March 12 – On this Day in History

This article explores 20 pivotal events that took place on March 12th, spanning from the 6th century to the present day. It includes significant moments in history such as political changes, scientific advancements, cultural milestones, and major crises.

The selection underscores the diverse impacts these events have had on global history, ranging from the siege of Rome to the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By offering insights into each event’s importance, the article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the notable occurrences on this date across different eras.

March 12th Events in History

538 – Vitiges, king of the Ostrogoths ends his siege of Rome and retreats to Ravenna, leaving the city to the Byzantine general Belisarius

Vitiges, the king of the Ostrogoths, concluded his siege of Rome and retreated to Ravenna, marking a significant moment in the Gothic War. The siege had been a pivotal struggle between the Ostrogothic Kingdom, which had ruled Italy, and the Byzantine Empire’s efforts to reclaim the western provinces.

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The Byzantine general Belisarius, under Emperor Justinian I, successfully defended Rome, showcasing both his military skill and the resilience of the city’s defenders. This retreat signified a turning point, as Byzantine forces began to reclaim territories in Italy, though the war would continue for years.

1622 – Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, founders of the Jesuits, are canonized as saints by the Catholic Church

Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier were canonized as saints by the Catholic Church. Both men were key founders of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, a religious order that played a significant role in the Counter-Reformation.

Ignatius of Loyola, a former soldier, experienced a religious conversion that led him to establish the Jesuit order, emphasizing education, missionary work, and the promotion of Catholic faith against Protestant reforms.

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Francis Xavier, a close companion of Ignatius, became one of the most influential missionaries of the 16th century, traveling extensively in the Far East to spread Christianity.

King Charles II

1664 – New Jersey becomes a British colony as King Charles II grants land in the American colonies to his brother James, the Duke of York

King Charles II of England granted the land that would become New Jersey to his brother, James, the Duke of York, effectively making it a British colony. This was part of a larger strategy to establish and solidify British claims in North America amidst competition with other European powers.

The territory had previously been inhabited by Native American tribes and was also claimed by the Dutch, who established settlements in the area. The transition of New Jersey into English hands would eventually lead to its development as a key colony in the burgeoning British America.

1812 – The first law of gerrymandering is passed in Massachusetts, when Governor Elbridge Gerry signs a bill that redistricts the state to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party

Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that redistricted the state to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party, marking the first known instance of gerrymandering.

The term “gerrymander” itself stems from a combination of Gerry’s name and the word “salamander,” referring to the shape of one of the manipulated districts that was said to resemble the creature.

This act of drawing political boundaries to give one party an advantage has since become a common, if controversial, practice in electoral politics, criticized for undermining democratic principles.

1894 – Coca-Cola is bottled and sold for the first time in Vicksburg, Mississippi, by local confectioner Joseph Biedenharn

On March 12, 1894, Coca-Cola was bottled and sold for the first time in Vicksburg, Mississippi, by local confectioner Joseph Biedenharn. Prior to this, Coca-Cola had been sold exclusively as a fountain drink since its invention in 1886 by John Stith Pemberton.

Biedenharn’s initiative to bottle the soda allowed for its distribution beyond the soda fountain, significantly contributing to Coca-Cola’s growth into one of the world’s most recognizable brands.

The success of bottled Coca-Cola paved the way for the soft drink industry to expand on a global scale, making Coca-Cola an international symbol of American culture.

1912 – The Girl Guides (later renamed the Girl Scouts of the USA) are founded in Savannah, Georgia, by Juliette Gordon Low

Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Guides in Savannah, Georgia, which would later be renamed the Girl Scouts of the USA. Inspired by a meeting with Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, Low envisioned an organization that would prepare girls to meet their world with courage, confidence, and character.

On March 12, she gathered 18 girls to form the first troop. The organization aimed to empower girls through activities that developed skills, fostered community service, and encouraged outdoor adventures. The Girl Scouts quickly spread across the United States, becoming a landmark institution for millions of girls and women.

Vladimir Lenin

1918 – Moscow becomes the capital of Russia again after Saint Petersburg held this status for 215 years

After 215 years of Saint Petersburg serving as the capital of Russia, the Bolshevik government moved the capital back to Moscow.

This change occurred in the tumultuous period following the October Revolution of 1917, as Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks sought a more secure location amidst the Russian Civil War.

