Historical Events on January 1st

What defines the first day of an entirely new year? The first day always carries traditions and festivities into a fresh start, a welcome to change... and the fact that our Earth revolved around the Sun for 365 ½ days. As a day notable for being “New Year’s Day”, January 1st happens to be more than a day of celebration. The independence of several countries, the opening of Ellis Island in New York, the announcement of x-rays—these are few from our list that show how much this day means to millions of people from around the globe. Here are our top ten historical events on January 1st down below.

10. Times Square’s first ball drop (1908)

Historical Events on January 1st

The man responsible for this New Year’s tradition belongs to Adolph Ochs, owner of the New York Times. Moving his company to what was then called Longacre Square, he drew attention to the location by hosting fireworks shows on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, in 1907, these fireworks were banned which led Ochs to the idea of using a “time ball”, a maritime tradition. Shining one hundred light bulbs, this heavy ball of wood and iron dropped down from a flagpole, signalling the new year and a new tradition.

9. Last gladiator competition in Rome (404)

Historical Events on January 1st

This also dates the martyrdom of St. Telemachus, an Egyptian monk whose death impressed the Roman emperor Honorius to ban all gladiatorial fights once and for all. After the monk stepped in-between the gladiators and pleaded them to stop, he was stoned to death by the gladiator’s angry audience.

8. The Introduction of Euro (1999)

Historical Events on January 1st

The original purpose of the European Union euro was to act as another form of currency between those in the union besides the country’s own, but this instead became the sole form of currency among many of its members after the next three years. Its introduction made it easier for those residing in member states to purchase from each other without having to convert its price, allowed prices to be more transparent and be more competitive, and helped labor and goods be more efficient.

7. World Trade Organization (1995)

World Trade Organization - Historical Events

A replacement of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Trade Organization strives for a open and fair trade between countries and sets the rules of international trade. The organization also assists with developing countries, encourages healthy competition, and allows countries to sort their trade problems among one another. Its creation has helped out 164 countries with regards to global trade.

6. Ellis Island Immigration (1892)

Historical Events on January 1st

Immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world saw the United States, the New World, as an opportunity. More than twelve million left from their homelands to arrive at Ellis Island in New York and start a new life. Though the Immigration Quota Act and the National Origins Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants, the Ellis Island Immigration Station brought many ancestors of today’s Americans to live where they are now.

5. The Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

Historical Events on January 1st

For former US president Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation meant the freedom of slaves from the Confederate States. The act did not literally free the slaves during this point in time, but it sparked a chain of events which led to its abolishment with the 13th Amendment. It became a necessity in order to win the American Civil War and turned the war into a fight for freedom.

4. Independence (Various years)

Historical Events on January 1st

Though not considered as the independence day of these countries, January 1st was the day of their declaration against colonization. The following include:
- the republic of Haiti established as the first independent Latin American nation in 1804;
- Brunei, a Southeast Asian nation, claimed its independence from the United Kingdom in 1984;
- Cameroon, a Central African country, declared their independence from France in 1960;
- and Sudan, another African country, gained its independence from Egypt and the United Kingdom in 1956.

The Republic of China was also established in 1912 which ended the country’s imperial rule. They would elect Sun Yat-sen as the first Provisional President, followed by Yuan Shikai, who had control over what was at the time the strongest military force in China.

3. The Announcement of X-rays (1896)

Historical Events on January 1st

#3 in our list of top historical events on January 1st is the announcement of x-rays. Wilhelm Röntgen, a German physicist, may have provided the name of “X-rays” in 1895, but this was observed long before his systematic study on them. On November 5th, 1895, he accidentally discovered the radiation during his experimentation with cathode rays. By January 1st, 1896, this discovery would be sent to other renowned physicists and be labeled a “medical miracle”.

2. The Creation of the Internet (1983)

Historical Events on January 1st

#2 in our list of top historical events on January 1st belongs to the Internet, home to many websites including All Time Lists. Without the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET for short, we might not have the Internet we know today. Established on September 1st, 1969, this network began as technology for the US Department of Defense to transmit and receive messages from one computer to another. By 1983, ARPANET switched from its Network Control Program (NCP) to a Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which eventually became the basis of the early Internet.

1. Declaration by United Nations (1942)

Historical Events on January 1st

Twenty-six signatures defines #1 in our list of top historical events on January 1st. During the World War II, the Declaration by United Nations, formed by representatives of the US, the UK, Russia, and China—namely four of the chief Allied nations—provided all countries a means to fight back against “Hitlerism”. Similar to the Atlantic Charter, this gave way for those involved to obtain their peace and freedom post-war. This also eventually became the basis for the United Nations (UN) in 1945.


Our top ten historical events on January 1st would not be complete without a notable mention of 45BC, the year when the Roman Empire established this day as the new date. Soon followed were the events you read and more to come in the upcoming years.

Let us know below if there was another historical event we missed on the 1st.