The Thing About Today – January 21

January 21, 2020
Day 21 of 366


January 21st is the twenty-first day of the year. It is Grandmother’s Day in Poland.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Granola Bar Day, National Hugging Day, and Squirrel Appreciation Day.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1789, the first American novel was printed in Boston, Massachusetts. It was The Power of Sympathy or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth by William Hill Brown.
  • In 1793, Louis XVI of France was executed by guillotine after being found guilty of treason by the French National Convention.
  • In 1908, New York City passed the Sullivan Ordinance, which made it illegal for women to smoke in public. Only one woman, Katie Mulcahey, was cited for breaking the ordinance. She was fined $5 and arrested for refusing to pay the fine. The measure was vetoed by Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. two weeks later.
  • In 1919, the Dáil Éireann, a revolutionary Irish parliament, was founded. They declared Irish independence by ratifying the Proclamation of the Irish Republic that had been issued in the 1916 Easter Rising and adopted a provisional constitution. The Soloheadbeg ambush, one of the first engagements of the Irish War of Independence, took place on the same day.
  • In 1922, actor Telly Savalas was born.
  • In 1934, actress Ann Wedgeworth was born.
  • In 1938, Robert Weston Smith was born. He was better known as radio host Wolfman Jack.
  • In 1948, The Flag of Quebec was adopted and flown for the first time over the National Assembly of Quebec. The day is commemorated annually as Québec Flag Day.
  • In 1956, actress, producer, and activist Geena Davis was born.
  • In 1976, the commercial service of Concorde began with two routes: London-Bahrain and Paris-Rio.
  • In 1981, production of the DeLorean sports car began in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland.


In 1954, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the first nuclear-powered submarine was launched.

The United States Congress authorized the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine in July 1951. The project was planned and personally supervised by Captain Hyman G. Rickover, known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy” and famous being the longest-serving naval officer and the longest-serving member of the U.S. armed forces. Admiral Rickover’s 63 years of active duty service exceeded that of Admirals Leahy, King, Nimitz, and Halsey, the Navy’s five-star fleet admirals who served on active duty for life after their appointments.

On December 12, 1951, the submarine received her name, Nautilus, the fourth ship to carry the name. She was named for the Narwhal-class submarine that served with distinction in World War II and shared the name with Captain Nemo’s fictional submarine from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The keel was laid at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics at Groton, Connecticut by President Harry S. Truman on June 14, 1952.

The power plant was a Submarine Thermal Reactor (STR), a pressurized water reactor later redesignated as the S2W – a submarine-based platform with the second generation core designed by Westinghouse – developed by Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory. The advantage of using nuclear power over the typical diesel engines of submarine history was that it was zero-emission and allowed for longer submerged operating periods.

The ship’s patch was designed by The Walt Disney Company. The ship was christened and launched by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, and it was commissioned eight months later under the command of Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson. After further dockside construction and testing, Commander Wilkinson took Nautilus to sea on January 17, 1955, with the historic message, “Underway on nuclear power.”

On May 10th, she headed south for a shakedown cruise, traveling 1,100 nautical miles from New London, Connecticut to San Juan, Puerto Rico and covering 1,200 nautical miles in less than 90 hours. That set records for the longest submerged cruise by a submarine and the highest sustained speed (for at least one hour) ever. From 1955 to 1957, the ship was used to test the limits of submerged travel, rendering the progress made in anti-submarine warfare during World War II virtually obsolete. The use of radar and anti-submarine aircraft was ineffective against a vessel that could move rapidly, change depth quickly, and stay submerged for long periods.

Nautilus logged 60,000 nautical miles on February 4, 1957. In August, she went north to experiment with polar ice cap operations before getting underway for Operation Sunshine in April 1958. Since the launch of Sputnik, the United States had been wary of nuclear ICBM threats from the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower ordered a submarine transit of the North Pole to gain credibility for a forthcoming SLBM weapons system. Under the command of Commander William R. Anderson, Nautilus successfully transited under the ice cap. Commander Anderson received the Legion of Merit and the Nautilus was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first-ever issued in peacetime. The citation came with a special gold N clasp to commemorate the event, making the crew who made the voyage instantly recognizable in uniform.

For outstanding achievement in completing the first voyage in history across the top of the world, by cruising under the Arctic ice cap from the Bering Strait to the Greenland Sea.

During the period 22 July 1958 to 5 August 1958, USS Nautilus, the world’s first atomic powered ship, added to her list of historic achievements by crossing the Arctic Ocean from the Bering Sea to the Greenland Sea, passing submerged beneath the geographic North Pole. This voyage opens the possibility of a new commercial seaway, a Northwest Passage, between the major oceans of the world. Nuclear-powered cargo submarines may, in the future, use this route to the advantage of world trade.

The skill, professional competency and courage of the officers and crew of Nautilus were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States and the pioneering spirit which has always characterized our country.

The Nautilus continued to operate until May 26, 1979, logging over 300,000 nautical miles over her lifetime. She was decommissioned on March 3, 1980, designated as a National Historic Landmark on May 20, 1982, and named as the official state ship of Connecticut in 1983. She was converted and opened to the public as part of the Submarine Force Library and Museum on April 11, 1986. Visitors to the site near Naval Submarine Base New London can tour the forward two compartments and learn all about the history of the submarine force.

As a former submariner who operated out of Naval Submarine Base New London for three years, the Nautilus serves as a reminder of our legacy and an inspiration to uphold the reputation of the Silent Service. She’s also a welcome sight from the bridge and control room when you’re returning home.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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