3 September 1666

The Royal Exchange burns down in the Great Fire of London.

On 2 September 1666, the citizens of London woke to see the skyline above the city’s cramped wooden houses ablaze. It must have been a truly apocalyptic sight. Londoners had already lived through the devastating plague in 1665. So it was a tribute to their tenacity that they managed to pick themselves up again after the medieval city went up in smoke over just four days.

The fire started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in the early hours of the morning. By the time it burned out on 5 September around 13,000 buildings had been destroyed, including the original St Paul’s Cathedral, 87 parish churches, the Guildhall, the Royal Exchange and 52 company halls. Between 65,000 and 80,000 people lost their homes, although thankfully only a handful were recorded as having been killed. The estimated cost of the fire was around £10 million.

Soon after the fire, several designs were put forward for the redevelopment of London; among them one from Christopher Wren, a favourite of King Charles II. A common theme was streets radiating out from the river and intersecting with others running parallel to it. However, a lack of money to buy the land and the need to rebuild quickly thwarted all the grand ideas. Instead, nearly 3,000 houses were built within the first three years, mostly back on the original layout. But rebuilding was an onerous task. Private householders and corporations had to rely on their own resources to rebuild properties, while public works were funded through taxes on coal.

The task of getting London rebuilt was given to a committee of six men, including Wren, known as the ‘Commissioners for Rebuilding’. Their role was to manage surveys of ruined properties and consider the form and scale of new buildings, and any alterations to the streets.

Widths of roads were set by categorising them and widening the major roads to reduce the risk of fires spreading in future. For the same reason, buildings had to be erected largely from brick and stone instead of timber, by proclamation of King Charles II. Guidelines were also issued for the height of houses according to the type of street in which they were being built, how much wood could be used on the outside and any projections, such as bow windows. There was even a new rule insisting on the use of downpipes, to stop problems with rainwater cascading down from gutters.

Although others designed and rebuilt many properties in London after the Great Fire, Wren was the most prolific architect. In total, he designed and supervised the construction of 52 churches, 36 company halls, two great hospitals, the Royal Exchange, the Theatre Royal and St Paul’s Cathedral – which took 35 years to complete. Many of these still stand today. Wren was also one of the architects of the 62m tall Monument, a memorial to the Great Fire which stands close to the site where it started.

3 September 1976

The Viking 2 spacecraft lands at Utopia Planitia on Mars.


Fresh off the success with Viking 1, NASA landed on Mars again on Sept. 3, 1976 with Viking 2.

Sister ship to Viking 1, Viking 2 set down on the broad, flat plains of Utopia Planitia, where it snapped photos of morning frost and – like its predecessor – found a sterile soil that held no clear evidence of microbial life. The lander shut down in 1980.

NASA’s Viking 2 was a joint orbiter-lander mission that saw the second U.S. landing on Mars on Sept. 3, 1976. Viking 2’s lander touched the Red Planet just weeks after its sibling, Viking 1.

The lander spent more than three Earth years on the surface taking pictures of the surrounding area, analyzing the regolith in front of it, and even conducting life experiments. Meanwhile, the orbiter snapped shots of craters, channels and other Mars features from above.

The Viking program provided the first up-close look at Mars, for several years running. It gave researchers a sense of what it is like to live and work on the Red Planet.

When Vikings 1 and 2 sent back the results of their life experiments, NASA said at the time that there was no definitive evidence of life. That’s been called into question in the decades since.The entire Viking program hardware – two orbiters and two landers – cost $1 billion in 1970s dollars, or anywhere from $4 billion to $6 billion today.

While that is a large sum, this is actually half the cost of a proposed NASA Mars landing program called Voyager.
Voyager was supposed to fly to Mars using a Saturn V rocket, the same rocket that took astronauts to the moon between 1968 and 1972. The Voyager lander would last two Earth years on the surface.

However, NASA had less money to go around after the Apollo program finished and congressional priorities shifted. The agency was facing a money crunch, and elected to shelve the program in favor of something simpler.

That’s not to say that Viking was unambitious. If all went as planned, NASA would do two “soft” landings on Mars – something the agency had never attempted before. The landers would function for at least 90 Earth days or 120 Martian “sols” on the surface. Meanwhile, the orbiters would carry the landers to Mars and send scientific information back to Earth.

3 September 1812


Twenty four settlers are killed during the Pigeon Roost Massacre in Indiana.

On September 3, 1812, a war party of Native Americans made a surprise attack on the village. Twenty-four settlers, including fifteen children, were massacred. Two children were kidnapped. Only four of the Indian attackers were killed.

According to contemporary reports, the leader of the attack was rumored to be an Indian named Missilemotaw. He was captured on September 20, 1813 and under threat of death confessed he had led the raid. He claimed to be a close confidant of the Indian chieftain and told his captors the British had been supplying the Indians with arms and equipment since 1809 in preparation for war.The raid was the first Indian attack in Indiana during the War of 1812. The Pigeon Roost settlement was rebuilt, but was eventually abandoned.