Future President Ronald Reagan serves in film unit


Year
1943
Month Day
January 27

On January 27, 1943, future President Ronald Reagan, an Army Air Corps first lieutenant during World War II, is on an active-duty assignment with the Army’s First Motion Picture Unit.

Technically, Reagan was a unit public relations officer, however Warner Brothers Studios and the American Army Air Corps had tapped him the previous year to star in a motion picture called Air Force. To allow filming to go forward, Reagan was transferred from his cavalry unit to the Air Corps’ motion-picture unit in early January 1943.

Housed in the old Hal Roach studios, the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) produced military training, morale and propaganda films to aid the war effort. FMPU released Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series and a documentary of the bomber Memphis Belle, the crew of which completed a standard-setting 35 bombing missions in Europe. The films were screened on domestic training grounds and in troop camps overseas as well as in U.S. movie theaters.

Air Force, which was later renamed Beyond the Line of Duty, conveyed the true story of the heroic feats of aviator Shorty Wheliss and his crew and featured narration by Lt. Ronald Reagan. The documentary, intended to promote investment in war bonds, won an Academy Award in 1943 for best short subject. Reagan went on to narrate or star in three more shorts for FMPU including For God and Country,Cadet Classification, and the The Rear Gunner. Reagan also appeared as Johnny Jones in the 1943 full-length musical film This is the Army.

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John Lennon writes and records “Instant Karma” in a single day


Year
1970
Month Day
January 27

“I wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch and we’re putting it out for dinner.” That’s the way John Lennon told the story of “Instant Karma,” one of his most memorable songs as a solo artist and the third Lennon single to appear before the official breakup of the Beatles. The only exaggeration in John’s description was the part about dinner: “Instant Karma” wasn’t actually released to the public until 13 days after it was written and recorded over the course of a single Tuesday, on January 27, 1970. By any measure, it was one of the fastest pop songs ever to come to market.

“Instant Karma” came during a tumultuous time for John Lennon personally and for the band he was in the midst of leaving behind. The Beatles had spent the better part of 1969 trying to decide whether or not they were still a band, abandoning recording sessions that had just begun and canceling plans for their first live performances in more than three years. The material for both of the band’s last two albums—Abbey Road and Let it Be—was recorded that year, but Let it Be sat unreleased and without an agreed-upon producer. Lennon, meanwhile, was moving in a new direction. “Give Peace a Chance,” recorded during the famous June 1969 “bed-in,” had already come out under the name “The Plastic Ono Band,” as had “Cold Turkey,” his wrenching account of kicking heroin that same year. By January 1970, John had walked away from the Beatles, and the Plastic Ono Band was the only musical entity he considered himself part of.

The January 27 session came about spontaneously. Lennon wrote the song that morning and, as he said, “I knew I had a hit record.” What got the record finished that same day and gave it its incredible sound, however, was the unexpected appearance of Phil Spector that evening in the EMI studios. After several run-throughs under Spector’s direction, John said, “Suddenly we went in the room and heard what he’d done to it…it was fantastic. It sounded like there was [sic] fifty people playing.” John’s happiness with the results would lead directly to Spector’s taking over the dormant Let it Be project—a development that ended up driving a further wedge between Lennon and McCartney prior to the official breakup of the Beatles.

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Astronauts die in launch pad fire


Year
1967
Month Day
January 27

A launch pad fire during Apollo program tests at Cape Canaveral, Florida, kills astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chafee. An investigation indicated that a faulty electrical wire inside the Apollo 1 command module was the probable cause of the fire. The astronauts, the first Americans to die in a spacecraft, had been participating in a simulation of the Apollo 1 launch scheduled for the next month.

The Apollo program was initiated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) following President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration of the goal of landing men on the moon and bringing them safely back to Earth by the end of the decade. The so-called “moon shot” was the largest scientific and technological undertaking in history. In December 1968, Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to travel to the moon, and on July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. walked on the lunar surface. In all, there were 17 Apollo missions and six lunar landings.

