Hungary declares war on Germany

The provisional government of Hungary officially declares war on Germany, bringing an end to Hungary’s cooperation—sometimes free, sometimes coerced—with the Axis power.

Miklos Horthy, the anticommunist regent and virtual dictator of Hungary, who had once hoped to keep his country a nonbelligerent in the war, had reluctantly aligned Hungary with Hitler in November 1940. While ideologically not fascist, Hungary had many radical right-wing elements at play in its politics, as well as a history of anti-Semitism. Those radical forces saw many common “ideals” with Nazism and believed the future lay with Germany. So though Horthy little admired Hitler personally, he felt the need to placate influential parties within his own country and protect his nation from Soviet domination.

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, Hitler demanded that Hungary mobilize its military against the Soviets as well. So on June 29, 1941, Hungary declared war on the USSR. In March 1942, Horthy replaced Prime Minister Lazlo Bardossy, (a political manipulator too eager to piggyback on German territorial expansion and turn on former allies for the sake of personal gains), with Miklos Kallay, who shared the regent’s goal of regaining the favor of the Western—non-Soviet—Allies. Kallay was able to communicate to the Allies that Hungary was open to switching sides again should they make it to Hungary’s border and offer Hungary protection from German and/or Soviet occupation.

In January 1943, the Battle of Voronezh against the USSR saw Hungary’s entire 2nd Army decimated by the Soviets, rendering Hungary militarily impotent. Hitler, who learned of Kallay’s sly communiques with the West, gave Horthy an ultimatum: Either cooperate fully with the German regime or suffer German occupation. Horthy chose to collaborate, which meant the suppression of left-leaning political parties and an intense persecution of Hungary’s Jews, including massive deportations to Auschwitz, something Kallay, to his credit, had fought to prevent. (More than 550,000 Hungarian Jews—out of 750,000—would die during the war.)

As Soviet troops began to occupy more Hungarian territory, a desperate Horthy signed an armistice with Moscow. When the regent announced this on radio, he was kidnapped by the Germans and forced to abdicate. Ferenc Szalasi, leader of the fascist Arrow Cross Party, was made head of the country on October 15, 1944, though he was little more than a puppet of the Germans. His rule of terror, especially against Hungary’s Jews, would become infamous.

Soviet troops finally liberated the bulk of Hungary from German rule in December 1944. On December 31, a Provisional National Assembly, composed of Communists loyal to the USSR, officially declared war on Germany. The Assembly would go on to sign an armistice with all the Allies in January of 1945.

Panama Canal turned over to Panama

On December 31, 1999, the United States, in accordance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, officially hands over control of the Panama Canal, putting the strategic waterway into Panamanian hands for the first time. Crowds of Panamanians celebrated the transfer of the 50-mile canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and officially opened when the SS Arcon sailed through on August 15, 1914. Since then, over one million ships have used the canal.

READ MORE: 7 Fascinating Facts About the Panama Canal

Interest in finding a shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific originated with explorers in Central America in the early 1500s. In 1523, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V commissioned a survey of the Isthmus of Panama and several plans for a canal were produced, but none ever implemented. U.S. interest in building a canal was sparked with the expansion of the American West and the California gold rush in 1848. (Today, a ship heading from New York to San Francisco can save about 7,800 miles by taking the Panama Canal rather than sailing around South America.)

In 1880 a French company run by the builder of the Suez Canal started digging a canal across the Isthmus of Panama (then a part of Colombia). More than 22,000 workers died from tropical diseases such as yellow fever during this early phase of construction and the company eventually went bankrupt, selling its project rights to the United States in 1902 for $40 million. President Theodore Roosevelt championed the canal, viewing it as important to America’s economic and military interests. In 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia in a U.S.-backed revolution and the U.S. and Panama signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty, in which the U.S. agreed to pay Panama $10 million for a perpetual lease on land for the canal, plus $250,000 annually in rent.

