Today's Highlight in History:
On Dec. 17, 1938, German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission by splitting the nuclei of uranium into lighter elements while performing experiments in Berlin.
On this date:
In 1777, France recognized American independence.
In 1830, South American patriot Simon Bolivar died in Colombia.
In 1865, Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8, known as the "Unfinished" (because only two movements had been completed) was performed publicly for the first time in Vienna, 37 years after the composer's death.
In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, conducted the first successful manned powered-airplane flights near Kitty Hawk, N.C., using their experimental craft, the Wright Flyer.
In 1925, Col. William "Billy" Mitchell was convicted at his court-martial in Washington of insubordination for accusing senior military officials of incompetence and criminal negligence; he was suspended from active duty.
In 1933, in the inaugural NFL championship football game, the Chicago Bears defeated the New York Giants, 23-21, at Wrigley Field.
In 1944, the U.S. Army announced it was ending its policy of excluding Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.
In 1957, the United States successfully test-fired the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time.
In 1959, Stanley Kramer's anti-nuclear war drama "On the Beach," starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, premiered on all seven continents (including Antarctica).
In 1979, in a case that aggravated racial tensions, Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance executive, was fatally injured after leading police on a chase with his motorcycle in Miami. (Four white police officers accused of beating McDuffie were later acquitted, sparking riots.)
In 1981, members of the Red Brigades kidnapped Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier, the highest-ranking U.S. Army official in southern Europe, from his home in Verona, Italy. (Dozier was rescued 42 days later.)
In 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died after more than a decade of iron rule; he was 69, according to official records, but some reports indicated he was 70.
Ten years ago: Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was indicted on corruption charges. (Ryan was later convicted and ended up serving more than 5½ years in federal custody.) The British government announced the first reported case of a person dying from the human form of mad cow disease after a blood transfusion from an infected donor. An attempt to re-create the Wright brothers' first flight on the 100th anniversary failed to take off from North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Five years ago: President-elect Barack Obama named former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado to head the Interior Department. OPEC agreed to slash 2.2 million barrels from daily production — its single largest cut ever. Pro Football Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh died in Rotan, Texas at age 94.
One year ago: Newtown, Conn., began laying its dead to rest, holding funerals for two 6-year-old boys, the first of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. A pair of NASA spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, were deliberately crashed into a mountain near the moon's north pole, ending a mission that peered into the lunar interior. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim became the third Division I men's coach, after Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight, to reach 900 wins with a 72-68 victory over Detroit in the Gotham Classic. Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died at age 88.
Today's Birthdays: Actor Armin Mueller-Stahl is 83. Pope Francis is 77. Singer-actor Tommy Steele is 77. Rock singer-musician Art Neville is 76. Actor Bernard Hill is 69. Actor Ernie Hudson is 68. Political commentator Chris Matthews is 68. Comedian-actor Eugene Levy is 67. Actress Marilyn Hassett is 66. Actor Wes Studi is 66. Pop musician Jim Bonfanti (The Raspberries) is 65. Actor Joel Brooks is 64. Rock singer Paul Rodgers is 64. Rhythm-and-blues singer Wanda Hutchinson (The Emotions) is 62. Actor Bill Pullman is 60. Actor Barry Livingston is 60. Country singer Sharon White is 60. Producer-director-writer Peter Farrelly is 57. Rock musician Mike Mills (R.E.M.) is 55. Pop singer Sarah Dallin (Bananarama) is 52. Country musician Tim Chewning is 51. Country singer Tracy Byrd is 47. Country musician Duane Propes is 47. Actress Laurie Holden is 44. DJ Homicide (Sugar Ray) is 43. Actor Sean Patrick Thomas is 43. Actress Claire Forlani is 42. Pop-rock musician Eddie Fisher (OneRepublic) is 40. Actress Sarah Paulson is 39. Actress Marissa Ribisi is 39. Actor Giovanni Ribisi is 39. Actress Milla Jovovich is 38. Singer Bree Sharp is 38. Actress Jennifer Carpenter is 34. Singer-songwriter Ben Goldwasser (MGMT) is 31. Actress Shannon Woodward is 29. Actress Emma Bell is 27. Actress Vanessa Zima is 27. Rock musician Taylor York (Paramore) is 24. Actor-singer Nat Wolff is 19.
Thought for Today: "A fool and his money are soon parted, but you never call him a fool till the money is gone." — Author unknown.