The Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 went into effect in Great Britain, and the first payments were made to qualified persons at least 70 years old and whose income was less than 12 shillings per week. Roughly 490,000 persons received the pension during the first year.
The Disenfranchisement Act of 1908 took effect in Georgia, the last legislation designed to block African Americans from voting. The new law required a "literacy test", whereby a person had to explain the meaning of a section of the state constitution, if he owned less than 40 acres (160,000 m2) of property. Descendants of U.S. or Confederate military veterans were exempt from the test.
The Odes of Solomon, a collection of forty-two hymns that had been considered lost, was rediscovered by Professor J. Rendel Harris, who found them in a 15th-century Syriac manuscript that had been in his possession. The odes have been described as "Jewish Christian hymns celebrating the union of Christ and the believer", and are believed to have been composed in the 3rd century AD.
Orville Wright told reporters, "I do not believe the aeroplane will ever take the place of trains or steamships for the carrying of passengers... I believe ultimately the aeroplane may be put to special uses in the carrying of passengers, but never in excess of 10 or 20 persons." 
Methodist minister John H. Carmichael, of Adair, Michigan, disappeared shortly after departing for Columbus. The next day, body parts were found burning inside two stoves inside his church. Though at first it was believed to be the dismembered body of Reverend Carmichael, subsequent investigation determined that the body was of Gideon Browning, and Carmichael was suspected of being a fugitive from murder. The case, which had made front pages across America, ended when Carmichael committed suicide in Carthage, Illinois on January 11.
The Great White Fleet, consisting of 16 U.S. Navy battleships sailing the globe in a display of American naval power, successfully completed its passage through the Suez Canal, passing from the Indian Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea. It was the largest group of ships to pass through up to that time, and the Canal had been closed to all other traffic. The ships would return to the United States on February 22.
"Albertus", a magician who billed himself as superior to Houdini and Brindamoor, nearly drowned after attempting to escape a tightly laced straitjacket after plunging into the waters off of Atlantic City, New Jersey. A crew from the government life-saving station came to his rescue.
The U.S. House of Representatives accepted, 212-35, a committee report condemning outgoing President Theodore Roosevelt, in effect voting to censure him. The same day, the U.S. Senate voted to direct its Judiciary Committee to investigate wrongdoing by the President during the Panic of 1907. Roosevelt had, on December 8, 1908, included in his annual message to Congress the statement that Congress opposed the expansion of the Secret Service because there were "criminals in the legislative branch".
The Nimrod Expedition to the South Pole, led by Ernest Shackleton, arrived further south than any prior expedition, at 88°23' S, within 97 nautical miles (180 km; 112 mi) of the Pole. On the 6th, Shackleton had realized that he did not have enough rations left to reach the pole, but planted the British flag within less than 100 nautical miles (190 km). The crew then made its way back to the HMS Nimrod.
Colombia formally recognized the independence of Panama, which had seceded in 1903 with the help of the United States. Under the terms of a trilateral treaty, Panama would pay "rental" to Colombia at the rate of $250,000 per annum for ten years, and the United States would give Colombia special privileges in the use of the canal.
The Mauritanian emirate of Adrar became a French protectorate. Emir Shaykh al-Hasana was deposed and replaced by Sidi Ahmad wuld Ahmd 'Ayda.
Professor Hermann Minkowski, a mathematical genius and colleague of Albert Einstein and David Hilbert, died at the age of 44 of an infection from appendicitis. Less than four months earlier, Minkowski had presented the mathematical framework by which Einstein's theory could be explained, in what is now known as "Minkowski spacetime". Before he could extend his work, however, he became ill late in 1908 and developed peritonitis. Legend has it that on his deathbed at the hospital in Göttingen, he lamented, "What a pity that I have to die in the age of relativity's development." 
A mine explosion at Switchback, West Virginia killed at least 105 men and trapped another 100. The blast, which occurred at 8:30 in the morning, happened fifteen days after 51 men had been killed at the same mine (December 28, 1908).
Determined to make one more demonstration of his toughness in his last months in office, U.S. PresidentTheodore Roosevelt set off to ride 100 miles (160 km) on horseback in one day. Accompanied by his military aide, Captain Archibald Butt, Navy Surgeon General Presley M. Rixey, and Surgeon C.D. Grayson, President Roosevelt set out at 3:40 a.m., riding to Warrenton, Virginia, and returned to the White House, the last 30 miles (48 km) in a blizzard, at 8:40 that evening. The press, however, gave him credit for only 98 miles (158 km). When reporters asked him for a quote, the President replied, "It was bully." 
Carrie Nation, infamous for her destruction of American saloons, was arrested at Newcastle-on-Tyne for vandalizing a British pub. Nation, on a visit to the United Kingdom, was later released on bail.
At Seoul, religious leader Na Cheol proclaimed the revival of the religion of Taejonggyo, announcing edicts for the worship of Dangun as the father and future savior of the Korean nation. According to tradition, Dangun Wanggeom (also called Tan'gun) had been the incarnation of the god Hanul and founded the Kingdom of Korea in 2333 BC. Japanese troops occupying Korea worked to suppress the nationalist religion.
Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair Mackay became the first persons to reach the South Magnetic Pole—or rather, it reached them. The three geologists had arrived at a spot at 72°42' S the day before, and had determined with a magnetic dip compass that the dip was only 15 feet (4.6 m) from vertical. As described by Stonehouse, "There, they calculated that within 24 hours the shifting pole would come to them."  The Union Jack was planted at the spot and the explorers made their way back to the ship Nimrod.
Born:Ethel Merman, American singer and actress, as Ethel Zimmerman in Queens, New York (d. 1984)
In Russia, a police decree issued banning music in all cinemas. The ban, which was soon rescinded, is believed by film historian Yuri Tsivian to have been an attempt to "extort bribes from exhibitors, since by that time music was already felt to be an essential accompaniment to films."  However, censors continued to ban the playing of music during the showing of any newsreels of the Tsar or his family.
