May 21 is the 141st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (142nd in leap years). There are 224 days remaining.
- 996 - Sixteen-year-old Otto III is crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
- 1674 - John Sobieski is elected by the nobility to be the King of Poland.
- 1856 - Lawrence, Kansas is captured and burned by pro-slavery forces.
- 1863 - American Civil War: Siege of Port Hudson - Union forces begin to lay siege to the Confederate-controlled Port Hudson, Louisiana .
- 1871 - French Government troops invade the Paris Commune and engage its residents in street fighting. By the close of "Bloody Week" some 20,000 communards have been killed and 38,000 arrested.
- 1879 - War of the Pacific: Naval battle of Iquique Two Chilean ships blocking the harbor of Iquique, Chile battle 2 Peruvian vessels, the Huáscar and the Independencia. The Huascar sinks one Chilean ship, while the other Chilean ship, the Covadonga, forces the Independencia to run aground.
- 1881 - The American Red Cross is established by Clara Barton.
- 1894 - The Manchester Ship Canal, England is officially opened by Queen Victoria, who knights its designer Sir Edward Leader Williams.
- 1924 - University of Chicago students Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks in a "thrill killing."
- 1927 - Charles Lindbergh touchs down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the world's first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
- 1932 - Amelia Earhart, because of bad weather, lands in a pasture in Derry, Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
- 1934 - Oskaloosa, Iowa becomes the first municipality in the United States to fingerprint each of its citizens.
- 1936 - Sada Abe is arrested after wandering the streets of Tokyo for days with her dead lover's severed genitals in her hand. Her story soon became one of Japan's most notorious scandals.
- 1941 - World War II: 950 miles off the coast of Brazil, the freighter SS Robin Moor becomes the first United States ship sunk by a German U-boat.
- 1945 - American screen legend Humphrey Bogart marries actress Lauren Bacall.
- 1956 - Nuclear testing: In the Pacific Ocean, Bikini Atoll is nearly obliterated by the first airborne explosion of a hydrogen bomb.
- 1958 - United Kingdom Postmaster General Ernest Marples announces that from December, Subscriber Trunk Dialling will be introduced in the Bristol area.
- 1961 - American civil rights movement: Alabama Governor John Patterson declares martial law in an attempt to restore order after race riots break out.
- 1979 -- White Night riots in San Francisco following the manslaughter conviction of Dan White for the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.
- 1980 - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back opens in theaters.
- 1981 - Pierre Mauroy becomes Prime Minister of France.
- 1991 - Former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a female suicide bomber near Madras.
- 1998 - At Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, Kipland Kinkel, suspended for bringing a gun to school, shoots a semi-automatic rifle into a room filled with students, killing 2 wounding 25 others after killing his parents at home.
- 1998 - Reproductive rights: In Miami, Florida, five abortion clinics are hit by a butyric acid attacker.
- 2000 - A chartered British Aerospace Jetstream 31 crashes near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, killing 19.
- 2001 - The web comicNo 4th Wall to Break debuts.
- 2003 - An earthquake hits northern Algeria, killing more than 2,000 people.
- 2004 - Sherpa Pemba Dorje climbs Mount Everest in 8 hours 10 minutes, breaking his rival Sherpa Lakpa Gelu 's record from the previous year.
- 2004 - Stanislav Petrov is awarded the World Citizen Award for averting a potential World War III in 1983
- 1471 - Albrecht Dürer, painter and graphic artist (d. 1528)
- 1527 - King Philip II of Spain (d. 1598)
- 1688 - Alexander Pope, poet (d. 1744)
- 1780 - Elizabeth Fry, British social reformer and philanthropist (d. 1845)
- 1844 - Henri Rousseau, artist (d. 1910)
- 1898 - Armand Hammer, physician, entrepreneur, oil magnate and art collector (d. 1990)
- 1901 - Horace Heidt , band leader (d. 1986)
- 1901 - Sam Jaffe, producer (d. 2000)
- 1902 - Earl Averill, Baseball Hall of Famer (d. 1983)
- 1902 - Marcel Lajos Breuer , architect (d. 1981)
- 1904 - Fats Waller, pianist (d. 1943)
- 1904 - Robert Montgomery, actor (d. 1981)
- 1912 - Monty Stratton, Major League Baseball pitcher (d. 1982)
- 1916 - Harold Robbins, novelist (d. 1997)
- 1916 - Tinus Osendarp, Dutch sprinter (d. 2002)
- 1917 - Raymond Burr, actor (d. 1993)
- 1921 - Andrei Sakharov, physicist, human rights activist, recipient of the Nobel Prize (d. 1989)
- 1923 - Ara Parseghian, American football coach
- 1929 - Heinz Holliger, Swiss oboe player
- 1930 - Malcolm Fraser, twenty-second Prime Minister of Australia
- 1932 - Gabriele Wohmann , author
- 1933 - Maurice André, trumpet
- 1941 - Martin Carthy, singer and guitarist
- 1945 - Ernst Messerschmid, physicist and astronaut
- 1948 - Leo Sayer, musician
- 1951 - Al Franken, comedian
- 1952 - Mr. T (Laurence Tureaud), American actor
- 1956 - Judge Reinhold, actor
- 1957 - Renée Soutendijk, Dutch Actress
- 1960 - Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killer (d. 1994)
- 1967 - Chris Benoit, professional wrestler
- 1972 - The Notorious B.I.G., musician (d. 1997)
- 1978 - Briana Banks, erotic actress
- 1981 - Max, German singer
- 1987 - Ashlie Brillault, actress (Lizzie McGuire)
- 987 - King Louis V of France
- 1471 - King Henry VI of England, (date of death possibly 22 May) (b. 1421)
- 1542 - Hernando de Soto, explorer (b. c. 1496)
- 1639 - Tommaso Campanella, Dominican theologian, philosopher and poet (b. 1568)
- 1647 - Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, Dutch poet and historian (b. 1581)
- 1724 - Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, English statesman (b. 1661)
- 1786 - Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Swedish chemist (b. 1742)
- 1790 - Thomas Warton, English poet (b. 1728)
- 1897 - Arturo Prat , Chilean naval officer
- 1895 - Franz von Suppé, Croatian-Austrian composer (b. 1819)
- 1911 - Williamina Fleming, astronomer (b. 1857)
- 1935 - Jane Addams, social worker (b. 1860)
- 1952 - John Garfield, actor (b. 1913)
- 1965 - Geoffrey de Havilland, British aircraft designer (b. 1882)
- 1970 - E. L. Grant Watson, author and biologist (b. 1885)
- 1988 - Sammy Davis, Sr., US dancer
- 1991 - Rajiv Gandhi, former prime minister of India (b. 1944)
- 2000 - Sir John Gielgud, British actor (b. 1904)
- 2000 - Barbara Cartland, romance novel author (b. 1901)
- 2002 - Niki de Saint Phalle, artist (b. 1930)
- 2003 - Frank D. White, governor of Arkansas (b. 1933)
Holidays and observances
May 20 - May 22 - April 21 - June 21 -- listing of all days
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