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• On Jan. 9, 1493, Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three “mermaids” and describes them as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.” They were in reality manatees. Mythical mermaids have existed in seafaring cultures since the time of the ancient Greeks.
• On Jan. 14, 1639, in Hartford, Connecticut, the first constitution in the American colonies, the “Fundamental Orders,” is adopted. The Fundamental Orders declared that “the foundation of authority is in the free consent of the people.”
• On Jan. 6, 1759, a 26-year-old George Washington marries Martha Dandridge Custis. Historical documents have revealed that Martha may not have been the great love of his life. Washington wrote cryptic yet passionate love letters to Sally Fairfax, the wife of a friend.
• On Jan. 22, 1779, famed Tory outlaw Claudius Smith meets his end on the gallows in Goshen, New York. Nicknamed the “Cowboy of the Ramapos” for his use of guerrilla tactics against Patriot civilians, legend has it that Smith’s skull was filled with mortar and included in the edifice of the Goshen Court House.
• On Jan. 21, 1789, “The Power of Sympathy or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth” is printed in Boston, the first novel by an American writer to be published in America. Early editions did not carry the author’s name, but a later printing credited Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton.
• On Jan. 13, 1842, a British army doctor reaches the British sentry post at Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the lone survivor of a 16,000-strong Anglo-Indian expeditionary force that was slaughtered in its retreat from Kabul. He told of a terrible massacre in which the Afghans killed 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 camp followers.
• On Jan. 4, 1847, Samuel Colt rescues his faltering gun company by winning a contract to provide the U.S. government with 1,000 of his .44 caliber revolvers. Though never cheap, by the early 1850s, Colt revolvers were inexpensive enough to be a favorite with Americans headed westward during the California Gold Rush.
• On Jan. 23, 1855, John Moses Browning, sometimes referred to as the “father of modern firearms,” is born in Ogden, Utah. Many of the guns whose names evoke the history of the American West — Winchester, Colt, Remington and Savage — were based on Browning’s designs.
• On Jan. 1, 1863, farmer Daniel Freeman submits the first claim under the new Homestead Act for a property in Nebraska. By the 1890s, many homesteaders found that farming 160 acres of such dry land was nearly impossible, and at least half the original claims were abandoned.
• On Jan. 14, 1875, Nobel Prize-winning physician Albert Schweitzer is born in Upper-Alsace, Germany. Schweitzer’s philosophy revolved around what he called “reverence for life,” the idea that all life must be respected and loved.
• On Jan. 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” is ratified and becomes law. Large-scale distribution of alcoholic beverages and organized crime flourished anyway.
• On Jan. 11, 1937, nearly two weeks into a sit-down strike by General Motors auto workers at the Fisher Body Plant in Flint, Michigan, a riot breaks out when police try to prevent food deliveries to the strikers from supporters on the outside. The melee was later nicknamed the “Battle of the Running Bulls.”
• On Jan. 5, 1945, Japanese pilots receive the first order to become kamikaze, meaning “divine wind.” They needed little training to take planes full of explosives and crash them into ships. At Okinawa, they sank 30 ships and killed almost 5,000 Americans.
• On Jan. 10, 1946, the first General Assembly of the United Nations, comprising 51 nations, convenes in London. Then, on Jan. 24, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution, a measure calling for the peaceful uses of atomic energy and the elimination of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction.
• On Jan. 17, 1953, a prototype Chevrolet Corvette sports car makes its debut at General Motors’ Motorama auto show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The Corvette was named for a fast type of naval warship.
• On Jan. 7, 1959, six days after the fall of the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in Cuba, the U.S. government believes it can work with Fidel Castro and protect American interests in Cuba. Less than two years later, the U.S. severed diplomatic relations and launched the Bay of Pigs invasion.
• On Jan. 8, 1962, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, is exhibited for the first time in America.
• On Jan. 19, 1977, President Gerald Ford pardons Tokyo Rose, a Japanese-American woman named Iva Toguri, who broadcast Axis propaganda over the radio to Allied troops during World War II.
•. On Jan. 2, 1980, in response to the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter asks the Senate to postpone action on the SALT II nuclear weapons treaty. Carter feared that the Soviet invasion could lead to its gaining control over much of the world’s oil supplies.
• On Jan. 20, 1980, President Jimmy Carter proposes to the United States Olympic Committee that the 1980 Summer Olympics be moved from Moscow if the Soviet Union failed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. The USOC later voted to boycott the Moscow games.
• On Jan. 12, 1981, prime-time ABC soap opera “Dynasty” debuts. The show’s elaborately melodramatic plot lines resembled those of the daytime soap operas (kidnappings, amnesia, characters returning from the dead), and its style fit perfectly with the over-the-top excesses of the 1980s.
• On Jan. 3, 1990, Panama’s Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, after hiding at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking and is flown to Miami. In 1992, the former dictator was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
• On Jan. 18, 1996, Major League Baseball owners unanimously approve interleague play for the 1997 season. The owners’ vote, which called for each team to play 15 or 16 interleague games, broke a 126-year tradition of teams playing only within their league during the regular season.
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