What Happened on April 12?

  • The Civil War began. (1861) Confederate forces fired on the Fort Sumter, a Union-held fort in Charleston, South Carolina, bringing long-standing tensions to a head and starting the Civil War. Though most people on both sides were confident the war would end within a year, it lasted through 1865, with more fatalities than any other American war.

  • The polio vaccine was declared safe. (1955) Though rare in developed countries now, polio was a major killer before the Salk polio vaccine went into use in the 1950s — in fact, more children died from polio than any other communicable disease in the 1950s. When the vaccine was declared safe, massive immunization campaigns went into effect, and the disease was virtually eradicated in America.

  • Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. (1961) Russian Cosmonaut Gagarin was made into an overnight celebrity when he became the first man in space, as well as the first man to orbit the Earth on this day. His flight was a major blow to the US, and sparked even greater efforts to win the space race.

  • Bill Haley and the Comets recorded Rock Around the Clock. (1954) Often called the first rock and roll record, Rock Around the Clock became sensationally popular after it was used as the opening song in Blackboard Jungle, and sold more than 1 million records in one month in 1955 alone.

  • President Franklin Roosevelt died. (1945) Roosevelt died while on vacation, leaving Truman to take over. Though sometimes controversial, he had brought America through the Great Depression and World War II, and was one of the most influential presidents.

  • The Mark Strand Theatre opened. (1914) The theater was the first "movie palace," a huge luxurious movie theater almost like an opera house. Patrons could watch from balcony seats, socialize in the rotunda during intermissions, and were even sometimes given live orchestra performances before and after movies.

  • The Townshend Act was repealed. (1770) The British-mandated Townshend Act placed import taxes on many profitable goods like paper, glass, and tea. The act led to mass riots and eventually the Boston Massacre before it was repealed.

  • Galileo was convicted of heresy. (1633) Foundational scientist and astronomer Galileo was convicted of heresy because he refused to recant his statement that the Earth revolved around the sun, instead of vice versa. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

  • The Fort Pillow massacre occurred. (1864) Confederate troops led by Nathan Bedford Forrest sacked a Union garrison at Fort Pillow, which was largely manned by African-American troops. There were huge numbers of Union fatalities, which led some to claim that the Confederate troops had deliberately massacred them.

  • The first space shuttle was launched. (1981) The Columbia,the first reusable manned spacecraft, was launched for the first time on this day. It was a major step forward for NASA, and was eventually used to help build the International Space Station.

Frequently Asked Questions

What significant historical event took place on April 12, 1861?

On April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began with the Confederate forces attacking Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This attack followed the secession of several Southern states from the Union, leading to a four-year conflict. The bombardment of Fort Sumter marked the start of the war, which would become one of the deadliest in American history, with an estimated 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers killed, according to the National Park Service.

What happened in space exploration on April 12, 1961?

April 12, 1961, is a landmark date in space exploration as it marks the day when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space. Gagarin's spacecraft, Vostok 1, completed an orbit around the Earth, making him an international hero and advancing the Soviet Union's position in the Space Race. This event is celebrated annually as Yuri's Night, a global commemoration of human spaceflight.

What was the significance of April 12, 1945, in U.S. presidential history?

On April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. His death occurred during his unprecedented fourth term in office, and Vice President Harry S. Truman was swiftly sworn in as the 33rd President of the United States. Truman's presidency began during the final stages of World War II and he would later make the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan, leading to the end of the war.

How did April 12, 1981, contribute to space shuttle history?

April 12, 1981, was a pivotal day in space shuttle history as NASA launched the first space shuttle, Columbia, on its maiden voyage, STS-1. This marked the first time a reusable spacecraft was used, and it opened a new era in space exploration. The mission was commanded by John Young and piloted by Robert Crippen, successfully demonstrating the shuttle's capabilities and leading to 30 years of shuttle missions.

What is the historical significance of April 12, 1963, in the context of the American Civil Rights Movement?

On April 12, 1963, during the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, for his participation in nonviolent protests against racial segregation. While incarcerated, he wrote the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a defense of civil disobedience addressed to fellow clergymen. This letter became a foundational text for the movement, advocating for direct action and the urgency of the struggle for civil rights.

Discussion Comments


Soviet Spacewalk goes wrong when suit over inflated, becomes all but impossible to get back into capsule. Cosmonaut is forced to "puncture" and deflate at least part of the suit in order to return to his capsule and earth. This was kept a secret for decades.


In reference to the third bullet point, just how dangerous is it to go into outer space? Obviously, there are always going to be preparations, but things could always go wrong, right?

In fact, what was the first astronaut incident in space?

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