The Great Depression & Beyond – 1929-Present

Statue of Liberty and Manhattan, New York

Statue of Liberty and Manhattan, New York

The widespread prosperity of the 1920s ended abruptly with the stock market crash in October 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. Threatening jobs, savings, homes, and farms, at its height, about one-fourth of the American workforce was out of work. To help, President Franklin Roosevelt instituted the “New Deal,” a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations. Worldwide economic problems and instability led to dictatorial regimes and eventually World War II.

After the war, many Americans became more affluent. Some were not so lucky, such as African Americans, Hispanics, and women, who became more aggressive in winning their full freedoms. In the next decades, tension emerged with the Cold War, Communist fears, and other foreign military matters, including Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.


1929 – Herbert Clark Hoover became the 31st president of the United States, serving until 1933.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, Illinois.

Migrant Mother during the Depression era, by Dorthea Lange.

Migrant Mother during the Depression-era, by Dorthea Lange.

The Great Depression begins

1931 – The Empire State Building in New York City opens.

The Star-Spangled Banner was adopted as the national anthem.

1932 – Amelia Earhart was the first woman to complete a solo non-stop transatlantic flight

1933 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the 32nd president of the United States, serving until 1945.

Japan and Germany withdraw from the League of Nations.

President Roosevelt establishes the New Deal, a response to the Great Depression, focusing on relief, recovery, and reform.

The 21st Amendment ends Prohibition.

1934 The Dust Bowl begins, causing significant ecological and agricultural damage to the Great Plains states.

John Dillinger is killed.

The Indian Reorganization Act, the centerpiece of the Indian New Deal, encouraged Indians to “recover” their cultural heritage, prohibited new allotments, extended the trust period for existing allotments, and sought to promote tribal self-government.

1935 – The Social Security Act is passed.

The parking meter was invented and first used in Oklahoma City.

Hindenburg Disaster

Hindenburg Disaster

1937 – The Hindenburg disaster occurs in New Jersey, killing 35 people and marking an end to airship travel.

Look magazine publishes its first issue.

Golden Gate Bridge was completed in San Francisco, California.

1938 – The comic book superhero Superman debuts in Action Comics #1

Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds broadcast.

1939 – Germany invades Poland, and World War II begins.

President Roosevelt, appearing at the opening of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, became the first President to give a speech broadcast on television.

1940 – The Selective Service Act is passed, establishing the first peacetime draft in U.S. history.

Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Woody Woodpecker make their cartoon debuts.

Billboard magazine publishes its first music popularity chart, the predecessor to today’s Hot 100.

1941 – Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is Attack

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is Attack

U.S. enters World War II.

Regular commercial television broadcasting begins as C.B.S., and N.B.C. television networks are launched.

1942 – Japanese American internment begins, which also authorizes the seizure of their property.

U.S.-controlled Commonwealth of the Philippines conquered by Japanese forces

1945 – Harry S. Truman becomes the 33rd president, serving until 1953.

U.S. takes Okinawa, Japan.

The U.S. joins the United Nations.

An atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

World War II ends.

World War II ends.

Germany and Japan surrendered, ending World War II.

1946 – The Cold War began between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Philippines regain independence from the U.S.

The credit card was invented and first issued by the Flatbush National Bank of Brooklyn, New York.

1947 – U.F.O. crash at Roswell, New Mexico.

The Polaroid camera was invented.

Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier in baseball.

The first broadcast of Meet the Press.

The World Series is broadcast live on television for the first time.

The Central Intelligence Agency was established.

The U.S. established a aid policy for countries threatened by Communism, known as the Truman Doctrine.

The Cold War with the Soviet Union began.

1948 – Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals held after World War II by the Allied forces to prosecute prominent Nazi Germans who planned, carried out, or otherwise participated in the Holocaust and other war crimes.

John Walson and Margaret Walson in Pennsylvania first utilized cable television via radio frequency signals.

Berlin Blockade – This was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control.

Hair spray was first invented and manufactured in 1948 by Chase Products Company, based in Broadview, Illinois.

President Truman desegregated the armed forces.

The first video game was developed by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle R. Mann, who co-patented the “Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device.”

1950 – Senator Joseph McCarthy gains power and starts Communist witch hunts that last until 1954.

Korean War

Korean War

Korean War begins.

The comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, is first published.

Germany is divided into East and West.

1951 – President Truman spoke in the first live television broadcast, coast-to-coast

1952 – The first artificial heart is implanted into the body to replace the biological heart at Harper University Hospital at Wayne State University in Michigan.

