What Happened on December 31?

  • Thomas Edison publicly demonstrated the incandescent light bulb. (1879) The demonstration took place in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The event was so popular that special trains were scheduled just so enough people could get to the demonstration.

  • The East India Company received its charter. (1600) The company would go on to be massively influential in British foreign politics. It was also one of the main suppliers of opium to China, and developed a monopoly on trade to the East.

  • The "drunkometer," predecessor to the breathalyzer, was first used. (1938) Dr. Rolla N. Harge had invented the drunkometer several years earlier, but it was first practically used by Indianapolis police on this day. The drunkometer worked by having the person blow into a balloon. The air would mix with a chemical solution. The darker the result, the more alcohol the person had in their system.

  • The Panama Canal was turned over to Panama. (1999) The canal had long been a valuable political and trading tool, since it was one of the quickest ways to reach the Atlantic from the Pacific, and vice versa, by boat. It was originally finished in 1914 after more than 40 years of work and more than 25,000 fatalities. Considered an example of high-quality American engineering, it took more than 20 years of protests before America would agree to give control of the canal to Panama.

  • American car company GM became the first company to make more than $1 billion US Dollars (USD) in a year. (1955) It also went on to become the largest employer in the world, though economic problems in the early 2000s led it into bankruptcy.

  • The US left the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (1984) US President Reagan stated that the organizations "leftist" leanings were not in line with the US's policies. The US's departure started an exodus — the UK and Singapore quickly followed, and many other nations threatened to leave as well.

  • The London Eye opened. (1999) The large ferris wheel, also called the Millennium Wheel, was built in celebration of the change of millinia. It went on to become a famous London landmark, and attracts thousands of tourists a year.

  • The 'Iolani Palace — the only palace in the US — was completed. (1879) Built for Hawaiian monarchs King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, the 'Iolani Palace continued to house the Hawaiian government until 1969. It was then converted into a museum, and was designated a National Historic Landmark.

  • The first US bank was founded. (1781) The Bank of North America was chartered in Pennsylvania, and was the first central bank in America. It was also one of the three first banks to trade shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

  • A window tax began in Britain. (1695) The tax applied to every building except for cottages, and lasted until 1851. Over the years more than $3 million USD was collected in window taxes.

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