A Brief History
This article presents a timeline of American history since the Civil War for History 213 Online. Please click on any of the dates to learn more about that date’s events and please post a comment using the Disqus commenting system on any article you click on to let us know your thoughts about that historic event.
I. Reconstruction – 1865-1877
- On July 21, 1865, a real life showdown resulting in face to face gunplay happened for the first time, the first of the classic duels we have come to know as a Wild West gunfight.
- On November 10, 1865, the long sad saga of the Camp Sumter prisoner of war camp located in Andersonville, Georgia finally came to a conclusion of sorts when the Camp Commandant, Confederate Major Henry Wirz was hanged for the crimes of conspiracy and murder for his terrible treatment of Union soldiers held captive at the camp popularly known as “Andersonville.”
- On December 24, 1865, 6 former Confederate veterans of the recently concluded US Civil War formed the first known chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization largely founded on the principles of White Supremacy and violence against African Americans and those not in agreement with Klan beliefs.
- On May 16, 1866, the United States congress authorized the elimination of the “half-dime” coin and the minting of a new 5 cent piece, the “nickel.”
- On July 28, 1866, Vinnie (Lavinia) Ream, an 18 year old girl became the first woman in the United States to win a commission for a statue, that of the recently deceased President Lincoln.
- On December 25, 1868, much maligned and embattled President of the United States Andrew Johnson issued a blanket pardon for all Confederate veterans of the US Civil War.
- On July 1, 1874, E. Remington and Sons placed the first successful typewriter on the market, a model also known as the Remington No. 1 and invented by Christopher Sholes, Samuel Soule, and Carlos Glidden.
- On November 23, 1876, a public cry for justice was answered when W. M. “Boss” Tweed was turned over to legal authorities in New York city after having been captured in Spain.
II. Expansion of American Civilization – 1877-1898
- On February 15, 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed a Bill allowing women attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.
- On July 14, 1881, the outlaw known as Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garret in New Mexico.
- On October 26, 1881, Tombstone, Arizona saw the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday faced off with the Clantons and the Cowboys in perhaps the most famous gunfight in US history, The Gunfight at The O.K. Corral.
- On April 3, 1882, notorious Wild West train and bank robber Jesse James was gunned down in his own house by a new member of his reconstituted gang, Bob Ford.
- On April 4, 1883, Peter Cooper died at the age of 92 in New York City, the same city he was born in.
- On November 26, 1883, at the age of 86 Sojourner Truth, perhaps the greatest African-American woman advocate of Civil Rights died of natural causes, ending one of if not the greatest life of fighting for African-American rights.
- On April 24, 1885, Phoebe Ann Moses, better known as Annie Oakley, joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and was a star attraction for the next 16 years.
- On April 24, 1885, Annie Oakley joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and went on to become America’s first female superstar.
- On September 2, 1885, the Wyoming Territory was the scene of a terrible racially motivated riot that resulted in the deaths of a minimum of 28 Chinese immigrants, and possibly as many as 50.
- On September 4, 1886, after almost 30 years of raiding Mexican and white settlers and battling the U.S. Army, Apache war leader Geronimo finally surrendered in Arizona to U.S. Army General Nelson Miles.
- On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World), that great beacon of freedom welcoming immigrants into New York Harbor, for many, the gateway to a better life in the United States.
- On September 4, 1888, George Eastman patented the first camera that used rolls of film and with it, the trade name Kodak.
- On December 15, 1890, legendary Hunkpapa Lakota (aka, Teton Sioux) leader and holy man, Sitting Bull, was killed by Indian Agency Police at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the Grand River area of South Dakota.
- On December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army perpetrated a massacre Native Americans of the Lakota People near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota.
- On December 29, 1890, the United States Army 7th Cavalry Regiment conducted a massacre of about 200 Native Americans at a place called Wounded Knee in South Dakota, (see our article “Wounded Knee Massacre”).
- On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, an African-American, was arrested for refusing to vacate his seat in a “Whites Only” railroad car.
- On September 20, 1893, Charles Duryea and his brother, J. Frank Duryea, tested their gasoline powered automobile, the first gasoline powered car in the United States.
