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Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
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May 31 is the 151st day of the year (152nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 214 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1859, Big Ben goes into operation in London
The famous tower clock known as Big Ben, located at the top of the 320-foot-high St. Stephen’s Tower, rings out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, for the first time on this day in 1859.
After a fire destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster–the headquarters of the British Parliament–in October 1834, a standout feature of the design for the new palace was a large clock atop a tower. The royal astronomer, Sir George Airy, wanted the clock to have pinpoint accuracy, including twice-a-day checks with the Royal Greenwich Observatory. While many clockmakers dismissed this goal as impossible, Airy counted on the help of Edmund Beckett Denison, a formidable barrister known for his expertise in horology, or the science of measuring time.
Denison’s design, built by the company E.J. Dent & Co., was completed in 1854; five years later, St. Stephen’s Tower itself was finished. Weighing in at more than 13 tons, its massive bell was dragged to the tower through the streets of London by a team of 16 horses, to the cheers of onlookers. Once it was installed, Big Ben struck its first chimes on May 31, 1859. Just two months later, however, the heavy striker designed by Denison cracked the bell. Three more years passed before a lighter hammer was added and the clock went into service again. The bell was rotated so that the hammer would strike another surface, but the crack was never repaired.
The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. The bell is better known by the nickname Big Ben.
The original bell was a 16.3-tonne (16 ton) hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by John Warner & Sons. The bell was named in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, and his name is inscribed on it. However, another theory for the origin of the name is that the bell may have been named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. It is thought that the bell was originally to be called Victoria or Royal Victoria in honour of Queen Victoria, but that an MP suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate; the comment is not recorded in Hansard.
Since the tower was not yet finished, the bell was mounted in New Palace Yard. Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested and a replacement had to be made. The bell was recast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13.76-tonne (13 1/2 ton) bell. This was pulled 200 ft up to the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours. It is 2.2 metres tall and 2.9 metres wide. This new bell first chimed in July 1859. In September it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service. According to the foundry’s manager, George Mears, Denison had used a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified. For three years Big Ben was taken out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was reinstalled. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack, and the bell given an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place. Big Ben has chimed with an odd twang ever since and is still in use today complete with the crack. At the time of its casting, Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until “Great Paul”, a 17 tonne (16 3/4 ton) bell currently hung in St Paul’s Cathedral, was cast in 1881.
1279 BC – Rameses II (The Great) (19th dynasty) becomes pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.
526 – A devastating earthquake strikes Antioch, Turkey, killing 250,000.
1223 – Mongol invasion of the Cumans: Battle of the Kalka River – Mongol armies of Genghis Khan led by Subutai defeat Kievan Rus and Cumans.
1578 – Martin Frobisher sails from Harwich, England to Frobisher Bay, Canada, eventually to mine fool’s gold, used to pave streets in London.
1578 – King Henry III lays the first stone of the Pont Neuf (New Bridge), the oldest bridge of Paris.
1669 – Citing poor eyesight, Samuel Pepys records the last event in his diary.
1678 – The Godiva procession through Coventry begins.
1775 – American Revolution: The Mecklenburg Resolutions are allegedly adopted in the Province of North Carolina.
1790 – The United States enacts its first copyright statute, the Copyright Act of 1790.
1790 – French Revolution: the Revolutionary Tribunal is suppressed.
1813 – In Australia, Lawson, Blaxland and Wentworth, reached Mount Blaxland, effectively marking the end of a route across the Blue Mountains.
1854 – The civil death procedure is abolished in France.
1859 – The clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, which houses Big Ben, starts keeping time.
1862 – American Civil War Peninsula Campaign: Battle of Seven Pines or (Battle of Fair Oaks) – Confederate forces under Joseph E. Johnston & G. W. Smith engage Union forces under George B. McClellan outside Richmond, Virginia.
1864 – American Civil War Overland Campaign: Battle of Cold Harbor – The Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee engages the Army of the Potomac under Ulysses S. Grant & George G. Meade.
