• On Dec. 13, 1577, English seaman Francis Drake sets out from Plymouth, England, with five ships and 164 men on a mission to raid Spanish holdings on the Pacific coast of the New World. Three years later, Drake’s return to Plymouth marked the first circumnavigation of the earth by a British explorer.
• On Dec. 10, 1901, the first Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and other explosives. It is believed that Nobel created the prizes out of moral regret over the increasingly lethal uses of his inventions in war.
• On Dec. 14, 1911, Norwegian Roald Amundsen becomes the first explorer to reach the South Pole, beating his British rival, Robert Falcon Scott, by more than a month. Amundsen used sleigh dogs, while Scott employed motor sledges, ponies and dogs.
• On Dec. 15, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in the Pacific, brings an end to Shintoism as Japan’s established religion. The Shinto system included the belief that the emperor, in this case Hirohito, was divine.
• On Dec. 11, 1961, the ferry carrier USNS Core arrives in Saigon with the first U.S. helicopter unit, including 33 helicopters and 400 air and ground crewmen. Their assignment was to airlift South Vietnamese Army troops into combat.
• On Dec. 9, 1979, a commission of scientists declares that smallpox has been eradicated. The disease, which carries a 30% chance of death for those who contract it, is the only infectious disease that has officially been eradicated.
• On Dec. 12, 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays over $5 million at auction for an almost 500-year-old notebook containing writings and detailed drawings by artist Leonardo da Vinci, all relating to water and how it moved.
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