What happened on this day in history: Christopher Columbus dies in Spain, Toussaint L'Ouverture is born, and more important events from May 20th.
1498: Vasco da Gama Arrives In India
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrives in India. The first European to reach India by sea, he had set sail from Lisbon on July 8, 1497. His initial voyage to India took him through the Cape of Good Hope, which became the first link between Europe and Asia by sea and kickstarted a new wave of global interaction. Unfortunately, da Gama made a poor impression on native Indians, and his return voyage during monsoon season resulted in the deaths of two thirds of his crew.
1506: Christopher Columbus Dies
Christopher Columbus dies at the age of 54 in Valladolid, Spain. Determined to find a route from Europe to Asia, he famously stumbled upon the Americas in 1492. His explorations would result in the “Columbian exchange,” or the widespread exchange of goods, commodities, and people between the Americas and the rest of the world, paving the way for European colonization of the “New World.”
However, Columbus’ claim that he “discovered” America has long been in dispute, due not only to the Indigenous peoples that had long lived there, but also the Vikings that had already explored present-day Canada centuries earlier.
1743: Toussaint L’Ouverture Is Born
Toussaint L’Ouverture is born in Haiti. The leader of the Haitian independence movement, L’Ouverture commanded the only successful slave revolt in modern history and ended slavery in Hispaniola. While in power in Haiti, L’Ouverture strengthened the economy by creating trade agreements between Haiti and the British Empire and restoring the plantation system using paid labor. He died during the French invasion of the island in 1803, following his arrest and interrogation. To this day, he is known as the “Father of Haiti.”
1873: Levi Strauss Patents Blue Jeans
Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis are given a patent for blue jeans. Strauss, a successful businessman who sold clothing, fabric, and dried goods, teamed up with Davis, a tailor, to make the pants. Davis had come up with the idea for pants secured with metal rivets and Strauss agreed to fund it. Levi Strauss jeans were primarily created for sale to miners during the California Gold Rush. Today, Levi Strauss is worth an estimated $6.6 billion and is the largest maker of denim jeans in the world.
1902: Cuba Gains Its Independence From The United States
Cuba gains its independence from the United States. In 1898, the USS Maine sunk in Havana’s harbor, sparking the Spanish-American War. The United States was victorious and received control over Cuba as part of the peace treaty. The United States occupied Cuba until the island nation created a new constitution allowing for extensive American interference in Cuban government and politics. After the adoption of this constitution, the United States withdrew from Cuba and it became an independent nation.
1959: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole Is Born
Israel Kamakawiwo’ole is born in Honolulu, Hawaii. A talented singer, Kamakawiwo’ole became famous for his stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” But Kamakawiwo’ole struggled with his weight all his life and tragically died of respiratory failure at the age of 38 in 1997. His recordings have been featured in commercials throughout the world as well as several Hollywood movies. He remains one of the most influential Hawaiian artists in history.