1866 – In the Fenian Invasion of Canada, John O’Neill leads 850 Fenian raiders across the Niagara River at Buffalo, New York/Fort Erie, Ontario, as part of an effort to free Ireland from the United Kingdom. Canadian militia and British regulars repulse the invaders in over the next three days, at a cost of 9 dead and 38 wounded to the Fenian’s 19 dead and about 17 wounded.
1884 – Arrival at Plymouth of Tawhiao, King of Maoris, to claim protection of Queen Victoria
1889 – Johnstown Flood: Over 2,200 people die after a dam break sends a 60-foot (18-meter) wall of water over the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
1902 – Second Boer War: The Treaty of Vereeniging ends the war and ensures British control of South Africa.
1909 – The National Negro Committee, forerunner to the NAACP, convenes for the first time.
1910 – Creation of the Union of South Africa.
1911 – The hull of the ocean liner RMS Titanic is launched.
1911 – President of Mexico Porfirio Diaz flees the country during the Mexican Revolution.
1916 – World War I: Battle of Jutland – The British Grand Fleet under the command of Sir John Jellicoe & Sir David Beatty engage the Kaiserliche Marine under the command of Reinhard Scheer & Franz von Hipper in the largest naval battle of the war, which proves indecisive.
1921 – Tulsa Race Riot: A civil unrest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States, the official death toll is 39, but recent investigations suggest the actual toll may be much higher.
1924 – The Soviet Union signs an agreement with the Peking government, referring to Outer Mongolia as an “integral part of the Republic of China”, whose “sovereignty” therein the Soviet Union promises to respect.
1927 – The last Ford Model T rolls off the assembly line after a production run of 15,007,003 vehicles.
1929 – The first talking cartoon of Mickey Mouse, “The Karnival Kid”, is released.
1941 – A Luftwaffe air raid in Dublin, Ireland, claims 38 lives.
1941 – Anglo-Iraqi War: The United Kingdom completes the re-occupation of Iraq and returns ‘Abd al-Ilah to power as regent for Faisal II.
1942 – World War II: Imperial Japanese Navy midget submarines begin a series of attacks on Sydney, Australia.
1961 – The Union of South Africa becomes the Republic of South Africa.
1961 – In Moscow City Court, the Rokotov-Faibishenko show trial begins, despite the Khrushchev Thaw to reverse Stalinist elements in Soviet society.
1962 – The West Indies Federation dissolves.
1962 – Adolf Eichmann is hanged in Israel.
1970 – The Ancash earthquake causes a landslide that buries the town of Yungay, Peru; more than 47,000 people are killed.
1971 – In accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1968, observation of Memorial Day occurs on the last Monday in May for the first time, rather than on the traditional Memorial Day of May 30.
1973 – The United States Senate votes to cut off funding for the bombing of Khmer Rouge targets within Cambodia, hastening the end of the Cambodian Civil War.
1977 – The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System completed.
1981 – Burning of Jaffna library, Sri Lanka, It is one of the violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the twentieth century.
1985 – 1985 United States-Canadian tornado outbreak: Forty-one tornadoes hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, leaving 76 dead.
1991 – Bicesse Accords in Angola lay out a transition to multi-party democracy under the supervision of the United Nations’ UNAVEM II mission.
2005 – Vanity Fair reveals that Mark Felt was Deep Throat.
2009 – Anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder shoots and kills physician George Tiller during church services in Wichita, Kansas.
2010 – In international waters, armed Shayetet 13 commandos boarded ships trying to break the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip, resulting in 9 civilian deaths when the crew of the MV Mavi Marmara fight back.
* Castile-La Mancha Day (Castile-La Mancha)
* Christian Feast Day:
* May 31 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)
* Royal Brunei Armed Forces Day (Brunei)
* The second day of Kaamatan harvest festival. (Labuan, Sabah)
* Visitation of Mary (Western Christianity)
* World No Tobacco Day (International)