On this day in history, February 15

Published Feb 15, 2024


More than just dates and boring facts

399BC Athens philosopher Socrates, 70 – the father of Western philosophical tradition – is sentenced to death by choosing to drink hemlock for his democratic views, atheism and for ‘corrupting the youth.

1642 Astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei is born in Pisa, Italy. He was the first to use a telescope and controversially said the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the solar system.

1809 Inventor Cyrus McCormick is born in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He gave the world the horse-drawn mechanical reaper, which freed farmers from hard labour and contributed to the development of vast areas of the American Great Plains.

1839 Regulations are proclaimed for the layout of a third Voortrekker town – and the first in Natal – named Pietermartizburg, after Piet Retief and Gerrit Maritz who Dingaan had murdered along with 70 of their followers.

1898 The battleship USS Maine explodes and sinks in Havana, Cuba, killing 274 people and leading the US to declare war on Spain.

1900 The Siege of Kimberley is broken by British troops under Lieutenant-General John French after a 124-day siege by the Boers.

1936 German Chancellor Adolf Hitler announces construction of the Volkswagen Beetle (the People’s Car).

1942 The 80 000-strong British garrison at the island fortress of Singapore surrenders to Japan.

1972 José María Velasco Ibarra, serving as President of Ecuador for the fifth time, is overthrown from power for the fourth time by the military.

1982 The drilling rig Ocean Ranger sinks in a storm off Newfoundland, Canada, killing 84 workers.

1992 American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is jailed to life for the murder of 15 boys. He is later stabbed to death in jail.

1986 The bloody Alexandra ‘6-day war’ starts. The war was sparked by the death of student activist Michael Diradingwe, who was shot by a security guard at a shop on Vincent Tshabalala Road (London Road) that Diradingwe was alleged to have stolen from.

The war began during the night vigil for Diradingwe when youth activists resolved to loot the store as a way to demonstrate their frustration against the killings of black South Africans and the detention of their senior leaders during the state of emergency.

Residents also clashed with police when they attempted to disperse the funeral gathering. The conflict continued unabated for six days, resulting in 27 deaths.

1998 South African cricketers Pat Symcox and Mark Boucher set a new world-record partnership of 195 runs for a 9th-wicket stand against Pakistan.

2013 A meteor explodes over Chelyabinsk, Russia, injuring 1 500 people as a shock wave blows out windows and rocks building.

2018 Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is sworn in as the country’s president, one day after Jacob Zuma stepped down after the ANC instructed him to do so..

2022 Floods and landslides after the heaviest rain in a century in Petrópolis, Brazil, leaves 146 people dead with 191 missing.

2023 Scientists warn the Thwaites Glacier, the so-called “Doomsday Glacier” and the size of Florida, is weakening, threatening a global sea level rise of 1.6 meters should it all melt.