The first hydrogen bomb detonated by the U. S.

1953 – Dwight David Eisenhower becomes the 34th president of the United States, serving until 1961.

The Armistice Agreement was signed, ending the Korean War

The Rosenbergs, who were convicted of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union, were executed.

1954 – The Tournament of Roses Parade becomes the first event nationally televised in color.

Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark decision of the Supreme Court, declares state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students and denying black children equal educational opportunities unconstitutional.

N.B.C. airs The Tonight Show, the first late-night talk show, originally hosted by Steve Allen.

1955 – Ray Kroc opens a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant and, after purchasing the franchise from its original owners, oversees its national (and later, worldwide) expansion

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background

Rosa Parks remained seated on a bus, the incident which evolved into the Montgomery bus boycott.

Disneyland opens in Anaheim, California.

Jonas Salk develops the polio vaccine.

Rock and roll music enters the mainstream, with “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets becoming the first record to top the Billboard pop charts. Elvis Presley begins his rise to fame around this same time.

1955 – The hard disk drive was invented by Reynold Johnson and commercially introduced in 1956.

1956 – “In God We Trust” adopted as the national motto.

1957 – Russians launch Sputnik, and the “space race” begins.

Little Rock, Arkansas school desegregation. President Eisenhower recruits the U.S. National Guard to escort the Little Rock Nine.

1958 – NASA is formed.

1959 – Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th U.S. states.

1960 – The Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests in an attempt to remove policies of racial segregation, such as barring black customers from dining counters.

The oral contraceptive pill for women was approved by the F.D.A.

John Kennedy Press Conference

John Kennedy Press Conference

1961 – John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States, serving until 1963.

The Peace Corps is established.

Vietnam War officially begins with 900 military advisors landing in Saigon.

1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis is the closest nuclear confrontation involving the U.S. and USSR.

John Glenn orbits the Earth in Friendship 7, becoming the first American to do so.

1963 – President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.

The man accused of assassinating President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, is shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36th president of the United States, serving until 1969.

March on Washington, DC, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “I have a dream” speech.

Martin Luther King Jr., during the Civil Rights era.

Martin Luther King Jr., during the Civil Rights era.

1964 – The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed major forms of legalized discrimination against blacks and women and ended legalized racial segregation in the United States.

The Beatles arrived in the U.S., and subsequent appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show marked the start of increased number of rock and pop performers from the United Kingdom who became famous worldwide, including in the U.S.

1965 – President Johnson escalated the United States’ military involvement in the Vietnam War.

Medicaid and are Medicare enacted.

The Watts riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles lasts six days and was the first of several major urban riots due to racial issues.

1966 – Feminist group National Organization for Women (NOW) is formed.

1967 – Detroit race riot occurs after decades of institutional racism and entrenched segregation. The five-day riot resulted in 43 people killed, 342 injured, and nearly 1,400 buildings burned. More riots follow, erupting in 159 cities nationwide.

The first Super Bowl is played, with the Green Bay Packers defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

1968 – Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated.

Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 forbids discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and since 1974, sex.

1969 – Richard Milhous Nixon becomes the 37th president of the United States, serving until 1974.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon on the Apollo 11 mission.

The Stonewall riots in New York City mark the start of the modern gay rights movement in the U.S.

The Woodstock Festival in White Lake, New York, became an enormously successful musical and cultural gathering.

Sesame Street premieres on National Educational Television.

1970 – The Kent State Shootings occurred on May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard shot at unarmed college students at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, during a mass protest. Four students were killed, and nine more were wounded.

1972 – President Richard Nixon visited China, an important step in formally normalizing relations between the United States and China.

Watergate burglary occurs.

Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the USSR.

Vietnam War

Vietnam War

1973 – Vietnam War ends with the U.S. pulling out.

The Watergate Scandal breaks.

Skylab’s first space station is launched.

Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling overturns state laws against abortion.

Martin Cooper invented the first handheld cellular/mobile phone.

1974 – The House Judiciary Committee votes to impeach President Richard Nixon resigns over Watergate.

Gerald Rudolph Ford became the 38th president of the United States, serving until 1977.

President Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed against the United States while President, believing it to be in the “best interests of the country.”

The 1974 Super Outbreak, the second-largest series of tornadoes in history (at 148), hit 13 U.S. states and one Canadian province; 315 people were killed, and more than 5,000 were injured.

1975 – The Vietnam War ends.

Bill Gates founds Microsoft, which will eventually dominate the home computer operating system market.

1976 – Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple Inc.

