April 21 – On this Day in History

This article provides a chronological exploration of 20 significant historical events that occurred on April 21st, spanning from ancient times through the modern era. Each event is detailed to highlight its historical importance and the impact it had on the world.

From the mythical founding of Rome to transformative political changes and cultural milestones, this collection of events offers a glimpse into pivotal moments that have shaped human history.

Whether it’s the inauguration of Brasília as Brazil’s capital or the environmental catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, these events reflect the diverse and dynamic tapestry of our shared past.

April 21st Events in History

753 BC – Traditional date of the foundation of Rome by Romulus

According to Roman mythology, Rome was founded by Romulus, who, along with his twin brother Remus, was raised by a she-wolf. The twins decided to build a city on the site where they were saved and raised.

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A disagreement about the city’s location led to Romulus killing Remus and establishing Rome on the Palatine Hill. This traditional date is based on the 1st-century BC historian Marcus Terentius Varro and is commemorated annually as the festival of Parilia.

Henry VIII

1509 – Henry VIII ascends the throne of England after the death of his father, Henry VII

Henry VIII became King of England following the death of his father, Henry VII, effectively initiating the Tudor dynasty’s continuation.

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He is well-known for his significant role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, his six marriages, and his vigorous efforts to consolidate and strengthen royal authority. Henry’s reign would dramatically reshape English religion, society, and politics.

1649 – The Maryland Toleration Act, which provided for freedom of worship for all Christians, is passed

Passed by the Maryland colonial assembly, the Maryland Toleration Act was one of the first laws that explicitly defined religious tolerance.

Although it specifically secured the right of all Christians to practice their faith, the Act was particularly revolutionary in a time when religious conformity was enforced in most European states.

It paved the way for broader concepts of religious freedom in the colonies, though it had limitations and was later repealed and reinstated over time.

1792 – Brazilian revolutionary Tiradentes is hanged, drawn, and quartered in Rio de Janeiro

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, known as Tiradentes (Toothpuller), was a leading member of the Brazilian revolutionary movement known as the Inconfidência Mineira, which aimed at achieving independence from Portuguese colonial rule.

Captured and sentenced to death, Tiradentes was executed in a brutal manner meant to serve as a warning against further revolts. He later became a hero and martyr in Brazilian history, symbolizing the fight for Brazilian independence and justice.

1836 – Battle of San Jacinto: Texas forces led by Sam Houston defeat the Mexican troops led by Santa Anna; Texas wins independence from Mexico

The Battle of San Jacinto is one of the most significant engagements in Texas’ war for independence from Mexico. Led by General Sam Houston, the Texan army engaged and defeated the Mexican army commanded by General Antonio López de Santa Anna in a surprise attack. The battle lasted just 18 minutes but resulted in a decisive victory for the Texan forces.

Santa Anna was captured the following day, which led to the treaties that secured Texas independence. This victory not only secured independence but also paved the way for Texas’ eventual annexation to the United States.

1898 – The United States Navy begins a blockade of Cuban ports and the Spanish–American War begins

On April 21, 1898, following the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in February, which escalated tensions, the United States initiated a naval blockade of Cuba, marking the start of the Spanish-American War.

This conflict stemmed from the United States’ intervention in the Cuban War of Independence and broader ambitions in the Pacific region.

The war was brief, ending with the U.S. victory in the Treaty of Paris, which led to the U.S. acquiring territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, significantly expanding its influence overseas.

Spanish American War

1918 – World War I: German fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, “The Red Baron,” is shot down and killed near Vaux-sur-Somme in France

Manfred von Richthofen, better known as “The Red Baron,” was the most feared and celebrated pilot of the German air force during World War I. Known for the bright red aircraft he flew, Richthofen was credited with 80 air combat victories.

On April 21, 1918, he was fatally wounded while flying over the French sector controlled by Australian forces. There is some debate over who fired the shot that killed him, but his death marked the end of a legendary flying career and was a significant morale-impacting event during the war.

1926 – Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is born in Mayfair, London

Born as Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II came into the world on April 21, 1926, in Mayfair, London, during the reign of her paternal grandfather, King George V. Her father would later become King George VI.

Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952 following her father’s death and has become the longest-reigning current monarch in the world.

Her reign has seen significant changes in the political landscape of the United Kingdom and the world, witnessing the decolonization of Africa, the accession of the UK to the European Union, and later the Brexit referendum.

