American history from the year you were born
American history from the year you born
A lot has changed in America over the past century. In the early 1900s, cocaine was a top-selling pharmaceutical, women could not vote, and alcohol was illegal. Agricultural progress and improved medical care in the last 100 years have almost doubled life expectancy. Meanwhile, technological advances gave rise to televisions, digital cameras, the internet, and finally smartphones that combine all these services into one handheld device. Cultural milestones have taken longer to progress. Sexual harassment in the workplace wasn't officially prohibited until 1980; while public services (including schools) were racially segregated until well into the second half of the 20th century.
Each passing year brings scientific breakthroughs, landmark achievements, and major cultural shifts. Stacker took a look at news archives and historical accounts to compile a comprehensive list of historic American events from the last 100 years. Click through to see which groundbreaking moments occurred the same year you were born.
1919: Prohibition begins
Congress marked the start of Prohibition on Jan. 16, 1919, by ratifying the 18th Amendment to make the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol illegal. While the law’s intent was to reduce illegal activity, it ironically led to more organized crime—including the rise of notorious gangsters like Al Capone. This year also marked the end of World War I, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles by Allied forces and Germany.
1920: Women gain access to vote
Congress ratified the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, in order to extend the right to vote to “adult women.” However, the amendment did not guarantee the right to black women, who experienced barriers in Southern states. Voter discrimination based on race was not prohibited until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
1921: Emergency Quota Law
The recession of 1919 and the end of World War I contributed to anti-immigration hysteria. On May 19, 1921, Congress signed the Emergency Quota Law, also known as the Immigration Act of 1921. The law sought to limit the number of immigrants who could enter the United States. Quotas were also imposed on arrivals born outside the Western Hemisphere.
1922: Lincoln Memorial dedicated
Chief Justice William Howard Taft dedicated the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922. The occasion marked the conclusion of a project begun 11 years earlier: During Taft’s service as President of the United States, he signed a bill to create a memorial for Abraham Lincoln.
1923: President Warren G. Harding dies
President Warren G. Harding died on Aug. 2, 1923, following a period of various illnesses. Harding was reported at the time to have died from “a stroke of cerebral apoplexy,” but many historians now believe the cause was congestive heart failure. Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president the next day.
1926: NBC founded
On Nov. 15, 1926, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) launched on radio. NBC was a result of the combined efforts of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. NBC is the oldest broadcasting network in the United States.
1927: Charles Lindbergh flies across Atlantic
In May of 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first solo pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh, born and raised modestly in the Midwest, immediately became an American celebrity and one of the most well-known figures of the early 20th century.
1928: Mickey Mouse in the movies
“Steamboat Willie” was not only the first Mickey Mouse film, but it was also the first time animation synchronized with sound. The film, which opened on Nov. 18, 1928, launched the Disney empire.
1930: Smoot-Hawley Tariff
1932: Amelia Earhart flies solo
Amelia Earhart followed the flight path of Charles Lindbergh to become the second person to make a solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Three years later, Earhart disappeared while attempting to fly around the world.
1933: New Deal
As the Great Depression raged on, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the New Deal, stabilizing banks and forever changing the relationship between the government and its citizens. The New Deal included the Glass-Steagall Act and the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Congress also ratified the 21st Amendment in 1933, repealing Prohibition.
1934: Dust Bowl
The Southern Plains experienced serious drought and dust storms during the 1930s. In 1934, around 35 million acres were rendered unusable for farming. The huge swaths of dust killed livestock and people as the toll from the Great Depression worsened.
1935: Social Security Act
To further spur economic recovery during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. The federal program was designed to provide a financial safety net, particularly for the elderly. The government became required to pay benefits based on a worker’s lifetime earnings to retirees older than 65.
1938: Minimum wage established
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed in 1938, setting a minimum wage for American workers (25 cents at the time). The fare has been raised 22 times since then. The FLSA also created new federal protections, including requirements for overtime pay and restrictions on child labor.
1939: Political corruption curbed
Congress enacted the Hatch Act of 1939 in an effort to eradicate corrupt political practices in national elections. The act limited contributions from individuals to political campaigns and restricted the campaigning activities of government employees.
1940: Bugs Bunny becomes a star
The precursor to the now-famous Bugs Bunny character popped up in a 1938 cartoon, but the rascally rabbit millions would come to love made his lead appearance in 1940. A 2018 poll proved that he is still a “hare” above the rest, as Bugs Bunny was named the most popular cartoon character among Americans.
