Defining historical moments from the year you were born
From wars to elections, international incidents to civil unrest, entertainment to sports, the key defining moments of history profoundly influence who and what we are today.
To discover some of the most iconic moments from each of the last 100 years, Stacker mined historical data, government reports, and newspaper accounts. While most years offered more than one major incident that helped mold our attitudes and beliefs, we strove to provide the most important, defining event of each year since 1920.
Some of these will bring back fond memories, while others may amaze or surprise. Several historic events also serve as painful reminders of senseless acts that hurt us all as we struggled to comprehend why and how they happened. In any case, each encourages reflection and evaluation of our world, perhaps with new insights into the consequences of the events that have helped shape who we are as a culture.
Keep reading to find out more about key events of the last century and which of these defined the year you were born.
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1920: Women gain right to vote
With the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, women gained universal suffrage. Susan B. Anthony led the charge to give women the right to vote. Women voters since have greatly affected the outcome of elections and continue to make their voices heard to even greater effect.
1921: Babe Ruth smashes home run record
Legendary New York Yankees pitcher and outfielder Babe Ruth hits his 138th home run in June, breaking the career home run record held by Roger Connor for 23 years. The Sultan of Swat would go on to hit 714 home runs before his retirement in 1935, a record that held for nearly 40 years. Ruth is widely considered the greatest baseball player of all time.
1922: The Fordney-McCumber Tariff
Guided through Congress by Rep. Joseph Fordney and Sen. Porter McCumber, the Fordney-McCumber Tariff began in 1922 as a protectionist policy of charging high tariffs on European goods to reduce foreign competition. Other nations resented this policy, until they raised their own tariffs on American goods, leading to a decline in international trade. Similar policies enacted by President Donald Trump in 2018 threatened comparable declines in trade and higher consumer prices in the global economy.
1923: Insulin treatment for diabetes is mass produced
Discovered in 1921 and initially used successfully in 1922 in Canada by Frederick Banting, J.J.R. Macleod, and others, insulin treatment for diabetes began mass production this year with a highly refined treatment by the Eli Lilly Company. Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. Today, more than 20 types of insulin are sold in the United States.
1924: Hoover named head of Bureau of Investigation
At age 29, J. Edgar Hoover was named head of the Bureau of Investigation, later to be known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and held that post until his death 48 years later. His reputation as a tough leader helped build the organization with modern investigation techniques and challenging criminal syndicates, as well as secretly monitoring organizations considered subversive. His influence greatly grew the agency, which continues to be an integral part of the federal government.
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1925: Scopes Monkey Trial
Tennessee teacher John Scopes was charged with violating the state's Butler Act, which prohibited teaching evolution over divine creation. The trial pitted Christian fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution against attorney Clarence Darrow, with the prosecution prevailing despite Darrow's humiliation of Bryan. In many parts of America, opposition to teaching evolution remains today as efforts continue to either remove it from public school curricula or coerce schools to also teach creationism.
1926: Ford announces 40-hour workweek
The Ford Motor Company was one of the first in America to adopt the 40-hour, five-day workweek this year. Although his son Edsel said, "every man should have more time to spend with his family." Henry admitted the five-day workweek was instituted to increase productivity. Companies in the U.S. and worldwide followed Ford's lead, making the Monday-through-Friday workweek standard.
1927: 'The Jazz Singer' marks end of silent film era
The first film to synchronize dialogue with images, "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson became a huge success after debuting in New York. As such, the film signaled the emergence of talkies and the end of the silent film era. The movie's success established Warner Brothers as a major film studio.
1928: Mickey Mouse debuts in Steamboat Willie
Walt Disney's iconic cartoon character Mickey Mouse made his debut in the short film "Steamboat Willie" in 1928. Mickey was so popular that he continued to star in more than 130 films, with fan clubs and merchandise springing up. By 1932, the official Mickey Mouse Fan Club reached more than 1 million members, and he became the most popular cartoon character in the world.
1929: The Wall Street Crash
The stock market on Oct. 8, 1929, dropped 22.6% in a single day (known as "Black Monday") and reached panic proportions the following day ("Black Tuesday") when prices collapsed completely and led to the Great Depression. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors. A similar crash occurred in 1987, and again in 2008 when $1.2 trillion was wiped out from the U.S. stock market.
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