1478: Sir Thomas More, the statesman, author and Renaissance humanist, is born in London, England. More opposed King Henry VIII's separation from the Roman Catholic Church and refused to accept the king as the head of the Church of England. In 1535, he was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony, and beheaded. Pope Pius XI canonized him as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 1935.
1795: The 11th Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, granting states sovereign immunity. The amendment, the first Constitutional amendment since the adoption of the Bill of Rights, means that states are generally immune from being sued in federal court without their consent.
1804: John Deere, the blacksmith and manufacturer who founded Deere & Company, one of the largest agricultural and construction equipment manufacturers in the world, is born in Rutland, Vt.
1812: Author Charles Dickens, generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period, is born in Landport, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Dickens is well known for such works as "A Tale of Two Cities," "Oliver Twist," "David Copperfield," "Great Expectations" and "A Christmas Carol."
1812: The strongest in a series of earthquakes strikes New Madrid, Mo. The three-month series started on Dec. 16, 1811, in the central Mississippi River valley and the quakes were felt hundreds of miles away. All were powerful, about magnitude 7 to 7.5, with many aftershocks. The last quake destroyed the town of New Madrid and severely damaged homes in St. Louis, toppling chimneys. Contemporary reports state that the ground rose along the fault, causing temporary waterfalls on the Mississippi River, creating waves that rolled upstream, and forming Reelfoot Lake by obstructing streams in what is now Lake County, Tenn. The earthquakes that struck the region remain among the most powerful earthquakes in the United States and the New Madrid fault remains a concern today.
1867: Author Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the "Little House" series of books based on her childhood in a pioneer family, is born Laura Elizabeth Ingalls in Pepin County, Wis.
1870: Psychiatrist Alfred Adler, who founded the school of individual psychology and developed the theory known as inferiority complex, is born near Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Adler began his medical career as an ophthalmologist, but later turned to mental disease and became a prominent member of the psychoanalytical group that formed around Sigmund Freud in 1900.
1878: Pope Pius IX, the longest-reigning elected Pope in the history of the Catholic Church, dies at the age of 85 in Rome, Italy, of epilepsy, which led to a seizure and a sudden heart attack. Pius IX served from June 16, 1846, until his death, a period of nearly 32 years. During his pontificate, Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal infallibility. He also defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, meaning that Mary was conceived without original sin.
1885: Author Sinclair Lewis, the first writer from the United States to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, is born in Sauk Centre, Minn. Among his most popular works are the novels "Main Street," "Babbitt," "Arrowsmith," "Elmer Gantry" and "Dodsworth."
1898: French writer Émile Zola is brought to trial for libel for publishing "J'Accuse" an open letter published on Jan. 13, 1898, in the newspaper L'Aurore. In the letter, Zola addressed French President Félix Faure and accused the government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army officer sentenced to penal servitude for life for espionage. Zola would be found guilty of libel on Feb. 23 and fled to England to avoid imprisonment. He returned home in June 1899 and accepted a pardon. In 1906, Dreyfus was posthumously exonerated by the French Supreme Court.
1904: A fire in Baltimore, Md., destroys more than 1,500 buildings in 30 hours. Much of the destroyed area was rebuilt in relatively short order, and the city adopted a building code, stressing fireproof materials. The fire also gave impetus to efforts to standardize firefighting equipment in the United States, especially hose couplings.
1914: Charlie Chaplin debuts his character "The Tramp" in the silent movie "Kid Auto Races at Venice."
1935: The classic board game Monopoly is first marketed by Charles Darrow, with the symbol of Rich Uncle Pennybags. Darrow would be issued a patent for the game on Dec. 31, 1935, and assign it to Parker Brothers, Inc., which had bought the rights to the game from him.
1938: American businessman Harvey Firestone, the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, dies at the age of 69 in Miami Beach, Fla.
1940: "Pinocchio," the second full-length animated Walt Disney film, premieres. The film would go on to win two Academy Awards, one for Best Original Score and one for Best Original Song for the song "When You Wish upon a Star."
