Today in History

Today is Wednesday, Dec. 5, the 340th day of 2012. There are 26 days left in the year.

Today’s highlight:

On Dec. 5, 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union announced a bilateral space agreement on exchanging weather data from satellites, mapping Earth’s geomagnetic field and cooperating in the experimental relay of communications.

On this date:

In 1776, the first scholastic fraternity in America, Phi Beta Kappa, was organized at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

In 1782, the eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, was born in Kinderhook, N.Y.; he was the first chief executive to be born after American independence.

In 1791, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in Vienna, Austria, at age 35.

In 1792, George Washington was re-elected president; John Adams was re-elected vice president.

In 1831, former President John Quincy Adams took his seat as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1848, President James K. Polk triggered the Gold Rush of ‘49 by confirming that gold had been discovered in California.

In 1932, German physicist Albert Einstein was granted a visa, making it possible for him to travel to the United States.

In 1933, national Prohibition came to an end as Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment.

In 1955, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations merged to form the AFL-CIO under its first president, George Meany.

In 1979, feminist Sonia Johnson was formally excommunicated by the Mormon Church because of her outspoken support for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1991, Richard Speck, who’d murdered eight student nurses in Chicago in 1966, died in prison a day short of his 50th birthday.

In 1994, Republicans chose Newt Gingrich to be the first GOP speaker of the House in four decades.

Ten years ago: Strom Thurmond, the oldest and (until Robert Byrd overtook him) longest-serving senator in history, celebrated his 100th birthday on Capitol Hill. (In toasting the South Carolina lawmaker, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott seemed to express nostalgia for Thurmond’s segregationist past; the resulting political firestorm prompted Lott to resign his leadership position.) In Kansas City, Mo., Robert R. Courtney, a pharmacist who’d diluted chemotherapy drugs given to thousands of cancer patients, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. General Ne Win, former dictator of Myanmar, also called Burma, died in Yangon at age 91. ABC executive Roone Arledge died in New York at age 71.

Five years ago: A teenage gunman went on a shooting rampage at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb., killing six store employees and two customers; Robert A. Hawkins, 19, then took his own life. President George W. Bush, trying to keep pressure on Iran, called on Tehran to “come clean” about the scope of its nuclear activities or else face diplomatic isolation.

One year ago: The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service announced $3 billion in reductions, with cuts to first-class mail service by the spring of 2012 and elimination of more than 250 processing centers. Former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo was posthumously elected to the baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

Associated Press

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