December 31st in History

A British farthing coin

Today in History

  • The British East India Company receives its royal charter (1600)
  • England imposes a window tax, resulting in many householders bricking up windows (1695)
  • Baltimore, Maryland, is incorporated as a city (1796)
  • American Civil War: West Virginia is admitted to the Union as a separate state (1862)
  • Karl Benz files for a patent on his two-stroke gas engine (1878)
  • Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting publicly for the first time (1879)
  • The first New Year’s Eve celebration is held in New York City’s Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) (1907)
  • BBC broadcasts the chimes of Big Ben on the radio for the first time (1923)
  • US President Harry S. Truman officially proclaims the end of hostilities in World War II (1946)
  • The Marshall Plan expires, having distributed more than US$13 billion in foreign aid to rebuild Europe (1951)
  • General Motors becomes the first US corporation to make over US$1 billion in a single year (1955)
  • The farthing coin ceases to be legal tender in the UK (1960)
  • The Youth International Party (“Yippies”) is founded (1967)
  • The AT&T Bell System is broken up by the US government (1983)
  • All Soviet official institutions have ceased operations by this date, and the Soviet Union’s dissolution becomes official and final (1991)
  • The Velvet Divorce is finalized, dissolving Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia (1992)
  • This date does not exist in Kiribati because of a switch in time zones (1994)
  • Russian President Boris Yeltsin resigns, leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as acting President (1999)
  • The US Government transfers the Panama Canal and surrounding land to Panama (1999)
  • A blue moon and a lunar eclipse occur (2009)


  • Jacques Cartier, explorer (1491)
  • Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender), Jacobite claimant to the British throne (1720)
  • George Meade, US general (1815)
  • King Kelly, baseball player, manager, and vaudeville performer (1857)
  • Henri Matisse, painter (1869)
  • Elizabeth Arden, cosmetics and fragrance entrepreneur (1879)
  • George Marshall, US general, Secretary of State, and Nobel laureate (1880)
  • Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and advocate (1908)
  • Diane von Fürstenberg, fashion designer (1945)
  • Connie Willis, science fiction writer (1945)
  • Tim Matheson, actor (1947)
  • Donna Summer, singer-songwriter (1948)
  • Ellen Datlow, science fiction editor and anthologist (1949)
  • Jane Badler, actress (1953)
  • Bebe Neuwirth, actress (1958)
  • Val Kilmer, actor (1959)
  • John Allen Muhammad, Beltway sniper (1960)
  • Nicholas Sparks, author (1965)
  • PSY (싸이) (Park Jae-Sang, 박재상), singer-songwriter (1977)


  • Commodus, Roman emperor (192)
  • Robert Boyle, chemist (1691)
  • John Flamsteed, astronomer (1719)
  • Roberto Clemente, baseball player (1972)
  • Basil Wolverton, illustrator (1978)
  • Marshall McLuhan, media theorist and philosopher (1980)
  • Ricky Nelson, singer-songwriter (1985)
  • George Allen, football coach (1990)
  • Elliot Richardson, US Attorney-General and Watergate figure (1999)
  • José Greco, dancer (2000)
  • Eileen Heckart, actress (2001)
  • Donald E. Westlake, author (2008)

Holidays and Celebrations

  • Bisperas ng Bagong Taon (Philippines)
  • Hogmanay (Scotland)
  • International Solidarity Day (Azerbaijan)
  • Leap Second Time Adjustment Day (as needed)
  • New Year’s Eve (international)
  • Universal Hour of Peace (beginning at 11:30pm local time)
Informal and made-up holidays include Make Up Your Mind Day, National Champagne Day, No Interruptions Day, and Unlucky Day.

• • •
December 31 is the last day of the year (365th in ordinary years, 366th in leap years). Tomorrow begins a new year.