This week in history: Flightless Auks go extinct, Declaration of Independence signed, and A.C. Doyle dies. Read more below and dive deeper with The Great Courses Plus.
July 3, 1844 – The Last Pair of Great Auks are Killed
Though they resembled penguins with their striking black and white coloration and their maritime habitat, the flightless great auk was not a penguin, but was more closely related to razorbills and other similar seabirds. Originally found throughout the north Atlantic, the great auk was hunted to extinction with the last breeding pair shot on this day in 1844. Reports of individuals appeared periodically after this time but none of them were ever confirmed. Though the auks were hunted for food and feathers by both native peoples and Europeans prior to their extinction, it was the mass exploitation of the species for their down feathers that would ultimately lead to their demise. Today, stuffed specimens of the great auk exist in museums throughout Europe and North America, serving as a solemn reminder that over-hunting is detrimental to animal species across the globe.
Learn about the Smithsonian Institute’s conservation efforts for other threatened species in Experiencing America: A Smithsonian Tour through American History
July 4, 1776 – The Declaration of Independence Adopted
Today is a day for barbeques and fireworks in the United States as citizens celebrate Independence Day, declared 241 years ago on this day in 1776. Written by Thomas Jefferson and revised by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Declaration of Independence would declare the thirteen American colonies as a nation independent from Great Britain. Though independence was technically (verbally) declared on July 2, the Declaration of Independence is dated as July 4, hence why Americans celebrate today. Only two signers of the Declaration would go on to serve as presidents of the United States: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Ironically, both men would also die on July 4th 1826, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Learn more about Independence Day and the American Revolution in A History of the United States 2nd Edition
July 7, 1930 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Dies
On this day in 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would die from a heart attack at the age of 71. One of the most pivotal and influential writers in the detective crime genre, he is most well-known for his characters Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and Professor Moriarty. Taking inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s detective C. Auguste Dupin, Doyle would write his first Sherlock Holmes story, entitled A Study in Scarlet, in 1887. Holmes would go on to star in four novels and 56 short stories, including famous tales such as The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Scandal in Bohemia. Over 70 actors have brought Sherlock Holmes to life on screen throughout the years, including Basil Rathbone, Robert Downey Jr., and most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch.