May 8 Events in History

This article provides a chronological list of twenty significant historical events that occurred on May 8th, showcasing key moments that have shaped societies and cultures around the world.

From Joan of Arc’s decisive victory in 1429 to Emmanuel Macron’s election as France’s youngest president in 2017, these events highlight the profound impact of pivotal moments across different eras.

Through these milestones, we gain insights into the dynamic nature of history and its continuous influence on our lives and future developments.

May 8th – On this Day in History

1429 – Joan of Arc lifts the Siege of Orleans, turning the tide of the Hundred Years’ War

The Siege of Orleans was a pivotal moment in the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl inspired by religious visions, played a key role in lifting the siege. On May 8, 1429, her leadership and inspiration led to a crucial victory for the French forces.

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This victory not only boosted French morale but also marked a turning point in the war, leading eventually to the coronation of Charles VII as the King of France. Joan’s actions during the siege and her faith made her a legendary figure in French history.

Joan of Arc

1541 – Hernando de Soto reaches the Mississippi River, which he names Rio de Espiritu Santo

Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was involved in various expeditions in the Americas, including a major expedition that began in 1539, which took him through the southeastern part of what is now the United States. On May 8, 1541, de Soto reached the Mississippi River, which he named Rio de Espiritu Santo.

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His discovery of the Mississippi was significant for European exploration and the eventual mapping and claim-staking in North America, though de Soto himself never found the gold or treasure he sought.

1794 – Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, is executed on the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in France

Antoine Lavoisier is often referred to as the father of modern chemistry. He made numerous contributions, including the naming of oxygen and hydrogen and the debunking of the phlogiston theory of combustion.

Despite his scientific prominence, he was caught up in the political turmoil of the French Revolution. On May 8, 1794, he was executed on the guillotine, charged with tax fraud and crimes against the state, largely because of his role as a tax collector. His death is often considered a significant loss to the scientific community.

1821 – Greek War of Independence: The Greeks defeat the Turks at the Battle of Gravia Inn

During the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, the Battle of Gravia Inn represented a significant Greek victory. Led by Odysseas Androutsos, a small force of Greek revolutionaries defended the Inn of Gravia against a much larger Turkish force.

Using the inn as a fortress, they managed to inflict heavy casualties on the attackers. The successful defense at Gravia Inn was crucial in boosting Greek morale and resistance during the early stages of the war.

1842 – A train derailment and subsequent fire in Paris, known as the Versailles rail accident, results in the deaths of over 50 people

The Versailles rail accident is one of the earliest and most tragic railway disasters in history. It occurred on May 8, 1842, when a train carrying passengers from Versailles to Paris derailed and caught fire.

The accident was caused by a broken locomotive axle, and the ensuing fire contributed to the high death toll, which included over 50 people. This disaster highlighted the dangers of early rail travel and led to increased safety measures in railway operations.

John Pemberton

1886 – Pharmacist John Pemberton first sells a carbonated beverage named “Coca-Cola” as a patent medicine

On May 8, 1886, Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, first sold Coca-Cola. Originally, it was marketed as a medicinal product, claiming to cure ailments like headache and fatigue.

The name “Coca-Cola” comes from its two original ingredients: coca leaves and kola nuts, sources of cocaine and caffeine, respectively.

Initially sold at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta for five cents a glass, Coca-Cola has evolved into one of the world’s most recognizable and valuable brands. The formula for Coca-Cola was kept a secret, often referred to as “Merchandise 7X”.

1902 – Mount Pelée erupts, wiping out the town of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, and killing over 30,000 people

On May 8, 1902, Mount Pelée, a volcano on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean, erupted with catastrophic consequences. The eruption completely destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, which was then known as the “Paris of the Caribbean” due to its cultural flourish.

The rapid pyroclastic flow (a fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter) decimated the town, killing approximately 30,000 people within minutes. Only two survivors were reported. This event stands as one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.

1941 – World War II: The German submarine U-110 is captured by the British Royal Navy, yielding cryptography materials which contribute to the breaking of the Enigma code

On May 9, 1941, during World War II, the German submarine U-110 was captured by the British Royal Navy. The capture was significant because onboard the submarine, the Allies found an intact Enigma machine, along with codebooks and other cryptographic materials.

These were swiftly used by cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park, helping to break the German Enigma codes. This breakthrough significantly aided the Allied war effort, particularly in the Battle of the Atlantic, by allowing encrypted German naval messages to be read.

1945 – World War II: V-E Day, the public holiday celebrated in Allied countries to mark the end of the war in Europe

V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, celebrated on May 8, 1945, marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. This effectively ended the war in Europe.

The announcement of Germany’s surrender and the cessation of hostilities in the continent brought massive celebrations across the Allied nations, including street parties and gatherings.

Though the war against Japan in the Pacific would continue until August of that year, V-E Day remains a pivotal moment of celebration and relief from the long struggle against Nazi Germany.

