1612: Galileo Galilei becomes the first astronomer to observe the planet Neptune, although he mistakenly catalogued it as a fixed star.
1832: John C. Calhoun becomes the first vice president of the United States to resign, stepping down over differences with President Andrew Jackson.
1846: Iowa is admitted as the 29th U.S. state.
1856: Woodrow Wilson, who would become the 28th president of the United States in 1913, is born in Staunton, Va.
1895: The Lumière brothers hold their first public screening of films for a paying audience at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, marking the debut of the cinema. The presentation included 10 short films, including their first film, "Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon" (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory). Each film was 17 meters long, which, when hand cranked through a projector, ran approximately 50 seconds.
1895: German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen publishes a paper detailing his discovery of a new type of radiation, which later will be known as X-rays.
1897: "Cyrano de Bergerac," the play by Edmond Rostand, premieres at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, France.
1902: The Syracuse Athletic Club defeats the New York Philadelphians, 5-0, in the first indoor professional American football game, which was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
1908: A magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocks Messina, Sicily, spawning a tsunami and killing 100,000 to 200,000 people.
1912: The first municipally owned streetcars take to the streets in San Francisco, Calif., with the establishment of the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni). The first streetcar line, the A Geary, ran from Kearny and Market streets in the Financial District to Fulton Street and 10th Avenue in the Richmond District.
1922: Comic book writer Stan Lee, the co-creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and many other Marvel Comics characters, is born in New York City.
1929: Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Terry Sawchuk, who played 21 seasons in the National Hockey League for the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, is born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Sawchuk saw his best years come at the beginning of his career for the Red Wings, leading the team to three Stanley Cups in five years, winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie and three Vezina Trophies for the fewest goals allowed. Sawchuk finished his hockey career with 447 regular season wins, a record that stood for 30 years, and his career record of 103 shutouts remained unsurpassed among NHL goaltenders until Martin Brodeur bested the mark on Dec. 21, 2009. He died from a pulmonary embolism at age 40 on May 31, 1970. He had earlier suffered internal injuries in a drunken fight with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart and had his gallbladder removed and underwent two operations on his damaged and bleeding liver before he died.
1932: Actress and singer Nichelle Nichols, best known as Nyota Uhura from the "Star Trek" TV series and movie franchise, is born Grace Dell Nichols in Robbins, Ill.
1934: Actress Maggie Smith, best known for roles in movies such as "Othello," "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," "Travels with My Aunt," "California Suite," "A Room with a View," "Gosford Park" and the "Harry Potter" movies as well as the TV series "Downton Abbey," is born in London, England. Smith has won Academy Awards for her roles in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "California Suite."
1944: Maurice Richard becomes the first NHL player to score eight points in one game, scoring five goals and three assists in a 9–1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
1945: American author Theodore Dreiser, whose best known novels include "Sister Carrie" and "An American Tragedy," dies at the age of 74 in Hollywood, Calif.
1946: Musician Edgar Winter, most successful in the 1970s with his band The Edgar Winter Group, including the songs "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride," is born in Beaumont, Texas.
1954: Journalist Gayle King, a co-anchor of CBS This Morning and an editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Magazine, is born in Chevy Chase, Md. King is also famous as a close friend and business associate of Oprah Winfrey and previously hosted the talk show "The Gayle King Show" on Winfrey's OWN channel.
1954: Actor Denzel Washington, best known for movies such as "Glory," "Malcolm X," "Philadelphia," "Training Day" and "American Gangster," is born in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Washington has won two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actor for "Glory" and one for Best Actor for "Training Day."
1958: In the National Football League Championship Game, the Baltimore Colts defeat the New York Giants 23-17 at Yankee Stadium in the first ever NFL playoff game to go to sudden death overtime. The game has been described as "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and marked the beginning of the NFL's popularity surge.
1960: Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque is born in Saint-Laurent, Quebec, Canada. Bourque played 21 seasons for the Boston Bruins, becoming nearly synonymous with the team and its longest-serving captain, before finishing his career with the Colorado Avalanche, winning a Stanley Cup title in his final game in 2001. He retired holding the NHL records for most career goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
1961: Tennessee Williams' play "The Night of the Iguana" premieres on Broadway at the Royale Theatre. Two film adaptations of the play have since been made, including the Academy Award-winning 1964 film of the same name.
1968: The Doors' song "Touch Me" is released. The song would eventually reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1968: The Beatles' self-titled double album, more popularly referred to as "The White Album" due to its all-white cover art, goes No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart. It would spend nine weeks on top of the chart in total.
1973: The Endangered Species Act is signed into law by U.S. President Richard Nixon. The law was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a "consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation."
1973: Actor and comedian Seth Meyers, best known for his work on "Saturday Night Live" and for movies such as "New Year's Eve," is born in Evanston, Ill.
1978: Singer-songwriter and actor John Legend, a nine-time Grammy winner, is born John Roger Stephens in Springfield, Ohio.
1979: Actress Noomi Rapace, best known for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish/Danish film adaptations of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" movies, as well as her roles in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" and "Prometheus" (pictured), is born in Hudiksvall, Sweden.
1981: Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American test-tube baby, is born in Norfolk, Va. She was the 15th baby in the world to be born as a result of the in-vitro fertilization procedure. Despite the nickname, the in-vitro fertilization that led to Carr's conception actually took place in a petri dish.
1981: Actress and model Sienna Miller, best known for her roles in "Layer Cake," "Alfie," "Stardust" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," is born in New York City.
1983: Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys drowns while swimming near his boat in the harbor at Marina del Ray, Calif. Wilson, the middle brother of fellow Beach Boys members Brian Wilson and Carl Wilson, and cousin of Mike Love, was 39.
1984: Film director Sam Peckinpah, best known for such films as "The Wild Bunch," "Straw Dogs," "The Getaway," "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" and "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," dies of heart failure at the age of 59 in Inglewood, Calif. Peckinpah is seen here with Bob Dylan on the set of "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid."
1986: American crime and suspense novelist John D. MacDonald dies from complications of an earlier heart bypass operation at the age of 70 in Milwaukee, Wis. MacDonald's best-known works include the critically acclaimed Travis McGee series and his novel "The Executioners," which was adapted into the film "Cape Fear."
1990: Singer David Archuleta, who became famous in 2008 after finishing as runner-up on season seven of "American Idol," is born in Miami, Fla.
2000: After lower-than-expected sales during the Christmas season, retail giant Montgomery Ward announces it is going out of business and would close its remaining 250 retail outlets and lay off its 37,000 employees. All the stores closed within weeks of the announcement and the company was liquidated by the end of May 2001.
2004: Actor Jerry Orbach, best known for his starring role as Detective Lennie Briscoe in the "Law & Order" television series, dies of prostate cancer at the age of 69 in New York City.
2004: Writer Susan Sontag, the author of 17 books and a lifelong human rights activist, dies at the age of 71 in New York City from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome which had evolved into acute myelogenous leukemia. Her best known works include "On Photography," "Against Interpretation," "Illness as Metaphor," "Regarding the Pain of Others," "The Volcano Lover" and "In America."
2008: The Detroit Lions complete an 0-16 season, the NFL's worst ever, with a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.