Defining historical moments from the year you were born
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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1930: The Great Depression
The Great Depression kicked in in 1930 following the stock market crash a year prior. More than 3.2 million people were unemployed, and around 1,350 banks failed. By 1932, stocks were worth just 20% their value from their peak in summer 1929, and the worldwide decline reached its worst point in 1933 when unemployment reached almost 30%. The economy turned around after 1939 in response to World War II.
1931: The Dust Bowl
Farmers planting dry wheat and grazing cattle in the Great Plains overworked the land. That, coupled with a devastating drought, severely eroded the soil and turned the region into a giant dust bowl beginning in 1931. Huge dust storms were reported, converting millions of acres of once-rich farmland to dust. The drought affected 27 states as topsoil continued to erode and farmers abandoned their farms. By 1939, the drought ended and the region began to recover by using more sustainable farming techniques.
1932: Franklin Delano Roosevelt wins the presidency
Amid the ravages of the Great Depression, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidential election in a landslide over Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover. FDR served four terms and led the nation out of the Great Depression and through World War II. His New Deal program included banking reform laws and emergency and work relief programs, among many others.
1933: Prohibition repealed
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of liquor, went into effect in 1920. That legislation led to the rise of bootlegging and other criminal activities, including gang violence. Enforcement costs rose as support for Prohibition waned, and the advent of Roosevelt's presidency led to the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition.
1934: Hitler becomes Fuhrer
German Chancellor Adolf Hitler declared himself absolute dictator (Fuhrer) of Germany after the death of German president Paul von Hindenburg. With the German Army swearing allegiance to Hitler, the democratic government was dissolved to make way for the Third Reich. Under his rule, Germany became a totalitarian police state, leading to the vicious anti-Semitism that was a cornerstone of Nazi ideology.
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1935: Social Security Act established
The Social Security Act, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established a program of federal old-age benefits to be financed by payroll taxes on employees and employers. It later was extended to help the disabled and other groups. The act has been amended many times, including the 1965 Amendments that helped create Medicare.
1936: Rural Electrification Act signed
One of the most important pieces of legislation enacted as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was the Rural Electrification Act, which enabled the federal government to make low-interest loans to farmers who had created non-profit cooperatives to bring electricity to rural America, many of which continue serving those areas today.
1937: First blood bank opens
The nation's first blood bank opened in Chicago at Cook County Hospital, established by Dr. Bernard Fantus. Prior to the ability to collect and store blood, direct transfusions were required with the donor present. From the preservation of blood lasting 10 days, red blood cells could now be stored for 42 days. Blood banks helped advance modern surgery and medical innovation.
1938: Fair Labor Standards Act
Oppressive child labor conditions and the need for a minimum hourly wage helped fuel the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Long sought by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, "Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages," the Act went through numerous challenges and adaptations before becoming the law that set standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor restrictions.
1939: World War II begins
Following decades of political conflict, Adolf Hitler began military aggressions by annexing Austria with little opposition. On Sept. 1, the Nazis launched an invasion of Poland and, two days later, France, the United Kingdom, and other nations declared war on Germany. The war pitted the Soviet Union and Great Britain (allies of the United States, which didn't enter the war until 1941), against the axis of Germany, Japan, and Italy. The war lasted until 1945.
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1940: The Battle of Britain
Seeking to gain air superiority over the United Kingdom, Germany's Luftwaffe and Britain's Royal Air Force battled in the largest sustained bombing campaign of the war to that date in the Battle of Britain. The British prevailed despite months of attacks on its air bases, military posts, and on the civilian population. The British victory saved the nation from a German ground invasion and possible occupation by the Nazis, and helped the allies eventually defeat Nazi Germany.
1941: Japan attacks Pearl Harbor; U.S. enters WWII
The Imperial Japanese Navy launched an unprovoked surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 in 1941, killing more than 2,400 Americans and wounding 1,000. About 20 naval vessels including eight battleships and more than 300 planes were destroyed or damaged in the attack, and the U.S. declared war on Japan the next day. America was further thrust into World War II when Germany and Italy declared war against the U.S. this year.
