This Month in History

Momentous or Merely Memorable

40 Years Ago
Man On The Moon

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." As millions around the world watch on TV, at 10:56 p.m. EDT July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong takes the first human steps on the moon, with Buzz Aldrin at his heels (Aldrin shoots a footprint, right, to record the effects of pressure on the lunar dust). They explore the surface for more than two hours, collect 47 pounds of lunar samples and return to Earth 195 hours after leaving.

70 Years Ago
Unlucky Break

His words echoing through New York's Yankee Stadium, Lou Gehrig, 36, declares himself the "luckiest man on the face of the earth," July 4, 1939. In the wake of his "bad break"—a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—Gehrig, who had played a record 2,130 consecutive games, is honored by more than 60,000 fans. He will die of ALS—now also known as Lou Gehrig's disease—in 1941.

210 Years Ago
The Secret In The Stone

In mid-July 1799, French soldiers occupying Egypt find a stone block in the town of el-Rashid (Rosetta) inscribed with three scripts: hieroglyphics, demotic (an Egyptian cursive) and Greek. Although linguists can read only the Greek, it indicates the stone dates from 196 B.C. and that all three texts convey the same decree by priests of Ptolemy V. The stone provides the key that scholars, notably French linguist Jean-François Champollion, use to crack the hieroglyphic code and advance the new field of Egyptology.

220 Years Ago
Vive La Liberté

On July 14, 1789, a Parisian mob, certain that King Louis XVI's dismissal of France's finance minister heralds a crackdown against the new populist National Assembly, storms the 14th-century Bastille prison to capture the arms and gunpowder inside. Although the Bastille, a symbol of royal power, held only seven prisoners, its liberation lights the fires of the French Revolution. France declares Bastille Day a national holiday in 1880.

240 Years Ago
Mission Accomplished

Franciscan friar Junipero Serra founds the first of 21 missions in what is now California in the new Spanish settlement of San Diego, July 16, 1769. Mission San Diego de Alcala, part of Spain's strategy to gain control of the Pacific Coast, grows to 50,000 acres. Its relations with the local people that the friars seek to "civilize" are tense: an Indian revolt burns the mission in 1775; European illnesses fell the native population. Secularized in 1834, the mission, after use in the 1850s as a U.S. artillery base, is returned to the Catholic Church in 1892.

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