What Happened on December 21?

  • Dried blood serum was first produced. (1933) Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were able to flash freeze blood serum, the part of blood that contains antibodies. Dried blood serum became the first substance used for emergency blood transplants, and was the predecessor of the modern-day serum albumin.

  • Serial killer John Gacy was arrested. (1978) Gacy was charged with killing over 30 young men, though he raped and tortured many more. He was often called the "Killer Clown," since he often dressed up as a clown to entertain at children's parties.

  • The first manned lunar mission was launched. (1968) Apollo 8 was the first manned craft to orbit the moon. Its three passengers, Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders, were the first men to ever see the Earth in its entirety, as well as the dark side of the moon.

  • Radium was discovered. (1898) Pierre and Marie Curie isolated radium, one of the first radioactive elements to be discovered. They won a joint Nobel prize for their work, and Marie Curie went on to win another for her contributions to chemistry. Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia as a result of overexposure to radium.

  • The Irish Republic, or Ireland, declared independence. (1948) A large portion of Ireland — known as the Irish Free State — became free after the Irish War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922. In 1948, however, it declared itself a free republic — the Irish Republic — and left the commonwealth of Great Britain. This began years of tensions between Britain and Ireland and Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland.

  • Snow White premiered. (1937) It was the first full-length cell-animated film ever made, and was also the first full-length animated film shown in America. The movie became the first of many Disney classics.

  • The first crossword puzzle was published. (1913) Called a "word-cross," the first crossword was published in New York World by British journalist Arthur Wynne. "Word-crosses" quickly became popular, though the iconic New York Times crossword didn't show up until 1942. Wynne's first crossword featured a diamond-shaped puzzle and 34 clues.

  • Elvis offered President Nixon his services in the war on drugs. (1970) The famous pop singer met with Nixon to ask to be made a "federal agent at large," though no such position actually existed. Elvis had previously written Nixon a letter detailing his disgust for "drug users, hippie elements, SFS [student protesters] and the Black Panthers," and thought he could use his celebrity status to influence young people to stay away from those groups. Nixon made Elvis an honorary federal agent and accepted a gold-plated pistol from Elvis as a gift.

  • It's a Wonderful Life premiered. (1946) The movie flopped initially, but went on to become a Christmas classic. The American Film Institute later named it as one of the best 100 American films ever made.

  • Vespasian became the fourth emperor to take control of Rome within a year. (69) The "Year of Four Emperors" resulted from both assassinations and suicides. Things became stable after Vespasian ascended the throne. He went on to found the Flavian dynasty.

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