READ MORE: How Many Times Has the U.S. Landed on the Moon?

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Shelby GT 350 debuts


Year
1965
Month Day
January 27

On January 27, 1965, the Shelby GT 350, a version of a Ford Mustang sports car developed by the American auto racer and car designer Carroll Shelby, is launched. The Shelby GT 350, which featured a 306 horsepower V-8 engine, remained in production through the end of the 1960s and today is a valuable collector’s item.

Carroll Shelby was born in Texas in 1923 and gained fame in the racing world in the 1950s. Among his accomplishments was a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959, making him just the second American ever to win the iconic endurance race. By the early 1960s, Shelby had retired from racing for health reasons and was designing high-performance cars. He became known for his race cars, including the Cobra and the Ford GT40, as well as such muscle cars as the Shelby GT 350. According to the New York Times: “In the 60’s, at the apex of the Southern California car efflorescence, his name was synonymous with muscle cars, relatively small vehicles with big, beefy engines. It was an era that many car buffs consider Detroit’s golden age, and Mr. Shelby was arguably its prime mover.”

The Shelby GT 350 was an iteration of the first Ford Mustang, which was officially unveiled by Henry Ford II at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, on April 17, 1964. That same day, the new car also debuted in Ford showrooms across America and almost 22,000 Mustangs were immediately snapped up by buyers. Named for a World War II fighter plane, the Ford Mustang had a long hood and short rear deck. More than 400,000 Mustangs sold within its first year of production, far exceeding sales expectations. Over the ensuing decades, the Mustang has undergone numerous evolutions and remains in production today, with more than 9 million sold.

In addition to collaborating with Ford, Shelby partnered with other automakers, including Chrysler, for whom he designed the Dodge Viper sports car, which launched in 1992.

The Times in 2003 quoted comedian Jay Leno, an avid car collector who has owned several Shelby cars, as saying: “Carroll is sort of like the car world’s Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays… Unlike so many racers, he didn’t come from a rich family, so he signifies that everyman, common-sense ideal. When I was kid, American cars were big, clunky things, until Carroll used his ingenuity to make them compete with European cars. He was a populist, the kind of guy that other car buffs could emulate.”

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National Geographic Society founded


Year
1888
Month Day
January 27

On January 27, 1888, the National Geographic Society is founded in Washington, D.C., for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”

The 33 men who originally met and formed the National Geographic Society were a diverse group of geographers, explorers, teachers, lawyers, cartographers, military officers and financiers. All shared an interest in scientific and geographical knowledge, as well as an opinion that in a time of discovery, invention, change and mass communication, Americans were becoming more curious about the world around them. With this in mind, the men drafted a constitution and elected as the Society’s president a lawyer and philanthropist named Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Neither a scientist nor a geographer, Hubbard represented the Society’s desire to reach out to the layman.

Nine months after its inception, the Society published its first issue of National Geographic magazine. Readership did not grow, however, until Gilbert H. Grosvenor took over as editor in 1899. In only a few years, Grosvenor boosted circulation from 1,000 to 2 million by discarding the magazine’s format of short, overly technical articles for articles of general interest accompanied by photographs. National Geographic quickly became known for its stunning and pioneering photography, being the first to print natural-color photos of sky, sea and the North and South Poles.

The Society used its revenues from the magazine to sponsor expeditions and research projects that furthered humanity’s understanding of natural phenomena. In this role, the National Geographic Society has been instrumental in making possible some of the great achievements in exploration and science. To date, it has given out more than 1,400 grants, funding that helped Robert Peary journey to the North Pole, Richard Byrd fly over the South Pole, Jacques Cousteau delve into the sea and Jane Goodall observe wild chimpanzees, among many other projects.

Today, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions. The Society sees itself as a guardian of the planet’s natural resources, and in this capacity, focuses on ways to broaden its reach and educate its readers about the unique relationship that humans have with the earth.

