A Brief History
On May 26, 1908, the first major commercial oil strike in the Middle East was made when the Masjed Soleyman strike was made in Southwest Persia, the country now known as Iran. The fact that the Middle East is so rich in petroleum oil resources has been an overwhelming factor in the history of the 20th and 21st Centuries and will continue to be of monumental importance until such time as human civilization drastically reduces its dependence on fossil fuels. Today we look at 10 of the dates in the 20th Century when events of great importance took place, events that are usually overlooked when people compile lists of “The Most Memorable” or “The Most Important” Dates of the 20th Century.
1. Persian Oil Strike, May 26, 1908.
If not for the oil wealth of such nations as Iran and Saudi Arabia, Israel and Western nations would not tolerate the sort of bellicosity and state sponsored terrorism originating in many Middle Eastern countries and would strike with no holds barred, certainly crushing any such belligerence. In reality, the fact that the Western industrialized countries rely so heavily on oil keeps Western response to oil rich countries in check. Even for countries that do not get their oil from the Middle East, the Middle Eastern influence on global supply and demand makes Middle Eastern oil critically important for the world. The ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict would have a tiny fraction of the importance it carries for the world today if oil was not such an important part of the Middle Eastern equation. Of the proven oil reserves in the world, 5 of the top 7 countries with the largest oil reserves are Middle Eastern countries, with Saudi Arabia at #2 and Iran at #4.
2. First Man in Space, April 12, 1961.
Sure, the Moon landing was memorable, but in the order of importance, we think the first space flight by a human takes precedence. When the Soviets launched Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit, the fact that they had “beaten” the Americans into space had massive implications during the Cold War. After other space related “firsts” such as the launch of Sputnik in 1957 as the first ever man-made object launched into Earth orbit and the first ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the West and especially the citizens of the United States had suffered a major loss of pride and morale. Other space related events such as the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster watched by millions of people on live television are certainly memorable, but pale in importance to the first human space flight.
3. First successful ICBM, R-7, August 21, 1957.
The R-7 launch rocket was the same model that had launched Sputnik, starting the foray of man into space. The military implications of being able to launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead that could fly to any point on the Earth and not be intercepted created the cloud of doom over mankind known as “Mutually Assured Destruction,” abbreviated appropriately as MAD. Once the Soviets and the Americans achieved the technology and produced ICBM’s the shadow of those weapons has loomed over the entire world ever since. The United States fielded operational ICBM’s in 1959. As of 2015, reduced tensions after the end of the Cold War left the US with about 450 active ICBM’s and Russia with around 400. Both countries also have submarine launched nuclear missiles and cruise missiles with nuclear warheads launched by ship or aircraft and the ICBM’s that are fielded today have multiple warheads per missile.
4. Trinity Nuclear Detonation, July 16, 1945.
While others often list the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 as a “most memorable” or “most important” event/date, we think the first ever nuclear explosion pulls rank on importance. Testing of a Plutonium core implosion nuclear weapon in the New Mexico desert, the US Manhattan Project came to fruition by proving the viability of creating a nuclear bomb, thrusting the world into a new age of terror. With a yield of about 22 kilotons, the implosion device using Plutonium was considerably more powerful than the “gun” type of device using Uranium that the Hiroshima bomb was made of. When the US was the only nuclear armed nation, the US used nukes in 2 attacks on real human targets. Within only a few years the Soviet Union also had nuclear weapons, and the thought of using nukes in combat became a prospect that included being nuked yourself. There are now 8 confirmed countries armed with nuclear weapons, and Israel probably has nuclear weapons as well, but does not officially confirm that fact.
5. Germany Invades Poland, September 1, 1939.
Are you used to seeing December 7, 1941, the date of the Pearl Harbor attack as a “most important” or “most memorable” date? Certainly, that date and event is important and is memorable, but the invasion of Poland by Germany in 1939 is the event that actually started World War II, starting the entire chain of events that resulted in the worst man-made disaster yet to be inflicted on humanity. Around 60 to 80 million people died in World War II, depending on how you count the deaths and what sources you rely on. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did directly bring the United States into the war, but the eventual entry of the US into the conflict was likely to have occurred, anyway. The invasion of Poland laid bare any mistaken belief in Germany’s (Hitler’s) sincerity in wanting to avoid war and having “no further territorial demands.”
6. Assassination of Bobby Kennedy, June 6, 1968.
Almost everyone that was alive at the time remembers where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963, but because he was replaced by Lyndon Johnson, another liberal Democrat that continued Kennedy’s policies, the tragic event had less influence on American History than it may otherwise have had. On the other hand, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down right after winning the California Democratic Primary in the 1968 Presidential campaign, it prevented the almost certain election of RFK to the Presidency, and instead we got Republican Richard M. Nixon, complete with Watergate and the only Presidential resignation in our History. The difference between having Robert Kennedy as President and having Richard Nixon as President may well have changed the course of events in massive ways. Who knows? Another tragic assassination, that of Martin Luther King, Jr., is undoubtedly memorable, but again, the reality is that many other Civil Rights activists picked up the cause and continued the march toward equality, and landmark Civil Rights legislation and Supreme Court cases had already taken place. How much the loss of Reverend King affected the course of our History is unclear, although it certainly did scar the American psyche.
