February 29 Events in History

This article navigates through twenty remarkable events that unfolded on February 29, a unique date that graces our calendars only once every four years.

From Christopher Columbus leveraging an eclipse in 1504 to sway his fate, to the engineering marvel of Tokyo Skytree’s completion in 2012, each event encapsulates pivotal moments of human achievement, natural calamities, and significant historical shifts.

These snapshots offer a glimpse into how leap day has been a stage for both triumphs and tribulations, reflecting the diverse tapestry of human history and the impact of singular moments in shaping our world.

February 29th – On this Day in History

1504 – Christopher Columbus uses his knowledge of a lunar eclipse that night to convince Native Americans to provide him with supplies

On his fourth and final voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus found himself stranded on Jamaica. After wearing out his welcome with the locals who were supplying his crew with food and provisions, Columbus needed a way to regain their favor.

Also Read: February 28 – On this Day in History

Armed with an almanac authored by Abraham Zacuto, which foretold a lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504, Columbus called a meeting with the local chieftains. He claimed that his Christian god was angry with the locals for no longer supplying him and his men with food, threatening to make the moon appear “inflamed with wrath.”

When the eclipse occurred as predicted, the frightened indigenous people hurriedly agreed to continue provisioning the Spaniards, and Columbus subsequently “pardoned” them once the moon returned to normal, demonstrating a cunning use of astronomical knowledge to manipulate and control.

Christopher Columbus

1704 – Queen Anne’s War: French forces and Native American allies raid the English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts, killing 56 villagers and taking more than 100 captive

This event was part of Queen Anne’s War, the North American theater of the War of the Spanish Succession in Europe. In the pre-dawn hours of February 29, 1704, French and Native American forces attacked the English settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts.

Also Read: March 1st Events in History

The attackers, who had traveled hundreds of miles overland from Canada during the winter, killed 56 villagers and took more than 100 people captive, marching them to Canada. The Deerfield raid was notable for its brutality and the long, harsh journey captives faced on their way to Quebec.

Some captives were adopted into Native American tribes, while others were ransomed and returned to New England. The event remains one of the most infamous incidents in the colonial history of New England.

1720 – Queen Ulrika Eleonora of Sweden abdicates in favor of her husband, who becomes King Frederick I on March 24

Ulrika Eleonora was the Queen of Sweden from 1718 until she abdicated in favor of her husband, Frederick I, in 1720. Her abdication came after a short reign marked by internal political struggles.

Ulrika Eleonora ascended to the throne following the death of her brother, Charles XII, who died without an heir. She was initially reluctant to relinquish her powers to a parliamentary system of government but eventually agreed, under the condition that she would be succeeded by her husband upon her abdication.

Her decision to abdicate in favor of Frederick was partly influenced by her desire to see her husband more involved in the governance of Sweden and by the political pressure to ensure a stable monarchy.

1768 – Polish nobles form the Bar Confederation to defend the internal and external independence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth against Russian influence and against King Stanisław II Augustus

The Bar Confederation was a coalition of Polish nobles formed in the town of Bar, in what is now Ukraine, with the primary aim of defending the internal and external independence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth against Russian influence and King Stanisław II Augustus.

The Confederation opposed Russian interference in Polish affairs and the King’s perceived allegiance with Russia. What began as a noble movement soon escalated into a full-blown war against the forces of the King and Russia, marking a significant uprising in the history of Poland and Lithuania.

The conflict, characterized by guerrilla warfare and foreign intervention, ultimately ended in defeat for the Confederates, leading to increased Russian dominance and significant territories lost in the First Partition of Poland in 1772.

Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid

1864 – American Civil War: Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid fails – Plans to free 15,000 Union soldiers being held near Richmond, Virginia, are thwarted

The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid was a Union cavalry operation during the American Civil War aimed at launching a surprise attack on Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital.

The plan, orchestrated by General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, was to free Union prisoners of war held in Richmond and possibly end the war by capturing Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet. The raid, conducted in late February and early March 1864, failed to achieve its objectives.

Union forces encountered stiff resistance, and Dahlgren was killed, with documents found on his body detailing plans to burn Richmond and assassinate Davis. The raid ended in controversy and embarrassment for the Union, and highlighted the desperation and brutality of the war’s closing years.

1892 – St. Petersburg, Florida is incorporated

On February 29, 1892, St. Petersburg was incorporated as a town in Pinellas County, located on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It was named after Saint Petersburg, Russia, where one of its co-founders, Peter Demens, spent half of his youth, while the other co-founder, John C. Williams, contributed the land for the city’s establishment.

The city’s incorporation marked the beginning of its transformation from a small fishing village into a major city known for its tourism and as a popular retirement destination.

St. Petersburg is famous for its pleasant weather, earning it the nickname “The Sunshine City,” and holds the record for the most consecutive days of sunshine. Its growth was further propelled by the arrival of the railroad and the development of its iconic waterfront park system, making it a significant cultural and vacation spot in Florida.