1942: Rationing and war bonds
As the U.S. participation in WWII intensified, Americans at home stepped up to sacrifice and do with less to help with the war effort. A rationing program set limits on gas, food, tires, oil, clothing, and many other commodities. Americans further helped the effort by purchasing war bonds, with more than 85 million Americans spending $185.7 billion on the bonds.
1943: Race riots
While WWII fighting raged in much of the rest of the world, the U.S. was rocked by numerous race riots in Harlem, Los Angeles, and Detroit. During riots in Detroit, where car-making factories were converted to build weapons of war, the influx of African-American workers strained housing infrastructure and led to increased racial tensions. Rumors sparked mobs that went on a 36-hour spree of violence that ended with 34 people killed and more than 1,800 people arrested.
1944: The Battle of Normandy (D-Day)
With the Nazis taking control of France in 1940, the Allies launched one of the most decisive turning points of the war this year with the Battle of Normandy, also known as D-Day, on June 6. The battle began with the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe and involved the largest invasion fleet ever assembled. Paris was liberated about 10 weeks later.
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1945: World War II ends; Atomic bombs dropped on Japan
With the Allies closing in on Berlin, Nazi Germany surrendered on May 8, dubbed V-E Day (Victory in Europe). The American B-29 "Enola Gay" dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, followed three days later by an atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, which led to Japan surrendering unconditionally to the Allies on Aug. 14, effectively ending the war on V-J Day (Victory Over Japan).
1946: UNICEF created
The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was created by the General Assembly of the United Nations after World War II to provide relief to children in nations struggling to recover from the war. UNICEF continued its advocacy of children's rights, and in the 1980s was key to the creation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Only Somalia and the United States failed to ratify it.
1947: UFO crashes near Roswell, N.M.
Was it a close encounter with a ship from outer space, or was it a weather balloon? The latter is the original Army Air Force assertion about the remains of an unidentified flying object found in a sheep pasture outside Roswell, N.M. But many people believe the debris to be proof of an encounter with an extraterrestrial flying saucer, and believe there is a cover-up of the truth. The debate continues.
1948: World Health Organization established
The World Health Organization (WHO) was created by the United Nations and tasked with dealing with epidemic control, quarantines, and drug standardization. The WHO has since played a key role in eradicating smallpox and deals with communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Its priorities include assisting countries that seek progress toward universal health coverage and access to essential, high-quality medical products, among others.
1949: North Atlantic Treaty Organization founded
Established originally as a collective defense pact meant to check then-Soviet Union aggressions in Eastern Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) today pushes for peaceful conflict management and democracy. NATO has the ability to take on a wide range of military operations, with 18,000 military personnel engaged in missions worldwide. The organization today operates in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Mediterranean.
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1950: U.S. enters Korean conflict
When North Korea attacked South Korea in June of 1950, President Harry Truman committed American air and naval forces to defend South Korea from communist aggression. He soon committed U.S. ground forces, and the United Nations Security Council approved U.N. forces in Korea be put under U.S. command under General Douglas MacArthur. The "police action," which ended in 1953, left the peninsula as divided as it was before the war.
1951: Rock 'n' roll kicks off
Although the exact date of the founding of rock 'n' roll remains dubious, the genre was born sometime in 1951 when disc jockey Alan Freed coined the term. Blending the essences of blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, and country, rock 'n' roll swept the nation throughout the 1950s and 1960s, changing the world of music and serving as a cultural and social catalyst. Variations of the genre are still popular today, with the original music still broadcast on oldies stations.
1952: World's first commercial jet takes off
British Overseas Airways Corporation launched its commercial jet airliner service with a flight of the de Havilland Comet craft from London to Johannesburg, South Africa, carrying 36 passengers, six crew, and 30 bags of mail. Although the success of the Comet later faltered due to deadly structural flaws, the jet engine revolutionized air travel around the world. The U.S. wouldn't enter commercial jet airliner service until 1958.