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Siege of Leningrad is lifted


Year
1944
Month Day
January 27

On January 27, 1944, Soviet forces permanently break the Leningrad siege line, ending the almost 900-day German-enforced containment of the city, which cost hundreds of thousands of Russian lives.

The siege began officially on September 8, 1941. The people of Leningrad began building antitank fortifications and succeeded in creating a stable defense of the city, but as a result were cut off from all access to vital resources in the Soviet interior, Moscow specifically. In 1942, an estimated 650,000 Leningrad citizens perished from starvation, disease, exposure, and injuries suffered from continual German artillery bombardment.

Barges offered occasional relief in the summer and ice-borne sleds did the same in the winter. Slowly but surely a million of Leningrad’s young, sick, and elderly residents were evacuated, leaving about 2 million to ration available food and use all open ground to plant vegetables.

On January 12, Soviet defenses punctured the siege, ruptured the German encirclement, and allowed more supplies to come in along Lake Ladoga. The siege officially ended after 872 days (though it is often called the 900-day siege), after a Soviet counteroffensive pushed the Germans westward.

READ MORE: Siege of Leningrad Begins

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Paris Peace Accords signed


Year
1973
Month Day
January 27

The United States, South Vietnam, Viet Cong, and North Vietnam formally sign “An Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam” in Paris. Due to South Vietnam’s unwillingness to recognize the Viet Cong’s Provisional Revolutionary Government, all references to it were confined to a two-party version of the document signed by North Vietnam and the United States—the South Vietnamese were presented with a separate document that did not make reference to the Viet Cong government. This was part of Saigon’s long-time refusal to recognize the Viet Cong as a legitimate participant in the discussions to end the war.

The settlement included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam. It addition, the United States agreed to the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisors (totalling about 23,700) and the dismantling of all U.S. bases within 60 days. In return, the North Vietnamese agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war.

Both sides agreed to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia and the prohibition of bases in and troop movements through these countries. It was agreed that the DMZ at the 17th Parallel would remain a provisional dividing line, with eventual reunification of the country “through peaceful means.” An international control commission would be established made up of Canadians, Hungarians, Poles, and Indonesians, with 1,160 inspectors to supervise the agreement. According to the agreement, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu would continue in office pending elections. Agreeing to “the South Vietnamese People’s right to self-determination,” the North Vietnamese said they would not initiate military movement across the DMZ and that there would be no use of force to reunify the country.

Footnote: The last U.S. serviceman to die in combat in Vietnam, Lt. Col. William B. Nolde, was killed by an artillery shell at An Loc, 60 miles northwest of Saigon, only 11 hours before the truce went into effect.

READ MORE: Vietnam War: Dates and Timeline

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Monica Seles wins first Grand Slam title since being attacked


Year
1996
Month Day
January 27

On January 27, 1996, Serbian-born tennis player Monica Seles, the former No. 1 women’s player in the world, defeats Anke Huber of Germany to win the Australian Open.

The win in Melbourne was Seles’ first Grand Slam title since she was stabbed by Gunther Parche, a self-professed fan of the German tennis champion Steffi Graf during the quarterfinals of the Citizen Cup tournament in Hamburg on April 30, 1993. At that time, the 19-year-old Seles had won more titles as a teenager than any player besides Graf and Chris Evert, including eight Grand Slams (the French Open in 1990, 1991 and 1992; the Australian Open in 1991, 1992 and 1993; and the U.S. Open in 1991 and 1992). Only Wimbledon continued to elude her, though she made it to the finals in 1992.

Obsessed with seeing Graf retain the world No. 1 ranking, Parche stalked Seles at the Citizen Cup until her quarterfinal match against Magdalena Maleeva. During a changeover, Parche lunged across the courtside barrier and stabbed Seles between the shoulder blades with a 10-inch knife, in front of some 6,000 spectators. He was later found psychologically unstable and sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence and psychological treatment.

