1728 — James Cook born

James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.

He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.

Referenced in:

The Miracle — Queen

1950 – Richard Nixon elected to the US Senate

It’s commonly believed that this is where Nixon got his start in politics, but in fact he was a member of Congress (representing the California 12th) from 1946 to 1950. But by 1950, he’d made enough of an impact in California to secure the Republican nomination to run for the Senate.

His Democratic opponent was left-leaning Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was widely derided as an actess with no business in the serious world of politics despite having spent more years in Congress than Nixon had. Nixon won comfortably, but even in her defeat, Gahagan had the last laugh: she it was who bestowed upon Nixon his nickname of “Tricky Dick”, which would dog him for the rest of his career (and indeed, in the wake of Watergate, seem rather prophetic).

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1956 – The United Nations gets involved in the Suez Crisis

It’s hard to remember now, but from about 1950 to 1989, every crisis in world politics was viewed as a potential trigger to World War Three. Every time, it seemed, you’d find the Western allies on one side and the Eastern Bloc on the other. This one was different.

On October 30, 1956, Israel invaded Egypt, with the collusion of France and the United Kingdom. The invasion was in response to Egypt’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal four months earlier. The three invaders all had political and economic reasons for invading: Britain wanted to ensure access to the Canal, as did the French. Both nations were also united in wanting to depose Egyptian President Gamel Nasser. For Israel, it was mostly a pre-emptive strike, as Egypt’s military had been gearing up for some time now, mixed with a little territorial expansion.

Reaction around the world was on Egypt’s side for the most part. Using the United Nations, the USA and USSR forged a consensus solution to the crisis, in which Britan and France withdrew without acheiving their goals, but Israel retained its captured territory. For both the European powers, the crisis accelerated decolonisation and led to a chill in their relations with the United States – one that has never really ended for the French. In Egypt, Nasser took credit for the “victory”, which he deluded himself was his doing – a delusion that would last until Egypt’s defeat in the Six Day War of 1967.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel