The first day of May, or ‘May Day’ as it is also known, is a curious mixture of superstition, social protest (Labor Day) and celebration.
May Day is also the 121st day of the year and marks the midpoint between spring and summer, occurring exactly half a year from November 1st.
Like most of the occasions we have now (Easter, Christmas, etc.), May Day started out as a pagan celebration. Its origins go back thousands of years to the Celtic period, where towns and villages would come together to celebrate springtime fertility, and rejoice in the beauty of spring and optimism of life. The energy of these gatherings was supposed to help inspire procreation.
During the 1600s, May Day festivities were prohibited and in 1640 the Church in England ruled against the debauchery and the British Parliament banned the traditions as immoral. A much tamer version was brought back in 1644 under the rule of Charles II.
Maypoles were devised as (phallic) symbols of fertility, but were also symbolic of the “world tree,” which was supposed to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. There are also rumors that this was the last chance for fairies to travel to the earth.
Today, May Day is probably best known in most countries for the tradition of ‘dancing round the maypole’ and the crowning of a ‘May Queen’.
Flowers also play an important part in May Day celebrations. Native Americans even called May the month of the flower moon, believing that flowers would dance under the full moon. And ancient Romans dedicated May Day to Flora, the goddess of flowers.
In Italy, May Day is still regarded by some as the happiest day of the year.
Since 1928, May Day in Hawaii has been known as ‘Lei Day’, a spring celebration that embraces Hawaiian culture and in particular, the lei. The holiday song, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i,” was originally a fox trot, but was later rearranged as a Hawaiian hula.
Listed below are some of the historical events that happened on May Day that I found interesting. Hope you do too.
But just before you start those, a word about something that has nothing whatever to do with May Day although many people believe that it has. The international distress signal is often referred to s a “mayday” signal but this is not a reference to the first day of May. The name derives from the French “venez m’aider”, meaning “come help me.”
Now you know.
And now for the real facts.
Historical Events that happened on various May 1st’s
1006 – A Supernova was observed by Chinese & Egyptians astronomers in the constellation Lupus.
1328 – The Wars of Scottish Independence ended with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton by which the Kingdom of England recognized the Kingdom of Scotland as an independent state.
1544 – Turkish troops occupied Hungary.
1682 – Louis XIV and his court inaugurated the Paris Observatory.
1703 – At the Battle at Rultusk the Swedish army defeated the Russians.
1704 – The Boston Newsletter published the first ever newspaper advertisement.
1707 – England, Wales & Scotland form the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
1751 – The first American cricket match is played.
1753 – May Day this year saw Publication of Species Plantarum by Linnaeus, and the formal start date of plant taxonomy adopted by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.
1759 – Josiah Wedgwood founded the Wedgwood pottery company in Great Britain.
1759 – The British fleet occupied Guadeloupe, West Indies, capturing it from France.
1776 – The secret society of the Illuminati was established in Ingolstadt (Upper Bavaria), by Jesuit-taught Adam Weishaupt.
1777 – RB Sheridan’s “School for Scandal” premiered in London.
1778 – The American Revolutionary War Battle of Crooked Billet began in Hatboro, Pennsylvania.
1786 – Mozart’s opera “Marriage of Figaro” premiered in Wien (Vienna)
1822 – John Phillips became the first mayor of Boston.
1840 – The first adhesive postage stamps, known as the “Penny Blacks”, were issued in the UK.
1841 – The first emigrant wagon train left Independence, Missouri, for California.
1844 – Samuel Morse sent his first telegraphic message.
1844 – The Hong Kong Police Force, the world’s second modern police force and Asia’s first, was established.
1850 – John Geary became the first mayor of San Francisco.
1851 – The ‘Great Exhibition’ opened in the Crystal Palace, London.
1852 – The Philippine peso is introduced into circulation.
1857 – William Walker, conqueror of Nicaragua, surrendered to the U.S. Navy.
