Leap Year postcard from 1908
A Leap Year is a year that includes an additional span of time to synchronize the calendar year with the solar or seasonal year. Lunisolar calendars add a leap month (also called an intercalary or embolismic month) every 2-3 years, while every 4 years the modern Gregorian calendar adds a single day at the end of February known as Leap Day.
The Early Roman calendar (before 46 BC) had 355 days, 10.25 days short of the time it takes the earth to orbit the sun. This calendar drift was made up for with the occasional addition of a leap month at the end of February, but after centuries of using this model the difference between the calendar year and the solar year was substantial.
Julius Caesar, the “father” of Leap Year, added three extra months to the year 46 BC to fix the misaligned calendar and extended every subsequent calendar year to 365 days. And because the earth’s orbit around the sun actually takes 365.24219 days, a Leap Day was added to February every four years to make up for that extra ¼ day left over in each common year. This was known as the Julian calendar.
Pope Gregory XIII modified the Julian calendar to create the Gregorian calendar that is currently used in the majority of the world today. Instead of a Leap Year occurring every four years, it is skipped in years which are neatly divisible by 100 but not by 400. Thus, the year 2000 had a Leap Day, but the year 2100 will not. This resolved the 11-minute drift left by the Julian calendar.
Discrepancies in the Gregorian calendar will have to be addressed in about 10,000 years.
Leap Day Babies
A baby born on February 29th is called a “Leapling” or “Leap-year baby.” In common years, Leaplings choose to celebrate their birthday on February 28 or March 1, with a few law-related exceptions that vary by country.
Some famous Leap Day babies:
– Jimmy Dorsey, musician
– Dinah Shore, singer
– Tony Robbins, self-help guru
– Ja Rule, rapper
– Norway’s Henriksen siblings were born on three consecutive leap days: in 1960, 1964, and 1968
– Sir James Milne Wilson was born on leap day 1812, and died on leap day 1880
Centuries-old tradition says that on Leap Day a woman can make a marriage proposal to a man. Greek superstition warns against inviting bad luck by planning weddings in a leap year.
Learn more about Leap Year through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about Leap Year
An explanation and history of Leap Year from ancient Hebrew calendar to Gregorian calendar Mon, Mar 11, 1844 – 1 · Hampshire Telegraph and Naval Chronicle (Portsmouth, Hampshire, England) · Newspapers.comHow Julius Caesar adjusted the calendar, added 3 extra months to 46 BC, created Leap Day Mon, Jan 30, 1905 – 6 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.comJulius Caesar and the Julian Calendar's adjustments to Roman Calendar, how it became Gregorian Sun, Dec 17, 1905 – 25 · The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.comPuzzling origins of Leap Day as a day for women to propose cites 13C Scottish Law Mon, Feb 29, 1932 – 2 · The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) · Newspapers.comGregorian Calendar not perfect; discrepancies will require adjustment many centuries in future Sun, Dec 29, 1935 – Page 26 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) · Newspapers.comWhat is the Gregorian Calendar? Explanation of its history and what changed with Pope Gregory XIII Sat, Aug 23, 1958 – 24 · () · Newspapers.comDifferent types of yearly calendars and their history through civilization and time Thu, Feb 27, 1964 – 2 · The Eunice News (Eunice, Louisiana) · Newspapers.com1968 article about the Greek superstition against marrying in a Leap Year Sun, Jan 28, 1968 – Page 48 · The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) · Newspapers.comAn explanation of the Solar Year as it differs from the Calendar Year, and necessary adjustments Wed, Apr 10, 1968 – 57 · The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) · Newspapers.comThe Early Roman Calendar was based on moon, influenced future calendars and names of months Sat, Aug 17, 1974 – 1 · The Charlotte News (Charlotte, North Carolina) · Newspapers.comDifferent types of calendars used across cultures based on solar, lunar, or lunisolar models Fri, Jan 30, 1976 – 70 · The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada) · Newspapers.comLeap Year quiz tests Leap Year history trivia, February 29, 1988 Mon, Feb 29, 1988 – Page 36 · Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey) · Newspapers.comSuccinct explanation of the purpose of Leap Day from February 29, 2000 Tue, Feb 29, 2000 – 8 · The Vincennes Sun-Commercial (Vincennes, Indiana) · Newspapers.comFamous and unique Leap Year babies: musicians, actors, sports stars born on February 29th Fri, Feb 29, 2008 – Page 21 · Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) · Newspapers.com