1916 – Tokelau is annexed by the United Kingdom

On February 29, 1916, the island group of Tokelau was annexed by the United Kingdom. Located in the South Pacific Ocean, north of Samoa and east of the Gilbert Islands, Tokelau was administered as part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.

The annexation of Tokelau was part of the broader imperial efforts by European powers to consolidate their control over the Pacific Islands during this period. Tokelau would later be transferred to New Zealand administration in 1925, under a mandate by the League of Nations and then under a United Nations trusteeship agreement post-World War II.

Today, Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand, with its people having New Zealand citizenship.

1920 – Czechoslovak National Democracy party wins the Czechoslovak parliamentary elections

In the parliamentary elections of 1920, the Czechoslovak National Democracy party, led by Karel Kramář, emerged victorious. This was one of the first significant elections in Czechoslovakia following its establishment as an independent state in 1918, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The victory of the National Democracy party reflected the nationalist sentiment prevalent in the country at that time, emphasizing Czech and Slovak unity, democratic principles, and resistance against the communist ideology that was gaining ground in Europe.

The party played a crucial role in shaping the early political landscape of Czechoslovakia, advocating for a strong national government and contributing to the foundational policies of the new state.

Hattie McDaniel

1940 – Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African American to win an Academy Award for her performance in “Gone with the Wind”

Hattie McDaniel made history on February 29, 1940, by becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award. She was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in the film “Gone with the Wind.”

The award was a significant milestone in the history of American cinema, highlighting the racial barriers McDaniel overcame during a time of widespread segregation and discrimination in the United States.

Despite her groundbreaking achievement, McDaniel faced racism and segregation even on the night of the Oscars, where she was seated at a segregated table at the edge of the room. Her win was both a personal achievement and a symbol of slow but emerging changes in the entertainment industry’s attitudes toward race and equality.

1940 – Finland initiates the Winter War peace negotiations

The Winter War began in November 1939 when the Soviet Union invaded Finland, seeking territorial concessions. By February 29, 1940, after months of intense fighting and significant losses on both sides, Finland began peace negotiations with the Soviet Union.

The Finns had mounted a strong defense, causing unexpected casualties to the Soviet forces. However, facing overwhelming Soviet reinforcements and the prospect of continued destruction, the Finnish government saw negotiations as the best path to preserve the nation’s sovereignty.

The peace treaty, signed in March 1940, ceded approximately 11% of Finland’s territory to the Soviet Union but allowed Finland to maintain its independence, marking the end of the Winter War. The conflict is remembered for the Finnish resistance against a much larger adversary and has a significant place in Finnish national identity.

1944 – World War II: The Admiralty Islands are invaded in Operation Brewer led by American General Douglas MacArthur

The Admiralty Islands campaign, part of Operation Brewer, was launched by American forces on February 29, 1944, during World War II. Led by General Douglas MacArthur, the campaign aimed to establish naval and air bases in the Admiralty Islands to support the ongoing Allied offensives in the Pacific.

The main target was Manus Island, which offered a strategic location for controlling sea routes in the South Pacific. The American forces, under the command of Admiral William F. Halsey and General MacArthur, conducted an amphibious assault on Los Negros Island, which then expanded to include the entire Admiralty Islands group.

The campaign was characterized by fierce battles but resulted in a significant strategic victory for the Allies. The successful capture of these islands provided them with a base that played a crucial role in the subsequent phases of the Pacific War, particularly in the Philippines and Okinawa campaigns.

1960 – An earthquake in Morocco kills over 3,000 people and nearly destroys Agadir in the southern part of the country

On February 29, 1960, a devastating earthquake struck the region near Agadir, Morocco. This natural disaster is one of the deadliest in Moroccan history, with a magnitude of approximately 5.7.

The earthquake almost completely destroyed the city of Agadir, killing over 12,000 people, which was about a third of the city’s population at the time, and leaving thousands more injured and homeless.

The disaster prompted widespread international aid response and led to significant changes in Moroccan urban planning and construction regulations. The rebuilding of Agadir was undertaken with modern earthquake-resistant techniques, and the tragedy left a lasting impact on the country’s approach to disaster preparedness and response.

1964 – In Sydney, Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser sets a new world record in the 100 meters freestyle swimming competition

Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser set a new world record in the women’s 100 meters freestyle swimming competition on February 29, 1964. Fraser, known for her powerful swimming and competitive spirit, achieved this feat in Sydney, Australia.

She was one of the most dominant swimmers of her time, known for her unprecedented speed and technique. This record-setting performance was part of her illustrious career during which she won eight Olympic medals, including four golds across three Olympic Games (1956, 1960, and 1964).

Fraser’s achievements made her a national hero in Australia and one of the greatest swimmers in the history of the sport. Her legacy includes being the first woman to swim 100 meters freestyle in under one minute.

