A gaggle of noteworthy historical figures was born in the month of August. We couldn’t possibly name them all, so here is just a handful of lives we’ll be celebrating.
1. August 1, 1818: Maria Mitchell
Maria Mitchell was the first professional woman astronomer in the U.S. She discovered a comet in 1847, uncovered the true nature of sunspots, became the first female member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was appointed to the faculty at Vassar College, and was named the director of the Vassar College Observatory. She was also a pioneer in equal pay: When Mitchell discovered she wasn’t making as much as her less experienced counterparts, she demanded a raise and got it.
2. August 4, 1901: Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong said his birth date was July 4, 1900, but in 1988, music historian Thaddeus “Tad” Jones found baptismal records that stated that the icon’s actual birthday was August 4, 1901. It’s unclear why the musician fibbed about his birthday, but some believe he did it to join a military band, while others say he figured he’d have better luck getting gigs if he were over 18 years old.
3. August 5, 1930: Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong’s most famous statement (“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”) is widely criticized for its grammatical shortcomings, but the astronaut had apparently meant to say “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” In fact, after the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong claimed to have said it correctly all along. He cited static on the radio transmission as the reason for the article omission, which was then supported by NASA representatives. Later on, Armstrong listened to a copy of the quote, and regardless of the speed or volume, neither the a nor the supposed radio static was ever heard. Armstrong reportedly said: “Damn, I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn’t I?”
4. August 6, 1881: Alexander Fleming
If you’ve ever received antibiotics, thank Alexander Fleming. The Scottish scientist discovered penicillin in the 1920s. It was a complete accident: “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did,” he later said.
5. August 6, 1911: Lucille Ball
Everyone loves Lucy. She wasn’t just an adored actress: she was a powerful business woman. Lucille Ball was the first woman to head a major Hollywood production company, Desilu Productions. She became president of the company—which she founded with former husband Desi Arnaz—in 1962, and sold it five years later. In Desilu’s nearly two-decade run, it produced series like Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables, and (naturally) I Love Lucy.
6. August 8, 1866: Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson accompanied Arctic explorer Robert Edwin Peary as his “first man” for over two decades, and was part of the expedition that claimed to be the first to reach the geographic North Pole in 1909 (an achievement later disputed by many). Henson was an indefatigable polar traveler, a skilled sledge-builder, and an excellent dogsled driver. He also learned the language and customs of the Inuit in northwestern Greenland, who nicknamed him Maripaluk (“Matthew the kind one”).
7. August 13, 1899: Alfred Hitchcock
8. August 13, 1860: Annie Oakley
Famed sharpshooter Annie Oakley gained notoriety while traveling with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and earned one of her best-known nicknames from Hunkpapa Lakota chief Sitting Bull. He called Oakley Watanya Cicilla or “Little Sure Shot,” and reportedly asked to adopt Annie after seeing the young performer shoot the ace of hearts out of a card at 30 paces.
9. August 15, 1912: Julia Child
Before she became history’s favorite television chef, Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor to the CIA. One of the organization’s tasks during her time there was to develop a shark repellent to prevent attacks. The winning recipe—copper acetate mixed with black dye—never really worked, but was nevertheless employed by the Army and Coast Guard for about 25 years.
10. August 17, 1786: Davy Crockett
When you think of 19th century folk hero and frontiersman Davy Crockett, a coonskin cap probably comes to mind, but Crockett’s historical image might differ from the one he actually donned. While he claimed not to care about fashion, for one portrait he asked artist John Gadsby Chapman to depict him rallying dogs during a bear hunt. Crockett even bought outdoorsy props and wanted to be shown holding up his famed cap. He reportedly did wear it sometimes in real life, but that too might have been more of a branding exercise than an authentic choice.
11. August 22, 1893: Dorothy Parker
Writer Dorothy Parker, known for her biting wit, has a bevy of fantastic one-liners (like: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”) but her best one might be her last. Her epitaph reads: “Excuse my dust.”
12. August 30, 1797: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley made an enormous literary splash with her hit gothic horror novel Frankenstein. The teenage writer came up with the novel's idea during a ghost story competition that she, her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and other writers played while on vacation together in Switzerland. She was as intriguing as the characters she penned: After Percy died, Mary kept his calcified heart as a keepsake.
A version of this story originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2023.