Today is Tuesday, Dec. 17, the 351st day of 2013. There are 14 days left in the year.
On Dec. 17, 1938, German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission by splitting the nuclei of uranium into lighter elements while performing experiments in Berlin.
On this date:
In 1777, France recognized American independence.
In 1830, South American patriot Simon Bolivar died in Colombia.
In 1865, Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, known as the “Unfinished” (because only two movements had been completed) was performed publicly for the first time in Vienna, 37 years after the composer’s death.
In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, conducted the first successful manned powered-airplane flights near Kitty Hawk, N.C., using their experimental craft, the Wright Flyer.
In 1925, Col. William “Billy” Mitchell was convicted at his court-martial in Washington of insubordination for accusing senior military officials of incompetence and criminal negligence; he was suspended from active duty.
In 1933, in the inaugural NFL championship football game, the Chicago Bears defeated the New York Giants, 23-21, at Wrigley Field.
In 1944, the U.S. Army announced it was ending its policy of excluding Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.
In 1957, the United States successfully test-fired the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time.
In 1959, Stanley Kramer’s anti-nuclear war drama “On the Beach,” starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, premiered on all seven continents (including Antarctica).
In 1979, in a case that aggravated racial tensions, Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance executive, was fatally injured after leading police on a chase with his motorcycle in Miami. (Four white police officers accused of beating McDuffie were later acquitted, sparking riots.)
In 1981, members of the Red Brigades kidnapped Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier, the highest-ranking U.S. Army official in southern Europe, from his home in Verona, Italy. (Dozier was rescued 42 days later.)
In 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died after more than a decade of iron rule; he was 69, according to official records, but some reports indicated he was 70.
Ten years ago: Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was indicted on corruption charges. (Ryan was later convicted and ended up serving more than 5½ years in federal custody.) The British government announced the first reported case of a person dying from the human form of mad cow disease after a blood transfusion from an infected donor. An attempt to re-create the Wright brothers’ first flight on the 100th anniversary failed to take off from North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Five years ago: President-elect Barack Obama named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary and Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado to head the Interior Department. OPEC agreed to slash 2.2 million barrels from daily production — its single largest cut ever. Pro Football Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh died in Rotan, Texas, at age 94.
One year ago: Newtown, Conn., began laying its dead to rest, holding funerals for two 6-year-old boys, the first of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. A pair of NASA spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, were deliberately crashed into a mountain near the moon’s north pole, ending a mission that peered into the lunar interior. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim became the third Division I men’s coach, after Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight, to reach 900 wins with a 72-68 victory over Detroit in the Gotham Classic. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died at age 88.