December 15, 2001: Leaning Tower of Pisa Reopens

On this day in 2001, the Leaning Tower of Pisa Reopened in Italy. It was the completion of an 11-year project to preserve one of Italy’s most historic structures.

The Leaning Tower of PisaOn this day in 2001, the Leaning Tower of Pisa Reopened in Italy. It was the completion of an 11-year project to preserve one of Italy’s most historic structures.

Completed in 1370, the tower would have been an architectural marvel even without the lean.  However, it was built on clay soil that subsided during construction so it had a tilt even when it was completed.

The tower did not move for nearly 500 years but nearby excavation work in the 1830s destabilized the base and began to lean a little more and more as the years went by. Finally, the Italian government took action in the late 1980s.

The $27 million effort consisted of sinking the ground on the high side of the tower and basically using steel cables to hold it in place while it was stabilized. The tower is now open for tours and engineers believe it will stay in place for a couple of hundred more years.

December 14, 1986: Voyager Begins World Flight

On this day in 1986, the Rutan Model 76 Voyager took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert. Nine days later, it became the first aircraft to fly around the world with stopping or refueling.

Voyager AircraftOn this day in 1986, the Rutan Model 76 Voyager took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert. Nine days later, it became the first aircraft to fly around the world with stopping or refueling.

The plane was loaded with fuel and piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The two were closely cramped in the plane, which only added to their exhausting conditions. When Voyager landed in California in front of a crowd of 55,000 on December 23, it only had about 1.5 percent of fuel left in its tanks.

Voyager was retired from service in 1987. Today, it hangs prominently in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

November 16, 1938: LSD First Synthesized

On this day in 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD in Basel, Switzerland. Both the medical and illegal drug communities have had a bizarre relationship with LSD ever since.

Liquid LSD BottleOn this day in 1938, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann first synthesized LSD in Basel, Switzerland. Both the medical and illegal drug communities have had a bizarre relationship with LSD ever since.

Short for lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD was synthesized by Hofmann as part of a large research effort to determine the medical benefits of the chemical compound family known as ergot alkaloids. Hofmann accidentally ingested LSD five years later and learned of its hallucinogenic effects and psychedelic benefits. In the years that followed, LSD was released on the market as a psychiatric drug, used in CIA experiments and embraced by psychologist Timothy Leary and thousands of other individuals.

LSD was outlawed in the United States in 1968, but exploration of its effects continued until the early 1990s. In recent years, the international medical community has determined that the potential of LSD is too great to ignore and studies on the drug are beginning to pick up all over the world again.

Note: I thought “Breaking Bad” was an amazing, but if the drug of choice had been LSD instead of meth, the show would have been even more complex. 

November 13, 1947: Soviet Union Completes Development of AK-47

On this day in 1947, the Soviet Union completed the prototype of the AK-47. The gun was one of the first assault rifles ever produced and influenced countless generations of firearms.

AK-47On this day in 1947, the Soviet Union completed the prototype of the AK-47. The gun was one of the first assault rifles ever produced and influenced countless generations of firearms.

Named after its designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and the year it was developed, the AK-47 was introduced into selective Soviet army units as early as 1948. In 1949, it became the official gun of the Soviet military and its allies.

It would take the U.S. another ten years before it developed an assault rifle that matched the effectiveness of the AK-47.  The Soviet gun still had the advantage in the fact that it could be developed much more inexpensively.  It remains a marvel in world firearm history.

November 4, 1956: Soviet Army Enters Hungary

On this day in 1956, the Soviet Army entered Hungary to suppress an uprising. This moment is a glaring reminder of why it was truly an evil empire.

Destroyed Soviet Tank in BudapestOn this day in 1956, the Soviet Army entered Hungary to suppress an uprising. This moment is a glaring reminder of why it was truly an evil empire.

Following its defeat in 1945 as part of the Axis power, Hungary fell behind the Iron Curtain, becoming a satellite state of the Soviet Union. In October of 1956, Hungarian students began an aggressive protest of their country’s authoritarian socialist government. The revolt quickly spread as Hungary’s communist regime collapsed on October 28.