1934 – The “Surgeon’s Photograph,” the most famous photo allegedly showing the Loch Ness Monster, is published in the Daily Mail (later revealed to be a hoax)

The “Surgeon’s Photograph” is arguably the most famous image purporting to show the Loch Ness Monster, nicknamed “Nessie,” in Scotland. Taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist, the photograph seemingly depicted the monster’s head and neck. Published by the Daily Mail in 1934, the image captivated worldwide attention.

However, decades later, it was revealed to be a hoax involving a toy submarine outfitted with a sea-serpent head, part of a plot to embarrass the newspaper, which had previously scorned the monster hunters.

1945 – World War II: Soviet forces south of Berlin at Zossen attack the German High Command headquarters

In the final weeks of World War II in Europe, the Soviet Red Army made significant advances into German territory, aiming to capture Berlin and end the war. On April 21, 1945, Soviet troops attacked the German High Command’s headquarters in Zossen, a town just south of Berlin.

This facility, known as the Maybach I and II bunkers, was a critical military command center housing part of the German war effort’s nerve center. The capture of this facility further crippled the already beleaguered German military leadership, hastening the end of the conflict in Europe.

1960 – Brasília is officially inaugurated as the capital of Brazil, moving from Rio de Janeiro

Brasília, the planned city located in the interior of Brazil, was inaugurated on April 21, 1960, to serve as the country’s new capital, moving the capital status from Rio de Janeiro.

Designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer and urban planner Lúcio Costa, Brasília’s layout resembles an airplane from above. The relocation aimed to help develop the interior of Brazil and reduce the population density of the coastal cities.

The city is renowned for its modernist architecture and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

1966 – Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia visits Jamaica, an event now celebrated as Groundation Day

On April 21, 1966, Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, visited Jamaica. This visit was monumental for the Rastafari movement, whose followers revered him as a messianic figure who embodied African independence and identity.

His reception was enthusiastic, with thousands flocking to the airport and lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the Emperor. The day of his visit is celebrated as Groundation Day, which holds significant cultural and spiritual importance in Rastafari and Jamaican culture.

1975 – South Vietnam’s President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu resigns after 10 years in power

Amid the rapidly deteriorating situation in the Vietnam War, President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu of South Vietnam resigned on April 21, 1975. His resignation came just days before the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces, marking the end of the Vietnam War.

Thiệu had been a divisive figure, and his government was often criticized for corruption and inefficacy. His resignation led to a brief power vacuum, which concluded with the unification of Vietnam under Communist control.

1989 – In China, students gather at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square demanding government reforms, a prelude to the larger demonstrations in May and June

The gathering of students in Tiananmen Square on April 21, 1989, marked the beginning of a pro-democracy demonstration that grew significantly over the following weeks. The students demanded political reform, freedom of speech, and other civil liberties.

The peaceful protest drew international attention and sympathy, particularly as students began a hunger strike in May. The demonstrations culminated in the infamous June 4 crackdown, where the Chinese government enforced martial law and violently suppressed the protestors, resulting in numerous casualties.

1992 – The first discoveries of extrasolar planets are announced by astronomers Alexander Wolszczan and Dale Frail

On April 21, 1992, astronomers Alexander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the discovery of two planets orbiting the pulsar PSR 1257+12, marking the first confirmed discovery of planets beyond our Solar System.

This monumental find was made using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The discovery of these extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, opened a new field in astronomy, significantly advancing our understanding of the universe and inspiring the search for life on planets other than Earth.

1997 – The ashes of 1960s LSD guru Timothy Leary and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry are launched into space in a Pegasus rocket

In a unique posthumous tribute, the ashes of Timothy Leary, the psychologist who advocated for the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of LSD, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the “Star Trek” television series, were launched into space aboard a Pegasus rocket on April 21, 1997.

This celestial memorial service, known as Celestis-01 “The Founders Flight,” symbolized the frontier spirit both men advocated in their different ways—Leary in exploring the mind, and Roddenberry in exploring space and human potential.

2010 – The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated by BP, suffered a catastrophic explosion on April 20, 2010, which continued burning until April 22 when it sank. The disaster killed 11 workers and resulted in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea.

The spill had devastating effects on marine and wildlife habitats and the local fishing and tourism industries. Extensive efforts to seal the well and clean up the spill continued for months, drawing significant criticism regarding the safety practices and environmental responsibility of the oil industry.

2016 – Prince, the influential American musician, is found dead at his home in Minnesota

Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply as Prince, was found dead at his Paisley Park residence in Minnesota on April 21, 2016. His death was attributed to an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl.

Prince was a prolific musician known for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, and wide vocal range. He was a significant figure in the music industry, influencing genres from funk to rock, and pop to R&B, leaving behind a towering legacy characterized by pioneering music and iconic performances.