1953: Dwight D. Eisenhower inaugurated
World War II five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower served two terms as the 34th president of the United States. He is best-known for his support of the creation of the interstate highway system, signing the 1957 Civil Rights Act, and setting up a permanent Civil Rights Commission. He also signed a bill to form the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
1954: Brown vs. Board of Education decision
This landmark Supreme Court case, which ruled that racial segregation of public school children was unconstitutional, is a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kan., filed a class-action suit against that city's board of education in 1951 after his daughter was denied entrance to an all-white school, claiming that segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The case moved to the Supreme Court in 1952, and the unanimous verdict by the justices in 1954 ruled in favor of Brown and led to the process of integrating schools nationwide.
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1955: Disneyland opens in California
Disneyland was built for $17 million on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, Calif. Walt Disney designed the amusement park to be educational as well as amusing, and rides such as the Mark Twain steamboat, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Snow White's Adventures made a trip to Disneyland unforgettable for children of all ages. Today, more than 14 million visitors a year enjoy the park, spending close to $3 billion annually.
1956: Elvis Presley's popularity peaks
Rock 'n' roll icon Elvis Presley's popularity skyrocketed with music, movies, and television appearances. He released his first #1 single, "Heartbreak Hotel," and his self-titled album climbed to #1 this year, too. Presley also signed his first movie contract with Paramount Pictures for "Love Me Tender."
1957: Civil Rights Act extends voting rights to all
The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 guaranteed all Americans the right to vote. The law prohibited the administration of literacy tests and poll taxes that had once effectively disenfranchised the African-American vote in the South. A later version, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawed segregation in public places and prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or national origin.
1958: Invention of the integrated circuit
Although transistors had been commonplace in radios, phones, and other electronics, working like a switch, scientists needed a whole circuit miniaturized for easier production. Inventor Jack Kilby discovered the circuit could be built out of a single crystal of silicon. Robert Noyce had made a similar discovery at Fairchild Semiconductor this year and today, integrated circuits are the principal components of almost all electronic devices including microcomputers.
1959: Alaska, Hawaii become states
Purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, Alaska was considered a U.S. territory until it was granted statehood in 1959, making it the 49th state under a proclamation signed by President Eisenhower. Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory in 1898 and became the nation's 50th state later in 1959. Eisenhower signed an executive order for Hawaii's statehood; it and Alaska are the only two states not contiguous to the rest of the U.S.
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1960: OPEC formed
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in Iraq this year, with the first members including Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. The organization's stated objectives include unifying petroleum prices among its nations and ensuring fair prices and regular supplies to its customers. Today, OPEC has grown to 12 nations that produce about 40% of the world's crude oil, with exports representing about 60% of the petroleum traded worldwide.
1961: Soviets launch first human into space; U.S. soon follows
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human launched into space, completing a 108-minute orbital flight in the Vostok I spacecraft in April. Less than a month later, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard the Mercury spacecraft. Both feats were continuations of the so-called space race, which began in 1957 when the USSR launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite.
1962: Cuban Missile Crisis brings world to brink of war
The Cuban Missile Crisis began in October when then-Soviet Union installed nuclear-armed missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles off the U.S. mainland. American President John F. Kennedy announced his decision to place a naval quarantine around the island nation and made it clear the U.S. would use military force if necessary to remove the threat. War was avoided when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev removed the missiles in exchange for the U.S. promise not to invade Cuba.
1963: President John F. Kennedy assassinated
President Kennedy on Nov. 22 was shot as his motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots from the sixth floor of the building, fatally wounding Kennedy and seriously injuring Gov. John Connally, although controversy continues on the possibility of a conspiracy. That afternoon, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States.
1964: The Beatles arrive in New York
"Beatlemania" took over the United States in 1964 when the British rock 'n' roll band The Beatles arrived in New York in February as part of a world tour. Already at the top of the charts in the United Kingdom, The Beatles' arrival in the U.S. skyrocketed the Fab Four into international superstardom with the band's appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Beatlemania was just the start of the musical British Invasion, with bands including the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, the Searchers, and innumerable more following in the Beatles' wake.