Moscow, being more centrally located and less exposed to potential attack than Saint Petersburg, which was close to the front lines with Germany, was deemed a strategic choice.

The move also symbolized a return to Russia’s historical roots, as Moscow had been the capital of Russia before Peter the Great moved it to Saint Petersburg in 1712 to open a “window to the West.”

1928 – In California, the St. Francis Dam fails, causing a massive flood that kills nearly 600 people

The St. Francis Dam, located in the San Francisquito Canyon of the Sierra Pelona Mountains northwest of Los Angeles, California, catastrophically failed just before midnight on March 12, 1928. The dam’s collapse unleashed a torrent of water that killed nearly 600 people and caused widespread destruction over a 55-mile course to the Pacific Ocean.

Designed by William Mulholland, the dam’s failure was one of the worst American civil engineering disasters of the 20th century and led to significant changes in the oversight and design of dams in the United States. The disaster raised questions about engineering practices, accountability, and the risks of infrastructure projects.

1930 – Mahatma Gandhi leads a group of followers on the Salt March, a nonviolent protest against the British monopoly on salt in India

Led by Mahatma Gandhi, the Salt March was a pivotal event in the Indian struggle for independence from British rule.

In defiance of the Salt Acts, which prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, a basic necessity that was taxed by the British, Gandhi embarked on a 240-mile march from Sabarmati Ashram to the Arabian Sea coast at Dandi.

There, he symbolically made salt by evaporating sea water. This act of nonviolent protest captured the world’s attention and mobilized a wide swath of Indian society against British colonial rule. The Salt March marked a significant escalation in the Indian independence movement and demonstrated the power of peaceful resistance.

1933 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt conducts his first “fireside chat,” addressing the nation’s concerns over the banking crisis

Amid the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the first of his “fireside chats” on March 12, 1933.

These informal radio addresses were designed to communicate directly with the American people, explaining government policies and reassuring the public in a time of national crisis.

The first chat came just days after Roosevelt’s inauguration and focused on explaining the measures taken during the banking crisis, including the temporary closure of banks to halt runs and the subsequent banking reforms.

The fireside chats were revolutionary in their use of radio as a means of direct presidential communication, making Roosevelt’s policies and presence more accessible to Americans nationwide.

The Anschluss

1938 – Anschluss: German troops occupy Austria; the country is annexed to the Third Reich the following day

The Anschluss was the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938. Following a period of increased pressure from Nazi Germany, Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg resigned, and the Austrian Nazi Party, with the support of German troops, took control.

The move was presented as a unification of German peoples under one nation, but in reality, it was a strategic expansion of Nazi territory, giving Germany a significant military and economic advantage.

The annexation was met with mixed reactions in Austria and international condemnation, but little concrete action was taken to reverse it. This event marked a significant step in Nazi Germany’s aggressive expansionist policies leading up to World War II.

1940 – Finland signs the Moscow Peace Treaty with the Soviet Union, ceding almost all of Finnish Karelia

This treaty, signed on March 12, 1940, ended the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland. The conflict began in November 1939 when the Soviet Union invaded Finland.

Despite a valiant defense by Finnish forces, the overwhelming military strength of the Soviet Union led to Finland ceding nearly 11% of its territory, including significant areas along the Karelian Isthmus and the Petsamo region on the Arctic Ocean.

The treaty was seen as a harsh blow to Finland, which sought to maintain its sovereignty and independence in the face of Soviet aggression. The Winter War, though brief, demonstrated the resilience of the Finnish people and had significant implications for the strategic situation in Northern Europe on the eve of World War II.

1968 – Mauritius gains independence from British rule

On March 12, 1968, Mauritius gained independence from British rule, marking the end of nearly 200 years of colonial control. Located in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius was a strategic outpost and was governed by several European powers before becoming a British colony.

The path to independence was largely peaceful, with negotiations between Mauritian leaders and the British government leading to the establishment of a democratic government. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, a leading figure in the independence movement, became the first Prime Minister of independent Mauritius.

The country has since developed into one of Africa’s most prosperous and stable democracies, with a diverse culture and a strong economy based on tourism, textiles, sugar, and financial services.

