April 26 – On this Day in History

This article explores significant historical events that occurred on April 26th, presenting them in chronological order.

Covering a wide range of impactful moments, from Petrarch’s Renaissance-inspiring ascent of Mont Ventoux to the modern-day abdication of Japan’s Emperor Akihito, each event provides a glimpse into the forces that have shaped different eras.

This collection highlights how a single date can bear witness to transformative changes and enduring legacies throughout history.

April 26th Events in History

1336 – Petrarch ascends Mont Ventoux, often considered a symbolic “renaissance” moment promoting the value of nature and the outdoors

Francesco Petrarch, an Italian scholar, poet, and one of the earliest humanists, ascended Mont Ventoux in France.

This climb is often regarded as a “renaissance moment” because Petrarch penned an introspective account of his journey, emphasizing the experience of nature as a pathway to self-discovery.

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This marked a significant shift in thought, away from medieval scholasticism and towards the embracement of the natural world and human emotion, key themes in Renaissance art and philosophy.

Lorenzo de' Medici

1478 – The Pazzi family attacks Lorenzo de’ Medici and kills his brother Giuliano during High Mass in the Duomo of Florence in an event known as the “Pazzi Conspiracy.

This was a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to overthrow the Medici rulers in Florence. During High Mass in the Florence Cathedral, Giuliano de’ Medici was assassinated, and his brother Lorenzo (the Magnificent) was seriously wounded but survived.

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The attack led to a brutal reprisal against the conspirators, with summary executions and a prolonged war with the Papacy, which had supported the plot. The event cemented the power of the Medici family in Florence even more deeply.

1564 – Playwright William Shakespeare is baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, England; his exact birth date is unknown but traditionally observed on April 23

William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest playwright of all time, was baptized on April 26, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. His exact birthdate is unknown, but it is conventionally celebrated on April 23, as baptisms typically took place three days after birth.

Shakespeare’s works, including plays and poems, have had a profound impact on English literature and remain highly influential today.

1607 – English colonists make landfall at Cape Henry, Virginia, marking the start of the permanent English settlement in North America

This marks the date when an expedition dispatched from England by the London Company landed at Cape Henry, the present-day site of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

This was the first English expedition to make a landfall in what would become the Virginia Colony, part of the broader territorial effort to establish English settlements in the New World.

The successful establishment at Jamestown followed this initial landing, becoming the first permanent English settlement in North America.

1721 – A massive earthquake devastates the Iranian city of Tabriz

The city of Tabriz, located in what is now Iran, was devastated by a massive earthquake on this day. Historical records indicate that the quake had a profound impact on the city, causing extensive damage to the infrastructure and a significant loss of life.

The event is a stark reminder of the seismic activity in the region, which is part of the complex tectonic interactions between the Arabian and Eurasian plates.

1803 – Thousands of meteor fragments fall from the skies of L’Aigle, France; the event convinces European scientists that meteors exist

This event was significant in the scientific community as it provided convincing evidence that rocks could fall from the sky. Prior to this, the idea that stones could fall from the heavens was met with skepticism.

However, when thousands of meteor fragments were observed falling and subsequently collected in and around L’Aigle, the scientific community was forced to reconsider its stance.

The event was thoroughly investigated by the French physicist Jean-Baptiste Biot, who published a report confirming that the stones were of extraterrestrial origin, thus lending great support to the meteoritic hypothesis which was still doubted at the time.

John Wilkes Booth

1865 – Union cavalry troopers corner and shoot dead John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, in Virginia

John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was killed by Union soldiers in Virginia just days after he committed the assassination. Booth was found hiding in a barn on a farm; when he refused to surrender, the barn was set on fire.

Sergeant Boston Corbett shot him, allegedly because he feared that Booth was going to set fire to the barn and escape in the confusion. Booth’s death marked the end of an intense manhunt following the first assassination of an American president.

1933 – The Gestapo, the official secret police of Nazi Germany, is established

The Gestapo (short for Geheime Staatspolizei, or “Secret State Police”) was officially established by Hermann Göring in Nazi Germany. Initially, it was a Prussian police force but it quickly evolved into a national instrument of repression.

Under the control of Heinrich Himmler, it became one of the most feared organizations in Nazi Germany, responsible for the surveillance and elimination of any supposed or real enemies of the state.

The Gestapo played a crucial role in the enforcement of the racial policies of the Nazis, and was integral in the implementation of the Holocaust.

1937 – Guernica, Spain, is bombed by German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War

The bombing of the Basque town of Guernica was carried out by the German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria at the request of Spanish Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War.

This aerial attack aimed to support General Francisco Franco’s forces and was one of the first air raids targeting civilians, aiming to create terror.

The town was severely damaged, and hundreds of civilians were killed. The tragedy inspired Pablo Picasso’s famous painting “Guernica,” which became a worldwide symbol of the horrors of war.

1945 – Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, the head of France’s Vichy government during World War II, is arrested for treason

Marshal Pétain, the head of France’s Vichy government during World War II, was arrested for treason after the liberation of France. Pétain, a hero of World War I, had led the French government that collaborated with Nazi Germany following France’s defeat in 1940.