- On November 5, 1895, an unlikely candidate from Rochester, New York, became the first American to patent an automobile.
- On November 22, 1896, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of Typhoid Fever.
- On August 21, 1897, Ransom Eli Olds founded the car company that became the first assembly line producer of automobiles in the world.
III. America’s Appearance on World Stage – 1898-1918
- On January 4, 1903, Thomas Edison filmed the execution of Topsy the Elephant, the largest casualty in the “War of the Currents”!
- On February 5, 1909, New Yorker Leo Baekeland presented his invention of Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, to the American Chemical Society.
- On November 3, 1911, one of the most iconic American companies was founded when Louis Chevrolet teamed up with former General Motors William Durant to form the Chevrolet Motor Car Company.
- On November 16, 1914, The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States officially opened as a series of 12 banks serving 12 Federal Reserve Districts with each bank tasked with implementing the monetary policy of the United States as set forth by the Federal Open Market Committee, all being authorized by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.
- On January 25, 1915, telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call spanning the continental United States, placing a call from New York to his assistant, Thomas Watson in San Francisco.
- On October 16, 1916, Margaret Sanger (nee Higgins), nurse, writer, and sexual educator opened the first family planning (birth control) clinic in the United States.
- On February 5, 1917, the Congress of the United States overrode a veto by President Woodrow Wilson and enacted the Immigration Act of 1917, a law that targeted Asians to prevent their immigration to the US.
- On January 9, 1918, in Southern Arizona near the border with Mexico at a place called Bear Valley, one of the last battles of the American Indian Wars (1540-1924) was fought.
- On August 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first of 305 women to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, proving that women can do and be just about anything!
- On October 8, 1918, United States Corporal Alvin C. York killed 28 German soldiers and captured 132 in France’s Argonne Forest during World War I making York one of America’s most decorated soldiers of the war.
- On October 8, 1918, 2nd Lt. Ralph Talbot of Massachusetts earned the coveted Medal of Honor, the highest American military honor.
- On November 11, 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car in the forest of Compiègne, France, officially ending fighting at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day in the eleventh month, but fighting did not actually end at that exact time and nor did the war!
IV. Inter-war period – 1918-1945
- From October 2, 1919 and for some weeks afterwards, First Lady Edith Wilson (October 15, 1872 — December 28, 1961) unofficially ran the U.S. government following her husband’s (then President Woodrow Wilson’s) life-changing stroke.
- On October 28, 1919, The U.S. Congress passed the Volstead Act over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto, paving the way for Prohibition to begin the following January and setting the stage for the eventual production of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
- On January 20, 1920, a new organization devoted to the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution of the United States (and its amendments) was formed from the National Civil Liberties Bureau, an organization formed in 1917 to protect the Freedom of Speech, mainly by those Americans opposed to the US joining in World War I.
- On February 13, 1920, the Negro National League of professional baseball was founded, not the first all African American baseball league, but the first to last more than one season and the foundation for African American professional baseball in the United States.
- On August 18, 1920, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
- On September 16, 1920, years before the great stock market crashes of 1929 and 2008, some unknown, disaffected malcontents showed the fat cats of Wall Street some serious financial terrorism of their own by setting off a bomb in a horse-drawn wagon in front of J.P. Morgan Bank in New York’s financial district.
- In December 1922, “Winter Dreams”, a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, first appeared in Metropolitan Magazine.
- On November 28, 1925, a one hour “barn dance” radio show began in Nashville, Tennessee broadcast on WSM that became known as The Grand Ole Opry.
- On October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange suffered the catastrophic day of losses known as Black Thursday, the day that for all intents and purposes started the Great Depression.
- On March 31, 1930, censorship came to Hollywood!
- On December 5, 1933, history was made that would change the United States (back) forever!
- On May 23, 1934, waiting policemen ambushed notorious robbers and murderers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, filling them and their stolen car full of holes.
- On May 23, 1934, bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down by law enforcement.
- On August 11, 1934, the Federal Penitentiary located on the island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay opened for civilian prisoners.
