May 17 is the 137th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (138th in leap years). There are 228 days remaining.
- 1521 - execution of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, for treason
- 1590 - Anne of Denmark is crowned Queen of Scotland.
- 1642 - Paul Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve (1612-1676) founds the Ville Marie de Montréal.
- 1673 - Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette begin exploring the Mississippi River.
- 1775 - American Revolutionary War: The Continental Congress bans trade with Canada.
- 1792 - The New York Stock Exchange is formed.
- 1809 - Napoleon I of France orders the annexation of the Papal States to the French Empire.
- 1814 - Norway gets its own constitution.
- 1814 - Occupation of Monaco changes from French to Austrian.
- 1846 - The Saxophone is patented by Adolphe Sax.
- 1865 - International Telegraph Union (later International Telecommunication Union) is established.
- 1875 - Aristides wins the first Kentucky Derby.
- 1900 - Boer War: British troops relieve Mafeking.
- 1902 - Archaeologist Spyridon Stais finds the Antikythera mechanism.
- 1915 - The last British Liberal Party government (Herbert Henry Asquith) falls.
- 1919 - Committee of One Thousand forms to oppose Winnipeg General Strike.
- 1933 - Vidkun Quisling and Johan Bernhard Hjort form Nasjonal Samling - the national-socialist party of Norway.
- 1940 - World War II: Germany occupies Brussels, Belgium.
- 1943 - World War II: Surviving RAF Dam Busters return.
- 1943 - The United States Army contracts with the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School to develop the ENIAC.
- 1944 - Type IX U-boat: U-884 is launched.
- 1954 - The United States Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
- 1967 - Six-Day War: President Abdul Nasser of Egypt demands dismantling of the peace-keeping UN Emergency Force in Egypt.
- 1969 - Venera program: Soviet Venera 6 begins its descent into the atmosphere of Venus, sending back atmospheric data before being crushed by pressure.
- 1970 - Thor Heyerdahl sets sail from Morocco on the papyrus boat Ra II to sail the Atlantic Ocean.
- 1973 - Watergate scandal: Hearings begin in the United States Senate and are televised.
- 1974 - Los Angeles, California police raid Symbionese Liberation Army headquarters, killing six members, including Camilla Hall.
- 1974 - Thirty-three people are killed by terrorist bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland.
- 1983 - Lebanon, Israel, and the United States sign an agreement on Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
- 1984 - Prince Charles calls a proposed addition to the National Gallery, London a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend," sparking controversies on the proper role of the Royal Family and the course of modern architecture.
- 1987 - Iran-Iraq War: The USS Stark (FFG-31) is struck by a missile from an Iraqi Mirage fighter killing 37 and injuring 21 of her crew.
- 1995 - Jacques Chirac assumes the presidency of France.
- 1999 - Ehud Barak is elected prime minister of Israel.
- 2003 - Mozilla Firefox. Browser renamed from Phoenix to Firebird.
- 2004 - Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts.
- 1628 - Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria, Regent of the Tyrol and Further Austria
- 1743 - Seth Warner, American revolutionary leader (d. 1784)
- 1749 - Edward Jenner, inventor of the vaccine (d. 1823)
- 1758 - John St Aubyn, British fossil collector (d. 1839)
- 1768 - Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales (d. 1821)
- 1794 - Anna Brownell Jameson, British writer (d. 1860)
- 1821 - Sebastian Kneipp, naturopathist (d. 1897)
- 1842 - August Thyssen , industrialist (d. 1926)
- 1844 - Julius Wellhausen, German biblical scholar (d. 1918)
- 1866 - Erik Satie, French composer (d. 1925)
- 1873 - Henri Barbusse, French novelist and journalist (d. 1935)
- 1873 - Dorothy Richardson, English feminist writer (d. 1957)
- 1879 - Simon Petlyura, Ukrainian independence fighter (d. 1926)
- 1886 - Alfonso XIII of Spain (d. 1941)
- 1888 - Tich Freeman, record-breaking Kent leg-spinner (d. 1965)
- 1898 - Alfred Joseph Casson painter (d. 1992)
- 1900 - Ruhollah Khomeini, (d. 1981)
- 1901 - Werner Egk , composer (d. 1983)
- 1903 - Cool Papa Bell, baseball player (d. 1991)
- 1904 - Jean Gabin, actor (d. 1976)
- 1906 - Zinka Milanov, Croatian opera soprano (d. 1989)
- 1911 - Maureen O'Sullivan, actress (d. 1998)
- 1918 - Birgit Nilsson, Swedish soprano
- 1919 - Merle Miller, Presidential biographer (d. 1986)
- 1921 - Dennis Brain, English French horn player (d. 1957)
- 1922 - Antje Weisgerber , actress
- 1924 - Hannes Messemer , actor (d. 1991)
- 1935 - Dennis Potter, writer (d. 1994)
- 1936 - Dennis Hopper, actor, director
- 1937 - Hazel R. O'Leary, United States Secretary of Energy
- 1942 - Taj Mahal, singer, guitarist
- 1945 - Tony Roche, Australian tennis player
- 1946 - Udo Lindenberg, musician
- 1948 - William Bruford, drummer, songwriter
- 1950 - Janez Drnovšek, Slovene politician
- 1955 - Bill Paxton, actor
- 1956 - Sugar Ray Leonard, boxer
- 1956 - Bob Saget, actor
- 1959 - Paul Di'Anno, singer
- 1961 - Enya, singer, songwriter
- 1962 - Lise Lyng Falkenberg, Danish writer
- 1965 - Trent Reznor, singer, songwriter ("Nine Inch Nails")
- 1966 - Qusay Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein (d. 2003)
- 1971 - Maxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, wife of Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
- 1974 - Andrea Corr, singer ("The Corrs")
- 1975 - Sasha Alexander, American actress
- 1975 - Laura Voutilainen, Finnish singer
- 1510 - Sandro Botticelli, painter of The birth of Venus (b. 1445)
- 1575 - Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (b. 1504)
- 1727 - Catherine I of Russia (b. 1683 or 1684)
- 1729 - Samuel Clarke, English philosopher (b. 1675)
- 1765 - Alexis Claude Clairault, French mathematician (b. 1713)
- 1829 - John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States (b. 1745)
- 1838 - Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, French diplomat (b. 1754)
- 1839 - Archibald Alison, Scottish author (b. 1757)
- 1875 - John C. Breckinridge, Vice President of the United States (b. 1821)
- 1917 - Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke, ruler of Sarawak (b. 1829)
- 1935 - Paul Dukas, composer (b.1865)
- 1946 - William Jefferson Blythe III, father of U.S. President Bill Clinton, is born in Sherman, Grayson County, Texas (b. 1918)
- 1947 - George William Forbes, Prime Minister of New Zealand (b. 1869)
- 1985 - Abe Burrows , songwriter, composer, writer
- 1992 - Lawrence Welk, musician (b. 1903)
- 2000 - Donald Coggan, 101st Archbishop of Canterbury (b. 1909)
- 2002 - Dave Berg, cartoonist for Mad magazine (b. 1920)
- 2002 - Sharon Sheeley, songwriter (b. 1940)
- 2002 - Davey Boy Smith, professional wrestler (The British Bulldog) (b. 1962)
- 2004 - Tony Randall, actor (The Odd Couple) (b. 1920)
- 2004 - Jørgen Nash, artist, situationist (b. 1920)
- 2004 - Ezzedine Salim, leader of Iraqi Governing Council
Holidays and observances
May 16 - May 18 - April 17 - June 17 -- listing of all days
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