1971 – The March 12 Memorandum is issued in Turkey, leading to a military coup and the establishment of martial law

The March 12 Memorandum was a coup by memorandum in Turkey, issued by the military in 1971. It led to the resignation of Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel and the establishment of martial law in several provinces.

The memorandum was issued against a backdrop of political instability, economic hardship, and social unrest, with the military claiming its actions were necessary to restore order and protect the constitutional structure.

The intervention marked the second time in a decade that the Turkish military had directly influenced the country’s governance, underscoring the military’s role as a guardian of Turkey’s secular and unitary principles.

The period following the coup was marked by political repression, with a crackdown on political activists, intellectuals, and others deemed to be a threat to the state’s secular identity.

1989 – Tim Berners-Lee submits the original proposal for the World Wide Web

On March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist working at CERN, submitted a proposal for an information management system that would become the World Wide Web. His vision was to create a universal and accessible system to share and manage information over the internet.

The proposal outlined the basic concepts of the web, including HTML (HyperText Markup Language), URLs (Uniform Resource Locators), and HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). Berners-Lee’s invention revolutionized how information is shared and accessed, facilitating the growth of the internet as a global communication medium.

The World Wide Web has since become integral to modern life, transforming economies, societies, and individual lives by enabling instant access to information and services worldwide.

1993 – Several bombs explode in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, killing about 300 and injuring hundreds more

On March 12, 1993, a series of coordinated bombings occurred in Bombay (now Mumbai), India’s financial capital, resulting in approximately 300 deaths and hundreds more injured. This was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in India’s history at the time.

The bombings took place in several high-profile locations, including the Bombay Stock Exchange, Air India Building, and a popular shopping area. The attacks were believed to be orchestrated by the Mumbai underworld in retaliation for the 1992–1993 communal riots in the city, which had resulted in significant loss of life and property, predominantly affecting the Muslim community.

The bombings underscored the intersection of organized crime, religious sectarianism, and terrorism, prompting India to significantly overhaul its counter-terrorism and intelligence apparatus.

1994 – The Church of England ordains its first female priests

On March 12, 1994, the Church of England took a historic step by ordaining its first female priests, marking a significant change in the church’s centuries-old traditions. This decision came after years of debate and division within the church and the wider Anglican Communion.

The move was celebrated by many as a step towards gender equality within the church, allowing women to hold positions of leadership and spiritual guidance previously reserved for men. However, it also faced opposition from traditionalists who argued against the ordination of women on theological grounds.

Despite the controversy, the ordination of female priests has since become a common practice within the Church of England, reflecting broader societal shifts towards gender equality.

2003 – Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is assassinated in Belgrade

Zoran Djindjic, the Prime Minister of Serbia, was assassinated on March 12, 2003, in Belgrade. Djindjic was a key figure in the democratic opposition to Slobodan Milošević and played a significant role in Milošević’s eventual overthrow in 2000.

His leadership was pivotal in steering Serbia towards European integration and implementing reforms aimed at transitioning Serbia to a market economy and a democratic political system. Djindjic’s assassination was carried out by members of a criminal gang with connections to elements of the former security services loyal to Milošević.

His death was a major setback for Serbia’s reform efforts and underscored the challenges facing the country in the aftermath of the Yugoslav Wars.

2011 – A reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant explodes and releases radioactivity into the atmosphere a day after Japan’s earthquake

Following a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, a reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan exploded on March 12, releasing significant amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

This event marked the beginning of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. The natural disaster had damaged the plant’s power and cooling systems, leading to meltdowns in three reactors and the release of radioactive materials.

The disaster prompted widespread evacuations, significant concerns over nuclear safety, environmental damage, and health risks, and led to a reevaluation of nuclear energy policies both in Japan and internationally.

2020 – The World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a pandemic, triggering global actions to combat the virus

On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, a global pandemic. This announcement came after the virus had spread to multiple countries and continents, causing widespread illness and death.

The declaration signaled the severity of the outbreak and urged countries worldwide to take immediate and aggressive action to control the spread of the virus.

The pandemic had profound impacts on global health systems, economies, and daily life, leading to lockdowns, travel restrictions, and a concerted scientific effort to develop vaccines and treatments.

The COVID-19 pandemic became a defining global health crisis of the early 21st century, highlighting the importance of international cooperation and public health preparedness.