In the aftermath of the stabbing, a shaken Seles did not return to professional tennis for more than two years. In August 1995, she won her first tournament back, the Canadian Open, beating Amanda Coetzer in the final 6-0, 6-1. She made it to the final of the U.S. Open the following month, reaching the final and holding set point against Graf in the first set before eventually losing 7-6, 0-6, 6-3. Seles’ trajectory seemed to be steadily back on the rise by January 1996, culminating in her 6-4, 6-0 dispatch of Huber in the final on January 27. She would never regain her former glory, however, as she was plagued by injuries and failed to win another Grand Slam title. Her last appearance in a Grand Slam final came at the French Open in 1998, when she defeated the world No. 3, Jana Novotna, and No. 1, Martina Hingis, before losing to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in a three-set final.

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First atomic detonation at the Nevada test site


Year
1951
Month Day
January 27

Forcefully marking the continued importance of the West in the development of nuclear weaponry, the government detonates the first of a series of nuclear bombs at its new Nevada test site.

Although much of the West had long lagged behind the rest of the nation in technological and industrial development, the massive World War II project to build the first atomic bomb single-handedly pushed the region into the 20th century. Code named the Manhattan Project, this ambitious research and development program pumped millions of dollars of federal funds into new western research centers like the bomb building lab at Los Alamos, New Mexico and the fissionable material production center at Hanford, Washington. Ironically, the very conditions that had once impeded western technological development became benefits: lots of wide-open unpopulated federal land where dangerous experiments could be conducted in secret.

After the war ended, the West continued to be the ideal region for Cold War-era nuclear experimentation for the same reasons. In December 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission designated a large swath of unpopulated desert land 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the Nevada Proving Ground for atmospheric atomic testing. On January 27, 1951, the government detonated its first atomic device on the site, resulting in a tremendous explosion, the flash from which was seen as far away as San Francisco.

The government continued to conduct atmospheric tests for six more years at the Nevada site. They studied the effects on humans by stationing ground troops as close as 2,500 yards from ground zero and moving them even closer shortly after the detonation. By 1957, though, the effects of radioactivity on the soldiers and the surrounding population led the government to begin testing bombs underground, and by 1962, all atmospheric testing had ceased.

In recent years, the harm caused to soldiers and westerners exposed to radioactivity from the Nevada test site has become a controversial topic. Some critics argue the government waged a “nuclear war on the West,” and maintain that the government knew of the dangers posed to people living near the test site well before the 1957 shift to underground tests. Others, though, point out that the test site has brought billions of dollars into the state and resulted in great economic benefit to Nevada.

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Dante is exiled from Florence


Year
1302
Month Day
January 27

Poet and politician Dante Alighieri is exiled from Florence, where he served as one of six priors governing the city. Dante’s political activities, including the banishing of several rivals, led to his own banishment, and he wrote his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, as a virtual wanderer, seeking protection for his family in town after town.

Dante was born to a family with noble ancestry that had fallen in fortunes. He began writing poetry in his teens and received encouragement from established poets, to whom he sent sonnets as a young man.

At age nine, Dante first caught a glimpse of Beatrice Portinari, also nine, who would symbolize for him perfect female beauty and spiritual goodness in the coming decades. Despite his fervent devotion to Portinari, who did not seem to return his feelings, Dante became engaged to Gemma Donati in 1277, but the two did not marry until eight years later. The couple had six sons and a daughter.

About 1293, Dante published a book of prose and poetry called The New Life, followed a few years later by another collection, The Banquet. It wasn’t until his banishment that he began work on his Divine Comedy. In the poem’s first book, the poet takes a tour through Hell with the poet Virgil as a guide. Virgil also guides the poet through Purgatory in the second book. The poet’s guide in Paradise, however, is named Beatrice. The work was written and published in sections between 1308 and 1321. Although Dante called the work simply Comedy, the work became enormously popular, and a deluxe version published in 1555 in Venice bore the title The Divine Comedy. Dante died of malaria in Ravenna in 1321.

READ MORE: Dante’s Books, Poems & Divine Comedy

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