Today in history, May 20: David Letterman retires

1259: King Henry III of England gives Normandy to France.

1303: Treaty of Paris restores Gascony to the British in the Hundred Years War.

1501: Portuguese discover an island in the south Atlantic on Ascension Day and name it Ascension Island.

1506: Christopher Columbus dies in Spain.

1536: King Henry VIII of England marries Jane Seymour.

1770: Captain James Cook sights and names Fraser Island, Queensland.

1774: Britain passes Quebec Act, extending its boundaries northwards to Hudson’s Bay land and as far south as the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

1799: France’s Napoleon Bonaparte abandons siege of Acre (now Akko, Israel), defended by the Turks.

1867: Prospector Ernest Henry discovers copper at Cloncurry, Queensland.

1874: Levi Strauss markets blue jeans with copper rivets.

1882: Italy joins Austro-German Alliance, which becomes Triple Alliance.

1886: Eliza Donnithorne, thought to be the model for Miss Havisham in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, dies in Australia.

1892: George Sampson patents the clothes dryer.

1902: The United States ends its occupation of Cuba.

1917: French forces in Champagne mutiny in World War I.

1920: The first president of postrevolutionary Mexico, Venustiano Carranza, is murdered by political opponents after fleeing the capital.

1932: US aviatrix Amelia Earhart takes off from Newfoundland for Ireland to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

1934: First Australian comic book published, starring Fatty Finn.

1940: During WWII, German troops reach the coast of France, cutting the Allied forces in two; Igor Sikorsky patents the first helicopter.

1943: Japanese aircraft attack naval installations at Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia – the furthest south of such raids.

1960: A massive earthquake, followed by tidal wave, kills hundreds in southern Chile.

1961: White mob attacks a busload of Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, prompting the federal government to send in US Marshals to restore order.

1969: US and South Vietnamese forces capture Ap Bia Mountain, referred to as Hamburger Hill, following one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.

1980: Quebec holds its first referendum on independence from Canada, with 60 per cent voting against separation.

1989: Martial law imposed in Beijing after student-led protests draw millions of people onto the streets.

1990: Romania holds free democratic elections for the first time in 45 years.

1991: Soviet legislature approves law on foreign travel and emigration, opening doors for millions of citizens.

1993: An estimated 93 million people tune in for the final first-run episode of Cheers on NBC-TV in the US.

1996: Iraq and the United Nations sign an agreement to let the country sell oil to buy food and medicine for its suffering people.

1998: Two British nurses jailed for the murder of Australian colleague Yvonne Gilford walk free from a Saudi prison after their sentence is commuted by Saudi Arabia’s king.

1999: A German court convicts former Nazi Alfons Goetzfried of war crimes after what is expected to be the last such trial in the country.

2000: Taiwan inaugurates President Chen Shui-bian, marking the first time in China’s 5000 years of history that a democratically elected opposition leader is sworn in as leader of a Chinese state.

2002: East Timor declares independence as the United Nations transfers power from the mission that had run East Timor since 1999.

2006: Nuri al-Maliki is sworn in as Iraqi prime minister at the head of a national unity government.

2007: Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta is sworn in as East Timor’s second president, vowing to unite the desperately poor nation.

2010: A masked intruder steals a Picasso, Matisse and three other masterpieces from a Paris museum, a $US123 million haul that is one of the world’s biggest art heists.

2012: Bee Gees Robin Gibb dies in the UK aged 62 after a lengthy battle against cancer.

2015: Veteran US Late Show host David Letterman retires after 6028 episodes.

2017: Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, marries James Matthews in a high-society wedding.

2018: Indigenous runner Zibeon Fielding finishes a 62km ultra-marathon through the South Australian outback to raise money for dialysis treatments in remote communities.

2019: The finale of Games of Thrones is aired around the world after nine years and eight seasons, but viewers feel underwhelmed by the ending.


Honore de Balzac, French writer (1799-1850); John Stuart Mill, English philosopher (1806-1873); Wladyslaw Sikorski, Polish General and statesman (1881-1943); Sigrid Undset, Norwegian novelist (1882-1949); James Stewart, US actor (1908-1997); Moshe Dayan, Israeli general-statesmen (1915-1981); Joe Cocker, British singer (1944-2014); Cher, US actor-singer (1946); Robert Doyle, Australian politician (1953); Tony Goldwyn, US actor (1958); Jane Wiedlin, US rock singer (1958); Branson Pinchot, US actor (1959); Mindy Cohn, US actor (1966); Tom Gorman, US rock singer (1966); Buster Rhymes, US rapper (1972); Stirling Mortlock, Australian rugby union player (1977); Mark Winterbottom, Australian racing driver (1981).


“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it, but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance” – Charles A Lindbergh (1902-1974).

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