On April 30, 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich.
Since at least 1943, it was becoming increasingly clear that Germany would fold under the pressure of the Allied forces. In February of that year, the German 6th Army, lured deep into the Soviet Union, was annihilated at the Battle of Stalingrad, and German hopes for a sustained offensive on both fronts evaporated. Then, in June 1944, the Western Allied armies landed at Normandy, France, and began systematically to push the Germans back toward Berlin. By July 1944, several German military commanders acknowledged their imminent defeat and plotted to remove Hitler from power so as to negotiate a more favorable peace. Their attempts to assassinate Hitler failed, however, and in his reprisals, Hitler executed over 4,000 fellow countrymen.
In January 1945, facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler withdrew to his bunker to live out his final days. Located 55 feet under the chancellery, the shelter contained 18 rooms and was fully self-sufficient, with its own water and electrical supply. Though he was growing increasingly mad, Hitler continued to give orders and meet with such close subordinates as Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler and Josef Goebbels. He also married his long-time mistress Eva Braun just one day before his suicide.
In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Admiral Karl Donitz as head of state and Goebbels as chancellor. He then retired to his private quarters with Braun, where he and Braun poisoned themselves and their dogs, before Hitler then also shot himself with his service pistol.
Hitler and Braun’s bodies were hastily cremated in the chancellery garden, as Soviet forces closed in on the building. When the Soviets reached the chancellery, they removed Hitler’s ashes, continually changing their location so as to prevent Hitler devotees from creating a memorial at his final resting place. Only eight days later, on May 8, 1945, the German forces issued an unconditional surrender, leaving Germany to be carved up by the four Allied powers.
On April 30, 1803, representatives of the United States and Napoleonic France conclude negotiations for the Louisiana Purchase, a massive land sale that doubles the size of the young American republic. What was known as Louisiana Territory comprised most of modern-day United States between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains, with the exceptions of Texas, parts of New Mexico, and other pockets of land already controlled by the United States. A formal treaty for the Louisiana Purchase, antedated to April 30, was signed two days later.
Beginning in the 17th century, France explored the Mississippi River valley and established scattered settlements in the region. By the middle of the 18th century, France controlled more of the modern United States than any other European power: from New Orleans northeast to the Great Lakes and northwest to modern-day Montana. In 1762, during the French and Indian War, France ceded its America territory west of the Mississippi River to Spain and in 1763 transferred nearly all of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain. Spain, no longer a dominant European power, did little to develop Louisiana Territory during the next three decades. In 1796, Spain allied itself with France, leading Britain to use its powerful navy to cut off Spain from America.
In 1801, Spain signed a secret treaty with France to return Louisiana Territory to France. Reports of the retrocession caused considerable uneasiness in the United States. Since the late 1780s, Americans had been moving westward into the Ohio and Tennessee River valleys, and these settlers were highly dependent on free access to the Mississippi River and the strategic port of New Orleans. U.S. officials feared that France, resurgent under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, would soon seek to dominate the Mississippi River and access to the Gulf of Mexico. In a letter to Robert Livingston, the U.S. minister to France, President Thomas Jefferson stated, “The day that France takes possession of New Orleans…we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.” Livingston was ordered to negotiate with French minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand for the purchase of New Orleans.
France was slow in taking control of Louisiana, but in 1802 Spanish authorities, apparently acting under French orders, revoked a U.S.-Spanish treaty that granted Americans the right to store goods in New Orleans. In response, President Jefferson sent future president James Monroe to Paris to aid Livingston in the New Orleans purchase talks. On April 11, 1803, the day before Monroe’s arrival, Talleyrand asked a surprised Livingston what the United States would give for all of Louisiana Territory. It is believed that the failure of France to put down a slave revolution in Haiti, the impending war with Great Britain and probable Royal Navy blockade of France, and financial difficulties may all have prompted Napoleon to offer Louisiana for sale to the United States.
Negotiations moved swiftly, and at the end of April the U.S. envoys agreed to pay $11,250,000 and assumed claims of its citizens against France in the amount of $3,750,000. In exchange, the United States acquired the vast domain of Louisiana Territory, some 828,000 square miles of land. In October, Congress ratified the purchase, and in December 1803 France formally transferred authority over the region to the United States. The acquisition of the Louisiana Territory for the bargain price of less than three cents an acre was Thomas Jefferson’s most notable achievement as president. American expansion westward into the new lands began immediately, and in 1804 a territorial government was established. On April 30, 1812, exactly nine years after the Louisiana Purchase agreement was made, the first of 13 states to be carved from the territory—Louisiana—was admitted into the Union as the 18th U.S. state.
On April 30, 1939, the New York World’s Fair opens in New York City. The opening ceremony, which featured speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Herbert Lehman, ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York.
Spanning 1,200 acres at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, the fairground was marked by two imposing structures—the “Perisphere” and the “Trylon”—and exhibited such new technology as FM radio, robotics, fluorescent lighting and a crude fax machine. Norman Bel Geddes designed a Futurama ride for General Motors, and users were transported through an idealized city of the future. Sixty-three nations participated in the fair, which enjoyed large crowds before the outbreak of World War II interrupted many of its scheduled events.
On April 30, 2019, Japan’s 85-year-old Emperor Akihito steps down from the throne, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in over 200 years.
Akihito was born on December 23, 1933, the eldest son of Emperor Hirohito, who had ruled Japan since 1926. Akihito was born two years after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the precursor to imperial Japan’s involvement in World War II. After World War II, as part of a sweeping set of reforms, the country adopted a new Western-style constitution, and the monarchy became purely symbolic (such as in England). Nevertheless, Akihito ascended to the throne after his father’s death in 1989.
While he had no political power, Akihito became an immensely popular figure in Japan. Unlike his father, who rarely appeared before the public, Akihito worked to move the imperial family “closer to the people.” He and his wife, Empress Michiko, made official visits to 18 countries and to all 47 Japanese Prefectures. He offered comfort after earthquakes, tsunamis and other tragedies, such as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. A staunch pacifist, he repeatedly expressed remorse for Japan’s actions during World War II.
Citing poor health, the emperor announced his desire to step down in 2016. No emperor had abdicated since 1817. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, on April 30, 2019. A new Japanese imperial era, Reiwa, was officially established.
On April 30, 1897, British physicist J.J. Thomson announced his discovery that atoms were made up of smaller components. This finding revolutionized the way scientists thought about the atom and had major ramifications for the field of physics. Though Thompson referred to them as “corpuscles,” what he found is more commonly known today as the electron.
Mankind had already discovered electric current and harnessed it to great effect, but scientists had not yet observed the makeup of atoms. Thomson, a highly-respected professor at Cambridge, determined the existence of electrons by studying cathode rays. He concluded that the particles making up the rays were 1,000 times lighter than the lightest atom, proving that something smaller than atoms existed. Thomson likened the composition of atoms to plum pudding, with negatively-charged “corpuscles” dotted throughout a positively-charged field.
The plum pudding analogy was disproved by Ernest Rutherford, a student and collaborator of Thomson’s, in Thomson’s lab at Cambridge in 1910. Rutherford’s conclusion that the positive charge of an atom resides in its nucleus established the model of the atom as we know it today. In addition to winning his own Nobel Prize, Thomson employed six research assistants who went on to win Nobel Prizes in physics and two, including Rutherford, who won Nobel Prizes for chemistry. His son, George Paget Thomson, also won a Nobel Prize for his study of electrons. Combined with his own research, the network of atomic researchers Thomson cultivated gave humanity a new and detailed understanding of the smallest building-blocks of the universe.