October 21st in History

The Battle of Trafalgar

October 21 is the 294th day of the year (295th in leap years). There are 71 days remaining until year’s end. (Illustration: The Battle of Trafalgar, J. M. W. Turner, c. 1882. The signal flags on HMS Victory read, “England expects every man to do his duty.” The battle took place October 21, 1805.)

On This Day in History

  • João Álvares Fagundes discovers the “Islands of the 11,000 Virgins,” which are subsequently renamed (1520)
  • 徳川 家康 (Tokugawa Ieyasu) triumphs at the 関ヶ原の戦い (Battle of Sekigahara), establishing the 徳川幕府 (Tokugawa bakufu), which would rule Japan until 1868 (1600)
  • The USS Constitution is launched (1797)
  • Lord Horatio Nelson defeats a combined French and Spanish fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar, dying in that battle (1805)
  • Florence Nightingale and 38 nurses are sent to the Crimean War (1854)
  • Warren G. Harding makes the first speech by a sitting US President against lynching in the American Deep South (1921)
  • Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik premiers (1921)
  • The first 特別攻撃隊 (Tokubetsu Kōgekitai) attack, commonly called “Kamikaze” in English, takes place against the HMAS Australia as the Battle of Leyte Gulf begins (1944)
  • Women are allowed to vote in France for the first time (1945)
  • New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, opens (1959)
  • Kidnappers cut off John Paul Getty III’s ear and send it to a newspaper in Rome; it doesn’t arrive until November 8 (1973)
  • The meter is officially defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458th of a second.


  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet (1772)
  • Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel Prize (1833)
  • Eugene Ely, aviator, first shipboard takeoff and landing (1886)
  • Georg Solti, composer (1912)
  • Martin Gardner, science writer (1914)
  • Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet player (1917)
  • Celia Cruz, “queen of salsa” (1925)
  • Joyce Randolph, The Honeymooners player (1924)
  • Whitey Ford, baseball player (1928)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, science fiction writer (1929)
  • Manfred Mann, keyboard player (1940)
  • Elvin Bishop, singer-songwriter (1942)
  • בִּנְיָמִין “בִּיבִּי” נְתַנְיָהוּ (Benjamin Netanyahu), Israeli prime minister (1949)
  • Patti Davis, Reagan daughter (1952)
  • Carrie Fisher, Star Wars princess (1956)
  • 渡辺 謙 (Ken Watanabe), actor (1959)
  • Kim Kardashian, reality TV star (1980)


  • Jack Kerouac, Beat author (1969)
  • Анаста́с Микоя́н (Anastas Mikoyan), Soviet leader (1978)
  • Hans Asperger, psychologist and syndrome namesake (1980)
  • François Truffaut, director (1984)
  • Dan White, assassin of Harvey Milk (1985)
  • Jim Garrison, attorney, investigator of the JFK assassination (1992)
  • Maxine Andrews, singing sister (1995)
  • Fred Berry, actor and street dancer (2003)
  • George McGovern, US presidential candidate (2012)


  • Apple Day (UK)
  • International Day of the Nacho (Mexico and US)
  • National Nurses’ Day (Thailand)
  • Overseas China Day (Taiwan)
  • Reptile Awareness Day (US)
  • Trafalgar Day (British empire, 19th and early 20th century)