1941: Attack on Pearl Harbor
Japanese fighter planes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. More than 2,400 Americans died. President Franklin D. Roosevelt the next day formally urged Congress for a declaration of war on Japan.
1942: Japanese internment camps
Two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Executive Order 9066, a government policy forcing anyone of Japanese descent—even American citizens—to live in isolated camps. The U.S. Supreme Court didn't officially toss out a 1944 decision upholding the order until 2018.
1943: Detroit race riots
Race riots proliferated throughout major American cities at various times in the last century, but the Detroit race riots were the longest and deadliest. Thirty-four citizens were killed, most of whom were black. The conflict was sparked by aggression among the city’s white population toward an increasing black labor force.
The Invasion of Normandy began on June 6, 1944. Approved by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, more than 156,000 Allied troops successfully stormed the French beachside to begin the arduous journey of liberating Europe from the throes of Nazi Germany.
1945: Battle of Iwo Jima
American forces invaded the Japanese island of Iwo Jima toward the end of World War II. Thousands of Americans died, but the Japanese also incurred great losses; historians estimate more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers were killed during the battle. The Allied victory paved the way for the official end of the Second World War on Sept. 2, 1945.
1947: Jackie Robinson enters the MLB
Jackie Robinson in 1947 made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. This year also saw the formation of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act, a vital piece of legislation that shaped American diplomacy during the Cold War. While the government’s focus turned toward confronting communism, some Americans began directing their attention to outer space, as the possibility of aliens in Roswell, N.M., captivated the nation’s imagination.
1948: U.S. Army desegregated
President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, officially desegregating the United States military. While most branches accepted the order, the U.S. Army opposed the change. Army Secretary Kenneth Royall at the time stated the army “was not an instrument for social evolution.”
1949: NATO established
The United States, Canada, and several western nations joined forces to prevent aggression from the Soviet Union by forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Communist nations then formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. These alliances lasted throughout the Cold War.
Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1950 claimed 205 communists had infiltrated the State Department. McCarthy went on to search for similar breaches in the C.I.A. As McCarthy’s campaign intensified, journalist Edward R. Murrow undermined the senator’s efforts with profound television editorials. On a lighter note, the “Peanuts” cartoon launched the same year.
1951: Presidential term limits established
Presidents weren’t limited to two terms until the creation of the 22nd Amendment in 1951, even though every president but Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died during his fourth term, served two terms or less. Barack Obama recently said he could have been elected to a third term if he was allowed to run in 2016.
1954: Schools are desegregated
The Supreme Court unanimously decided in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation—the separate-but-equal policy—was unconstitutional in public schools. The landmark decision propelled civil rights legislation.
1955: Civil rights movement takes off
In August of 1955, a black teenager named Emmett Till was murdered for reportedly whistling at a white woman. The men responsible were acquitted by an all-white jury, although decades later witnesses recanted their statements against Till. On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man, which launched a boycott of the Montgomery bus system.
1956: Interstate Highway System
Creating an efficient roadway system became a national, federally funded interest with the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which paved the way for 41,000 miles of roadways. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said the bill would fix unsafe roads and lessen traffic jams.
1957: Civil Rights Act passes
The Civil Rights Act of 1957 protected the rights of blacks and other minorities. Despite opposition from Southern senators, the act led to the creation of the Commission on Civil Rights to ensure governmental laws and policies were not in violation of a citizen's right to equal protection, including the right to vote.
1958: NASA forms
Following Russia's launch of Sputnik in 1957, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was initiated on Oct. 1, 1958. NASA absorbed the 8,000 members of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics along with other research laboratories.
1960: Greensboro sit-in
Four black college students refused to leave a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Feb. 1, 1960. The event catalyzed the civil rights movement, as similar actions spread throughout colleges and forced Woolworth’s to change their segregation policy. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also signed the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which further strengthened policies designed to prevent voter discrimination based on race.
1961: Bay of Pigs
On April 17, 1961, the United States backed Cuban exiles in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro. The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion led to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis—a 13-day standoff between the U.S. and Soviet Union centered on nuclear-armed Russian missiles in Cuba.
1962: John Glenn orbits Earth
After Katherine Goble (and her team) double-checked the computer calculations, astronaut John Glenn became the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth. In the same year, Marilyn Monroe died from an apparent drug overdose. She was 36 years old.