7. The Russian Revolution, March 8, 1917 and Dissolution of the Soviet Union, December 25, 1991.
These two monumental dates and events are tied together in importance to World History, the first becoming the first time communism had its insidious seeds planted in a great power’s government, a pall cast over the world that would affect the course of human events in monumental ways. The establishment of the Soviet Union that followed the Russian Revolution led to purges and the intentional starvation of the Ukraine that killed several million Russians, at least 6 million Ukrainians, and a few million more other ethnic groups with the misfortune of being part of the Soviet Empire. The formation of the Soviet Union may well have contributed toward the course of World War II, perhaps the single most important historical era during the 20th Century. If Russia had remained intact, the course of World War I may have been different, with a quicker defeat of Germany and her allies, and a strong Russia without the specter of communism (and its inherent atheism) may not have provided the emotional fodder that fed German zeal for pursuing a war against such a state. An Imperial Russia may have guaranteed Poland’s integrity against German attack, unlike the Soviet secret agreement with Hitler to partition Poland. The bulk of the second half of the 20th Century was strongly directed by the East vs. West Cold War with the Soviets and other communists on one side and the Western democracies led by the United States on the other side. Without the existence of the Soviet Union as the spiritual (and often material) leader of international communism, countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba may not have gone down the communist path. Of course, the Soviet Union would itself not even survive the century!
Thus, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was of enormous importance to the last decade of the 20th Century, with most people on the planet at the time never knowing a Russia that had not been communist. The enmity between Russia and the United States today is an unfortunate development that did not immediately follow the break up of the USSR, but is probably strongly influenced by the legacy of the USSR, with President Vladimir Putin being an ex-KGB agent, a natural enemy of Western democracy.
8. Wright Brothers Flight, December 17, 1903.
If live television had existed back then with 24 hour cable news, the first ever heavier than air powered flight would have been a sensation. As it was, the event passed with little notice, but the importance of the event is nonetheless enormous. By World War I in 1914 the airplane had quickly evolved into a major weapon of war and would go on to shrink the planet for human travel like no other form of transportation before or since. Ships could not cross land, and trains could not cross oceans, but airplanes could fly over all obstacles, even mountains, allowing people to travel freely around the globe at will. Today we take air travel for granted, but we owe it all to the two Ohio brothers and their ingenuity. Today, about a million and a half Americans fly every day, about double that worldwide. This statistic does not count private and small planes with under 100 passengers!
9. Ford Model T Production Begins, October 1, 1908.
Once the internal combustion engine had been refined enough to produce a viable automobile, various car manufacturers across the world began offering their products to people wealthy enough to afford them. Unreliable and expensive, these early cars were not for the average person that could not afford to sink so much of his money into what amounted to a plaything. Along came Henry Ford and his moving assembly line production, and a simple yet rugged and reliable car that the average guy could afford. Ford’s goal was to produce a car his own workers could afford, and that goal was met and then some. Before Model T production ended in 1927, at some point during the 1920’s about half of all cars in the world were Model T Fords. Although the Model T’s numbers of 16.5 million were eventually surpassed by the Volkswagen Beetle, the Model T is the most important car in automotive history, the car that single-handedly changed society into a fossil fueled mobile society. Please note that the Toyota Corolla nameplate is misleading because the various Corollas over the years are not really the same car on a continuous basis, as is the case with some other nameplates.
10. Richard Nixon resigns as President of the United States, August 8, 1974.
If there had ever been a serious question of whether or not the American President was above the law, the forced resignation of Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate Scandal and subsequent attempts to cover it up stamped an authoritative “NO!” in answer to that question. During the scandal, Nixon tried to use “executive privilege” to continue to hide evidence in the case and speculation about whether or not he would simply refuse to comply with orders from Congress or the Supreme Court was rampant. People wondered whether or not Nixon would refuse to leave office and thereby precipitate a constitutional crisis. Faced with the certainty of being impeached and being convicted at such a trial in the US Senate, Nixon resigned in shame, proving that the President is not above the law. The precedent set during the Watergate national ordeal has grave implications for any other US President that thinks he is some sort of King or Dictator instead of a servant of the people.
Question for students (and subscribers): What overlooked dates would you include? (Polio vaccine?) Please tell us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Townsend, GH. The Manual of Dates: A Dictionary of Reference to the Most Important Events in the History of Mankind to Be Found in Authentic Records. Forgotten Books, 2018.
Zinn, Howard. The Twentieth Century: A People’s History. Harper Perennial, 2003.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of the first drilling activity undertaken in Masjed Soleyman (MIS) in Iran 1908, is now in the public domain in Iran, because according to the Law for the Protection of Authors, Composers and Artists Rights (1970) its term of copyright has expired for one of the following reasons:
- The creator(s) died before 22 August 1980, for works that their copyright expired before 22 August 2010 according to the 1970 law.
- The creator(s) died more than 50 years ago. (Reformation of article 12 – 22 August 2010)
In the following cases works fall into the public domain after 30 years from the date of publication or public presentation (Article 16):
- Photographic or cinematographic works.
- In cases where the work belongs to a legal person or rights are transferred to a legal person.
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