Leap Year in History: Events That Shaped the Extra Day

Some historical events happened during Leap Year

The calendar year typically consists of 365 days, but every four years, an additional day is added to the end of February to account for the solar cycle. This extra day, February 29, is commonly referred to as “Leap Day.” Despite being the rarest day on the calendar, several significant events have unfolded on Leap Day since its inception in 45 B.C. Let’s explore some of the most impactful historical occurrences that have taken place on February 29.


The Birth of Leap Day

In 45 B.C., Julius Caesar, while developing a 365-day calendar, encountered a challenge. The earth’s orbit around the sun takes approximately 365 days and six hours, creating a slight mismatch between the calendar year and the solar year. To address this discrepancy and prevent the passage of time and changing seasons from becoming desynchronized, Caesar collaborated with Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes. Together, they devised the concept of adding an extra day to the calendar every four years. However, their calculations were slightly off, leading to the calendar advancing by as much as 10 days by the end of the 16th century.


1692: The Salem Witch Trials Begin

On Leap Day in 1692, the first warrants were issued for the arrests of three women—Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba—in the infamous Salem Witch Trials. This marked the commencement of a dark chapter in American history, with the accused facing dire consequences. Sarah Good was hanged, Sarah Osborne passed away in prison, and Tituba, a slave, admitted to alleged crimes and was eventually released.


1736: Ann Lee, Founder of the Shaker Movement, is Born

Ann Lee, the founder of the Shaker Movement in America, was born in Manchester, UK, on February 29, 1736. She played a pivotal role in the pacifist sect of Christianity and led the movement in Europe before receiving a divine inspiration to establish a Shaker church in America, where she gathered a following in Albany, New York.


1908: “Solid Helium” Discovered by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

On Leap Day in 1908, Dutch scientist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes announced the discovery of “solid helium” in his laboratory, a groundbreaking moment in the study of helium. While initially perceived as an extraordinary finding, subsequent observations revealed that the phenomenon occurred due to the presence of hydrogen, leading to a reevaluation of the discovery.


1936: The Pavlov Institute Established in Honor of Ivan Pavlov

Following the death of renowned researcher Ivan Pavlov, the Soviet government renamed the First Leningrad Medical Institute to “The Pavlov Institute” on Leap Day in 1936, preserving his brain for posterity. Pavlov gained global acclaim for his psychological study of conditioning and received a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1904 for his research on digestion.


1940: Hattie McDaniel Makes Oscar History

Actress Hattie McDaniel achieved a historic milestone on February 29, 1940, by becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award. Her portrayal of Mammy in “Gone with the Wind” earned her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, marking a significant moment for diversity and representation in Hollywood.


1964: Birth of the First Royal Baby on Leap Day

Princess Alexandra of Kent gave birth to a son, James Ogilvy, on Leap Day in 1964, making him the first royal baby in history to be born on February 29.


1972: Baseball Player Hank Aaron Becomes Highest-Paid Player

In 1972, baseball legend Hank Aaron signed a record-breaking three-year contract with the Atlanta Braves, solidifying his status as the highest-paid player in the league at that time.


1980: Rediscovery of Buddy Holly’s Glasses

Buddy Holly’s iconic black glasses, lost in a plane crash in 1959, were rediscovered on Leap Day in 1980, two decades after the tragic event. The glasses were returned to Holly’s wife, offering a poignant reminder of the legendary musician’s enduring legacy.


1996: End of the Siege of Sarajevo

After nearly four years of relentless attacks during the Bosnian War, the siege of Sarajevo was officially lifted on February 29, 1996, marking the conclusion of the longest siege in modern warfare history.


2012: Farewell to a Musical Icon: Davy Jones’ Legacy and Leap Day Tragedy

Davy Jones, born in 1945 in Manchester, England, achieved fame as the frontman of the pop-rock band “The Monkees.” His contributions extended beyond music, earning him four Grammy nominations and notable acting roles in series like “The Brady Bunch.” Tragically, Jones passed away on Leap Day in 2012, succumbing to a sudden heart attack.


As we celebrate Leap Day, let’s not only marvel at the astronomical intricacies but also appreciate the historical threads woven into this extra day. February 29 stands not just as a calendrical anomaly but as a stage for remarkable events that have shaped our world across centuries.


Source: Business Insider