May 11 Events in History

This article explores twenty significant events that occurred on May 11th throughout history, highlighting their impact and historical context.

From the founding of Constantinople in 330 AD to David Cameron becoming the UK Prime Minister in 2010, the piece provides a chronological overview of pivotal moments across various fields including politics, culture, and science.

Each event is examined to underscore how specific days can encapsulate transformative shifts that have shaped our world.

May 11th – On this Day in History

330 – Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was officially dedicated as the new capital of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine I

Emperor Constantine the Great officially dedicated Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire on May 11, 330, renaming it Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul).

He chose the site because of its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and its natural defenses.

Also Read: May 10 Events in History

Constantinople was intended to be a “New Rome,” reflecting the grandeur and Christian character of the empire, which had recently adopted Christianity as its official religion.

The city featured impressive architectural feats, including the initial construction of the Hagia Sophia, which would be rebuilt to greater fame later.

Constantine the Great

868 – A copy of the Diamond Sutra was printed in China, making it the oldest known dated printed book

The Diamond Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist scripture, was printed on this date in China, making it the world’s oldest known dated printed book.

It was created using woodblock printing technology, which involved carving the entire text and images on wooden blocks, inking them, and then pressing them onto paper.

Also Read: May 12th – On this Day in History

The Diamond Sutra copy dated back to 868 was found in a cave in Dunhuang, China, and is part of the larger collection of texts known as the Chinese Buddhist canon. This event marks a significant moment in the history of printing and the dissemination of religious texts.

1310 – In France, 54 members of the Knights Templar were burned at the stake as heretics

On May 11, 1310, 54 Knights Templar were burned at the stake in Paris, France. This event was part of the broader suppression of the Templars, who had become powerful and wealthy due to their banking enterprises and military participation in the Crusades.

King Philip IV of France, deeply indebted to the Templars and desiring their wealth, initiated their downfall through charges of heresy, blasphemy, and other crimes, often extracted under torture.

The mass execution on this day was a stark demonstration of the severe measures taken against the Templars, leading to their eventual dissolution.

1502 – Christopher Columbus left Spain on his fourth and final voyage to the New World

On his fourth and final voyage, Christopher Columbus set sail from Cadiz, Spain, with the intention of finding a westward passage to the Spice Islands (modern Maluku Islands in Indonesia). He explored areas of Central America, hoping to find a strait leading to the Indian Ocean.

During this voyage, Columbus encountered numerous setbacks including shipwreck, mutiny, and navigational challenges. He explored the coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama but never found the passage he sought. This voyage is often noted for its hardships and the further mapping and exploration of the Americas.

1745 – The War of Austrian Succession: French forces defeat the Prussians at the Battle of Fontenoy

The Battle of Fontenoy was a significant engagement during the War of the Austrian Succession, fought on May 11, 1745, near Tournai, in the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium). The French forces, led by Maurice de Saxe, defeated a powerful coalition army composed of British, Dutch, and Austrian troops.

The battle is particularly noted for the bravery of the French troops and the effective use of their artillery. The victory at Fontenoy allowed France to maintain their position in the Netherlands, and it was celebrated as one of King Louis XV’s greatest military achievements. This battle had lasting implications for European politics and power balances.

War of the Austrian Succession

1792 – Robert Gray’s expedition sails into the Columbia River, the first recorded European to navigate into it

On May 11, 1792, American merchant sea captain Robert Gray entered what is now known as the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. He was the first recorded European to navigate and map the river. Gray’s exploration aboard his ship, the Columbia Rediviva, led him to name the river after his vessel.

This discovery provided the United States with a strong claim to the Pacific Northwest during the era of territorial expansion. The exploration of the Columbia River was pivotal in the later negotiations and establishment of the Oregon Trail, which facilitated mass American migration westward.

1812 – British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval is assassinated by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons, London

Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was assassinated on May 11, 1812, by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons. Perceval remains the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

The assassin, a merchant with grievances against the government for perceived injustices concerning a business matter and his imprisonment in Russia, shot Perceval at close range.

