Batista forced out by Castro-led revolution On this day in 1959, facing a popular revolution spearheaded by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista flees the island nation. Amid celebration and chaos in the Cuban capitol of Havana, the U.S. debated how best to deal with the radical Castro and the ominous rumblings of anti-Americanism in Cuba. The U.S. government had supported Batista, a former soldier and Cuban dictator from 1933 to 1944, who seized power for a second time in a 1952 coup. After Castro and a group of followers, including the South American revolutionary Che Guevara (1928-1967), landed in Cuba to unseat the dictator in December 1956, the U.S. continued to back Batista. Suspicious of what they believed to be Castro’s leftist ideology and worried that his ultimate goals might include attacks on the U.S.’s significant investments and property in Cuba, American officials were nearly unanimous in opposing his revolutionary movement. Cuban support for Castro’s revolution, however, grew in the late 1950s, partially due to his charisma and nationalistic rhetoric, but also because of increasingly rampant corruption, greed, brutality and inefficiency within the Batista government. This reality forced the U.S. to slowly withdraw its support from Batista and begin a search in Cuba for an alternative to both the dictator and Castro; these efforts failed. On January 1, 1959, Batista and a number of his supporters fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic. Tens of thousands of Cubans (and thousands of Cuban Americans in the U.S.) celebrated the end of the dictator’s regime. Castro’s supporters moved quickly to establish their power. Judge Manuel Urrutia was named as provisional president. Castro and his band of guerrilla fighters triumphantly entered Havana on January 7. The U.S. attitude toward the new revolutionary government soon changed from cautiously suspicious to downright hostile. After Castro nationalized American-owned property, allied himself with the Communist Party and grew friendlier with the Soviet Union, America’s Cold War enemy, the U.S severed diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba and enacted a trade and travel embargo that remained in effect until 2015. In April 1961, the U.S. launched the Bay of Pigs invasion, an unsuccessful attempt to remove Castro from power. Subsequent covert operations to overthrow Castro, born August 13, 1926, failed and he went on to become one of the world’s longest-ruling heads of state. Fulgencio Batista died in Spain at age 72 on August 6, 1973. In late July 2006, an unwell Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to his younger brother Raul.Fidel Castroofficially stepped down in February 2008. 45 B.C. New Year’s Day In 45 B.C., New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar takes effect. Soon after becoming Roman dictator, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. Introduced around the seventh century B.C., the Roman calendar attempted to follow the lunar cycle but frequently fell out of phase with the seasons and had to be corrected. In addition, the pontifices, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, often abused its authority by adding days to extend political terms or interfere with elections. In designing his new calendar, Caesar enlisted the aid of Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer, who advised him to do away with the lunar cycle entirely and follow the solar year, as did the Egyptians. The year was calculated to be 365 and 1/4 days, and Caesar added 67 days to 45 B.C., making 46 B.C. begin on January 1, rather than in March. He also decreed that every four years a day be added to February, thus theoretically keeping his calendar from falling out of step. Shortly before his assassination in 44 B.C., he changed the name of the month Quintilis to Julius (July) after himself. Later, the month of Sextilis was renamed Augustus (August) after his successor. Celebration of New Year’s Day in January fell out of practice during the Middle Ages, and even those who strictly adhered to the Julian calendar did not observe the New Year exactly on January 1. The reason for the latter was that Caesar and Sosigenes failed to calculate the correct value for the solar year as 365.242199 days, not 365.25 days. Thus, an 11-minute-a-year error added seven days by the year 1000, and 10 days by the mid-15th century. The Roman church became aware of this problem, and in the 1570s Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to come up with a new calendar. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was implemented, omitting 10 days for that year and establishing the new rule that only one of every four centennial years should be a leap year. Since then, people around the world have gathered en masse on January 1 to celebrate the precise arrival of the New Year. 1863 A Nebraska farmer files the first homestead claim A farmer named Daniel Freeman submits the first claim under the new Homestead Act for a property near Beatrice, Nebraska. Signed into law in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, the Homestead Act essentially legalized the long-standing American practice of squatting on the vast federal landholdings in the West. Ever since the United States became a nation, intrepid pioneers rushed westward well before the government was prepared to oversee an ordered transfer of land into private hands. Ignoring legal niceties like titles or rent payments, the pioneers began farming and ranching wherever they found promising land, and often the government simply looked the other way. By the mid-19th century, illegal squatting had become such an established practice in the Far West that pioneers began to argue for its legalization. Settlers pointed out that they were building a new civilization in the West with their own money and sweat. Why should they have to pay for public land when they had already shouldered the heavy cost of clearing, breaking, and fencing it? Since the government clearly wanted Americans to settle the West, settlers argued that the government should give land to anyone willing to work hard and sacrifice enough to develop it. Congress eventually agreed, and it passed a weak version of a homesteading bill in 1860. However, President James Buchanan vetoed the bill under pressure from pro-slavery southerners who wanted to slow the development of non-slave-holding western states. With the outbreak of the Civil War the following year, southern opposition was no longer a consideration, and Lincoln signed the even stronger Homestead Act into law in May 1862. The act authorized any citizen or intended citizen to settle on any surveyed but unclaimed 160-acre tract of public land. If settlers made the specified improvements to the land and paid a small fee, they would gain full title to the property after five years. Unfortunately, the government failed to reserve much of the best western land for claim under the Homestead Act and instead let it pass into the hands of railroads and speculators. By the 1890s, many homesteaders found that only marginal semi-arid tracts were still available for homesteading. Profitable farming on only 160 acres of such dry land was nearly impossible, and at least half of the original homesteaders abandoned their claims before they gained title to the property. In the early 20th century, the claim sizes were gradually increased to as much as 640 acres, making irrigation and efficient large-scale farming techniques feasible. Thus, while the majority of early homesteads failed, more than 1.6 million farmers and ranchers eventually fulfilled their contracts and became landowners in the West.