1777: The French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, count of Vergennes, officially acknowledges the United States as an independent nation. Although France was eager to see an American victory over the British after losing North America to the British in the Seven Years' War, at first Louis XVI only sent unofficial aid to America. When word of the Continental Army's overwhelming victory at Saratoga in October reached France in early December 1777, it gave Benjamin Franklin new leverage in his efforts to rally French support for the American rebels.
1790: Mexico's greatest Aztec relic, an Aztec calendar stone, is discovered in Mexico City. The 24-ton "Sun Stone" features carved astronomical symbols and reflects the Aztecs' knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. It was used to predict the seasons and natural events and is 103 years older than the Gregorian calendar used by most cultures today. The Spanish buried the stone where the Metropolitan Cathedral stands today in the main plaza of Mexico and it was accidentally uncovered during repair work on the cathedral.
1865: The first performance of the "Unfinished Symphony" by Franz Schubert takes place in Vienna, Austria.
1903: Orville and Wilbur Wright make their first powered and heavier-than-air flights in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, N.C. The first flight, by Orville, traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour and was recorded in this famous photograph. The next two flights covered approximately 175 feet and 200 feet by Wilbur and Orville respectively. The altitude of all the flights was about 10 feet above the ground. In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft.
1933: In the first official NFL Championship Game, the Chicago Bears defeat the New York Giants 23-21 at Wrigley Field.
1935: A prototype of the Douglas DC-3 airplane flies for the first time, on the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, at Clover Field in Santa Monica, Calif. The speed and range of the fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner would revolutionize air transport in the 1930s and 1940s.
1938: German chemist Otto Hahn discovers the nuclear fission of the heavy element uranium, the scientific and technological basis of nuclear energy, thus opening the "Atomic Age" in the history of mankind.
1945: Actor Ernie Hudson, best known for his role in "Ghostbusters," is born in Benton Harbor, Mich. Hudson has also had roles in movies such as "The Crow" and "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" and in the HBO prison series "Oz."
1946: Actor Eugene Levy, best known for his roles in movies such as "Splash," "Best in Show," "Waiting for Guffman" and the "American Pie" series, is born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
1947: The XB-47 prototype of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet strategic bomber makes its maiden flight, flying from Boeing Field in Seattle to the Moses Lake Airfield in central Washington state in a flight that lasts just 27 minutes. The long-range, six-engined, jet-powered medium bomber was designed to fly at high subsonic speeds and at high altitudes to avoid enemy interception.
1949: Rock singer Paul Rodgers, best known as the lead singer for the bands Free and Bad Company, is born in Middlesbrough, England.
1953: Actor Bill Pullman, best known for his movie roles in "Spaceballs," "Independence Day," "Lost Highway" and "While You Were Sleeping," is born in Hornell, N.Y.
1956: Film director Peter Farrelly (left), best known for directing movies such as "There's Something About Mary," "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin" and "Fever Pitch" with his brother Bobby (right), is born in Phoenixville, Pa.
1957: English writer Dorothy L. Sayers, best known for her series of mysteries set between World War I and World War II featuring English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, dies of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 64 in Witham, Essex, England.
1961: A circus tent fire at the Gran Circus Norte-Americano in the city of Niterói near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, kills 323, representing the biggest tragedy in circus history. Although the fire was blamed on arson and Adilson Marcelino Alves, a disgruntled employee, and two accomplices were later arrested and convicted for it, independent investigations have also pointed to electrical problems as a potential source for the fire.
1966: Country music singer-songwriter and guitarist Tracy Byrd, whose No. 1 hit country songs include "Holdin' Heaven" and "Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo," is born in Vidor, Texas.
1969: The United States Air Force closes Project Blue Book, its study of UFOs, with the final report stating that sightings are generated as a result of four reasons: a mild form of mass hysteria, individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or seek publicity, psychopathological persons, and misidentification of various conventional objects. By the time Project Blue Book ended, it had collected 12,618 UFO reports, and concluded that most of them were misidentifications of natural phenomena or conventional aircraft. Pictured is a CIA image of a purported UFO in New Jersey shot in 1952.
1969: More than 21 million television viewers tune in to watch entertainer Tiny Tim marry Victoria Mae Budinger, aka Miss Vicki, on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
1969: Mixed martial artist Chuck Liddell, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship Light Heavyweight Champion widely credited for bringing mixed martial arts into the mainstream of American sports and entertainment, is born in Santa Barbara, Calif.
