Amundsen reaches South Pole Norwegian Roald Amundsen becomes the first explorer to reach the South Pole, beating his British rival, Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen, born in Borge, near Oslo, in 1872, was one of the great figures in polar exploration. In 1897, he was first mate on a Belgian expedition that was the first ever to winter in the Antarctic. In 1903, he guided the 47-ton sloop Gjöa through the Northwest Passage and around the Canadian coast, the first navigator to accomplish the treacherous journey. Amundsen planned to be the first man to the North Pole, and he was about to embark in 1909 when he learned that the American Robert Peary had achieved the feat. Amundsen completed his preparations and in June 1910 sailed instead for Antarctica, where the English explorer Robert F. Scott was also headed with the aim of reaching the South Pole. In early 1911, Amundsen sailed his ship into Antarctica’s Bay of Whales and set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off–Amundsen using sleigh dogs, and Scott employing Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. On December 14, 1911, Amundsen’s expedition won the race to the Pole and returned safely to base camp in late January. Scott’s expedition was less fortunate. The motor sleds broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. On January 18, 1912, they reached the pole only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Weather on the return journey was exceptionally bad–two members perished–and a storm later trapped Scott and the other two survivors in their tent only 11 miles from their base camp. Scott’s frozen body was found later that year. After his historic Antarctic journey, Amundsen established a successful shipping business. He later made attempts to become the first explorer to fly over the North Pole. In 1925, in an airplane, he flew within 150 miles of the goal. In 1926, he passed over the North Pole in a dirigible just three days after American explorer Richard E. Byrd had apparently done so in an aircraft. In 1996, a diary that Byrd had kept on the flight was found that seemed to suggest that the he had turned back 150 miles short of its goal because of an oil leak, making Amundsen’s dirigible expedition the first flight over the North Pole. In 1928, Amundsen lost his life while trying to rescue a fellow explorer whose dirigible had crashed at sea near Spitsbergen, Norway. 1799 George Washington dies George Washington, the American revolutionary leader and first president of the United States, dies of acute laryngitis at his estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia. He was 67 years old. George Washington was born in 1732 to a farm family in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His first direct military experience came as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia colonial militia in 1754, when he led a small expedition against the French in the Ohio River valley on behalf of the governor of Virginia. Two years later, Washington took command of the defenses of the western Virginian frontier during the French and Indian War. After the war’s fighting moved elsewhere, he resigned from his military post, returned to a planter’s life, and took a seat in Virginia’s House of Burgesses. During the next two decades, Washington openly opposed the escalating British taxation and repression of the American colonies. In 1774, he represented Virginia at the Continental Congress. After the American Revolution erupted in 1775, Washington was nominated to be commander in chief of the newly established Continental Army. Some in the Continental Congress opposed his appointment, thinking other candidates were better equipped for the post, but he was ultimately chosen because as a Virginian his leadership helped bind the Southern colonies more closely to the rebellion in New England. With his inexperienced and poorly equipped army of civilian soldiers, General Washington led an effective war of harassment against British forces in America while encouraging the intervention of the French into the conflict on behalf of the colonists. On October 19, 1781, with the surrender of British General Charles Lord Cornwallis’ massive British army at Yorktown, Virginia, General Washington had defeated one of the most powerful nations on earth. Pennsylvania. The drafters created the office of president with him in mind, and in February 1789 Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. As president, Washington sought to unite the nation and protect the interests of the new republic at home and abroad. Of his presidency, he said, “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent.” He successfully implemented executive authority, making good use of brilliant politicians such as Alexander Hamiltonand Thomas Jefferson in his cabinet, and quieted fears of presidential tyranny. In 1792, he was unanimously reelected but four years later refused a third term. In 1797, he finally began a long-awaited retirement at his estate in Virginia. He died two years later. His friend Henry Lee provided a famous eulogy for the father of the United States: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” 1909 Indy “Brickyard” is completed On this day in 1909, workers place the last of the 3.2 million 10-pound bricks that pave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana (a town surrounded by the city of Indianapolis). Since then, most of that brick has been buried under asphalt, but one yard remains exposed at the start-finish line. Kissing those bricks after a successful race remains a tradition among Indy drivers. In 1908, the auto-headlight mogul and race promoter Carl Fisher decided to build a five-mile track that would give carmakers a safe place to test and show off their vehicles. He signed up three partners and bought 320 acres of farmland on the edge of Indianapolis, across the street from his Prest-O-Lite headlight factory. The original plans for Fisher’s “motor parkway” called for a three-mile “outer” loop and a two-mile course through the infield, but they were hastily redrawn when someone pointed out that such a long track would not fit on the parcel unless all the grandstands along the straightaways were eliminated. As a compromise, Fisher and his construction superintendent decided to build a 2.5-mile banked oval with grandstands on all sides. Instead of the concrete surface that other racecourse builders were using, Fisher covered his track with a sticky amalgam of gravel, limestone, tar, and 220,000 gallons of asphaltum oil. For months, 500 workers and 300 mules laid layer after layer of the gooey mixture on the Indy loop and pulled steamrollers across it, pressing the roadway into a solid mass. In August 1909, the Indy speedway was ready to open. The first race at the new Motor Speedway, a motorcycle race on August 13, was a disaster: the new track was so abrasive that it popped everyone’s tires, and workers had to take a few days to sand it down before the event could continue. Even after that, the rack was still a mess: As race car teams arrived at the speedway to prepare for the 300-mile Wheeler-Schibler race, one historian reported, “drivers were quickly covered with dirt, oil, and tar…the track surface disintegrated in the turns, [and] flying gravel shattered goggles and bloodied cheeks. Driving at Indy was like flying through a meteor shower.” On the first day of that first car race, driver Wilford Bacuque and his mechanic were killed when their Knox flipped over and bounced into a fence post. Then, three more people died when driver Charlie Merz shredded a tire and went flying into the stands. After AAA threatened a boycott, Fisher agreed to suspend all races at the Indy track until he could put down a safer surface. He decided on bricks because traction tests confirmed that they were less slippery than gravel and sturdier than concrete. When the “Brickyard” opened, it was much less dangerous than it had been, and only seven people were killed there between 1909 and 1919. The speedway kept its brick track for nearly 50 years. Today, the speedway has an asphalt surface.