39th President Jimmy Carter

39th President Jimmy Carter

1977 – Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the United States, serving until 1981.

The first home personal computer, the Commodore P.E.T., is released for retail sale.

The science-fiction space opera film Star Wars debuts in theaters.

The Atari 2600 becomes the first successful home video game system, popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and cartridges containing game code

1978 – The Senate votes to turn the Panama Canal over to Panamanian control on December 31, 1999.

1979  – Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurs. It is America’s most catastrophic nuclear power plant accident in its history.

Iran hostage crisis begins.

American Airlines Flight 191 crashed after takeoff from O’Hare International Airport, killing all 271 aboard and two on the ground, making it the deadliest aviation incident on U.S. soil.

1980 – The United States boycotts the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Mt. St. Helens Eruption, Washington, 1980.

Mt. St. Helens Eruption, Washington, 1980.

Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington on May 18, 1880, killing 57 people.

1981 – Ronald Wilson Reagan became the 40th president of the United States, serving until 1989.

The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley.

MTV signed on, becoming the first 24-hour cable network dedicated to airing music videos.

The Space Shuttle Columbia is launched, marking America’s first return to space since 1975.

1981-1982 – The United States is part of the global recession, with national unemployment as high as 9% and inflation as high as 13.5%.

1984 – The drug problem intensifies as crack (a smokable form of cocaine) is first introduced into the Los Angeles area.

Awareness of child sexual abuse by pedophiles is raised through high-profile media coverage.

1986 – Iran-Contra scandal breaks.

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes.

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes.

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven aboard (including school teacher Christa McAuliffe) and grounding the nation’s space program for 2½ years.

1989 – The tanker Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, dumping 10.8 million U.S. gallons of oil into pristine wildlife habitat.

1990 – George Herbert Walker Bush becomes the 42nd president of the United States, serving until 1993.

Hubble Space Telescope is placed in orbit.

Iraq invades Kuwait leading to the 1991 Gulf War.

1991 – The Gulf War begins.

1992 – Los Angeles riots begin after four police officers were caught beating an unarmed back motorist in an amateur video were acquitted of any wrongdoing in the arrest.

Hurricane Andrew causes devastation in Florida and Louisiana.

Bill Clinton Saxophone

Bill Clinton plays the saxophone.

1993 – William Jefferson Clinton becomes the 42nd president of the United States, serving until 2001.

The World Trade Center bombing occurs in the basement of the building, killing six people, injuring 1,000, and causing more than $500 million in damages.

Waco, Texas Siege occurred when federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound killing 80 cult members.

1995 – Oklahoma City Bombing kills 168 people.

1996 – T.W.A. Flight 800 explodes off Long Island, New York, killing all 230 aboard.

1999 – President Clinton is acquitted in an impeachment trial by U.S. Senate.

The first officer deliberately crashes EgyptAir Flight 990 south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, killing 217.

Along with the rest of the world, the U.S. prepares for the possible effects of the Y2K bug in computers, which was feared to cause computers to become inoperable and wreak havoc. The problem isn’t as significant as theorized, preparations are successful, and disaster is averted.

In April, a mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, occurs where 14 students and one teacher were killed and 23 others wounded.

2001 – George Walker Bush is elected as the 43rd president.

September 11, 2001 Attack on New York City.

September 11, 2001 Attack on New York City.

Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Perpetrated by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.

The U. S. led massive airstrikes at targets in Afghanistan to help defeat the Taliban and to find Osama Bin Laden.

2002 – Department of Homeland Security created

2003 – The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts and resulting in a 29-month suspension of the Space Shuttle program.

2004 – Occupation of Iraq, 2003-2004.

Four hurricanes devastated Florida and southern areas of the U. S.

2005 – Hurricane Katrina devastates the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coastlines killing at least 1,836 people and causing $81 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

2007 – Wildfires in California caused over 500,000 people to leave their homes.

A gunman at Virginia Tech campus killed 33 people.

2009 – Barack Obama is elected as the 44th president.

A US Airways plane crashed into New York’s Hudson River, and all on board survived.

2010 – A catastrophic explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11, injured 17, and caused significant ecological and financial damages.

The Health Care Bill is passed.

2011 – The last U.S. troops left Iraq after the invasion nine years ago.

U.S. forces killed terrorist Osama bin Laden.

2015 – Same-sex marriage is legalized in all 50 U.S. states with a Supreme Court Ruling.

2017 – Donald Trump becomes the 45th President.

2021 – Joseph Biden becomes the 46th President.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.

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