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What Happened on January 4?

  • US President Nixon refused to hand over his tapes in the Watergate scandal. (1974) Despite being subpoenaed by a Senate committee, Nixon refused to hand over crucial tapes and documents. The fact that the Watergate incident reached the presidency rocked the nation, and Nixon resigned eight months later.

  • Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant. (1903) In an ongoing war against Westinghouse's alternating current, Edison tried many extreme stunts to prove that alternating current (AC) power was dangerous so people would use his direct current (DC) model. One of these stunts included electrocuting an elephant named Topsy who had killed three men. Topsy was scheduled to be hung, but the ASPCA protested, so Edison was allowed to electrocute her. He filmed the electrocution and distributed it as "proof" that using AC power was dangerous.

  • North Korean and Chinese forces captured Seoul. (1951) The UN forces had expected a quick end to the war, but that expectation was shattered when Chinese forces became involved. The capture of Seoul was a clear — and demoralizing — sign that the war wouldn't end any time soon.

  • The first successful appendectomy was performed in the US. (1885) Dr. William Grant performed the procedure on 22-year-old Mary Gartside, whose appendix had perforated. Gartside recovered with no ill side effects, and the medical community learned that the appendix was not necessary for living.

  • Firearms manufacturer Samuel Colt sold his first gun to the US government. (1847) Colt's business was failing before he landed a contract to provide 1,000 .44 caliber handguns to the government. Before this time, handguns weren't at all common in the US; most people used knives for close fighting. Colt's guns went on to become the symbol of cowboys and the West.

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson outlined his plans for the "Great Society". (1965) The speech played a large role in pulling America back together after the assassination of Kennedy. It outlined many social reform programs, including Medicare/Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, and the National Endowment for the arts.

  • Columbus left the new world. (1493) Spanish explorer Columbus had been sailing around the Caribbean for about a year after he discovered Hispaniola (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic). During that time, he established several settlements and became the first European to observe many previously unseen cultures, plants, and animals.
  • Sir Edmund Hillary reached the South Pole. (1958) Hillary was the first overland explorer to reach the South Pole since Robert Scott did so in 1912.

  • GM announced that it would build an electric car. (1996) The EV1 debuted later that year, and more than 2,000 were produced before GM pulled the plug on the program in 2003, citing high production costs.

  • Utah was admitted to the Union. (1896) Though the territory had been governed by Americans for years, politicians were unwilling to let it become a state because of the widespread practice of polygamy among the large Mormon community there. Eventually Mormonism founder Brigham Young's successor renounced the practice of polygamy, and Utah became a state.

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