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1965: U.S. enters combat in Vietnam War
Although the U.S. had military advisors in South Vietnam starting in 1955, its first involvement in combat in the Vietnam War began a decade later year. President Lyndon Johnson sent 82,000 combat troops to the country and escalated the U.S. commitment to 100,000 troops by the end of July. Massive anti-war protests broke out in the U.S. as a result, continuing during the latter part of the 1960s and into the early 1970s as more than 58,000 American troops were killed in the war.
1966: Miranda rights established
The United States Supreme Court in June decided in Miranda v. Arizona that all criminal suspects must be advised of their rights before being interrogated. The case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union when suspect Ernesto Miranda was interrogated and confessed to kidnapping and rape in 1963. Miranda later recanted, claiming the confession was false and coerced.
1967: First Super Bowl ends in Packers blowout
The Green Bay Packers of the National Football League crushed the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League (AFL) 35-10 in the first-ever world championship, to become known as Super Bowl I. The AFL won its first championship two years later when Joe Namath's New York Jets beat the favored Baltimore Colts 16-7. The two leagues merged in 1970 and were split into the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.
1968: Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy assassinated
James Earl Ray assassinated famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. April 4 in Memphis, Tenn. The assassination of King, who gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech to 250,000 supporters in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, led to an outpouring of anger among African Americans and mourning from the rest of the nation, which helped expedite the passage of the Fair Housing Act a week later. On June 5, Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, in Los Angeles.
1969: America lands first man on the moon
The U.S. launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon July 16 with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins aboard. On July 20, Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon and declared, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind." The crew returned to Earth safely July 24.
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1970: Environmental Protection Agency begins operation
The U.W. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began operating in 1970 in response to a growing national concern about deteriorating air, contaminated water supplies, and litter in once-pristine areas. Championed by President Richard Nixon, the EPA became an umbrella organization with duties transferred from other agencies along with funding for improved water treatment facilities, national air-quality standards, and approval of a national contingency plan for treating oil spills, among many other mandates. In 2018, under administrator Scott Pruitt and further exacerbated by President Donald Trump, numerous gains and research programs under the EPA have been cut, rolled back, or defunded.
1971: Pentagon Papers leaked
Former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers, which detailed government deception regarding the validity of the Vietnam War, to The New York Times in June of 1971. The administration of President Richard Nixon responded by going to the federal courts, which ordered the newspaper to cease publishing them under an injunction. But Ellsberg took the papers to The Washington Post, which along with the Times won a 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court, saying the government had no right to prior restraints of the press, allowing the newspapers to continue publishing the documents under the First Amendment.
1972: The Watergate scandal
Several burglars were arrested during a break-in of the Democratic National Committee office at the Watergate Hotel in June. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reported that a break-in and wiretapping of the offices of the Democratic National Committee by Republican operatives of President Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President was part of a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage. Seven conspirators were indicted on charges related to the affair, with five pleading guilty, and two others convicted. Evidence proved Nixon was involved in the cover-up.
1973: OPEC enacts oil embargo
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut oil exports to nations providing military assistance to Israel in the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack against Israel to dislodge them from occupied territories. Israel, assisted by the United States, the Netherlands, and Denmark, prevailed, and OPEC imposed the embargo on the three nations after huge price increases. The embargo ended after successful negotiations in March 1974.
1974: Richard Nixon resigns
Facing likely impeachment for obstruction of justice and other charges related to the Watergate break-in of 1972, President Richard Nixon went on national television Aug. 8 to announce his resignation. The release of the Watergate tapes and other documents in 1973 implicated Nixon for obstruction of justice and other abuses of power relating to Watergate and other illegal activities. Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th president at noon on Aug. 9.
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1975: Saigon falls; Vietnam War ends
The Vietnam War ended in April after aggressive assaults by North Vietnam led to the fall of Saigon in the south. Although the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973 to end the war, and most American troops had withdrawn, fighting continued until this year when South Vietnam surrendered. U.S. President Gerald Ford declared the end of the war April 23; the last remaining Americans were airlifted from the country by April 30.
