This Day In History : August 18

1868 France

Helium is discovered by French astronomer Pierre Janssen

Helium was discovered by French astronomer Pierre Janssen on August 18, 1868. Janssen observed a yellow spectral line during a solar eclipse while he was in Guntur, India. This line, which did not match any known elements on Earth, indicated the presence of a new element in the sun's spectrum. This was the first time an element was discovered in space before being found on Earth.

Also on This Day in History August 18

Discover what happened on August 18 with HISTORY's summaries of major events, anniversaries,
famous births and notable deaths.

Births on This Day, August 18
  • 1587 Virginia Dare

    First English child born in an American English colony

  • 1685 Brook Taylor

    English mathematician, discoverer of Taylor's Theorem

  • 1834 Marshall Field

    American entrepreneur and the founder of Marshall Field and Company

  • 1900 Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

    Indian diplomat and politician who was the 1st woman to hold a cabinet post in India

  • 1954 Umberto Guidoni

    Italian astrophysicist and writer (STS 75)

Deaths on This Day, August 18
  • 1823 Andre-Jacques Garnerin

    French balloonist who was the inventor of the frameless parachute

  • 1940 Walter Chrysler

    American businessman who founded Chrysler

  • 1227 Genghis Khan

    Mongolian warlord who founded the Mongol Empire

  • 1841 Louis de Freycinet

    French explorer and navigator (published the first map to show a full outline of the coastline of Australia in 1811)

  • 1858 William Austin Burt

    American scientist, surveyor and inventor who patented America's first typographer (typewriter) and the equatorial sextant


German engineer Karl Jatho claims to fly his self-made, motored gliding airplane four months before the first flight made by the Wright brothers

German engineer Karl Jatho claimed to have flown his self-made, motored gliding airplane on August 18, 1903, in Hanover, Germany, four months before the Wright brothers' first powered flight on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Jatho's aircraft reportedly achieved brief hops, with the longest flight covering a distance of around 18 meters (59 feet) at an altitude of 1 meter (3 feet).

Scottish explorer Alexander Gordon Laing travelling across the Sahara, is the first European to reach the fabled trading city of Timbuktu

Scottish explorer Alexander Gordon Laing became the first European to reach the fabled trading city of Timbuktu on August 18, 1826. His journey across the Sahara was fraught with dangers, including attacks by local tribes and harsh environmental conditions. Laing's achievement was significant, as Timbuktu had long been a legendary city known for its wealth and scholarship, but it was largely inaccessible to Europeans.

The Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain: "The Hardest Day" took place on August 18, 1940, and is considered one of the largest and most intense air battles of World War II. During this critical confrontation, the German Luftwaffe and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) faced off in a fierce struggle for aerial dominance over the skies of southern England.

First Mail Order Catalog

Aaron Montgomery Ward issued the first catalog for his mail-order business on August 6, 1872. It was a single sheet listing 163 items that customers could order by mail.
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