Over 56,000 people worked on the canal between 1904 and 1913 and over 5,600 lost their lives. When finished, the canal, which cost the U.S. $375 million to build, was considered a great engineering marvel and represented America’s emergence as a world power.

In 1977, responding to nearly 20 years of Panamanian protest, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Panama’s General Omar Torrijos signed two new treaties that replaced the original 1903 agreement and called for a transfer of canal control in 1999. The treaty, narrowly ratified by the U.S. Senate, gave America the ongoing right to defend the canal against any threats to its neutrality. In October 2006, Panamanian voters approved a $5.25 billion plan to double the canal’s size by 2015 to better accommodate modern ships.

Ships pay tolls to use the canal, based on each vessel’s size and cargo volume. In May 2006, the Maersk Dellys paid a record toll of $249,165. The smallest-ever toll–36 cents–was paid by Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928.

Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent light

In the first public demonstration of his incandescent lightbulb, American inventor Thomas Alva Edison lights up a street in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company ran special trains to Menlo Park on the day of the demonstration in response to public enthusiasm over the event.

Although the first incandescent lamp had been produced 40 years earlier, no inventor had been able to come up with a practical design until Edison embraced the challenge in the late 1870s. After countless tests, he developed a high-resistance carbon-thread filament that burned steadily for hours and an electric generator sophisticated enough to power a large lighting system.

Born in Milan, Ohio, in 1847, Edison received little formal schooling, which was customary for most Americans at the time. He developed serious hearing problems at an early age, and this disability provided the motivation for many of his inventions. At age 16, he found work as a telegraph operator and soon was devoting much of his energy and natural ingenuity toward improving the telegraph system itself. By 1869, he was pursuing invention full-time and in 1876 moved into a laboratory and machine shop in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Edison’s experiments were guided by his remarkable intuition, but he also took care to employ assistants who provided the mathematical and technical expertise he lacked. At Menlo Park, Edison continued his work on the telegraph, and in 1877 he stumbled on one of his great inventions–the phonograph–while working on a way to record telephone communication. Public demonstrations of the phonograph made the Yankee inventor world famous, and he was dubbed the “Wizard of Menlo Park.”

Although the discovery of a way to record and play back sound ensured him a place in the annals of history, the phonograph was only the first of several Edison creations that would transform late 19th-century life. Among other notable inventions, Edison and his assistants developed the first practical incandescent lightbulb in 1879 and a forerunner of the movie camera and projector in the late 1880s. In 1887, he opened the world’s first industrial research laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey where he employed dozens of workers to investigate systematically a given subject.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the modern industrial world came from his work in electricity. He developed a complete electrical distribution system for light and power, set up the world’s first power plant in New York City, and invented the alkaline battery, the first electric railroad, and a host of other inventions that laid the basis for the modern electrical world. One of the most prolific inventors in history, he continued to work into his 80s and acquired 1,093 patents in his lifetime. He died in 1931 at the age of 84.

Soviets test supersonic airliner

The Soviet Union’s TU-144 supersonic airliner makes its first flight, several months ahead of the Anglo-French Concorde. The TU-144 so closely resembled the Concorde that the Western press dubbed it the “Konkordski.”

In 1962, 15 years after U.S. pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier, Britain and France signed a treaty to develop the world’s first supersonic passenger airline. The next year, President John F. Kennedy proposed a similar U.S. project. Meanwhile, in the USSR, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered his top aviation engineers to beat the West to the achievement.

There were immense technical challenges in building a supersonic airliner. Engines would need to be twice as powerful as those built for normal jets, and the aircraft’s frame would have to withstand immense pressure from shock waves and endure high temperatures caused by air friction. In the United States, Boeing tackled the supersonic project but soon ran into trouble with its swing-wing design. In England and France, however, early results were much more promising, and Khrushchev ordered Soviet intelligence to find out as much as possible about the Anglo-French prototypes.