1976: Comaneci scores perfect 10 in Olympics
Romanian-born Nadia Comaneci was the first woman to ever score a perfect 10 in a gymnastics event, achieving that milestone at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The 14-year-old gymnast garnered seven perfect scores and won gold medals for uneven bars, balance beam, and individual all-around, and a bronze for floor exercise. Her accomplishments sparked a revolution in the sport of women's gymnastics.
1977: Personal computer industry is born
First developed in 1974, the Altair was the first personal computer—but it wasn't until 1977 that mass-produced PCs became a viable, booming industry. The Apple II, Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80, and Commodore Business Machines Personal Electronic Transactor all entered the market that year and PC popularity waxed. As technology continued to advance and computers became faster, smaller, and more capable, computer sales reached 350 million units a year by 2013, when smartphones and tablets began to cut into PC sales.
1978: Golden age of arcade video games
The release of "Space Invaders" in 1978 sparked the so-called golden age of arcade video games. As a forerunner to modern video games, "Space Invaders" helped grow the global appeal and diversity of computer gaming. Now with numerous advances in technology, video games are a $100 billion worldwide industry and hold massive cultural influence.
1979: Iran hostage crisis
Iranian students on Nov. 4 attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 hotsages. The revolutionary students wanted an end to America's interference in its affairs, with a focus on their revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The hostages were released after 444 days on Jan. 20, 1981—the same day President Jimmy Carter's presidency ended.
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1980: John Lennon murdered
Former Beatle John Lennon was shot in the back and killed just outside his New York home, The Dakota, on Dec. 8, 1980. His assassin, Mark David Chapman, said he shot Lennon so he could be famous. Lennon's post-Beatles work is laced with calls for peace and unity that cemented his legacy with such tunes as "Imagine" and his song "Give Peace a Chance."
1981: Sandra Day O'Connor named first female justice
President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The former two-term Arizona state senator garnered unanimous Senate approval. She was the deciding vote in a 1992 challenge to Roe v. Wade, effectively defeating the challenge, and was also the deciding vote in the 2000 election case, Bush v. Gore, which ended the recount of votes for president and upheld George W. Bush's victory—on which she later said the court perhaps should not have weighed in.
1982: Michael Jackson releases 'Thriller'
Michael Jackson released "Thriller" in November of 1982, featuring songs such as"Billie Jean" and "Beat It." The album is the Recording Industry Association of America's #1 all-time best-seller with 33 million copies sold. Jackson's music videos of these tunes topped the charts, with "Thriller" becoming the highest-selling music video of all time.
1983: U.S. Embassy, Marine barracks attacked in Beirut
A suicide bomber on April 18 crashed a truck filled with a ton of explosives into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63. The dead included 17 Americans, some of whom were CIA officers. The Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility, and Hezbollah was blamed for a truck bomb attack in October on U.S. Marine barracks that killed 241 marines and sailors.
1984: Iconic Apple ad
The "1984" advertiesement for Apple Macintosh's revolutionary personal computer aired during during Super Bowl XVIII and was widely considered a watershed event in advertising. Based on George Orwell's dystopian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four," in which everyone is expected to conform to the state , the ad's unnamed female protagonist fights back against conformity, indicating the computer would do the same when it proclaims "You'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'"
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1985: Live Aid concerts raise $125 million
The Live Aid concerts held simultaneously in Philadelphia and London on July 13, 1985, raised $125 million in relief aid to famine-stricken eastern Africa. The event, called the biggest rock concert and charity event in the history of the world, was broadcast worldwide to an audience of 1.5 billion people. Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened the concert at Wembley Stadium in London. Musicians included Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
1986: Space shuttle Challenger explodes
On Jan. 28, 1986, just over a minute after lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members. The crew included teacher Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first civilian to travel into space, and astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Francis Scobee, and Ronald McNair. The tragedy was blamed on the failure of rubber O-rings on Challenger's solid rocket booster.
1987: Stock market crashes
The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Oct. 19, 1987, plummeted almost 23%, the largest one-day percentage drop in history. The steep decline was seen worldwide, as 19 of the 20 largest markets declined by 20% or more. Although the market recovered quickly, stock exchanges implemented circuit breaker rules and other safety features to slow impacts of trading irregularities and give the market more time to correct itself.
