American History Timeline

The 20th century saw the rise of United States as a truly global power. During this century, America became increasingly involved in world affairs such as the World War I and World War II. By the second half of the century, United States had become a global superpower. Following is a timeline of the main events from 20th century America.

1901 – President William McKinley is assassinated

President William McKinley was shot twice and assassinated in 1901. He was the third American President to be assassinated, following Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield. McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz who was an anarchist. Czolgosz was sentenced to death after President McKinley succumbed to his wounds and died.

1901 – Theodore Roosevelt becomes President

Following the assassination of President William McKinley, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became the President. Roosevelt was 42 at the time and is the youngest person ever to have become the President of the United States. Although not directly elected in his first term, Roosevelt would command immense popularity and led a strong government.

1903 – Wright Brothers make their first flight

The Wright Brothers made their famous powered flight in 1903. This was the first time any human-made aircraft that was heavier than air was flown using a self-propelled engine. The famous flight lasted only about 12 seconds. It heralded an enduring era of airplanes.

1905 – United States negotiates Treaty of Portsmouth

The Treaty of Portsmouth was signed between Russian and Japan. It brought an end to the Russo-Japanese War which had started in 1904. United States played an important role in negotiating the peace between the two nations. President Theodore Roosevelt, in particular, used diplomatic influence to persuade both sides for peace. For his role, Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

1907 – Oklahoma becomes the 46th state

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Oklahoma region already had a significant Native American population. The Native American tribes strove to have an all-Indian state established in the area but their efforts failed. Soon afterwards, efforts for the statehood of Oklahoma began and led to the establishment of Oklahoma as the 46th state of United States.

1908 – Howard Taft becomes the new President

After the second term of President Theodore Roosevelt came to an end, William Howard Taft was elected as the 27th President of the United States. Taft served in this position from 1909 to 1913. Initially supported by Roosevelt, he developed differences with his predecessor. This ultimately resulted in his defeat in the 1912 presidential campaign.

1912 – New Mexico becomes the 47th state

The New Mexico region became a part of United States in the mid-19th century when United States acquired it from Spanish Mexico. The population of the region steadily grew through the rest of the 19th century. In 1912, United States Congress admitted New Mexico as the 47th state of the Union.

1912 – Arizona is admitted as the 48th state

Less than 2 months after the admission of New Mexico as the 47th state, Arizona was admitted as the 48th state of the Union.

1914 – Federal Trade Commission is established

In 1914, the Federal Trade Commission was established by the U.S. government. FTC was established to regulate the interstate trade in the United States and take action against the unfair use of power by larger business trusts.

1917 – United States declares war on Germany

World War I broke out in 1914. United States, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, initially decided to stay neutral. However, there was negative sentiment against Germany across the nation. In 1917, Germany began attacking and sinking American merchant ships. This enraged the American masses and the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The entry of United States in the war would prove decisive in defeating German forces.

1920 – Prohibition era begins

The Prohibition era began in 1920. This era was marked by a legal ban on making, supplying, selling and transporting alcoholic beverages. The ban came into effect in 1920 and remained in force until 1933. During the Prohibition era, a number of bootlegging criminal gangs amassed power and prominence.

1920 – Women are given the right to vote

In 1920, a majority of the states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. This amendment declared that the states and federal government must not prohibit individuals from voting on the basis of their sex. The amendment was passed by Congress in 1919 and ratified by the states in 1920. It effectively granted women the right to vote in the United States.

1923 – Teapot Dome Scandal surfaces

Teapot Dome Scandal involved the United States Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall in activities of corruption and bribery. Albert Fall illegally leased oil fields located at Teapot Dome to different companies. His activities were subsequently uncovered and he was convicted of criminal activities. Fall resigned from his cabinet position in 1923 and was subsequently sent to prison.

1934 – John Dillinger is killed

John Dillinger was a famous American gangster who was accused of robbing a number of banks and police stations. Dillinger was arrested several times but escaped from prison. He was finally cornered by federal agents in 1934 after an informant betrayed his whereabouts. Dillinger tried to flee but was shot and killed.

1935 – FBI is established

In 1935, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was created to perform intelligence and security activities for the United States federal government. The Bureau became the most important domestic intelligence agency under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover who served as its director from 1924 to 1972.

1941 – Pearl Harbor Attack takes place

In 1941, World War II was going on. Germany and Italy led the war effort in Europe against the allied forces. In the Pacific, the Empire of Japan had expansionist aims. United States initially decided to stay neutral during the war. Then in 1941, Japan launched a large-scale attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The surprise attack destroyed most of the American battleships and a large number of vessels.