1963: Second-wave feminism kicks off
Author Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” a book that emphasized the drudgery experienced by some suburban housewives. The work is credited with sparking second-wave feminism. The Equal Pay Act, which requires that women and men receive the same pay for the same work, went into effect the same year. Despite these advancements, The year was capped by tragedy when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
1964: Martin Luther King Jr. wins Nobel Peace Prize
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at just 35 years old. The Nobel committee recognized King’s non-violent efforts to fight racism in America. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also went into effect, ending segregation in public places and banning employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
1965: Malcolm X is assassinated
Unrest surrounding the civil rights movement continued in 1965. Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated, Alabama authorities beat nonviolent protesters as they marched from Selma to Montgomery, and the Watts riots began in Los Angeles. The Voting Rights Act—which aimed to further prevent voter discrimination based on race—was signed the same year.
1966: Miranda rights
The Supreme Court held in Miranda v. Arizona that police must inform a suspect of his or her rights to a lawyer and to remain silent. Miranda rights protect a suspect against self-incrimination.
1967: Interracial marriage legalized
The Supreme Court legalized interracial in 1967 with its ruling in Loving v. Virginia. The case involved a white man named Richard Loving and his wife, Mildred, a black woman who also was of Native American descent. The couple brought their case to the Supreme Court because they were banned from living in Virginia, where their union was illegal.
1968: Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated
A sniper assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a motel in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968. The shooting occurred just three years after Malcolm X was killed.
1969: First man lands on the moon
1970: Jimi Hendrix dies
1971: Pentagon Papers published
When the New York Times decided to publish some of the leaked Pentagon Papers—a Department of Defense study about U.S. involvement in Vietnam—the paper was forced to defend itself in front of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the paper did not endanger national security and could publish newsworthy parts of the report.
1972: Title IX enacted
Title IX, an amendment to the Higher Education Act, prohibited universities and colleges that received federal funding from discriminating on the basis of gender. Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first Asian-American woman and woman of color elected to Congress, co-authored the amendment.
Five men were arrested that same year for breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward reported in the Washington Post that they believed President Richard Nixon was involved in ordering the act.
1973: Roe V. Wade
In the most important abortion rights case to date, the Supreme Court held in Roe v. Wade that the Texas law prohibiting abortion during the first trimester was unconstitutional.
1974: President Richard Nixon resigns
1975: Microsoft is born
Bill Gates left Harvard University to team up with his childhood friend Paul Allen and start Microsoft in April of 1975. The company was originally called Micro-Soft and sold microprocessors and software. The business eventually made Gates and Allen among the richest men in the world, who also became well-known for their philanthropy. On Oct. 15, 2018, Allen died after battling cancer for many years.
1979: Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown
Just after 4 a.m. on Mar. 28, 1979, an alarm went off signaling the start of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. When technicians couldn’t fix the reactor at the Pennsylvania plant, radioactive steam and gas leaked into the atmosphere for days. The event led to an increase in regulatory oversight of nuclear power.
1980: Mount St. Helens erupts
On May 18, 1980, an earthquake triggered a landslide and volcanic eruption at Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Flooding and ash destroyed much of the surrounding landscape, killing hordes of wildlife and 57 people.
1981: Iran hostage crisis ended
The Iran hostage crisis ended after two years with the release of 52 people held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. The hostages were freed minutes after the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, who unfroze almost $8 billion in Iranian assets on the same day. The president later introduced the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, otherwise known as Reaganomics.
1982: 'Thriller' is released
Michael Jackson released his “Thriller” album in November of 1982. It remains the best-selling album in the world. Vincent Price, who provided the famous laugh on the title track, only made $1,000 for his work.
1984: HIV discovered
1985: Live Aid concert held
Satellites linked musicians performing around the world for the Live Aid concert. The event that featured Elton John, Tom Petty, Madonna, and other famous artists raised more than $125 million for famine relief in Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Sudan.
1986: Challenger tragedy
The world watched in horror on Jan. 28, 1986, as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded live on television shortly after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. All seven on board died, including a teacher set to be the first civilian in space. NASA suspended shuttled missions for almost three years.
1987: Ronald Reagan: 'Tear down that wall'
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan addressed Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and uttered one of his most famous phrases: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan gave the speech at the Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany, which remained in place until 1990.
1988: INF Treaty signed
The world became a little safer in 1988 when the United States and Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The accord prohibited either country from having ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 300 and 3,300 miles. Russia recently violated the treaty when it deployed a banned cruise missile.
1989: Exxon Valdez oil spill
The Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled approximately 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. The black substance covered more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, decimating the area’s wildlife population. It remained the most devastating man-made environmental disaster until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
1990: Hubble Telescope sent to space
The Hubble Telescope became first major optical telescope to explore space. NASA will retire the telescope in the next few years, after capturing images of distant galaxies and planets for almost 30 years. Along with the launch of NASA’s space telescope, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act went into effect in 1990.
