This Day In History, October 20th

What happened on this day in history: The U.S. Senate ratifies the Louisiana Purchase and doubles the size of the United States, Lybian dictator Muammar Gaddafi is killed, and other pivotal moments from history.

1803: The Louisiana Purchase Is Ratified

The U.S. Senate ratifies a treaty with France, officially approving the purchase of Louisiana Territory. The so-called Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the country overnight, adding territory that later became the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and parts of Minnesota.

Louisiana Purchase

The following year, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the new territory. Their mission succeeded in large part because of their indigenous guide Sacagawea, who showed them which plants were edible and helped stave off disaster more than once.


1973: The Sydney Opera House Opens

On This Day In History October 20

Mariano Mantel/FlickrThe Sydney Opera House is an iconic landmark today.

The Sydney Opera House opens in Sydney, Australia. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II, the opera house took 15 years and $80 million to build.

Although the design was almost universally admired from the beginning, construction faced steep criticism because of how long it took to build and progressive design changes throughout the process that significantly added to the cost. Today, it stands as one of Sydney’s most recognizable landmarks and hosts an average of 3,000 events per year.


1977: Lynyrd Skynyrd Band Members Die In A Plane Crash

A plane carrying the band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashes into a forest near Gillsburg, Mississippi. The band had chartered the plane from Greeneville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but ran out of fuel just before it reached its destination.

The crash killed several people onboard, including the band’s frontman Ronnie Van Zant, as well as Steve Gaines, the band’s promising young guitarist, his sister Cassie Gaines, a backup vocalist, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray Jr. Despite the tragedy, the band reformed in 1987 with many of its original members and Van Zant’s brother, Johnny, on lead vocals.


2011: Muammar Gaddafi Is Killed

Muammar Gaddafi

Mario Tama/Getty ImagesMuammar Gaddafi gestures at the United Nations during an address on Sept. 23, 2009 in New York City.

Muammar Gaddafi is killed by anti-Gaddafist National Transitional Council (NTC) militants in Surt, Libya. The leader of Libya for four decades, Gaddafi promoted Islamic socialism and anti-Western views, pursuing policies like nationalizing the oil industry, banning alcoholic beverages, and expelling Jewish residents.

He was killed after the Arab Spring swept through Libya. Although the National Transitional Council forces who killed him initially claimed that he’d been shot during a gun battle, video later emerged of several soldiers beating him and stabbing him with a bayonet before shooting him several times.