Perceval’s death caused a significant political shock, leading to a brief period of governmental instability and the eventual appointment of Lord Liverpool as his successor.

1857 – The Sepoy Mutiny against British rule begins in Meerut, India

The Sepoy Mutiny, also known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, began on May 10 and escalated on May 11 when the mutineers reached Delhi.

The rebellion started among Indian troops (sepoys) in the service of the British East India Company. It was sparked by various grievances, notably the introduction of rifle cartridges rumored to be greased with cow and pig fat, offensive to Hindu and Muslim soldiers, respectively.

The mutiny marked a major, although ultimately unsuccessful, challenge to British colonial rule in India and led to significant changes in how the British governed India, including the dissolution of the East India Company and the reorganization of army structures.

1858 – Minnesota is admitted as the 32nd U.S. state

Minnesota was admitted to the United States as the 32nd state on May 11, 1858. The area, originally inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Dakota and Ojibwe, had seen a significant influx of European settlers following the establishment of Fort Snelling and the signing of treaties that transferred lands from Native American control.

Minnesota’s statehood was part of the broader expansion of the U.S. across the North American continent, driven by westward expansion and economic opportunities in logging, fur trading, and agriculture.

1880 – Seven people are killed in the Deadwood, Dakota Territory fire

The town of Deadwood in the Dakota Territory was struck by a devastating fire on May 11, 1880. Deadwood, known for its lawlessness and as a boomtown during the Black Hills Gold Rush, was largely constructed of wood which contributed to the fire’s rapid spread. The blaze destroyed over three hundred buildings, leading to significant economic losses.

The fire was a pivotal event in the history of Deadwood, prompting changes in building practices and the implementation of more stringent fire codes, as well as revitalizing the community to rebuild with more durable materials like brick and stone.

1894 – The Pullman Strike begins near Chicago, Illinois by the American Railway Union against the Pullman Company

The Pullman Strike began on May 11, 1894, near Chicago, Illinois, when workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company initiated a wildcat strike in response to recent reductions in wages and high rents in company-owned housing.

This strike was significant because it grew to involve the American Railway Union (ARU), led by Eugene V. Debs, which supported the strike by refusing to handle Pullman cars and equipment, effectively paralyzing railroad traffic nationwide.

The federal government intervened, citing the disruption to mail delivery and interstate commerce, leading to a federal court injunction and the deployment of U.S. Army troops, which violently suppressed the strike.

The Pullman Strike highlighted the growing economic and labor unrest in the United States during the Industrial Revolution and led to increased national discourse on workers’ rights and corporate responsibilities.

1943 – During World War II, American troops invade Attu Island in the Aleutian Islands in an attempt to expel occupying Japanese forces

During World War II, on May 11, 1943, American troops landed on Attu Island as part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign, aiming to recapture the territory from Japanese forces who had occupied it since June 1942. Attu, the westernmost point in the U.S.-owned Aleutian Islands, was strategically important.

The battle that ensued was one of the only two land battles fought in North America during World War II (the other being on the nearby island of Kiska). The harsh and foggy climate made the battle particularly brutal and challenging.

The U.S. victory at Attu was significant as it marked the beginning of the end of Japanese presence in the Aleutians, and it helped secure the northern Pacific area from further Japanese invasion.

1949 – Siam officially changes its name to Thailand for the second time; the first change was in 1939

Siam officially changed its name to Thailand for the second time on May 11, 1949. The country was known as Siam until 1939 when it was first renamed Thailand, meaning “land of the free,” to emphasize the country’s independence from colonial powers. The name reverted to Siam again in 1945 after World War II, during which Thailand had been allied with Japan.

The final change back to Thailand in 1949 was part of a national identity strengthening under the rule of Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram, aimed at promoting Thai nationalism and distancing the country from its past colonial associations.

