This Day in History: Dec. 7

In 1941, the Imperial Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as part of a plan to pre-empt any American military response to Japan's planned conquest of Southeast Asian territories; the raid, which claimed some 2,400 American lives, prompted the United States to declare war against Japan the next day.

1787: Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

1842: The New York Philharmonic performed its first concert.

1909: Chemist Leo H. Baekeland received a U.S. patent for Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic. 

1946: Fire broke out at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta; the blaze killed 119 people, including hotel founder W. Frank Winecoff.

1975: Author-playwright Thornton Wilder, 78, died in Hamden, Connecticut.

1990: Actress Joan Bennett died in Scarsdale, New York, at age 80.

1995: A 746-pound probe from the Galileo spacecraft hurtled into Jupiter's atmosphere, sending back data to the mothership before it was presumably destroyed.

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