1861 – In the American Civil War, General Lee ordered Confederate troops under T J Jackson to Harper’s Ferry.
1862 – Also in the American Civil War, Major General Benjamin Butler’s Union forces occupied New Orleans.
1863 – The Confederate ‘National Flag’ replaced the ‘Stars & Bars’.
1866 – The Memphis Race Riots began. In three days time, 46 blacks and two whites were killed. Reports of the atrocities influenced passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
1866 – The American Equal Rights Association formed.
1869 – The Folies Bergère opens in Paris.
1873 – The first US postal card is issued.
1873 – Emperor Franz Jozef opened the 5th World’s Exposition in Vienna.
1875 – 238 members of the “Whiskey Ring” are accused of anti-US activities.
1883 – “Buffalo Bill” Cody put on his first Wild West Show.
1884 – Construction began on Chicago’s first skyscraper (10 stories).
1884 – May Day this year also saw the Proclamation of the demand for eight-hour workday in the United States.
1884 – Moses Walker became the first African American player in major league baseball in the US.
1885 – The original Chicago Board of Trade Building opened for business.
1886 – A general strike began in the US for an 8-hour working day.
1889 – German ompany Bayer introduced aspirin in powder form.
1900 – The Scofield Mine disaster killed over 200 men in Scofield, Utah in what was the fifth-worst mining accident in United States history.
1901 – Herb McFarland hit the first grand slam in the American League.
1908 – The world’s most intense shower (2.47″ in 3 minutes) occurred at Portobelo, Panama.
1912 – The Beverly Hills Hotel opened.
1915 – The RMS Lusitania departed from New York City, bound for Liverpool, on her two hundred and second, and final, crossing of the North Atlantic. Six days later, the ship was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 1,198 lives.
1920 – Babe Ruth made his first Yankee home run and the 50th of career.
1922 – Charlie Robertson of Chicago pitched a perfect no-hit, no-run game.
1925 – Cyprus became a British Crown Colony.
1927 – The first cooked meals on an airplane were introduced on on an Imperial Airways scheduled flight from London to Paris.
1930 – The dwarf planet Pluto was officially named.
1931 – The Empire State Building opened in New York City.
1935 – Boulder Dam was completed.
1935 – Canada’s first silver dollar was circulated.
1937 – FDR signed the act of neutrality.
1939 – Batman comics hit street.
1940 – The 1940 Olympics were cancelled because of WWII.
1941 – ‘Citizen Kane’, directed & starring Orson Welles, premiered in New York.
1941 – General Mills introduced Cheerios.
1944 – The world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft, the Messerschmitt Me 262 Sturmvogel, makes 1st flight
1945 – A German newsreader officially announced that Adolf Hitler has “fallen at his command post in the Reich Chancellery fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany”. The Soviet flag is raised over the Reich Chancellery, by order of Stalin.
1945 – Admiral Karl Doenitz formed the new German government.
1946 – Field Marshal Montgomery was appointed British supreme commander.
1946 – The three-year Pilbara strike of Indigenous Australians began.
1947 – Radar for commercial & private planes was first demonstrated.
1948 – North Korea proclaims itself the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
1952 – US Marines take part in an atomic explosion training exercise in Nevada.
1952 – Mr Potato Head was introduced.
1952 – TWA introduced tourist class.
1956 – The polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk was made available to the public.
1956 – A doctor in Japan reported an “epidemic of an unknown disease of the central nervous system”, marking the official discovery of Minamata disease.
1957 – Larry King made his first radio broadcast.
1959 – Floyd Patterson KO’d Brian London in the 11th round for the heavyweight boxing title.
1960 – Russia shot down Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 spy plane over Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union, sparking a diplomatic crisis.
1961 – May Day 1961 was the date of the first US airplane being hijacked to Cuba.
1962 – The first French underground nuclear experiment took place in the Sahara, at Ecker Algeria.