1988: First use of DNA evidence convicts murderer
DNA fingerprinting was used for the first time in 1988 and helped convict a murderer. George Wesley was found guilty of murder, burglary, rape, and other charges in New York after genetic material found in blood on his clothes matched with material found in 79-year-old victim Helen Kendrick's hair. Wesley was sentenced to 38 years in prison.
1989: Berlin Wall falls
The Berlin Wall was built in August 1961 by the communist East German regime to stop mass defections from east to west. More than 100,000 East German citizens tried to escape to the West, and at least 171 died at the wall. On Nov. 9, 1989, as the Cold War began to ease, East Berlin's Communist Party announced that citizens were free to cross the border, which led to the destruction of the wall and more than 2 million people celebrated in the streets.
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1990: Iraq invades Kuwait; Operation Desert Shield launched
More than 100,000 Iraqi troops and arms crossed into Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, annexing the oil-rich nation. Operation Desert Shield was launched a week later to protect Saudi Arabia. In November, the United Nations Security Council agreed to use force against Iraq after the country failed to withdraw from Kuwait.
1991: Operation Desert Storm
After months of negotiations, and when the United Nations' sanctions against Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime for annexing Kuwait fell apart, the U.S. led a 32-nation attack on Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. The attack, begun in January 1991, included six weeks of air attacks against Iraq's military and civil infrastructure. A coalition ground offensive began in February, and Kuwait was liberated in less than four days.
1992: Rodney King riots rock L.A.
Four Los Angeles policemen were acquitted in April of the vicious beating of Rodney King, an African-American man, despite graphic video evidence broadcast worldwide. King, who was stopped after a high-speed chase, suffered skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage in the attack. After the acquittal, furious South Central Los Angeles residents who were fed up with racial and economic inequality in L.A. took to the streets for three days of rioting that resulted in more than 60 deaths, thousands of injuries, and almost $1 billion in damages.
1993: The Waco siege
Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28, 1993, raided the Branch Davidian religious compound near Waco, Texas after reports that self-proclaimed prophet David Koresh and his followers were violating federal firearms regulations. After a deadly gun battle, a cease-fire was arranged and nearly 900 law-enforcement agents surrounded the compound for what would be a 51-day siege. At that point, FBI agents fired tear gas into the compound and, after the attack, several fires broke out, which engulfed the compound as gunfire was heard inside. Seventy-six people died, including 25 children.
1994: Nelson Mandela elected South African president
Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa after spending 27 years in prison for his campaign of peaceful, nonviolent resistance to the country's apartheid policies of racial segregation and white supremacy. Mandela, as leader of the African National Congress, worked with then-president F.W. de Klerk to reach an agreement in 1993 that would end apartheid in 1994 and earn them both the Nobel Peace Prize. As president, Mandela introduced new socio-economic policies that helped fund job creation, housing, and basic health care.
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1995: Oklahoma City bombing
In April 1995, on the second anniversary of the end of the Waco siege, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used a truck loaded with thousands of pounds of fuel oil and aluminum nitrate to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla. A total of 168 people were killed and an estimated 850 wounded, making the Oklahoma City bombing the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States to that date. McVeigh was executed for the attack in 2001; Nichols was eventually sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms in prison.
1996: Mad Cow Disease linked to human deaths
Mad Cow Disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) is a fatal brain disease found in cattle and transferred to humans eating beef. First discovered in the United Kingdom in 1986, the disease was linked in 1996 to 231 cases of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a fatal brain disease in humans. The European Union banned British beef that year, with other nations following suit. When Mad Cow Disease was found in the U.S. in 2003, major importers barred U.S. beef until 2007, costing ranchers and processors almost $11 billion.
1997: Princess Diana dies in car crash
Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash on Aug. 31, 1997, along with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul. Her Mercedes was being pursued by paparazzi and crashed into a concrete pillar in a tunnel at more than 60 mph. Numerous conspiracy theories abounded after the crash, but French and English investigations ruled it an accident caused by reckless actions of the paparazzi as well as by Paul, who was drunk and driving at twice the speed limit.
