US political history from the year you were born
There’s no denying that the past 100 years have been a transformative time for the entire world, but particularly for the United States as a nation. With the two major political parties established, the country cast their votes in more than 25 elections, leading to the election of the first African American president and the first female vice president—who is also the first person of color to be elected to that role.
It was also a century of war, as the United States entered into World War II, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Iraq War, to name a few. While the armed forces were finally desegregated, the cost and bloodshed associated with what many citizens deemed to be unnecessary endeavors led to strong antiwar protests that challenged Americans’ views of the country’s military entanglements.
National alliances grew and changed, with the United States entering NATO and engaging in a prolonged conflict with the Soviet Union and other potentially communist enemies.
While it has been a century tinged with hardship and strife, the United States has also seen a huge wave of social activism, as communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community fought to pass legislation that would truly grant Americans equal opportunity under the law—from the Civil Rights Act to the case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage across the country.
To put these changes into perspective, Stacker compiled a list of notable U.S. political occurrences from the past century from a variety of news articles, nonprofits, government pages, and historical records. From Warren G. Harding’s election as the United States’ 29th president in 1921 to Joe Biden’s election as the United States’ 46th president in 2020, read on to find out what was happening in American politics during the year you were born.
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1921: Harding becomes the 29th president
Republican candidate Warren G. Harding won in the first election to take place after the 19th Amendment allowed some women the right to vote for the first time. Republicans also increased their majorities in the House and the Senate that same election cycle.
1922: Felton becomes the first woman appointed to the Senate
Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia politician, served for one day, and was sworn in at the age of 87. Her tenure was so short because Gov. Thomas Hardwick was filling a vacant seat just before a special election occurred.
1923: Hoover becomes the director of the Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover played a pivotal role in founding the Bureau of Investigation, which became known as the FBI in 1935, and became its first director. He’s also known for creating a national blacklist, but became a controversial figure when it was revealed that he previously used the FBI to intimidate political activists and figures during his tenure.
1924: The Immigration Act is passed
The xenophobic law drastically reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the country per year, and essentially banned Asian immigration. The Immigration Act also enforced quotas that allowed 2% of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States at the time, and required immigrants to receive U.S. visas before arriving in the country.
1925: Scopes goes on trial for teaching evolution
A prolific court case began when John Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 for teaching evolution to his Tennessee students. Although Scopes lost, the trial made many Americans aware of the ACLU for the first time, and demonstrated the clash between modern science and traditional, more theologically centered American beliefs. A state supreme court reversed the verdict on a technicality, and eventually Americans realized that there needed to be a separation between the teaching of theology and science.
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1926: The Air Commerce Act becomes law
The Air Commerce Act placed issues like flight safety rules, creating new airways, and generally increasing U.S. air commerce in the hands of the federal government—more specifically, the Commerce Department’s aeronautics branch. The year also marked the first one when contract airmail carriers were responsible for delivering most airmail within the country.
1927: The U.S. grants citizenship to U.S. Virgin Islands inhabitants
Federal authority over the U.S. Virgin Islands was granted to the Department of the Interior in 1931. While the first constitutional elections for U.S. Virgin Islanders were held in 1970, they are not allotted electoral votes.
1928: Herbert Hoover is elected the 31st president
When Republican candidate Herbert Hoover triumphed over his Democratic opponent Al Smith, he was the last Republican to become president until 1952. The Great Depression was a major issue in his presidency, after the stock market crashed the same year he was inaugurated.
1929: The Great Depression hits
The economic crisis began when the U.S. suffered from a stock market crash, now known as Black Tuesday. During the recession, national unemployment peaked at 25.6%, and persisted steadily until the introduction of World War II.
1930: Democrats gain control of Congress
The Democrats maintained this majority until Republicans regained Congressional control in 1946. It was also the last election held under the country’s Fourth Party System, and was the first time since 1918 in which the party had controlled either the House or the Senate.
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