In 1965, the French arrested Sergei Pavlov, head of the Paris office of the Soviet airliner Aeroflot, for illegally obtaining classified information about France’s supersonic project. Another high-level Soviet spy remained unknown, however, and continued to feed the Soviets information about the Concorde until the spy was identified and arrested in 1967. On December 31, 1968, just three months before the first scheduled flight of the Concorde prototype, the fruits of Soviet industrial espionage were revealed when the Soviet’s TU-144 became the world’s first supersonic airliner to fly.

In 1969, the Concorde began its test flights. Two years later, the United States abandoned its supersonic program, citing budget and environmental concerns. It was now up to Western Europe to make supersonic airline service viable before the Soviets. Tests continued, and in 1973 the TU-144 came to the West to appear alongside the Concorde at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport. On June 3, in front of 200,000 spectators, the Concorde flew a flawless demonstration. Then it was the TU-144’s turn. The aircraft made a successful 360-degree turn and then began a steep ascent. Abruptly, it leveled off and began a sharp descent. Some 1,500 feet above the ground, it broke up from overstress and came crashing into the ground, killing all six Soviet crew members and eight French civilians.

Soviet and French investigators ruled that pilot error was the cause of the accident. However, in recent years, several of the Soviet investigators have disclosed that a French Mirage intelligence aircraft was photographing the TU-144 from above during the flight. A French investigator confirmed that the Soviet pilot was not told that the Mirage was there, a breach of air regulations. After beginning his ascent, the pilot may have abruptly leveled off the TU-144 for fear of crashing into this aircraft. In the sudden evasive maneuver, the thrust probably failed, and the pilot then tried to restart the engines by entering a dive. He was too close to the ground, however, and tried to pull up too soon, thus overstressing the aircraft.

In exchange for Soviet cooperation in the cover-up, the French investigators agreed not to criticize the TU-144’s design or engineering. Nevertheless, further problems with the TU-144, which was designed hastily in its bid to beat the Concorde into the air, delayed the beginning of Soviet commercial service. Concorde passenger service began with much fanfare in January 1976. Western Europe had won its supersonic race with the Soviets, who eventually allowed just 100 domestic flights with the TU-144 before discontinuing the airliner.

The Concorde was not a great commercial success, however, and people complained bitterly about the noise pollution caused by its sonic booms and loud engines. Most airlines declined to purchase the aircraft, and just 16 Concordes were built for British Airways and Air France. Service was eventually limited between London and New York and Paris and New York, and luxury travelers appreciated the less than four-hour journey across the Atlantic.

On July 25, 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed 60 seconds after taking off from Paris en route to New York. All 109 people aboard and four on the ground were killed. The accident was caused by a burst tire that ruptured a fuel tank, creating a fire that led to engine failure. The fatal accident–the first in the Concorde’s history–signaled the decline of the aircraft. The last Concorde flight was on October 24, 2003. 

Charter granted to the East India Company

Queen Elizabeth I of England grants a formal charter to the London merchants trading to the East Indies, hoping to break the Dutch monopoly of the spice trade in what is now Indonesia.

In the first few decades of its existence, the East India Company made far less progress in the East Indies than it did in India itself, where it acquired unequaled trade privileges from India’s Mogul emperors. By the 1630s, the company abandoned its East Indies operations almost entirely to concentrate on its lucrative trade of Indian textiles and Chinese tea. In the early 18th century, the company increasingly became an agent of British imperialism as it intervened more and more in Indian and Chinese political affairs. The company had its own military, which defeated the rival French East India Company in 1752 and the Dutch in 1759.

READ MORE: How the East India Company Became the World’s Most Powerful Monopoly

In 1773, the British government passed the Regulating Act to rein in the company. The company’s possessions in India were subsequently managed by a British governor general, and it gradually lost political and economic autonomy. The parliamentary acts of 1813 ended the East India Company’s trade monopoly, and in 1834 it was transformed into a managing agency for the British government of India.

In 1857, a revolt by Indian soldiers in the Bengal army of the company developed into a widespread uprising against British rule in India. After the so-called Indian Mutiny was crushed in 1858, the British government assumed direct control over India, and in 1873 the East India Company was dissolved.