1960 – Adolf Eichmann is captured by Mossad agents in Argentina

Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, was captured by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on May 11, 1960. Eichmann had been living under the alias Ricardo Klement since fleeing Europe after World War II.

His capture was the result of a meticulously planned Mossad operation, sparked by tips from Holocaust survivors. Eichmann was subsequently smuggled to Israel, where he stood trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people, and membership in a criminal organization.

The trial was a pivotal moment in Holocaust history, bringing to public awareness the details of the genocide. Eichmann was found guilty and executed in 1962.

1973 – Charges against Daniel Ellsberg for his involvement in the Pentagon Papers case are dismissed

On May 11, 1973, all charges against Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers, were dismissed. The Pentagon Papers were a top-secret Department of Defense study of U.S. political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967, revealing that successive U.S. administrations had misled the public about the Vietnam War.

Ellsberg, who had worked on the study, released the documents to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971, leading to a major scandal and a landmark Supreme Court case on press freedom.

The charges were dismissed due to governmental misconduct and illegal evidence gathering, highlighted by the revelation of the White House’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. The dismissal underscored significant issues regarding government transparency and ethics.

1985 – Fifty-six spectators die and more than 200 are injured in the Bradford City stadium fire

The Bradford City stadium fire occurred during a football match between Bradford City and Lincoln City on May 11, 1985, at Valley Parade stadium in Bradford, England. The tragedy struck when a small fire, likely started by a dropped cigarette igniting rubbish accumulated under an old timber stand, rapidly engulfed the structure.

The fire killed 56 spectators and injured at least 265 others. The horrific event was captured live on television, leading to widespread public horror and an inquiry that resulted in new safety standards for sports venues in the UK, including the banning of new wooden grandstands at all football grounds.

1996 – After taking off from Miami, a ValuJet Airlines DC-9 catches fire and crashes in the Florida Everglades, killing 110 people

ValuJet Flight 592 crashed into the Florida Everglades on May 11, 1996, shortly after takeoff from Miami International Airport, killing all 110 people on board. The crash was caused by a fire in the cargo hold, which was traced back to improperly stored cargo containing chemical oxygen generators.

These generators were activated and caused an intense fire, leading to a loss of control. The disaster prompted significant changes in FAA regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials on commercial flights and led to a comprehensive review of airline safety practices.

1997 – IBM’s Deep Blue defeats Garry Kasparov in a chess match, the first time a computer beats a world champion in a match under standard chess tournament conditions

On May 11, 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue computer defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match. This event marked the first time a computer had beaten a reigning world champion in a match under standard chess tournament conditions.

The match, held in New York City, was followed worldwide and served as a significant demonstration of the capabilities of artificial intelligence.

Kasparov won the first game, Deep Blue won the second, and the next three games were draws, with Deep Blue winning the final game to clinch the match. This milestone in AI was both a technological triumph and a cultural moment that sparked debates about the future of human and machine intelligence.

1998 – India conducts three underground atomic tests in Pokhran, including a thermonuclear device

India conducted three underground nuclear tests at the Pokhran test range on May 11, 1998. These tests included a thermonuclear device (hydrogen bomb) and were part of a series codenamed Pokhran-II, following the country’s first nuclear test in 1974.

The 1998 tests, ordered by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were claimed by India as necessary for maintaining and enhancing national security in a nuclear neighborhood. The tests resulted in widespread international condemnation, including economic sanctions.

However, these events also marked a pivotal moment in India’s assertion of its status as a nuclear power and had significant implications for global non-proliferation policies.

2010 – David Cameron becomes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after forming a coalition government between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties

David Cameron became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on May 11, 2010, after the general election resulted in a hung parliament. His Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, marking the first such coalition in the UK since the Second World War.

Cameron’s ascent to prime minister marked a significant shift in British politics, with his government introducing policies aimed at austerity to address the national deficit.

The coalition government was noteworthy for its efforts to tackle economic challenges, reform public services, and redefine the UK’s role on the international stage. Cameron’s leadership also saw significant social legislation, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.