 25, shatters the sound barrier for the first time, dispelling fears that compression forces at such speed would destroy the plane. "Smooth as a baby's bottom," Yeager later calls the 700-mph flight in the Bell XS-1 he named "Glamorous Glennis" for his wife. The supersonic feat is kept hush-hush until December. Yeager is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985.
130 YEARS AGO: Weary Warrior
After three months of battling the U.S. 7th cavalry—which is charged with moving his people to a distant reservation or killing them—and a 1,700-mile trek toward Canada, Nez Perce chief Joseph surrenders, October 5, 1877. "From where the sun now stands I shall fight no more forever," he is said to have proclaimed; his people are shipped to Kansas, far from their Oregon home. In 1879, Joseph goes to Washington, D.C. to plead the Nez Perce case, without success. He dies in 1904.
220 YEARS AGO: Federal Case
Alexander Hamilton publishes the first of the Federalist Papers, 85 articles championing a central representative government, in New York's Independent Journal, October 27, 1787. Arguing that "vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty," he—with later authors James Madison and John Jay—urges ratification of the Constitution to replace the weaker, state-based Articles of Confederation. It is ratified in 1788.
210 YEARS AGO: Down to the Sea in Ships
The three-masted frigate USS Constitution—one of six ships commissioned in 1794 to found the U.S. fleet—is launched from the Boston shipyard of Edmund Hartt on October 21, 1797. Dubbed "Old Ironsides," after a British shot bounces off its wooden hull in the War of 1812, the oldest commissioned warship afloat is now used to teach naval history to the public.
425 YEARS AGO: How Time Flies
Ten days are eliminated when a new calendar goes into effect in Spain, Portugal and Italy in October 1582. Designed by Aloysius Lilius and mandated by Pope Gregory XIII to restore the vernal equinox—and thus Easter—to a date chosen centuries earlier, the new Gregorian calendar—as it becomes known—replaces the Julian calendar. By the time England and its colonies go Gregorian, in 1752, another day must be consigned to history's dustbin.