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What Happened on February 12?

  • The first American POWs from the Vietnam War were released. (1973) Almost 600 American POWs were released as part of Operation Homecoming. Many had been imprisoned for almost ten years.

  • President Calvin Coolidge became the first president to deliver a speech on the radio. (1924) The radio quickly became a popular way for the president to address the nation, perhaps most famously with President Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats."

  • The last Emperor of China abdicated. (1912) The Emperor Pu Yi was forced to abdicate after the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. He was only six years old when he abdicated, but his abdication ended over 2,000 years of imperial rule and paved the way for the eventual takeover of the Communist party.

  • Women gained the right to vote in Utah. (1870) Utah was the second state to grant women the right to vote, although that right was revoked in 1887 before being granted permanently in 1895 — still 20 years before the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote. By the time the 19th Amendment finally passed, 15 states had already granted women full suffrage, most of which were in the West.

  • The first stone of the Lincoln Memorial was set in place. (1914) The memorial has since been the site of many historical events, including Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered. (1924) The innovative jazz study is considered one of Gershwin's signature pieces. By combining elements of classical music with jazz, Gershwin finally came into his own as a composer.

  • San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex marriages. (2004) This was in direct opposition to California law, but was encouraged by the mayor, Gavin Newsom. The incident gained international attention, despite the fact that the marriages were later annulled by the California Supreme Court.

  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was exiled from Russia. (1974) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an influential dramatist, novelist, and historian. His writings made the outside world aware of the Russian gulag system, and eventually won him a Nobel Prize in Literature.

  • The first spacecraft landed on an asteroid. (2001) The NEAR Shoemaker touched down on the asteroid Eros on this day. It provided multiple scans of the surface and performed experiments to estimate the gravity field of the asteroid, providing scientists with new data about the nature of asteroids.

  • Charles Darwin was born. (1809) Darwin revolutionized the scientific understanding of humanity with his theories of evolution and natural selection.

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