August 5th in History

Harry Houdini preparing to perform his Overboard Box Escape (Credit: Bain News Service, LoC ggbain.50100)

Today in History

  • Scottish resister William Wallace is captured near Glasgow by English forces (1305)
  • The first English colony in North America is established at what is now St. John’s Newfoundland (1583)
  • The Mayflower departs England (1620)
  • Newspaper reporter John Peter Zenger is acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor on the grounds that what he wrote was true (1735)
  • The British admiralty rules that the electric telegraph is “wholly unnecessary”  because they already had the semaphore (1816)
  • The first transatlantic telegraph cable is completed, although it operates for less than a month (1858)
  • The US government levies the first income tax to help pay for the American Civil War. The tax is 3% of incomes over $800 ($20,750 in 2016 dollars). The tax is rescinded in 1872 (1861)
  • The US Army abolishes flogging (1861)
  • The Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay begins (1864)
  • Standard Oil of New Jersey is established (1882)
  • The cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty is placed (1884)
  • The first long-distance automobile trip (121 miles/194 kilometers) takes place in what is now memorialized as the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, Baden-Württemberg, Germany (1888)
  • The first official world record for the long jump is established: 24 feet, 11.75 inches (7.6 meters) (1901)
  • The first electric traffic light is installed in Cleveland, Ohio (1914)
  • Harry Houdini spends 91 minutes underwater in a sealed tank before escaping (1926)
  • The television series American Bandstand premiers (1957)
  • Nelson Mandela is jailed, and will not be released for 28 years (1962)
  • The first Indo-Pakistani War begins (1965)
  • US President Ronald Reagan fires striking air traffic controllers (1981)


  • Guy de Maupassant, author (1850)
  • Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man” (1862)
  • Conrad Aiken, author (1889)
  • John Huston, filmmaker (1906)
  • Robert Taylor, actor (1911)
  • Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon (1930)
  • Loni Anderson, actress (1945)
  • Rick Derringer, singer-songwriter (1947)
  • David Baldacci, author (1960)
  • Patrick Ewing, basketball player (1962)
  • Adam Yauch, rapper, member of the Beastie Boys (1964)


  • Friedrich Engels, philosopher, co-author of The Communist Manifesto (1895)
  • Bob Caruthers, baseball player (1911)
  • Carmen Miranda, actress (1955)
  • Edgar Guest, poet (1959)
  • Marilyn Monroe, actress and model (1962)
  • Judy Canova, actress and comedian (1983)
  • Soichiro Honda, founded Honda (1991)
  • Alec Guinness, actor (2000)
  • Polina Astakhova, gymnast (2005)

Holidays and Celebrations

  • Independence Day (Burkina Faso)
  • National Oyster Day (US)
  • National Underwear Day (US)
  • Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day and the Day of Croatian Defenders (Croatia)

August 5 is the 217th day of the year (218th in leap years). There are 148 days remaining until the end of the year.