Robert Franklin Stroud of Juneau, Alaska, shot and killed Charlie Von Dahmer. Convicted of manslaughter at 18, Stroud spent the rest of his life in federal prisons. While in Leavenworth, where he murdered a guard, he raised canaries and authored two books, Diseases of Canaries and Stroud's Digest on the Diseases of Birds. He would be immortalized as The Birdman of Alcatraz in a book and a film of the same name. However, by the time that he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1942, his work with canaries had stopped. Stroud died on November 21, 1963.
CongressmanWilliam Willett, Jr. (D-N.Y.) denounced outgoing PresidentTheodore Roosevelt, in terms so outrageous that the House voted 126-78 to terminate his speech. The Washington Post described the speech as "so bitter and sensational that it seemed as though its author had raked the dictionary for adjectives to vilify the chief executive". By the time that he said "the Gargoyle is about to grin its last grin", he was being ruled out of order, and he skipped to the end to say "the Nero who fiddled while Rome was burning will be out of power on March 4th." By voice vote on January 27, the House expunged the speech from the Congressional Record for "language improper".
The Jersey Devil returned to the Pinelands of Southern New Jersey at 2:00 a.m., after an absence of more than 35 years. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans of Gloucester City told a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin that the winged lizard had spent ten minutes on the roof of their woodshed. The Bulletin story, and an accompanying sketch, were soon picked up by papers across the nation. The Washington Post described the creature as having "a head like a collie dog, and a face like a horse... a long neck, wings about 8 feet long, and it whines at intervals. Its tail is described by one Jerseyman as 'glowing like a coal of fire'. The Post commented that "Chills are running up and down the South Jersey spine like a monkey on a stick". The mysterious creature became a fixture of the state's folklore, and is now the mascot for Newark's National Hockey League team.
After a personal appeal from President Roosevelt, California GovernorJames Gillett met with state legislative leaders to stop further progress on anti-Japanese legislation. "There can be no doubt that the Japanese Government is acting absolutely in good faith in its endeavor to prevent its people from emigrating to our country", said the Governor, "and in my judgment it would be a serious mistake while they are so doing to enact any laws directed against the Japanese people."  A bill proposed to limit Japanese-American residents of San Francisco to residing in its Chinatown district, to bar their children from attending public schools, and to bar them from serving as directors of a corporation.
A fire at the 68th Street water crib, which supplied drinking water to Chicago from Lake Michigan, killed 70 construction workers. Most were burned to death, but some died after jumping into the icy lake waters.
General Motors purchased a one-half interest in the Oakland Motor Company of Pontiac, Michigan, acquiring full control after the death a few months later of its founder, Edward Murphy. After the creation of the Pontiac division in 1926 as a companion to Oakland in 1926, GM would discontinue the Oakland Motor division in 1932.
The National Conservation Commission released its final report. President Roosevelt endorsed it as "one of the most fundamentally important documents ever laid before the American people". Later, Roosevelt would comment that the report "was not only the first inventory of our resources, but was unique in the history of Government in the amount and variety of information brought together. It was completed in six months. It laid squarely before the American people the essential facts regarding our natural resources..." 
The steamer Republic, with 461 people on board, began sinking 26 miles (42 km) out to sea, shortly after being struck by the SS Florida. Except for 6 people killed in the collision, everyone was saved because the Republic had the latest technology, a wireless telegraph. Jack Binns sent the CQD distress signal that was picked up at a rescue station at Siasconset, Massachusetts, then relayed to other ships. At 15,378 tons, the Republic was, at the time, the largest ship to have been lost. The wreckage would be located in 1981. Binns briefly became a worldwide celebrity.
Robert H. Goddard first realized the potential for explosives to raise a rocket, as he described it, "without employing the air". His insight, recorded in a daily journal, was that "if an explosive... is burned in tubes in such a way that all its energy is converted into kinetic energy of the particles expelled and the body propelled, it is, theoretically, possible to obtain propulsion". Goddard's discovery paved the way for space exploration.
The White House Conference on the Care of Children was convened in Washington by President Roosevelt. Attended by 200 prominent personages, including Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington, and Theodore Dreiser, the conference led to a significant social reform in America. As one commentator would later note, "Reform meant an end to orphanages, the beginning of direct aaid to 'parents of worthy character,' allowing children to remai in their homes, or, in time, foster homes." 
In Heidelberg, German astronomer Max Wolf discovered SN 1909a, the first supernova observed from Earth in the Pinwheel Galaxy, and only the 11th observed overall. The nova itself happened more than 27 million years earlier in the galaxy, located that many light years distant, in the direction of Ursa Major.
A trial in British India brought out a conspiracy to set up an independent kingdom there.
Henderson Cremeans, of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, died while walking home from a grocery store. His death made headlines across the nation, because he was reportedly 115 years old. Cremeans, said to have been born in 1794, was never verified as a supercentenarian, nor was his mother, who was said to "have died at the age of 120". He reportedly was survived by 70 grandchildren, 131 great-grandchildren, and 19 great-great-grandchildren, and "he never tasted liquor or tobacco in his life".
A minor tremor shook the Spanish city of Málaga. The Associated Press soon reported that a tidal wave had destroyed Barcelona. By Sunday, it was confirmed that "the reports emanating from England relative to a disastrous earthquake and a tidal wave are untrue".
The New York World announced a $10,000 prize, largest to that time, for the first person who could, before October 10, 1910, fly the 135 miles (217 km) from New York to Albany, whether in an airship or an airplane, as part of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Glenn Curtiss won the contest, on May 29, 1910 in a biplane.