Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
August 20 is the 232nd day of the year (233rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 133 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1911, a dispatcher in the New York Times office sends the first telegram around the world via commercial service. Exactly 66 years later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sends a different kind of message–a phonograph record containing information about Earth for extraterrestrial beings–shooting into space aboard the unmanned spacecraft Voyager II.
The Times decided to send its 1911 telegram in order to determine how fast a commercial message could be sent around the world by telegraph cable. The message, reading simply “This message sent around the world,” left the dispatch room on the 17th floor of the Times building in New York at 7 p.m. on August 20. After it traveled more than 28,000 miles, being relayed by 16 different operators, through San Francisco, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Bombay, Malta, Lisbon and the Azores–among other locations–the reply was received by the same operator 16.5 minutes later. It was the fastest time achieved by a commercial cablegram since the opening of the Pacific cable in 1900 by the Commercial Cable Company.
The Voyager 2 spacecraft is an unmanned interplanetary space probe launched on August 20, 1977. Both the Voyager 2 and the Voyager 1 space probes were designed, developed, and built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. Identical in form and instruments with its sister Voyager program craft Voyager 1, Voyager 2 was launched on a slower, more curved trajectory that allowed it to be kept in the plane of the Ecliptic (the plane of the Solar System) so that it could be sent on to Uranus and Neptune by means of utilizing gravity assists during its fly-by of Saturn in 1981 and of Uranus in 1986. Because of this chosen trajectory, Voyager 2 could not take a close-up look at the large Saturnian moon Titan as its sister space probe had. However, Voyager 2 did become the first and only spacecraft to make the spaceflight by Uranus and Neptune, and hence completing the Planetary Grand Tour. This is one that is made practical by a seldom-occurring geometric alignment of the outer planets (happening once every 175 years).
The Voyager 2 space probe has made the most productive unmanned space voyage so far, visiting all four of the Outer Planets and their systems of moons and rings, including the first two visits to previously unexplored Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 had two sensitive vidicon cameras and an assortment of other scientific instruments to make measurements in the ultraviolet, infrared, and radio wavelengths, as well as ones to measure subatomic particles in outer space, including cosmic rays. All of this was accomplished at a fraction of the amount of money that was later spent on more advanced and specialized space probes Galileo and Cassini-Huygens. Along with the earlier NASA Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, sister probe Voyager 1, and the more recent New Horizons, Voyager 2 is an interstellar probe in that all five of these are on one-way trajectories leaving the Solar System.
636 – Battle of Yarmouk: Arab forces led by Khalid ibn al-Walid take control of Syria and Palestine away from the Byzantine Empire, marking the first great wave of Muslim conquests and the rapid advance of Islam outside Arabia.
917 – Battle of Acheloos: Tsar Simeon I of Bulgaria decisively defeats a Byzantine army.
1000 – The foundation of the Hungarian state by Saint Stephen. Today celebrated as a National Day in Hungary.
1083 – Canonization of the first King of Hungary, Saint Stephen and his son Saint Emeric.
1391 – Konrad von Wallenrode becomes the 24th Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order.
1672 – Former Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis are brutally murdered by an angry mob in The Hague.
1775 – The Spanish establish a presidio (fort) in the town that became Tucson, Arizona.
1794 – Battle of Fallen Timbers – American troops force a confederacy of Shawnee, Mingo, Delaware, Wyandot, Miami, Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi warriors into a disorganized retreat.
1804 – Lewis and Clark Expedition: the “Corps of Discovery”, exploring the Louisiana Purchase, suffers its only death when sergeant Charles Floyd dies, apparently from acute appendicitis.
1858 – Charles Darwin first publishes his theory of evolution in The Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, alongside Alfred Russel Wallace’s same theory.
1866 – President Andrew Johnson formally declares the American Civil War over.
1882 – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuts in Moscow.
1900 – Japan’s primary school law is amended to provide for four years of mandatory schooling.
1914 – World War I: German forces occupy Brussels.
1920 – The first commercial radio station, 8MK (WWJ), begins operations in Detroit, Michigan.
1920 – The National Football League, (NFL), is founded in the United States.
1926 – Japan’s public broadcasting company, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) is established.
1938 – Lou Gehrig hits his 23rd career grand slam – a record that still stands.
1940 – In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe by Ramon Mercader. He dies the next day.
1944 – WWII: 168 captured allied airmen, accused of being “terror fliers”, arrive at Buchenwald concentration camp.
1944 – WWII: the Battle of Romania begins with a major Soviet offensive.
1953 – The Soviet Union publicly acknowledges that it had tested a hydrogen bomb.
1955 – In Morocco, a force of Berbers from the Atlas Mountains region of Algeria raid two rural settlements and kill 77 French nationals.
1968 – 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the “Prague Spring” of political liberalization.
1975 – Viking Program: NASA launches the Viking 1 planetary probe toward Mars.
1977 – Voyager Program: NASA launches the Voyager 2 spacecraft.
1979 – The East Coast Main Line rail route between England and Scotland is restored when the Penmanshiel Diversion opens.
1982 – Lebanese Civil War: a multinational force lands in Beirut to oversee the PLO’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
1988 – Iran-Iraq War: a cease-fire is agreed after almost eight years of war.
1991 – Collapse of the Soviet Union, August Coup: more than 100,000 people rally outside the Soviet Union’s parliament building protesting the coup aiming to depose President Mikhail Gorbachev.
1991 – Estonia secedes from the Soviet Union.
1993 – After rounds of secret negotiations in Norway, the Oslo Peace Accords are signed, followed by a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. the following month.
1998 – The Supreme Court of Canada rules that Quebec cannot legally secede from Canada without the federal government’s approval.
1998 – U.S. embassy bombings: the United States military launches cruise missile attacks against alleged al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical plant in Sudan in retaliation for the August 7 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
2002 – A group of Iraqis opposed to the regime of Saddam Hussein take over the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin for five hours before releasing their hostages and surrendering.
* Christian Feast Day:
* Bernard of Clairvaux
* Oswine of Deira
* Philibert of Jumièges
* August 20 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)
* Saint Stephen’s Day in Hungary
* Father’s Day (Nepal)
* Restoration of Independence Day, re-declaration of the independece of Estonia from the Soviet Union in 1991.
* Revolution of the King and People (Morocco)