Today in history: January 20

/ Source: The Associated Press

Today is Thursday, Jan. 20, the 20th day of 2005. There are 345 days left in the year.

Today’s highlight in history:
On Jan. 20, 1981, Iran released 52 Americans it had held hostage for 444 days, minutes after the presidency had passed from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan.

On this date:

In 1801, John Marshall was appointed chief justice of the United States.

In 1841, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to Great Britain. (It returned to Chinese control in July 1997.)

In 1887, the U.S. Senate approved an agreement to lease Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as a naval base.

In 1942, Nazi officials held the notorious Wannsee conference, during which they arrived at their “final solution” that called for exterminating Jews.

In 1945, President Roosevelt was sworn into office for an unprecedented fourth term.

In 1954, “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” a play by Herman Wouk based on part of his novel “The Caine Mutiny,” opened on Broadway.

In 1985, President Reagan and Vice President Bush were sworn in for second terms of office in a brief White House ceremony (it being a Sunday, the public swearing-in was held the following day).

In 1986, the United States observed the first federal holiday in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1986, Britain and France announced plans to build the Channel Tunnel.

Ten years ago: The Japanese government, criticized for being slow to respond to Kobe’s devastating earthquake, admitted its initial reaction might have been “confused.” The U.S. State Department announced a partial lifting of economic sanctions against communist North Korea.

Five years ago: Census 2000 officially got under way as Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt knocked on the door of a small wood-frame house in Unalakleet, Alaska, to begin the nationwide head count. The Clinton administration issued visas to the grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez, enabling them to visit the United States to make their case for the 6-year-old’s return to Cuba.

One year ago: President Bush, in his State of the Union address, asserted that America was strengthening its economy and successfully combating terrorism. Dick Gephardt quit the Democratic presidential race. Martha Stewart’s stock-trading trial formally began in New York. (Stewart is currently serving a five-month prison sentence for lying about a stock sale.) The Salvation Army announced a donation likely to exceed $1.5 billion from the estate of Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder.

Today’s birthdays: Country singer Slim Whitman is 81. Actress Patricia Neal is 79. Comedian Arte Johnson is 76. Former astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin is 75. Actress Dorothy Provine is 68. Singer Eric Stewart is 60. Movie director David Lynch is 59. Actor Daniel Benzali is 55. Rock musician Paul Stanley (KISS) is 53. Rock musician Ian Hill (Judas Priest) is 53. Comedian Bill Maher is 49. Actor Lorenzo Lamas is 47. Actor James Denton (“Desperate Housewives”) is 42. Country singer John Michael Montgomery is 40. Actress Stacey Dash is 38. TV personality Melissa Rivers is 37. Singer Xavier is 37. Singer Edwin McCain is 35. Actor Skeet Ulrich is 35. Rock musician Rob Bourdon (Linkin Park) is 26.

Thought for today: “America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement.” — Alexis de Tocqueville, French author (1805-1859).