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What Happened on May 4?

  • US construction began on the Panama Canal. (1904) The canal was started in the 1880s by French engineers, but they gave up due to a combination of equipment problems, malaria, and an extremely high death toll. The US took over the project, which was finally completed in the 1940s with a death toll of over 25,000 people.

  • The Kent State massacre occurred. (1970) National Guard members shot and killed four students who were protesting the Vietnam War. The killings were a huge national scandal, and reinforced many young people's negative opinion of the US government.

  • Napoleon began his exile. (1814) The former emperor arrived on the island of Elba on this day to begin his exile. It didn't last too long though — he escaped less than a year later in a short-lived attempt to regain power.

  • American adventurer William Walker set out to conquer Nicaragua. (1855) Walker set off with 60 men from San Francisco, and actually succeeded in beating the Nicaraguan army and setting himself up as the President of "Walkeragua," which was recognized as a legitimate government by the US. Walker annoyed the US and his neighbors by constantly threatening military invasions, however, and was deposed within two years.

  • Al Capone went to jail. (1932) The notorious Chicago gangster was actually brought down on charges of tax evasion. He began serving his sentence in a federal prison in Atlanta on this day.

  • Margaret Thatcher was sworn in as prime minister. (1979) Thatcher was the first female prime minister (PM) in Britain, and was known as the Iron Lady for her tough rhetoric. She also served the longest continuous term in office as PM, with three consecutive terms.

  • David Frost interviewed President Nixon. (1977) The televised interview dealt largely with Nixon's actions during the Watergate scandal, and was later adapted into the movie Frost vs. Nixon. Nixon was quite candid in the interview, and stated that he still believed that, although he had let America down with the Watergate burglary, he didn't feel like he had made a cover-up.

  • Rolls met Royce. (1904) Charles Rolls met Henry Royce in the Midland Hotel in Manchester on this day, leading to their partnership and the creation of the Rolls-Royce auto empire.

  • The Augustinian monastic order was founded. (1256) Famous Augustinians include Martin Luther, the scholar Erasmus, and geneticist Gregor Mendel.

  • The Kangxi Emperor was born. (1654) Kangxi was an extraordinarily powerful ruler and set the stage for China to become a major economic and political power in the 1700s. He was also one of longest ruling emperors, remaining on the throne for 61 years.
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