Captain James Cook is killed: 1779
Among Britain’s most accomplished explorers, Cook charted lands from Newfoundland to New Zealand to Alaska. In 1778, on his third voyage to the Pacific Ocean, he became the first European on record to visit the Hawaiian Islands and was received with honors. He encountered a much different reception, however, when he returned the following year. After one of the crew’s small boats was stolen, the captain decided to retaliate, not by seizing a boat of his own, but by holding Hawaiian King Kalaniopuu hostage instead. A hostile mob surrounded Cook and his men as they reached Kealakekua Bay with the king. When news arrived that the foreigners had shot a local chieftain across the bay, the crowd attacked. Cook shot one man dead but before he could reload, the captain was clubbed on the head and stabbed repeatedly before dying in the knee-deep waters.
Battle of Kettle Creek: 1779
As Cook battled the belligerent mob in Hawaii, his countrymen were embroiled in another fight thousands of miles away. In one of the most consequential battles in Georgia during the American Revolution, 400 patriots launched a surprise attack on a band of nearly 800 Loyalists from North and South Carolina that was camped along the flooded Kettle Creek in the woodlands of Wilkes County. Although outnumbered, the patriot militia scored a decisive victory and helped to quash the British strategy to cut off the southern colonies from those in the mid-Atlantic and New England.
Oregon becomes a state: 1859
With the stroke of President James Buchanan’s pen, Oregon was admitted as the 33rd state in the Union just two years before it would be torn apart by the Civil War. Oregon had spent 11 years as a United States territory, and it would take more than a month for news of its admission to cross the country from Washington, D.C. by a combination of telegraph, stagecoach and steamship.
Alexander Graham Bell applies for telephone patent: 1876
In the year of America’s centennial, a lawyer representing Bell filed his telephone patent application at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., just hours before the attorney for Elisha Gray filed a caveat announcing his intention to file a claim for a patent for his version of a telephone. Presented with both applications, the Patent Office ultimately decided on March 7, 1876, to issue the first patent for a telephone, United States Patent No. 174,465, to Bell. Three days later in Boston, Bell successfully transmitted speech over telephone wires when he said these words to his assistant, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.” The legal wrangling between Bell and Gray lasted for years.
General William Tecumseh Sherman dies: 1891
Inside his residence on the Upper West Side of New York City, the old warrior succumbed to pneumonia and breathed his last at the age of 71. President Benjamin Harrison, who had served under the general in the Civil War, ordered all national flags to be flown at half-mast to honor the Union general whose ruthless 1864 “March to the Sea” left a path of destruction across Georgia and proved to be one of the war’s decisive moments. Three former presidents and all the generals who had served under him attended Sherman’s funeral before his body, dressed in full military uniform, was transported to St. Louis for burial.
Arizona becomes a state: 1912
More than a half-century after Oregon joined the Union on Valentine’s Day, Arizona did the same. President William Howard Taft initially vetoed Arizona’s request for statehood in 1911 because its constitution permitted judicial recall. After Arizona revoked the offending clause, Taft signed the proclamation to make it the 48th state. Arizona voters extracted payback on Election Day in 1912, however, when they approved a constitutional amendment reinstating judicial recall and gave Taft only 13% of their votes, placing him behind Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Eugene V. Debs.
Jimmy Hoffa is born: 1913
While the labor union leader’s ultimate fate remains unknown, there is no mystery surrounding the start of his life. Hoffa was born on Valentine’s Day in Brazil, Indiana. After rising through the union ranks to become president of the Teamsters in 1957 and serving time in prison for bribery, Hoffa disappeared from the parking lot of a Detroit restaurant on July 31, 1975, and has never been seen since.
The bombing of Dresden: 1945
In the final months of World War II, British and American bombers unleashed a devastating aerial attack on the historic capital of the eastern German state of Saxony. The firestorm that ignited from the first round of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices that were dropped just minutes after midnight was so intense that bomber pilots in the second wave could see the glow from 500 miles away. The massive two-day air raid decimated 90 percent of the city center, destroyed cultural treasures and killed between 35,000 and 135,000, a wide-ranging estimate because it was unknown how many refugees were in the city at the time. The bombing was controversial because Dresden was neither important to German wartime production nor a major industrial center.
First Knesset meeting: 1949
Months after achieving independence, Israel’s first parliament, the Constituent Assembly, convened inside temporary quarters in Jerusalem’s Jewish Agency building. Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, delivered a solemn address in which he offered “friendship to all peace-loving people” and extended a “hand of peace” to the country’s Arab neighbors before swearing in the 120 legislators. Two days later, the parliament renamed itself the Knesset. It moved into its permanent home in Jerusalem in 1966.
Jacqueline Kennedy shows off the White House: 1962.
Wearing a triple strand of pearls and a red wool dress befitting Valentine’s Day, the 32-year-old First Lady led a huge nationwide television audience tuned into CBS and NBC on a virtual tour of the White House’s state rooms, which she had recently refurbished. Accompanied by CBS newsman Charles Collingwood, Mrs. Kennedy displayed her knowledge of fine arts as she described the presidential mansion’s historic portraits, antiques and furnishings. Although President John F. Kennedy appeared for the final five minutes of the broadcast, his wife was the star of the show, earning critical plaudits and an honorary Emmy Award.