1972 – Vietnam War: Vietnamization – South Korea withdraws 11,000 of its 48,000 troops from Vietnam

The concept of Vietnamization involved the gradual withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam, with the South Vietnamese taking over the full conduct of the war. By 1972, this policy, initiated by U.S. President Richard Nixon, was in full effect.

On February 29 of that year, South Korea, which had been a significant contributor of troops to the Vietnam War effort as part of the U.S.-led coalition, announced the withdrawal of 11,000 of its 48,000 soldiers from Vietnam.

The South Korean forces, known for their effectiveness and bravery, had been involved in various combat operations throughout the war. The withdrawal reflected the shifting dynamics of the war and the broader move towards reducing foreign military presence in Vietnam.

1980 – Gordie Howe of the then Hartford Whalers makes NHL history as he scores his 800th goal

Gordie Howe, one of the most iconic figures in professional hockey, scored his 800th career goal on February 29, 1980, while playing for the Hartford Whalers against the St. Louis Blues. This remarkable achievement came when Howe was 51 years old, further cementing his status as “Mr. Hockey.”

Howe’s longevity and high level of play in the National Hockey League (NHL) and the World Hockey Association (WHA) are legendary. Over his career, Howe played in five different decades (from the 1940s through the 1980s), a testament to his endurance, skill, and passion for the game.

His 800th goal was a milestone that, at the time, was unparalleled in hockey, highlighting a career that included four Stanley Cup championships, six Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player, and numerous other accolades and records.

1996 – Faucett Flight 251 crashes in the Andes; all 123 passengers and crew are killed

On February 29, 1996, Faucett Flight 251, a commercial airliner operated by Faucett Perú, crashed while attempting to land at Rodríguez Ballón International Airport in Arequipa, Peru.

The flight was en route from Lima to Arequipa, carrying 123 passengers and crew members. There were no survivors. The crash was attributed to pilot error in the context of bad weather conditions, including low visibility.

The accident raised serious concerns about aviation safety standards in Peru and led to calls for improved training for pilots, especially in handling difficult weather conditions and emergency situations. Faucett Flight 251 remains one of the deadliest air disasters in Peruvian history.

2000 – A rare leap day event: a rare century leap year date which can be used to fix millennium bug issues in computer software

The year 2000 was notable not just because it was a leap year but also because it marked a rare instance of a century year (which typically would not be a leap year) that was indeed a leap year.

According to the rules governing the Gregorian calendar, a year is a leap year if it is divisible by 4, except for end-of-century years, which must be divisible by 400. Thus, while 1900 was not a leap year, 2000 was, because of its divisibility by 400.

This quirk of the calendar meant that February 29, 2000, was a day of mathematical and calendrical significance, providing a unique moment for programs and systems to account for an extra day, an event with particular relevance in the wake of the Y2K bug, where computer systems were tested for their ability to handle date changes into the new millennium.

2004 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide is removed as President of Haiti following a coup

On February 29, 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from his position as President of Haiti amidst a violent rebellion and claims of political and economic turmoil under his leadership. Aristide, who had previously been a priest, was a controversial figure in Haitian politics, having been elected president in Haiti’s first democratic election, then ousted by a coup, reinstated, and eventually forced out of office again.

His removal in 2004 came after weeks of violent uprising by opposition forces, which led to significant loss of life and instability in Haiti.

Aristide and his supporters claimed that his departure was a kidnapping orchestrated by the United States, a charge the U.S. government denied. His exit marked the beginning of a prolonged period of political instability and international intervention in Haiti.

2008 – The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence decides to withdraw Prince Harry from a tour of Afghanistan “immediately” after a leak led to his deployment being reported in the media

Prince Harry of the United Kingdom was secretly deployed to Afghanistan with the British Army in December 2007, serving for ten weeks before his presence was publicly disclosed by foreign media.

Fearing that widespread knowledge of his deployment could increase risks to him and his unit, the British Ministry of Defence decided to withdraw him from Afghanistan “immediately” upon the leak. Prince Harry had been serving as a Forward Air Controller, calling in airstrikes against Taliban positions.

His deployment and the decision to pull him out highlighted the challenges of balancing royal duties with military service, especially in a modern context where media coverage is instantaneous and global.

2012 – Tokyo Skytree construction is completed, it becomes the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa

The Tokyo Skytree, a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan, was completed on February 29, 2012. Standing at an impressive height of 634 meters (2,080 feet), it became the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at the time of its completion.

The Tokyo Skytree serves not only as a television and radio broadcast site but also as a popular tourist attraction, offering panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond from its observation decks. The tower’s design incorporates traditional Japanese aesthetics and cutting-edge technology, making it a symbol of Japan’s blend of tradition and modernity.

The completion of the Tokyo Skytree marked a significant milestone in architectural and engineering achievements, showcasing Japan’s leadership in high-rise construction and design.