1998: President Bill Clinton accused of affair, lies
President Clinton was accused in January 1998 of having a sexual affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr began investigations that would eventually lead to a failed impeachment attempt. In his denial, Clinton said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky." In August, Clinton testified to the grand jury and admitted to inappropriate intimate contact, and the House of Representatives in December voted to impeach him for perjury and obstruction of justice in December. Clinton was ultimately acquitted.
1999: Columbine High School massacre
Two teenaged gunmen killed 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. on April 20, 1999. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 others before killing themselves. The duo also brought bombs to the school, apparently intending to kill hundreds of people.
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2000: Supreme Court ends presidential recount; George W. Bush wins
With the 2000 presidential election hanging in the balance, fewer than 600 votes separated candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court ruled manual recounts should continue, but Bush filed a U.S. Supreme Court challenge, Bush v. Gore, to stop the manual recount. The court overturned the lower court's decision Dec. 9, giving Bush Florida's 25 electoral votes—and the presidency.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists connected to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden hijacked four airplanes. Two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, one struck the Pentagon, and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Overall, nearly 3,000 people died, including hundreds of firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency crew trying to evacuate the towers. On Oct. 7, the U.S. launched a coalition to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy bin Laden's terrorist network during Operation Enduring Freedom.
2002: Axis of Evil speech and prelude to war
Naming Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and their "terrorist allies" as an Axis of Evil seeking weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address said, "these regimes pose a grave and growing danger." He especially called out Iraq, claiming the nation flaunted its hostility toward America and supported terror. Bush argued Iraq's continued possession of WMDs and support for terrorist groups made disarming the nation a priority.
2003: U.S., allies attack Iraq
Three days after President George Bush issued an ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq within 48 hours, which was ignored, U.S. and coalition forces launched an attack on Iraq. The coalition captured Iraq's major cities in three weeks and Bush declared the end of major combat May 1. But American and coalition troop casualties continued to rise as insurgent attacks against occupying troops continued to accelerate. No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq.
2004: Red Sox win first championship since 1918
The legend of the "Curse of the Bambino" was finally vanquished when the Boston Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years in October 2004. The curse legend stemmed from 1920 when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The Sox came within one out of winning it all in 1946, 1975, and 1986, but couldn't close the deal. In 2004, the team was down to its final game against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship series before winning four straight to take that series and go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals.
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2005: Hurricane Katrina slams Gulf Coast
Hurricane Katrina slammed into huge parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Aug. 29, 2005, a day after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered mandatory evacuations of that city. The storm surge overwhelmed many of the city's levees and drainage canals, putting about 80% of the city under some amount of water. Overall, the storm killed more than 1,800 people and damages topped $105 billion.
2006: Amish school shooting
Five young girls were killed by in 2006 by a heavily armed truck driver who barricaded himself in a one-room Amish schoolhouse with them in Lancaster County, Pa., and shot them execution-style before killing himself. Shooter Charles Carl Roberts IV told his wife he molested young relatives 20 years earlier and was dreaming of doing it again. Police said Roberts brought several items, including restraints, to the school, indicating he may have intended to molest the girls.
2007: Apple iPhone introduced
Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in January, launching a mobile revolution that continues to this day with new upgrades of devices and apps. It was the first true touch-screen phone, a feature most smartphone makers offer now, along with multi-touch features such as pinch zoom in and out on a web page and motion sensor. Later versions of the iPhone made Apple the #1 global smartphone maker.
2008: The Great Recession devastates world markets
American and world markets began to falter in the summer of 2007 as falling housing prices, a glut of new homes on the market, and too many mortgages being offered to high-risk borrowers brought about the Great Recession of 2008. During the crisis, home mortgage foreclosures increased worldwide as millions of people lost their life savings, homes, and jobs. The Dow lost more than half its value over the next 18 months, with household net worth dropping $14 trillion.
2009: Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
President Barack Obama introduced the $840 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress in February 2009, to combat the Great Recession. The stimulus package included tax cuts, credits, and unemployment benefits; funding for shovel-ready public works projects; investments in education, science research, and technology; and other programs that, combined, added more than 4 million jobs overall in the first 18 months of the program. The recession ended five months after Congress passed and Obama signed the Act, with economic growth expanding in the third quarter.