1946: Actor Pete Postlethwaite, best known for his movie roles in "In the Name of the Father," "The Usual Suspects," "The Constant Gardener," "Romeo + Juliet" and "The Town," is born in Warrington, Cheshire, England. Postlethwaite, who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "In the Name of the Father" in 1994, died of pancreatic cancer at age 64 on Jan. 2, 2011.
1948: Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower resigns as U.S. Army chief of staff and is succeeded by Gen. Omar Bradley.
1949: New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio becomes the first baseball player to make $100,000 a year when he signs a record contract.
1959: Hall of Fame baseball player Nap Lajoie, who won the American League Triple Crown in 1901 and joined Cap Anson and Honus Wagner in 1914 as the only major league players to that point to reach 3,000 career hits, dies of complications associated with pneumonia at the age of 84 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Lajoie, who won five AL batting titles and holds the single-season batting average record of .426, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937 as part of the hall's second class. Lajoie played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Naps between 1896 and 1916. In Cleveland he was so popular with the fans that the team's name was changed from the Broncos to the Napoleons in his honor, changing to the Cleveland Indians after he left in 1915.
1960: Actor James Spader, best known for his movie roles in "Pretty in Pink," "Less Than Zero," "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "Stargate" and "Secretary," is born in Boston, Mass. Spader is also known for playing attorney Alan Shore on the TV shows "The Practice" and its spin-off "Boston Legal," for which he won three Emmy Awards.
1962: Country singer-songwriter Garth Brooks, who broke records for both record sales and concert attendance throughout the 1990s, is born Troyal Garth Brooks in Tulsa, Okla. Brooks has seen 19 of his songs hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including "The Dance," "Friends in Low Places," "The Thunder Rolls," "Longneck Bottle" and "Two Piña Coladas."
1962: Actor and comedian Eddie Izzard, who has appeared in movies such as "Ocean's Twelve," "Mystery Men," "Shadow of the Vampire," "The Cat's Meow," "Across the Universe" and "Valkyrie," is born in Aden, Yemen, then known as the Colony of Aden in the Aden Protectorate. Izzard, who is also known for his cross-dressing, won an Emmy for his 1998 comedy special "Dress to Kill" and also starred in the short-lived cable TV drama "The Riches."
1962: U.S. President John F. Kennedy issues an executive order widening the scope of existing trade restrictions with Cuba, banning all Cuban imports and exports.
1963: The Beatles first U.S. single, "Please Please Me," is released on Vee-Jay Records after both Capitol Records and Atlantic Records had turned it down. While the single failed to make much of an impact in America at first, when it was re-released on Jan. 3, 1964, to capitalize on the U.S. success of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," it became a massive hit. For the week ending March 14, 1964, it peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, trailing only "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You."
1964: The Beatles first arrive in the United States and are greeted by screaming fans at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Their performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" two days later would mark the beginning of what was referred to as the British Invasion.
1965: Actor and comedian Chris Rock, who got his start on "Saturday Night Live" and is best known for his acclaimed standup comedy specials and movies such as "Down to Earth," "Bad Company," "Head of State," "Madagascar" and "Grown Ups," is born in Andrews, S.C.
1966: Crawdaddy!, the first magazine dedicated specifically to rock 'n' roll music criticism, is published in Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia by then student Paul Williams. The magazine, named after the legendary Crawdaddy Club in England at which the Rolling Stones played their first gig, started out as a mimeographed fanzine with a handwritten cover and stapled together pages, but quickly grew into a professional magazine with newsstand distribution. Pictured is the cover of the November 1966 issue.
1972: Film director Walter Lang, best known for the movies "State Fair," "The King and I" and "Desk Set," dies of kidney failure at the age of 75 in Palm Springs, Calif. Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for "The King and I" in 1957.
1974: Mel Brook's comedy "Blazing Saddles," starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn, premieres in theaters. Although critical reaction was mixed, the would film gross $119.5 million at the box office, becoming only the 10th film in history up to that point to pass the $100 million mark. It would also earn three Academy Awards nominations in 1974 for Best Supporting Actress for Madeline Kahn, Best Film Editing and Best Original Song.
