What Happened on December 17?

  • The Wright brothers made their first successful flight. (1903) After several days of trying, Orville and Wilbur Wright were able to successfully fly for 12 seconds and for a distance of about 120 feet (37 meters). Their innovations in aircraft and flying were the start of the modern air industry.

  • France recognized American independence. (1777) France was the first European nation to formally recognize America as an independent nation rather than a British colony. France's early recognition — some two years after the American Revolutionary war started and about five years before it ended — may largely be due to Benjamin Franklin's diplomatic visits to Paris during the war. The Dutch Republic was the second nation to recognize American independence; it did so in 1782.

  • President Roosevelt released Japanese Americans from internment camps. (1944) Many Japanese Americans had been involuntarily evacuated to internment camps two years earlier after the attack on Pearl Harbor because of fears that they might spy for Japan during the war. Though ten Americans were convicted of espionage during World War II, not one of them was of Japanese ancestry.

  • The immigration station at Ellis Island opened. (1900) Though immigrants had been arriving through Ellis Island for years, the new, main building was completed in 1900 and streamlined the process. Records show that the officials at Ellis Island once dealt with 6,500 immigrants individually in one 9-hour day.

  • The first ATLAS missile was successfully fired. (1957) Specifically designed for non-military purposes, the ATLAS family of missiles was later used to launch many spacecraft and satellites. ATLAS boosters were also used to launch the Friendship 7, which carried John Glenn — the first American astronaut to orbit Earth.

  • Stan Barrett broke the sound barrier. (1979) Barrett, a stuntman from Hollywood, drove a car powered by rockets and missiles across a lakebed at Edwards Airforce Base. Because his equipment was acting up, the actual speed was not captured, but Barett is still considered the first man to exceed Mach 1 and break the sound barrier on the ground.

  • The Aztec calendar stone was discovered. (1790) Primarily used as an altar for human sacrifices, the Aztec calendar stone is said to be more accurate when it comes to measuring time than the modern-day Gregorian calendar system.

  • The Beatles made one of their first TV appearances. (1962) The Beatles performed on the British television show People and Places, a regional British TV show, and played "Love Me Do" and "Twist and Shout." They would release their debut album Please Please Me the following February, which catapulted them into stardom.

  • The first one-way street in New York City was created. (1791) The first one-way street in the world was created in Lima, Peru. London instituted the second known one-way street. Paris didn't get its first one-way street until the start of the 20th century.

  • The Simpsons premiered. (1989) The cartoon became incredibly popular for its satire about American culture and life in general. In 2009, it surpassed Gunsmoke in terms of being the longest running American primetime TV series. At that point, it had aired for over 20 seasons.

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