1963 – James Whittaker became the first American to conquer Mount Everest.
1964 – The first BASIC program ws run on a computer at Dartmouth.
1965 – The U.S.S.R. launched its Luna 5 spacecraft which later impacted on the Moon.
1966 – Last British concert by the Beatles took place at the Empire Pool in Wembley.
1967 – Elvis Presley married Pricilla Beaulieu.
1969 – James Chichester-Clark was elected leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and Northern Ireland Prime Minister, after succeededing Terence O’Neill.
1971 – Amtrak Railroad began operations.
1971 – The Rolling Stones released their mega-hit single “Brown Sugar”.
1978 – Ernest Morial, the first black mayor of New Orleans is inaugurated.
1978 – Japan’s Naomi Uemura, travelling by dog sled, became the first person to reach the North Pole alone.
1979 – Elton John became the first pop star to perform in Israel.
1981 – Tennis player Billie Jean King acknowledged a lesbian relationship with Marilyn Barnett – becoming first prominent sportswoman to ‘come out’.
1984 – Great Britain performed a nuclear test at a Nevada Test Site.
1985 – US President Ronald Reagan ended the embargo against Nicaragua.
1986 – Russian news agency Tass reported the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
1989 – The 135 acre Disney MGM studio officially opened to the public.
1991 – The Angolan civil war ended.
1993 – There was a bomb attack on the Sri Lankan president in which 26 people died.
1994 – Three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna was killed in an accident during the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
1997 – Howard Stern Radio Show premiered in San Diego, CA, on KIOZ 105.3 FM.
1997 – Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister of UK.
1999 – The body of British climber George Mallory was found on Mount Everest, 75 years after his disappearance in 1924.
2003 – In what became known as the “Mission Accomplished” speech, U.S. President George W. Bush declared on board the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California, that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended”.
2009 – Same-sex marriage was legalized in Sweden.
2011 – U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, founder of the militant Islamist group Al-Quaeda and the suspected mastermind behind the September 11 attackshad been killed by United States special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Due to the time difference between the United States and Pakistan, bin Laden was actually killed on May 2.
2012 – Guggenheim Partners made the largest ever purchase of a sports franchise after buying the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.1 billion.
2013 – A digital camera was created that could mimic insect compound eyes.
People you might have heard of who were born on May 1st include,
1594 – John Haynes, English-American politician, 1st Governor of the Colony of Connecticut (d. 1653)
1769 – Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Irish-English field marshal and politician, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (d. 1852)
1852 – Calamity Jane, American scout (d. 1903)
1916 – Glenn Ford, Canadian-American actor (d. 2006)
1919 – Lewis Hill, American broadcaster, co-founded Pacifica Radio (d. 1957)
1923 – Joseph Heller, American author and playwright (d. 1999)
1925 – Scott Carpenter, American commander, pilot, and astronaut (d. 2013)
1937 – Una Stubbs, English actress and dancer
1939 – Judy Collins, American singer-songwriter and guitarist
1945 – Rita Coolidge, American singer-songwriter
1946 – Joanna Lumley, English actress
1946 – John Woo, Hong Kong director, producer, and screenwriter
1954 – Ray Parker, Jr., American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer (Raydio)
1967 – Scott Coffey, American actor, director, producer and screenwriter
People you might have heard of who died on May 1st include,
1731 – Johann Ludwig Bach, German violinist and composer (b. 1677)
1873 – David Livingstone, Scottish missionary (b. 1813)
1945 – Joseph Goebbels, German politician, Chancellor of Germany (b. 1897)
1985 – Denise Robins, English journalist and author (b. 1897)
2006 – Rob Lacey, English actor and author (b. 1962)
2011 – Ted Lowe, English sportscaster (b. 1920)
2011 – Henry Cooper, English boxer (b. 1934)
2014 – Howard Smith, American journalist, director, and producer (b. 1936)