April 12th, 1861

The Battle of Fort Sumter: Beginning of the Civil War

In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States. As more states followed suit and the Confederacy took shape, many federal installations in the South were taken over by state governments. Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, continued to fly the United States flag, even as Confederate forces surrounded it.

On April 10, 1861, Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded Fort Sumter's surrender. Union commander Major Robert Anderson refused. On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops opened fire on the fort. On April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter and evacuated the following day. The bombardment of Fort Sumter marked the beginning of the Civil War.

The firing on the fort was the culmination of an emerging conflict in which a small garrison of Union troops in South Carolina found themselves isolated when the state seceded from the Union. The firing on Fort Sumter lasted less than two days and had no great tactical significance, but the symbolism was enormous for both sides. Once Fort Sumter was fired upon, the North and South were officially at war.


April 12th, 1955

Researchers Announce Polio Vaccine, Developed from Henrietta Lacks’s Cells

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. and Dr. Jonas Salk announced the successful results of the first polio vaccine. Researchers developed the vaccine using cells from the HeLa cell line, cells derived from the cancerous tissues of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. Ms. Lacks’s cells became the foundation for many medical innovations in the latter half of the 20th century, all without her family's consent or knowledge.

When Lacks, a Baltimore resident, came to Johns Hopkins Hospital seeking medical attention, doctors discovered a lump on her cervix. After she died several months later, leaving behind a husband and young children, researchers discovered that her cancerous cells continued to reproduce in petri dishes every 24 hours – the first “immortal” cell line in history. The cells derived from Lacks’s body were named “the HeLa Line” and served as the foundation for many medical advances, including cancer and HIV/AIDS research, generating billions of dollars.

In the years that Mrs. Lacks’s cells were being used for research, the Lacks family was never notified or compensated for this use, nor were they asked for their consent. They first learned of the immortal cells more than twenty years after Mrs. Lacks’s death, when scientists sought to conduct research on her children to learn more about the HeLa cells.