1991: Operation Desert Storm
After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered an invasion of neighboring Kuwait, the United States led a 42-day air and ground attack known as Operation Desert Storm. President George H. W. Bush declared a ceasefire on Feb. 28, 1991. Originally viewed as a success, the operation’s effects lingered until the Iraq War in 2003, which lasted almost a decade.
1992: Los Angeles riots
Riots broke out in Los Angeles after the acquittal of four white police officers on charges of assault and excessive force on Rodney King, a black motorist. Thousands were injured and more than 50 people died during the six days of rioting. In response to the carnage, King famously stated: “Can we all just get along?”
1993: Don't Ask, Don't Tell
President Bill Clinton in 1993 signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing LGBTQ people to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexual orientation private. Before the policy, openly gay individuals were banned from serving under a long-standing theory of protecting unit cohesion. In 2011, President Barack Obama repealed the policy, guaranteeing gay citizens the right to openly serve in the the U.S. Armed Forces.
The United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Also in 1993, a bombing at the World Trade Center killed six people and injured more than 1,000.
1994: Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act created the first federal law against battering women and funded social service agencies to support victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The law followed the testimony of Anita Hill, who during the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Clarence Thomas accused the future justice of sexual harassment.
1996: Centennial Olympic Park bombing
During the 1996 Summer Olympics, Eric Robert Rudolph detonated a 40-pound bomb filled with nails and screws at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. More than 100 people were injured and two died, including a cameraman who had a heart attack while filming the area.
1997: Madeleine Albright becomes secretary of state
President Bill Clinton appointed Madeleine Albright as secretary of state after his 1997 inauguration. Albright, who previously served as a United Nations ambassador, became the first female to hold the position.
1998: Monica Lewinsky scandal
A sexual harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones led to a hearing where President Bill Clinton concealed his consensual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. After White House employee Linda Tripp released tapes of conversations she had with Lewinsky about the affair, Clinton became the subject of an investigation. The House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice, but Clinton was acquitted of both charges by the Senate.
1999: Columbine High School shooting
Two armed students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, committed a mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Twelve students and one teacher died in the attack. The shooters later killed themselves in the school library. The event changed the way police responded to “active shooter" situations, although school shootings remain a constant worry in communities across America.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, two hijacked planes were flown into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York, causing them to collapse. Another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed into a field near Shanksville, Penn., after passengers attempted to retake control of the plane. Nearly 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
2003: Space Shuttle Columbia explodes
On Feb. 1, 2003, seven astronauts aboard the Columbia space shuttle died as the spacecraft came apart during its reentry to Earth. This was the first shuttle disaster since the Challenger explosion. NASA halted space shuttle flights for more than two years after the disaster, which led to increased safety measures for future missions.
2005: Hurricane Katrina hits Gulf Coast
Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Class 3 storm on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. Levees and floodwalls that were supposed to protect New Orleans proved too weak to hold back massive waters. More than 1,800 people died (many from drowning), and the storm caused approximately $100 billion in damages.
2009: Sonia Sotomayor joins Supreme Court
Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, provided the organization WikiLeaks with classified documents and a combat video. WikiLeaks went on to release more than 90,000 classified documents relating to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act in 2013, but President Barack Obama later commuted her sentence.
2011: Osama bin Laden killed
On the order of President Barack Obama, U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in May of 2011. The mastermind behind 9/11 was found at his compound in Pakistan.
2012: Mass shootings in Colorado
In 2012, a series of shootings shook the nation. On July 20, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people in Aurora, Colo., when he opened fire in a movie theater full of patrons watching “The Dark Knight Rises.” On Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 28 people—including 20 children—during a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida the same year. After Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder, based on the Stand Your Ground Law, the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national prominence.
2013: Boston Marathon bombing
Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264. A 19-year-old Kyrgyzstani-American, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was sentenced to death for his role in the bombing. His 26-year-old brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also responsible for the attack, died in a shootout with police.
Actress Alyssa Milano sent the tweet heard around the world in response to articles in the New York Times and The New Yorker that revealed that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was a serial sexual abuser. (Milano’s tweet stemmed from a 2006 use of the phrase “Me Too” by activist Tarana Burke.) Survivors of sexual assault and violence—and their supporters—tweeted #MeToo almost a half a million times in 24 hours and spawned an international movement.