- On October 22, 1934, US FBI agents shot and killed infamous bank robber Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd in East Liverpool, Ohio.
- On August 3, 1936, James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens won the 100-meter dash at the Berlin Olympics and blazed into the record books.
- On January 24, 1940, The Grapes of Wrath, a drama film directed by John Ford, was released in theaters in the United States of America.
- On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a massive aerial surprise attack against U.S. military forces on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, mainly at Pearl Harbor.
- On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led one of the most famous bombing raids in aviation history when he led 16 B-25 medium bombers over Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohama, Japan.
- On August 7, 1942, U.S. Marines landed on an island few Americans had ever heard of, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
- On January 14, 1943, the Japanese Navy successfully evacuated the remaining Japanese land forces from the Island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands of the Pacific Ocean.
- On February 19, 1943, the Battle of Kasserine Pass started, the first major American engagement of ground forces with the Axis forces in the Western Theater of World War II.
- On June 20, 1943, World War II came to the American heartland when a massive race related riot broke out in Detroit.
- On August 31, 1943, the Buckley Class destroyer, USS Harmon DE-678 was commissioned, the first American Navy ship named after an African-American person.
- On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces stormed the heavily defended beaches of Normandy, France, signaling the doom of the Third Reich.
- On February 13, 1945, bombers from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the American Air Force (USAAF) struck the eastern German city of Dresden, a city so beautiful it was once known as the “Florence on the Elbe,” incinerating tens of thousands of people.
- On February 19, 1945, the most cracked battle in history of the United States Marine Corp (USMC) began with 30,000 Marines hitting a beach.
- On March 9, 1945, 324 B-29 bombers of the United States Army Air Force inflicted the deadliest and most destructive single bombing raid in history!
- On July 16, 1945, Manhattan Project scientists held their breath as the clock ticked down to the first man-made nuclear blast in history.
- On July 26, 1945, the leaders of the major Allied countries fighting Japan in World War II met in Potsdam, Germany to issue the conditions by which the Japanese were to surrender to the Allies.
- On August 6, 1945, the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing about 70,000 people right away and perhaps a few tens of thousands later from wounds, burns, and radiation.
- On August 9, 1945, a Boeing B-29 bomber named “Bockscar” dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, incinerating 39,000 people within seconds.
- On October 12, 1945, Corporal Desmond T. Doss of Lynchburg, Virginia, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor given to only the bravest of our military heroes.
V. America as World Leader – 1945-present
- On November 25, 1947, the United States was in the glow of having decisively won World War II and stepping up to become the major economic and military power in the world, the only nation with nuclear bombs.
- On August 10, 1948, the American public first heard an unseen television announcer say, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”
- On January 17, 1949, American television audiences were treated to a new form of entertainment, the situation comedy, or more familiarly known as the sitcom.
- On March 2, 1949, The Old Lamplighter became a memory and a song, but not an occupation, as automatic street lights start to shine, adding to the list of “Famous Inventions by Ohioans”!
- On September 4, 1949, after a concert by African American singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson, riots broke out in the Peekskill, New York location of the concert.
- On March 3, 1951, music history was made when the first song deemed to be “rock and roll” was recorded.
- On December 25, 1951, Civil Rights activists Harry T. Moore and Harriette V. S. Moore were killed by a bomb explosion at their home in Sanford, Florida.
- On March 21, 1952, disc jockey Alan Freed (inventor of the term “rock and roll”) and record store owner Leo Mintz staged the first rock concert in Cleveland, Ohio!
- On July 26, 1953, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Arizona National Guard conducted a raid on an enclave of fundamentalist Mormons at Short Creek, Arizona, an enormous law enforcement effort that netted about 400 people taken into custody, including men, women and children.
- On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, the celebrated civil rights pioneer, triggered the “Montgomery Bus Boycott” in Alabama by refusing to sit in the back of the bus as decreed by segregation laws of that time.
- On May 4, 1959, the first ever Grammy music awards were held, with no category for rock and roll despite the fact that this new type of music had already long taken the country by storm.