The Soviet Army then invaded Budapest and other parts of the country, killing 2,500 Hungarians as it squashed the revolution in 6 days. By January of 1957, the Soviet Army had made mass arrests and installed its own government. It was the first time the Soviet Union had taken such violent action to protect its control of Eastern Europe and showed how far it was willing to go to so.

In 1992, Russian President Boris Yelstin apologized to the Hungarian Parliament for the invasion.

October 31, 1517: Martin Luther Posts 95 Theses

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in Germany. This act is generally credited as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Replica of 95 ThesesOn this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in Germany. This act is generally credited as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther, a Catholic priest and professor of theology wrote the theses in protest to numerous frustrations with the Catholic Church, including indulgences and the practice of them being sold in place of confession. In 1520, Pope Leo X demanded that Luther retract his writings. He refused and was excommunicated from the church.

By that time, Luther’s 95 Theses had been reprinted all over Europe and he had numerous followers, known as Lutherans. This new form of religion launched all of the protestant denominations.

October 22, 1924: Toastmasters International Founded

On this day in 1924, Toastmasters International was founded at a YMCA in Santa Ana, California. Since then, the organization has improved the public speaking of more than 4 million people in 122 countries.

Toastmasters International LogoOn this day in 1924, Toastmasters International was founded at a YMCA in Santa Ana, California. Since then, the organization has improved the public speaking of more than 4 million people in 122 countries.

Ralph Smedley founded Toastmasters, whose mission is to help “people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience.”  Today, the organization has 292,000 members in more than 14,00 clubs across the world.

Participating in Toastmasters works. All you have to do is see a person go from being on the verge of tears with their first speech (known as the “Icebreaker”) to being comfortable just a few speeches later. The organization has been invaluable to the millions who have participated.

October 19, 1956: Japan and Soviet Union Officially End World War II

On this day in 1956, Japan and the Soviet Union signed a joint declaration announcing the end of World War II. This was the last act officially ending the Second World War.

Soviet Union FlagJapan FlagOn this day in 1956, Japan and the Soviet Union signed a joint declaration announcing the end of World War II. This was the last act officially ending the Second World War.

The majority of the Allied Powers, including the United States and Great Britain, signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan (also known as the Treaty of San Francisco) in 1951. However, the Soviet Union refused to sign the treaty for numerous reasons, including the U.S.’ building of military bases in Japan, not being consulted before the treaty was developed and the fact that China was not invited to the treaty talks because it was engaged in a civil war (Japan and China signed a peace treaty in 1952). The 1956 declaration officially ended the war and restored the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

October 17, 1979: Mother Teresa Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

On this day in 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She was given the award for her work in fighting poverty and distress throughout the world, two factors that are also a threat to peace.

Mother TeresaOn this day in 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  She was given the award for her work in fighting poverty and distress throughout the world, two factors that are also a threat to peace.

Mother Teresa spent the majority of her life combatting poverty. The Missionaries of Charity Fathers, which she formed in 1950, is active today in 133 countries in areas including hospice, education, AIDS and leprosy.Mother Teresa did all of her work while forgoing fanfare and financial reward. When she received the Nobel Prize, she refused the celebratory dinner and asked that the $192,000 monetary gift be used to feed the hungry in India.

While certain Nobel Peace Prize winners over the years have generated controversy, no one could argue Mother Teresa’s receiving of the award.

October 13, 1917: The Miracle of the Sun

On this day in 1917, a crowd of 30,000 to 100,000 people in Fátima, Portugal, watched a unique solar activity where it seemed as if the sun touched the Earth. The event is known as the “Miracle of the Sun.”

Miracle of the SunOn this day in 1917, a crowd of 30,000 to 100,000 people in Fátima, Portugal, watched a unique solar activity where it seemed as if the sun touched the Earth. The event is known as the “Miracle of the Sun.”

Three children in Fátima had claimed to see apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the months prior to the event. The apparition had told them numerous times that that she would provide a miracle on October 13 “so that all may believe.”

Thanks to the word of mouth of the children’s claims, a crowd of thousands, including a few reporters, gathered on that day. After a period of intense rain, the sun appeared through the clouds and zigzagged towards the crowd coming so close that bystanders reported that their wet clothes were dried, along with the ground around them.

The Catholic Church accepted the event as miracle in 1940.