1971: "Diamonds Are Forever," the seventh spy film in the James Bond series and the last by Eon Productions to star Sean Connery as the British spy, premieres in the United States. After George Lazenby left the franchise following 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," the studio paid Connery a then-record $1.25 million salary for him to return. Connery would play Bond once again, in 1983's "Never Say Never Again," at the age of 52, although that movie, more or less a remake of the 1965 Bond movie "Thunderball," was not produced by Eon.
1972: Actress Laurie Holden, best known for her TV roles in "The Walking Dead" (pictured), "The X-Files" and "The Shield" and for movies like "The Majestic," "Silent Hill" and "The Mist," is born in Los Angeles, Calif.
1973: Paula Radcliffe, a five-time Olympian long-distance runner who has won the London Marathon three times, the New York Marathon twice and the 2002 Chicago Marathon, is born in Davenham, Cheshire, England.
1974: Pastry chef and TV personality Duff Goldman, the executive chef of the Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes shop featured in the Food Network reality television show "Ace of Cakes," is born Jeffrey Adam Goldman in Detroit, Mich.
1974: Actor Giovanni Ribisi, best known for his movie roles in "Boiler Room," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Avatar," is born in Los Angeles, Calif.
1975: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme is found guilty by a federal jury in Sacramento, Calif., for trying to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford on Sept. 5. She would be sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled from a Texas prison hospital on Aug. 14, 2009, after more than three decades behind bars.
1975: Actress Milla Jovovich, known for her roles in movies such as "Dazed and Confused," "The Fifth Element" and the "Resident Evil" movie franchise, is born in Kiev, Ukraine.
1978: Boxer and politician Manny Pacquiao, the first eight-division world champion, is born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, Philippines. He was named "Fighter of the Decade" for the 2000s by the Boxing Writers Association of America, World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization. He was also long rated as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world by several sporting news and boxing websites.
1989: The first episode of television series "The Simpsons," titled "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," airs in the United States. The show originated as animated shorts that were a part of "The Tracey Ullman Show" for three seasons starting in April 1987. In 2009, "The Simpsons" surpassed "Gunsmoke" as the longest-running American primetime, scripted television series ever.
1997: The United Kingdom commences its Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997, which extends the state's gun ban to include all handguns, with the exception of antique and show weapons.
2003: Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham dies of a heart aneurysm at age 82 in Sarasota, Fla. Graham played for the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference and National Football League and was one of the most dominant players of his era. He took the Browns to league championship games every year between 1946 and 1955, winning seven of them. He also starred collegiately at Northwestern University and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955.
2003: SpaceShipOne flight 11P, a suborbital air-launched spaceplane piloted by Brian Binnie, becomes the first privately-funded manned flight to reach supersonic speeds. The flight came on the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' historic first powered flight. The spaceplane, which in June 2004 would become the first private craft to fly into space, is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
2003: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the third part in filmmaker Peter Jackson's fantasy trilogy, opens in theaters. The movie would go on to gross more than $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of 2003 and the sixth highest of all time. It would also be nominated for 11 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing. At the 76th Academy Awards in 2004, the film won all the categories for which it was nominated.
2004: U.S. President George W. Bush signs into law the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the largest overhaul of U.S. intelligence gathering in 50 years. The bill aimed to tighten borders and aviation security and also created a federal counterterrorism center and a new intelligence director.
2008: Former professional football player Sammy Baugh, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the 17-member charter class of 1963, dies of numerous health issues, including Alzheimer's disease, at the age of 94 in Rotan, Texas. Baugh, who set 13 NFL records playing quarterback, defensive back and punter for Washington from 1937 to 1952, is credited for making the forward pass an integral part of the offensive play in the NFL.
2009: Actress Jennifer Jones, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in 1943's "The Song of Bernadette," dies at age 90 in Malibu, Calif. She was also nominated for another four Oscars in her career, including for 1955's "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" (pictured).
2010: Rock musician and singer-songwriter Captain Beefheart dies of complications from multiple sclerosis at the age of 69 in Arcata, Calif. Born Don Glen Vliet, he took the Captain Beefheart stage name and recorded 13 albums with a rotating ensemble of musicians called The Magic Band between 1965 and 1982. Although he saw little commercial success or critical acclaim during his career, he established a cult following and influenced New Wave, post-punk, experimental and alternative rock musicians.
2011: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the dictator who for 17 years had presided over the world's most isolated regime, dies of a suspected heart attack at the age of 70.
2012: U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, dies of respiratory complications at age 88 in Bethesda, Md. A Medal of Honor recipient who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, Inouye was the most senior U.S. senator at the time of his death. He is also the second-longest serving U.S. senator in history after Robert Byrd and continuously represented Hawaii in the U.S. Congress since it achieved statehood in 1959 until the time of his death.