May 17 is the 137th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (138th in leap years). There are 228 days remaining.
- 1900 - Boer War: British troops relieve Mafeking.
- 1902 - Archaeologist Spyridon Stais finds the Antikythera mechanism.
- 1915 - The last British Liberal Party government (Herbert Henry Asquith) falls.
- 1919 - Committee of One Thousand forms to oppose Winnipeg General Strike.
- 1933 - Vidkun Quisling and Johan Bernhard Hjort form Nasjonal Samling - the national-socialist party of Norway.
- 1940 - World War II: Germany occupies Brussels, Belgium.
- 1943 - World War II: Surviving RAF Dam Busters return.
- 1943 - The United States Army contracts with the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School to develop the ENIAC.
- 1944 - Type IX U-boat: U-884 is launched.
- 1954 - The United States Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
- 1967 - Six-Day War: President Abdul Nasser of Egypt demands dismantling of the peace-keeping UN Emergency Force in Israel.
- 1969 - Venera program: Soviet Venera 6 begins its descent into the atmosphere of Venus, sending back atmospheric data before being crushed by pressure.
- 1970 - Thor Heyerdahl sets sail from Morocco on the papyrus boat Ra II to sail the Atlantic Ocean.
- 1973 - Watergate scandal: Hearings begin in the United States Senate and are televised.
- 1974 - Los Angeles, California police raid Symbionese Liberation Army headquarters, killing six members, including Camilla Hall.
- 1974 - Thirty-three people are killed by terrorist bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland.
- 1983 - Lebanon, Israel, and the United States sign an agreement on Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
- 1984 - Prince Charles calls a proposed addition to the National Gallery, London a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend," sparking controversies on the proper role of the Royal Family and the course of modern architecture.
- 1987 - Iran-Iraq War: The USS Stark (FFG-31) is struck by a missile from an Iraqi Mirage fighter killing 37 and injuring 21 of her crew.
- 1995 - Jacques Chirac assumes the presidency of France.
- 1999 - Ehud Barak is elected prime minister of Israel.
- 2003 - Mozilla Firefox. Browser renamed from Phoenix to Firebird.
- 2004 - Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts.
- 1628 - Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria, Regent of the Tyrol and Further Austria
- 1749 - Edward Jenner, inventor of the vaccine (d. 1823)
- 1758 - John St Aubyn, British fossil collector (d. 1839)
- 1768 - Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales (d. 1821)
- 1794 - Anna Brownell Jameson, British writer (d. 1860)
- 1821 - Sebastian Kneipp, naturopathist (d. 1897)
- 1842 - August Thyssen, industrialist (d. 1926)
- 1844 - Julius Wellhausen, German biblical scholar (d. 1918)
- 1866 - Erik Satie, French composer (d. 1925)
- 1873 - Henri Barbusse, French novelist and journalist (d. 1935)
- 1873 - Dorothy Richardson, writer (d. 1957)
- 1879 - Simon Petlyura, Ukrainian independence fighter (d. 1926)
- 1886 - Alfonso XIII of Spain (d. 1941)
- 1898 - Alfred Joseph Casson painter (d. 1992)
- 1900 - Ruhollah Khomeini, (d. 1981)
- 1901 - Werner Egk, composer (d. 1983)
- 1903 - Cool Papa Bell, baseball player (d. 1991)
- 1904 - Jean Gabin, actor (d. 1976)
- 1906 - Zinka Milanov, Croatian opera soprano (d. 1989)
- 1911 - Maureen O'Sullivan, actress (d. 1998)
- 1918 - Birgit Nilsson, Swedish soprano
- 1921 - Dennis Brain, English French horn player (d. 1957)
- 1922 - Antje Weisgerber, actress
- 1924 - Hannes Messemer, actor (d. 1991)
- 1935 - Dennis Potter, writer (d. 1994)
- 1936 - Dennis Hopper, actor, director
- 1937 - Hazel R. O'Leary, United States Secretary of Energy
- 1942 - Taj Mahal, singer, guitarist
- 1945 - Tony Roche, Australian tennis player
- 1946 - Udo Lindenberg, musician
- 1948 - William Bruford, drummer, songwriter
- 1950 - Janez Drnovšek, Slovene politician
- 1955 - Bill Paxton, actor
- 1956 - Sugar Ray Leonard, boxer
- 1956 - Bob Saget, actor
- 1959 - Paul Di'Anno, singer
- 1961 - Enya, singer, songwriter
- 1965 - Trent Reznor, singer, songwriter ("Nine Inch Nails")
- 1966 - Qusay Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein (d. 2003)
- 1968 - Al Stiff, Harness Driver
- 1971 - Maxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, wife of Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
- 1974 - Andrea Corr, singer ("The Corrs")
- 1975 - Sasha Alexander, American actress
- 1975 - Laura Voutilainen, Finnish singer
- 1987 - Amanda Kleinman, singer extraordinaire
- 1917 - Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke, ruler of Sarawak (b. 1829)
- 1935 - Paul Dukas, composer (b.1865)
- 1946 - William Jefferson Blythe III, father of U.S. President Bill Clinton, is born in Sherman, Grayson County, Texas (b. 1918)
- 1947 - George William Forbes, Prime Minister of New Zealand (b. 1869)
- 1985 - Abe Burrows, songwriter, composer, writer
- 1992 - Lawrence Welk, musician (b. 1903)
Holidays and observances
May 16 - May 18 - April 17 - June 17 -- listing of all days
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