What Happened on February 14?

  • The first report on penicillin's medicinal properties was published. (1929) Sir Alexander Fleming famously accidentally discovered penicillin after leaving a Petri dish out for too long. On this day, he published a report of his findings regarding the mold, and its potential for medical use.

  • Two people tried to patent the telephone. (1876) Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first patent for the telephone, despite the fact that Elisha Gray, another prominent inventor, applied for a patent on the same day. There is some debate about which application actually arrived first, as well as evidence that Bell's lawyers may have bribed officials to get his application accepted first. Gray challenged the decision, but eventually lost, and Bell was credited with the invention of the telephone.

  • The St. Valentine's Day Massacre occurred. (1929) The massacre of seven rival gangsters by Al Capone's men shocked the nation and made authorities redouble their efforts to try to take the archetypal Prohibition-era gangster out of action. It was one of the first times that people started to debate whether organized crime was better than intemperance.

  • IBM was founded. (1924) The company originally existed as the Tabulating Machine Company, but was changed to the International Business Machine Corporation (IBM) on this day. In its early days, the company focused mainly on punch-card calculators, the predecessor to the computer.

  • The bombing of Dresden began. (1945) This intense bombing of the German city of Dresden was one of the last major Allied offensives of the war. It destroyed over 15 square miles (almost 40 square km) of the city, which up to that time had been a major cultural center in Europe, comparable to Florence.

  • The use of voting machines was legalized. (1899) William McKinley signed a law allowing states to use voting machines in federal elections. The first voting machines consisted of a punch-button system, with one button for each candidate, and a mechanism to prevent voters from voting for two candidates in the same race.

  • James Polk became the first president to have his picture taken. (1849) Polk posed for the photo shortly before he left office. The photographer, Matthew Brady, was one of the earliest photojournalists, and became well-known for his portraits of other famous Americans, including Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, as well as his picture of Civil War battles.

  • Captain James Cook was killed in Hawaii. (1779) Cook was an extremely famous explorer in his day, and was one of the first Europeans to ever see Antarctica or the Great Barrier Reef. He was killed in Hawaii — which he had discovered — after he tried to take a native Hawaiian king hostage in retaliation for some stolen boats.

  • The League of Women Voters was founded. (1920) Suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt founded the LOWV shortly before the 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote. It was founded to help women exercise their new right to vote, and for voter education in general, although men were not allowed to join until 1973.

  • The Gallup Poll showed that over half of Americans opposed an instant withdrawal from Vietnam. (1970) Despite the growing anti-war movement after the Summer of Love, Americans were still unwilling to leave without finishing the war. This changed after a year of Nixon's presidency, during which even conservative Americans became increasingly disenchanted with the war.

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