1974: NBA player Steve Nash, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and eight-time NBA All-Star, is born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nash, who was raised in British Columbia, Canada, has also played with the Canadian national team several times, including captaining the team to the quarterfinals in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
1976: Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs sets a National Hockey League record by scoring 10 points in a game against the Boston Bruins at Maple Leaf Gardens. He scored six goals and four assists.
1978: Actor Ashton Kutcher, who started his career as a model before breaking out with the TV sitcom "That '70s Show," is born Christopher Ashton Kutcher in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kutcher went on to create, produce and host the MTV celebrity prank show "Punk'd" and star in movies such as "Dude, Where's My Car?," "Just Married," "The Butterfly Effect" and "What Happens in Vegas" and the TV show "Two and a Half Men."
1979: Josef Mengele, the German SS officer and a Auschwitz concentration camp physician known as the "Angel of Death," dies in Bertioga, Brazil, dies while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, either by drowning or as the result of a stroke. Mengele, who had been living incognito in South America for three decades and was buried under the name "Wolfgang Gerhard," wasn't positively identified until his body was exhumed six years later. Mengele, seen here in a 1956 photo taken by a police photographer in Buenos Aires for his Argentine identification document, was one of the more notorious figures to emerge from the Third Reich in World War II. He supervised the selection of victims during the Holocaust, condemning some to death and others to forced labor while also performing bizarre and murderous experiments on some prisoners.
1984: Space shuttle Challenger astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart make the first untethered space walk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, a propulsion unit strapped to their backs.
1990: The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party agrees to endorse President Mikhail Gorbachev's recommendation that the party give up its 70-year long monopoly of political power. The committee's decision to allow political challenges to the party's dominance in Russia was yet another signal of the impending collapse of the Soviet system.
1991: Haiti's first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is sworn in. During his short-lived first period in office, he attempted to carry out substantial reforms, which brought passionate opposition from Haiti's business and military elite, and he was overthrown in a bloody military coup in September 1991. Aristide served as president again from 1994 to 1996 after the coup regime collapsed and again from 2001 to 2004, when he was again ousted in another coup.
1995: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan. He would eventually be convicted and sentenced to 240 years in prison for the attack, which killed six and injured 1,042.
2000: Rapper Big Pun, who emerged from the underground rap scene in The Bronx in the late 1990s, dies of a heart attack and respiratory failure at the age of 28 in White Plains, N.Y. The Puerto Rican-American rapper, whose real name was Christopher Lee Rios, made his commercial debut on fellow rapper Fat Joe's second album, "Jealous One's Envy," and made his full-length debut with the album "Capital Punishment" in 1998. The album became the first by a solo Latino rapper to go platinum, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart and earning a Grammy nomination.
2000: Canadian magician Doug Henning, who started his career with a live theatrical magic show and became a TV star in the mid-1970s, dies of liver cancer at the age of 52 in Los Angeles, Calif. Henning earned a Tony Award nomination in 1974 for his Broadway show "The Magic Show" and more than 50 million viewers tuned in for the December 1975 broadcast of the TV special "Doug Henning's World of Magic," in which he recreated Harry Houdini's famous and highly dangerous water torture escape. The show was the first of seven annual broadcasts that would eventually bring Henning seven Emmy nominations.
2001: Actress and singer Dale Evans, the third wife of singing cowboy Roy Rogers, dies of congestive heart failure at the age of 88 in Apple Valley, Calif. Evans and Rogers formed a team on- and off-screen from 1946 until Rogers' death in 1998. She's seen here with Rogers at the Academy Awards in 1989.
2012: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a U.S. District Court judge's 2010 ruling that California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The panel also continued a stay on the earlier ruling, barring any marriages from taking place pending further appeals. One June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Proposition 8 supporters did not have legal standing to defend the law in federal court, either to the Supreme Court or, previously, to the Ninth Circuit. Therefore the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and directed the Ninth Circuit to vacate its decision, leaving the district court's 2010 ruling intact. Two days later, the Ninth Circuit lifted its stay of the district court ruling, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in the state.