1941 – United States declares war on Japan, Germany and Italy

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, United States declared war on Japan. Since Japan was allied with Germany and Italy, the two European nations declared war on U.S. In response, United States declared war on Germany and Italy as well.

1945 – United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

By 1945, United States had defeated Japanese forces in most of the military engagements. However, Japan refused to surrender. In 1945, U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first and only nuclear weapons to have been used in history.

1950 – U.S. intervenes in Korean War

After World War II ended, Soviet Union and America emerged as the two superpowers. A Cold War began between the two sides. The Korean War was a part of this Cold War. It began in 1950. Soon after it broke out, United States entered the war to support South Korea against Russia-backed North Korea.

1955 – United States enters Vietnam War

The Vietnam War broke out in 1955. Like the Korean War, this conflict was also a part of the Cold War. Unlike the Korean War, United States failed to gain any significant success in the Vietnam War.

1963 – Martin Luther King leads a peaceful march towards Washington

In 1963, a huge number of demonstrators peacefully marched on Washington D.C. A number of important figures, including Martin Luther King, made speeches in front of the demonstrators. King made his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the occasion which effectively became one of the finest moments of oratory in American history.

1973 – Paris Peace Accords are signed

After a long and costly involvement in the Vietnam War, United States decided to withdraw from the military conflict. In 1973, Paris Peace Accords was signed between United States, North Vietnam and South Vietnam. As per this peace treaty, United States effectively brought its military involvement in Vietnam to an end.

1974 – Richard Nixon resigns from Presidency

In 1972, the Watergate Scandal began to surface. Over the next two years, the scandal became the bane of the Nixon government. After being found guilty of wiretapping and other crimes, and being threatened with impeachment, Nixon resigned from the office. He remains the only American President to have resigned.

1981 – Assassination attempt is made at President Reagan

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot. John Hinckley Jr. fired upon the President in an attempt to assassinate him. Reagan was hit by a single bullet while three other men were also wounded in the attack. Reagan survived the assassination attempt and recovered soon afterwards.

1985 – Arrow Air Flight 1285 crash leads to the death of 256

In 1985, Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed and resulted in the deaths of 248 passengers as well as 8 crew members. This became one of the deadliest incidents in the history of aviation. The crash happened soon after takeoff near the Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada. The authorities were unable to determine the actual cause of the crash.

1986 – Iran-Contra Affair is revealed

In 1986, a publication revealed the Iran-Contra affair. This was a secret deal through which United States government sold weapons to Iran at a time when the U.S. government had imposed an arms embargo on the country.

The administration of President Ronald Reagan hoped to generate funds through the sales of these arms and use this money to fund the U.S.-supported contra rebels in Nicaragua. Once a magazine published the details of this deal, investigations began. In the end, 14 members of the Reagan administration were indicted.

1987 – President Reagan makes ‘Tear Down this Wall’ speech

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin. At the time, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany. The Soviet Union had built a wall which marked this division. President Reagan made a speech in West Berlin during his visit and called upon the top Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down the wall. His speech sparked controversy but also foreshadowed the tearing down of the wall which ultimately happened a few years later.

1988 – George H. W. Bush is elected President

George H. W. Bush served as the Vice President during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. After Reagan’s second term came to an end, he was elected as the 41st President of the United States. He served for a single term and lost the 1992 presidential election to Bill Clinton.

1990 – Hubble Space Telescope is launched

In 1990, NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope. This telescope became one of the largest space telescopes in operation and remains functional to this day. It was vital in bringing actual images from the space to study and allowed NASA to popularize space-related research and findings.

1991 – American forces lead in Operation Desert Storm

In 1990, Saddam Hussein led Iraq to invade Kuwait, initiating the Gulf War. After pleas for help by several Arab nations, United States decided to join the war effort against the Iraqi invasion. United States led a coalition of 35 nations in Operation Desert Storm.

In this war effort, the coalition forces successfully expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait and then advanced well into Iraqi territory. The operation achieved its goals and helped United States strengthen ties with its Arab allies.

1992 – Bill Clinton is elected as President

In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected as the 42nd President of the United States. Clinton served for two consecutive terms and remained the President until 2001.

1993 – The Battle of Mogadishu takes place

In 1993, the Somali Civil War was raging on. The Battle of Mogadishu was fought between U.S. forces and Somali militiamen. The U.S. forces launched a raid in a densely populated part of Mogadishu. The objective was to capture two prominent leaders involved in the Civil War.

The raid turned into an intense battle which raged on through the city. In the end, U.S. forces lost 19 men with another 73 wounded. A United Nations convoy relieved the U.S. forces which had been pinned down by the rebels.