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2010: End of subprime mortgage crisis
Beginning in 2007, mortgages were expanded to include high-risk borrowers at a time of rising house prices, creating turmoil in financial markets that lasted until 2010. The collapse of subprime lending fueled a downward spiral in house values and was a key impetus for the recession, alleviated in part when the Federal Reserve lowered long-term interest rates and stimulated economic activity that stabilized the housing market by 2013.
2011: Japanese earthquake, tsunami
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake, followed by a massive tsunami, devastated northeast Japan on March 11, killing more than 19,000, causing more than $300 billion in damages, and triggering a major accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station. The tsunami damaged backup generators at the plant and sent waves as high as 33 feet smashing the coast and flooding several communities. The water swept away enormous quantities of houses, cars, boats, and other debris, and radioactive contamination issues still plague Fukushima today.
2012: Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School
Adam Lanza on Dec. 14, 2012, shot and killed 20 first-grade students and six school employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The children were 6 and 7 years old. Lanza's rampage started with him killing his mother, who owned the weapons used, then killed himself as police closed in at the school. Investigators never found a motive.
2013: Boston Marathon bombings
Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 117th annual Boston Marathon April 15, killing three spectators and wounding more than 260. Terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev planned and carried out the attack on their own, also killing a police officer that night. Tamerlan died following a shootout with police, while his brother—who struck him with a car as he fled—was found guilty of 30 charges in 2015 and sentenced to death.
2014: Malaysian Flight MH370 disappears
Malaysian Flight MH370, a Boeing 777 filled with 239 passengers and crew, disappeared March 8, 2014, on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The search for evidence of the flight's fate has been largely futile, and conflicting theories about what happened to the plane continue to this day.
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2015: Charlie Hebdo attack
Twelve people were killed and nearly as many injured after al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January. The attack, led by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, occurred after the newspaper had published several controversial cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, the spiritual leader of Islam. The attack was one of several in Paris from Jan. 7 to 9.
2016: Russia interferes in U.S. presidential election
The U.S. intelligence community agreed in October 2016 that the Russian government had directed efforts to interfere with the U.S. presidential election, which was won by Donald Trump. Leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said in mid-May 2018 there was no doubt Russia undertook the effort. Sen. Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the committee, said Russian interference was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to help Trump and hurt Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.
2017: FBI investigates election meddling, possible collusion
The FBI, beginning investigations regarding Russian election meddling in 2016, stepped up its investigation into whether members of President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians to help Trump win the presidential election. Begun with then-FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in May 2017, the investigation was taken over by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Mueller's report ultimate found no evidence of collusion, but would not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice.
2018: School shootings epidemic; students demand action
Multiple deadly school shootings in the U.S. prompted students to organize and demand gun-control action from Congress. After 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, by a former student, surviving students Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, and Jaclyn Corin began the #NeverAgain movement to curb gun violence. On March 14, 2018, nearly a million students walked out of their classes in protest, demanding Congressional action.
2019: Climate change takes center stage
The U.N.'s General Assembly in March 2019 announced to world leaders there are only 11 years left in which to halt otherwise irreversible damage wrought by climate change. That striking claim—along with multiple 2019 reports of turbulent storm seasons, potential mass extinctions, and rising sea levels—have thrust the subject of climate change to the forefront of political debate, environmental activism, and new pushes by companies to reduce waste and go green. Major initiatives in 2019 so far have included the proposal of the Green New Deal (which was created in 2006 but until this year only featured into Green Party candidate platforms), a worldwide climate march, a student-led climate strike, and local and state moves pushing for a cleaner planet by banning single-use items like plastic straws and shopping bags.
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2020: COVID-19 pandemic
It was Dec. 30, 2019, when a doctor working at Wuhan Central Hospital in Wuhan, China, sent out a text to a group of other doctors warning them to protect themselves against a new respiratory virus. By June 8, 2020, COVID-19 had caused the death of 404,360 people around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.