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What Happened on January 19?

  • The US Senate voted against joining the League of Nations. (1920) Despite the fact that the League of Nations was US President Wilson's brainchild, fears of becoming involved in European politics prompted the Senate to vote against joining. Some consider this to be the main reason that the League of Nations never reached its potential.

  • Indira Gandhi was elected Prime Minister of India. (1966) She was the first female leader of India, and remains a symbol of feminism in India today. Gandhi was also known for leading India out of poverty, increasing food production by more than 200 percent, and reducing the poverty rate by more than 20 percent.

  • Ellis Island closed. (1954) In its almost 70 years of operation as an immigration station, Ellis Island processed more than 12 million people. It is estimated that almost half of Americans in the 21st century can trace their heritage back to people who came through Ellis Island.

  • Japanese war criminals were judged in court. (1948) Several men were convicted of war crimes in a proceeding much like the Nuremberg Trials in Germany. Many were convicted and sentenced to death on this day, including General Hideki Tojo, the premier of Japan, and Iwane Matsui, who led the Rape of Nanking.

  • Union General Sherman ordered the destruction of Atlanta. (1864) In an extremely unpopular move among Confederate sympathizers, Sherman ordered his troops to destroy the business section of Atlanta before they continued on their famous "March to the Sea." Almost half of the city was entirely ruined, and the previous cultural and industrial capital of the South was gutted.

  • President Carter prohibited Iranian oil imports into the US. (1979) Carter stopped oil imports under pressure of threats to American security — 52 Americans had been taken hostage by Iranian radicals, and Carter felt that if he continued to import oil from Iran, it would just lead to more violence. Although the US and Iran had previously enjoyed diplomatic relations, that all ended when Carter stopped the oil imports.

  • "Tokyo Rose," the famous World War II propagandist, was pardoned. (1977) Iva Toguri D'Aquino, of "Tokyo Rose" became famous for broadcasting anti-American messages to American soldiers in the South Pacific. She was eventually arrested for treason and sabotaging the war effort, though she was eventually acquitted.

  • The classic play "Faust" was performed for the first time. (1829) Goethe's Faust, Part I had been a famous work of literature for years before it was adapted to the stage. The play, known for its epic Biblical references, went on to become one of the 20 most performed plays in North America.

  • The first recorded meteor shower occurred in North America. (1799) The shower was recorded by an American astronomer, Andrew Ellicott Douglass, who reported that the "whole heaven appeared as if illuminated with sky rockets." Astronomers now know he was seeing the Leonids meteor shower, an event that occurs about once every 30 or so years.

  • American captain Charles Wilkes circumnavigated and claimed Antarctica. (1840) Wilkes was on an exploratory expedition around the Pacific when he reached Antarctica. He was one of the first people to ever see the continent, part of which was later named "Wilkes Land" in his honor.

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