January 16, 1920 — Prohibition officially begins in the USA

One of the most expensive and counter-productive intrusions of the government into the private sphere in human history, Prohibition was enabled by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. It banned the sale, production and consumption of alcohol throughout the United States. Naturally, it was immensely unpopular with the kind of people who like to drink alcohol, and these people, if they could not obtain their tipple legally, would do so illegally. The new law – which was also rather more heavily enforced on the poorer classes than than the richer, often by police known to drink themselves – lead to an incredible increase in the number and wealthiness of criminals, with a corresponding increase in violent crime.

Ultimately, Prohibition failed and was written out of law with another amendment to the Constitution, but the hand of organised crime had been strengthened in a way that, nearly a century later, law enforcement has still not brought back to pre-Prohibition levels.

1492 – Christopher Columbus’ expedition sights land in the Americas

Columbus’ expedition to the Far East was going well. He left Spain on August 3, and by October 7, the expedition sighted a large flock of birds. Finally, a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana (aboard the La Pinta) sighted land at about 2AM on October 12.

Columbus, being the shy, retiring flower that he was, later claimed that he had seen land first, which almost certainly had nothing to do with the reward of 10,000 maravedís. Columbus named the island San Salvador, although the resident indigenes had already named it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos this corresponds to is an unresolved topic; prime candidates are Samana Cay, Plana Cays, Grand Turk, or San Salvador Island (which was named San Salvador in 1925 in the belief that it was Columbus’ San Salvador).

Referenced in:

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume — Moody Blues
Thanx But No Thanx — Ministry