After the war, he was brought to trial, convicted of treason, and originally sentenced to death—a sentence that was later commuted to life imprisonment due to his age and World War I heroics. His arrest marked a significant step in France’s reckoning with its collaborationist past.

1962 – NASA’s Ranger 4 spacecraft crashes into the Moon

Ranger 4 was part of NASA’s Ranger program, which aimed to achieve the first U.S. moon impact. Unfortunately, due to a series of malfunctions, including a failure in the onboard computer that left it unable to perform its scientific tasks, Ranger 4 impacted the far side of the Moon without returning any scientific data.

Despite this, the mission was significant as it marked the first time an American spacecraft reached another celestial body, paving the way for future lunar exploration.

1964 – Tanganyika and Zanzibar merge to form Tanzania

Tanganyika and Zanzibar were two separate territories in East Africa; Tanganyika had gained independence from Britain in 1961, and Zanzibar was an archipelago that became independent in 1963. Shortly after Zanzibar’s revolution in 1964, the two joined on April 26, 1964, to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

This union was part of the broader wave of decolonization sweeping across Africa and was significant for its peaceful merger of two distinct regions with different colonial histories and cultural backgrounds.


1986 – A catastrophic nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine

The Chernobyl disaster was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The accident occurred during a late-night safety test in Reactor 4 of the plant, which led to an explosion and fire that released large quantities of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere.

This is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history both in terms of cost and casualties. It resulted in the immediate deaths of 31 people and long-term effects such as cancers and deformities still being studied.

1991 – Seventy tornadoes break out in the central United States, killing 17 people

Known as the 1991 Andover, Kansas Tornado Outbreak, this severe weather event produced 55 tornadoes across the Central United States. It included an F5 tornado that struck the town of Andover, Kansas, causing significant destruction and 17 fatalities overall.

This event highlighted the destructive power of tornadoes and led to changes in emergency response and preparedness, including improvements to warning systems.

1994 – South Africa holds its first multiracial elections, which are won by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress

On this date, South Africa held its first multiracial national elections, marking the end of decades of apartheid—a system of racial segregation that disenfranchised the non-white population.

Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years for his anti-apartheid activities, led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory, becoming South Africa’s first Black president. This event not only marked a significant moment in the struggle against apartheid but also set a global example of reconciliation and peacemaking.

2002 – Robert Steinhäuser perpetrates the Erfurt massacre in Germany, killing 16 people before committing suicide

The Erfurt massacre occurred at the Gutenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt, Germany, when Robert Steinhäuser, a 19-year-old expelled student, entered his former school armed with a gun. He killed 16 people, including 13 staff members, two students, and one police officer, before committing suicide.

The massacre shocked Germany and led to significant changes in the country’s gun laws, including stricter regulations on firearm ownership and the requirement for regular checks on gun owners.

2005 – Under international pressure, Syria withdraws the last of its 14,000 troop military garrison in Lebanon, ending its 29-year military domination of that country

After 29 years of military presence, Syria completed its withdrawal of troops from Lebanon.

This withdrawal was largely the result of both internal and external pressures, including the Cedar Revolution—a series of protests in Lebanon following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, in which Syria was implicated—and international pressure, notably from the United Nations.

The withdrawal marked a significant moment in Lebanese history, reducing foreign influence in the country and allowing Lebanon to pursue a more independent political path.

2015 – A 7.8 magnitude earthquake strikes Nepal, causing over 8,800 deaths and extensive destruction to the Kathmandu Valley

A devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, causing widespread destruction across the region, including in the capital, Kathmandu, and the surrounding areas.

The earthquake killed over 8,800 people and injured more than 21,000, making it the deadliest disaster in Nepal’s history since 1934.

It also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 21 climbers. The international community responded with significant humanitarian assistance, but recovery and reconstruction have been long and challenging processes for Nepal.

2018 – Comedian Bill Cosby is found guilty of sexual assault in Pennsylvania, a landmark event in the #MeToo movement

American comedian and actor Bill Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault in Pennsylvania, marking a significant moment in the #MeToo movement, which focuses on speaking out against sexual harassment and assault.

The conviction came after decades of accusations from numerous women, which had been largely ignored or dismissed until the cultural shift provoked by the #MeToo movement. Cosby’s conviction was seen as a landmark in holding powerful individuals accountable for sexual misconduct.

2019 – Emperor Akihito of Japan makes a rare televised appearance, announcing his abdication from the Chrysanthemum Throne

Emperor Akihito of Japan officially announced his abdication in a rare televised address, becoming the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in over two centuries.

His decision was motivated by concerns over his advancing age and declining health, which he felt might affect his ability to fulfill his duties.

This event was significant as it led to the enthronement of his son, Naruhito, and marked a historic transition in the Japanese imperial era from Heisei to Reiwa. The abdication prompted discussions on the role of the monarchy in modern Japan and potential future reforms.