Dec 20, 12:00 AM EST

Today in History

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Today is Saturday, Dec. 20, the 354th day of 2014. There are 11 days left in the year.

Today's Highlight in History:

On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union as all 169 delegates to a special convention in Charleston voted in favor of separation.

On this date:

In 1790, the first successful cotton mill in the United States began operating at Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed as ownership of the territory was formally transferred from France to the United States.

In 1812, German authors Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of the first edition of their collection of folk stories, "Children's and Household Tales."

In 1864, Confederate forces evacuated Savannah, Georgia, as Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman nearly completed his "March to the Sea."

In 1924, Adolf Hitler was released from prison after serving nine months for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch; during his time behind bars, he'd written his autobiographical screed, "Mein Kampf."

In 1945, the Office of Price Administration announced the end of tire rationing, effective Jan. 1, 1946.

In 1963, the Berlin Wall was opened for the first time to West Berliners, who were allowed one-day visits to relatives in the Eastern sector for the holidays.

In 1973, singer-songwriter Bobby Darin died in Los Angeles following open-heart surgery; he was 37.

In 1987, more than 4,300 people were killed when the Dona Paz, a Philippine passenger ship, collided with the tanker Vector off Mindoro island.

In 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega.

In 1994, former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, 85, died in Athens, Georgia.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples were entitled to the same benefits and protections as wedded couples of the opposite sex. Country music legend Hank Snow died in Nashville at age 85.

Ten years ago: In a sobering assessment of the Iraq war, President George W. Bush acknowledged during a news conference that Americans' resolve had been shaken by grisly scenes of death and destruction, and he pointedly criticized the performance of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops. Attorneys presented opening statements in the Robert Blake murder trial in Los Angeles. (Blake was later acquitted of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, but was found liable in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Bakley's family.)

Five years ago: Relatives reported the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87, the spiritual father of Iran's reform movement. Actress Brittany Murphy, who'd starred in "Clueless" and "8 Mile," died at age 32. Character actor Arnold Stang died in Newton, Massachusetts, at age 91.

One year ago: Russian President Vladimir Putin pardoned jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (mih-hah-EEL' khoh-dohr-KAHV'-skee), who had spent 10 years in prison on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. A federal judge struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

Today's Birthdays: Former South Korean President Kim Young-sam is 87. Actor John Hillerman is 82. Original Mouseketeer Tommy Cole (TV: "The Mickey Mouse Club") is 73. Rock musician-music producer Bobby Colomby is 70. Rock musician Peter Criss is 69. Psychic/illusionist Uri Geller is 68. Producer Dick Wolf ("Law & Order") is 68. Rock musician Alan Parsons is 66. Actress Jenny Agutter is 62. Actor Michael Badalucco is 60. Actress Blanche Baker is 58. Rock singer Billy Bragg is 57. Rock singer-musician Mike Watt (The Secondmen, Minutemen, fIREHOSE) is 57. Actor Joel Gretsch is 51. Country singer Kris Tyler is 50. Rock singer Chris Robinson is 48. Actress Nicole deBoer is 44. Movie director Todd Phillips is 44. Singer David Cook ("American Idol") is 32. Actor Jonah Hill is 31. Singer JoJo is 24.

Thought for Today: "Experience teaches you that the man who looks you straight in the eye, particularly if he adds a firm handshake, is hiding something." - Clifton Fadiman, American author, editor and radio personality (1904-1999).

(Above Advance for Use Saturday, Dec. 20)

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