U.S. History
20th Century

These are episodes that took place in the 20th Century in the United States. Click here for 20th Century world history.


The Century in General

Decade-by-decade Timeline of the 20th Century in America
Trace the major events of the century

25 Moments That Changed America
See how these collections of people, places, and things changed the arc of the country

20th Century United States Society
See what life was like in the U.S. in this momentous century

Specific People or Events

The Wright Brothers: Air Pioneers
Orville and Wilbur Wright turned knowledge and determination into the first sustained flying machine. They did this in 1903.

The 1906 San Francisco Killer Earthquake
A powerful earthquake that hit Northern California on April 18, 1906, was one of the worst natural disasters in American history, killing about 3,000 people and destroying most of the city of San Francisco.

Grand Canyon Becomes National Monument
The Grand Canyon became a national monument on January 11, 1908 as part of a declaration by President Theodore Roosevelt. A friend to the environment, Roosevelt had this to say about the natural wonder: "The ages had been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

The Panama Canal Opens
On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened for business, with the passage through of the Ancon, an American cargo-passenger ship.

The Sinking of the Lusitania
The sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania killed more than a thousand people and inflamed tensions between nations in the midst of World War I.

Jeannette Rankin: First Woman in Congress
Jeanette Rankin was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Congress. This happened in 1917, three years before women could vote.

The Heroism of Sergeant Alvin York
Alvin York was one of the most well-known American veterans of World War I. On a single day, he led a charge that resulted in the deaths of 28 German soldiers, the capture of 132 more, and the capture of 32 German machine guns.

The Fourteen Points: Woodrow Wilson's Blueprint for Peace
President Woodrow Wilson in a Jan. 8, 1918 speech to the U.S. Congress proposed a number of elements that he hoped would lead to the end of World War I. These came to be known as the Fourteen Points.

The Inverted Jenny: Biggest Stamp Mistake
After the advent of the airplane, the U.S. Government began to send mail by plane, and Air Mail stamps were born. The first Air Mail planes flew between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. One stamp in 1918 was printed with the plane upside down. The "mistake" has since become known as the Inverted Jenny and is one of the most prized of possessions for any stamp collector.

The 'Greatest Show on Earth'
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was the joining together of two entertainment giants. The two circus companies had been operating independently for many years but merged in 1919 to form what they called "the Greatest Show on Earth."

The First Success of Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse was a replacement player. He wasn't a star from the very beginning.

John Philip Sousa: America's King of the March
John Philip Sousa is one of American music’s most well-known figures, primarily for his association with the U.S. Marine Band and with the writing and performing of marches.

The Serum Run: Men and Dogs Brave Blizzards to Stop Epidemic
Some brave men and even braver dogs saved the lives of an entire town in 1925–by racing through blizzard conditions to deliver life-saving medicine. This was the Serum Run, the inspiration for today's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Prohibition in America
Prohibition in America was born from a desire to improve public health, had a high-water mark of a couple of decades in which it was the law of the land, and then receded, to be a national footnote if still a state priority.

Amelia Earhart: Inspiration and Mystery
Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous names in American history, because of her daring exploits as a pilot and groundbreaking work breaking down barriers against women but also because of the continuing mystery surrounding her disappearance.

The Kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby
It was through a second-storey window that Charles Lindbergh III, the 20-month-old son of the famed pilot known as "Lucky Lindy," was kidnapped, never to be seen again.

The Brilliance of George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver is perhaps one of the most famous names in American history. People generally know him as the inventor of peanut butter, but his contributions to science go way beyond that.

Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady to the World
Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most well-known women of the 20th Century. First Lady to America’s longest-serving President, she was famous in her own right and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Jesse Owens Wins Four Gold Medals
On August 9, 1936, Jesse Owens won his fourth gold medal of the Olympic Games in Berlin. This was significant because it showed the world that Germany's doctrine of supposed Aryan superiority was suspect.

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge, one of the world's most recognizable landmarks, is the result of determination and complicated mathematics. It took four years to build and cost $27 million.

The First Drive-in Bank
Many people withdraw or deposit money these days by using the drive-through window at a bank. This idea, however, is more than 60 years old. The date was November 12, 1946. The place was the Exchange National Bank of Chicago. The innovation was what was called a "drive-in bank."

The Invention of the Microwave Oven
The microwave oven was a happy accident.

The Courage of Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson was one of the most important African-Americans in the history of the country. He was the first of his race to play baseball in the Major Leagues, a pioneer for much more than other baseball players. His quiet resolve in the face of withering criticism and nearly daily death threats led many to respect him and even support him in his quest to help his country move toward equal rights for all Americans, not only in sports but also in other areas of life.

The First Kennedy-Nixon Debate
Presidential campaigns (and campaigns for many other offices) now have as part of the natural order of things a televised debate between the major candidates. This is a standard thing now. Television is used to report news on a candidate and to advertise the views of a candidate. But television was fairly new to the presidential process in 1960, the year of the first televised presidential debate.

John Glenn: 1st American to Orbit Earth
John Glenn, on Feb. 20, 1962, became the first American to orbit Earth. He spent three orbits inside a tiny space capsule and returned safely home.

The Cuban Missile Crisis: World War III Narrowly Averted
The Cuban Missile Crisis took the world to the brink of nuclear war in an intense diplomatic struggle during a couple of weeks in October 1962.

Civil Rights Activists
These African-Americans are famous for fighting for civil rights.

Martin Luther King's Most Famous Speech
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" Speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Man First Walks on the Moon
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon, the first people ever to do so.

Norman Rockwell: Iconic American Painter
Norman Rockwell created some of America's most iconic art works in a long 20th-Century career. The creator of more than 4,000 art works, he is most known for his paintings that graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post for 47 years.

The Enduring Mystery of D.B. Cooper
Who was D.B. Cooper, and is he still alive? Those two questions go hand-in-hand as part of an enduring mystery surrounding the only unsolved hijacking of a U.S. aircraft. It is a case that has remained unsolved since 1971. 

Mae Jemison: Pioneering Astronaut and Scientist
Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman to become an astronaut and the first African-American woman in space. She is a pioneer to this day.

The Round-the-world Flight of Voyager
In 1986, a two-person team completed the world’s first round-the-world flight without stopping to refuel.

Deep Blue: Computer Chess Champion
Deep Blue was a chess-playing computer that a team of people at IBM developed to defeat the reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. In 1997, their efforts paid off.

'Miracle on the Hudson': Plane Lands in NYC River
The "Miracle on the Hudson" was the result of an in-air collision between a flock of geese and an airplane.

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David White