The Thing About Today – January 31

January 31, 2020
Day 31 of 366


January 31st is the thirty-first day of the year. It is Independence Day in the Republic of Nauru, the island nation in Micronesia that gained independence from Australia in 1968.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Backward Day, National Hot Chocolate Day, Inspire Your Heart with Art Day, and National Big Wig Day. The last one is typically observed on the last Friday in January.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1846, after the Milwaukee Bridge War, the towns of Juneautown and Kilbourntown unified to create the City of Milwaukee in Wisconsin.
  • In 1862, Alvan Graham Clark discovered the white dwarf star Sirius B, a companion of Sirius.
  • In 1865, the United States Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to abolish slavery. It was ratified by the states that December.
  • In 1872, Western novelist Zane Grey was born.
  • In 1902, actress Tallulah Bankhead was born.
  • In 1919, Jackie Robinson was born. He was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball during the modern era.
  • In 1930, 3M began marketing Scotch Tape.
  • In 1934, writer Gene DeWeese was born.
  • In 1950, President Harry Truman announced plans to develop the hydrogen bomb.
  • In 1958, Explorer I, the first successful American satellite, detected the Van Allen radiation belt.
  • In 1960, comics writer and screenwriter Grant Morrison was born.
  • In 1971, the Apollo 14 mission launched. Over nine days, astronauts Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell successfully conducted scientific experiments and landed on the lunar surface.


In 1961, Ham the Chimp traveled into outer space on MR-2, part of Project Mercury. He was the first hominid to travel into space.

Ham’s name was an acronym for the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, the laboratory that prepped him for the mission, located at the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. He was also named in honor of the laboratory commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton “Ham” Blackshear.

Ham was born in Cameroon (then known as French Cameroons) in 1957. He was trapped and sent to Florida where he was purchased by the United States Air Force. He ended up at Holloman in 1959. He was selected for the space mission out of a pool of 40 chimpanzees, and he was only known as “No. 65” until he successfully returned to Earth.

The big difference between Ham’s flight and other primate flights to that point was that Ham was not merely a passenger. His solo flight led directly to the Freedom 7 mission by Alan Shepard in 1961. Ham was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 31, 1961 and flew for 16 minutes and 39 seconds. The capsule experienced a partial loss of pressure, but Ham’s flight suit protected him. The only injury was a bruised nose.

Ham transitioned to the National Zoo in Washington, DC where he lived for 17 years. He then retired to the North Carolina Zoo where he died on January 19, 1983.


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.




What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.