May 31, 1859. The hour bell in the Great Clock of Westminster, the UK Houses of Parliament, rang across London for the first time. Ten years after fire destroyed much of the houses of parliament in 1834, MPs declared that the new parliament buildings should have a tower and clock that was correct to within one second per day. Weighing in at more than 13 tonnes, the Big Ben – which is actually just the bell itself and not the clock or tower – was cast by George Mears and dragged from his foundry to the new tower on a trolley drawn by 16 horses. There remains some debate as to how Big Ben got its name, but one popular version is that it is named after MP Sir Benjamin Hall, a large man known in parliament as ‘Big Ben’, who spoke at length in the House during a discussion on what to call it.
Also on May 31: Creation of the Republic of South Africa (1961); Benjamin Netanyahu elected Israeli prime minister for the first time (1996); Vanity Fair reveals that Watergate informant Deep Throat was in fact FBI Associate Director Mark Felt (2005).
Born on May 31: Clint Eastwood (1930), John Bonham (1948), Brooke Shields (1965).