1958 – The creation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Television network

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, known as CBC, expanded its media reach by launching its own television network on May 8, 1958. CBC, originally established as a radio service in the 1930s, became a fundamental part of Canada’s cultural landscape.

The launch of the television network marked an important step in Canadian broadcasting, providing a domestic platform for Canadian arts, culture, and news, and has since been a primary broadcaster of Canadian content, playing a crucial role in shaping the national identity.

1970 – The Beatles release their final album, “Let It Be”

“Let It Be” was released on May 8, 1970, and is recognized as The Beatles’ final studio album, although most of the recording was completed before their penultimate album, “Abbey Road.”

The album was accompanied by a documentary film of the same name, which highlighted the growing tensions and rifts within the band. Notable for its raw and unpolished aesthetics, the album includes classics like “Let It Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Get Back.”

The project was initially intended to capture the band returning to their rock roots in a live setting without overdubs. However, production disputes led to Phil Spector remixing the tracks, adding orchestral and choir arrangements, which was a point of contention, particularly for Paul McCartney.

1972 – President Richard Nixon orders the mining of North Vietnamese ports during the Vietnam War

On May 8, 1972, in an escalation of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon announced the mining of major North Vietnamese ports, a campaign known as Operation Pocket Money. The objective was to cut off North Vietnam’s supply lines and pressure them into negotiating an end to the war.

This military maneuver involved dropping naval mines by air into the waters leading to Haiphong and other ports, effectively blocking maritime access. This act was one of the factors that eventually led to the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, contributing to the end of direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

1978 – Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler become the first to ascend Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen

On May 8, 1978, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler made history by becoming the first climbers to summit Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

This feat was considered impossible at the time by many in the mountaineering community, who believed that humans could not survive at such high altitudes without additional oxygen.

Their successful ascent marked a significant milestone in mountaineering, changing the perceptions of human limits and opening new possibilities for high-altitude climbing.

1980 – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares smallpox eradicated, the first disease in human history to be eliminated by human effort

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared smallpox eradicated on May 8, 1980. This announcement came after an intensive global vaccination campaign led by the WHO, marking the first time a disease was eradicated through human effort.

Smallpox was a highly contagious and deadly disease, and its eradication represented a major triumph in the field of public health. The last known natural case was diagnosed in October 1977, and since then, there have been no cases of naturally occurring smallpox, making it one of the biggest achievements in medical history.

1984 – The Soviet Union announces that it will not participate in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles

In retaliation to the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union officially declared on May 8, 1984, that it would not participate in the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles.

This decision was part of a larger Soviet-led boycott that eventually included 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies. The boycott impacted the games and was a significant event during the Cold War, highlighting the ongoing political tensions between the Eastern and Western blocs.

1987 – Gary Hart withdraws from the Democratic presidential nomination race following revelations of an extramarital affair

Gary Hart was a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential election in 1988. However, his campaign was marred by allegations of an extramarital affair with Donna Rice, which was heightened by a photograph of Rice sitting on Hart’s lap near a yacht called “Monkey Business.”

Amid the media frenzy and scrutiny, Hart initially dropped out of the race in May 1987, only to re-enter later in the year. Despite his attempts to revive his candidacy, the damage to his reputation had already been done, and he failed to secure the nomination.

1988 – François Mitterrand is re-elected President of France

François Mitterrand, representing the Socialist Party, was re-elected as the President of France on May 8, 1988, defeating his center-right challenger Jacques Chirac. Mitterrand’s re-election marked his second term in office, making him the first president in the Fifth Republic to win re-election.

His presidency was noted for various significant reforms in social policy and numerous privatizations of large state-owned companies. Mitterrand’s administration also focused on strengthening the European Community, which eventually led to the European Union.

1997 – A China Southern Airlines flight crashes, killing all 35 people on board

On May 8, 1997, China Southern Airlines Flight 3456, a Boeing 737, crashed while attempting to land at Shenzhen Huangtian Airport during poor weather conditions, including heavy rain and wind.

The aircraft overshot the runway and crashed, resulting in the deaths of 35 of the 74 people on board. The accident highlighted issues regarding aviation safety within China at the time, particularly under adverse weather conditions, leading to improved safety measures and protocols.

2009 – The space shuttle Atlantis launches on the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope

The space shuttle Atlantis launched on May 11, 2009, on STS-125, the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. This mission was critical in extending the lifespan and enhancing the capabilities of Hubble.

The crew conducted five spacewalks during which they installed new cameras, batteries, a new sensor, and made necessary repairs. These enhancements significantly improved Hubble’s performance, allowing it to continue making astronomical discoveries well into the next decade.

2017 – Emmanuel Macron wins the French presidential election, becoming the youngest president in French history

Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election on May 7, 2017, defeating Marine Le Pen. At 39 years old, Macron became the youngest president in the history of France.

His victory was notable for several reasons: Macron had never held elected office before, and he ran as a candidate from a newly formed party, En Marche!, which broke the traditional hold of established political parties. His platform focused on pro-European Union policies, economic reform, and a socially liberal agenda.