- On November 21, 1959, music DJ and rock and roll legend Alan Freed was fired by WABC in New York for refusing to sign a statement that he had never taken “payola,” bribes from record companies to play and promote certain records.
- On November 29, 1961, the US space agency, NASA, launched Mercury Atlas 5, the first mission to send an American into orbit around the Earth in space.
- On August 21, 1961, Motown Records of Detroit, Michigan released what became their first #1 hit song, “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes.
- On December 25, 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird, an American drama film directed by Robert Mulligan, opened in theaters.
- On June 11, 1963, George Wallace, the governor of Alabama stood in the doorway to the University of Alabama in a vain attempt to block 4 newly admitted African-American students from entering the school.
- On February 1, 1964, the British sensational band, The Beatles, hit the top of the American charts for the first time with their smash hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
- On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers were kidnapped and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, an event commemorated in the 1988 feature film, Mississippi Burning.
- On November 9, 1965, 22 year old American Roger Allen LaPorte, a former Catholic seminarian, sat down calmly, poured gasoline over himself, and burned himself to death in front of the United Nations in New York in a protest of the Viet Nam War.
- On December 16, 1965, General William Westmoreland, the American commander in Viet Nam requested an additional 243,000 US troops to go with the 184,300 US military men already in South Viet Nam.
- On June 30, 1966, the Women’s movement took a giant leap forward when the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded by 28 women’s rights activists.
- On July 4, 1966, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted, with an effective date one year later, July 4, 1967.
- On September 8, 1966, Americans in love with science fiction were treated to the most iconic space-oriented television show of all time when Star Trek made its debut on NBC.
- On October 9, 1966, the war torn nation of South Viet Nam was the scene of not one, but two notable massacres you may never have heard of.
- On February 10, 1967, the United States adopted the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, a new national law that deals with the succession to the Presidency of the United States, and a topic of recent debate during the Trump Administration.
- On December 12, 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, an American comedy-drama film produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, and written by William Rose, was released in the United States of America.
- On February 11, 1968, African-American garbage collection and sewer workers in Memphis, Tennessee went on strike, prompted by the horrible death of two garbage men crushed in the back of a garbage truck.
- On May 4, 1970, the M-1 Garand rifles of the Ohio National Guard were used in combat; against college kids!
- On February 9, 1971, baseball pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first player from the Negro Leagues so honored.
- On December 13, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments in a lawsuit by Norma McCorvey (known as “Jane Roe” for the purposes of the lawsuit) against the Dallas County (Texas) Attorney, Henry Wade in the landmark American court case about the subject of a woman’s right to seek an abortion, ending an unwanted pregnancy.
- On March 22, 1972, the US Supreme Court decided that unmarried Americans were allowed to have sex!
- On October 11, 1972, a race riot took place not in a city, but at sea!
- On January 27, 1973, the United States, North Viet Nam and South Viet Nam signed a treaty in Paris, France, effectively ending direct American involvement in the Viet Nam War.
- On January 21, 1977, newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter created perhaps the biggest controversy of his presidency by pardoning Viet Nam War era draft dodgers.
- On September 15, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the first female Justice of the Supreme Court.
- On November 30, 1982, Michael Jackson, known as “The King of Pop” for good reason, released his 6th solo album, the “monster” hit “Thriller.”
- On January 28, 1986, the U.S. space shuttle Challenger took off right on schedule, only to explode 74 seconds later, killing all seven crew members on board in front of a horrified live television audience.
- On July 21, 1989, Do the Right Thing, an American comedy-drama film produced, written, and directed by Spike Lee, who also played the part of Mookie in the film, was released in the United States of America.
- On November 11, 1993, a sculpture honoring the women that served in the Vietnam War was dedicated at the site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C..
- On August 24, 1994, an extraordinary American warrior was posthumously commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
Questions for students: What was the most interesting event in American history since the Cold War and why?
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For more information, please see…
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History (Seagull Fourth Edition) (Vol. 2). W. W. Norton & Company, 2013).
The featured image in this timeline, an 1872 painting by John Gast titled American Progress depicting Columbia as the “Spirit of the Frontier” carrying telegraph lines across the Western frontier to fulfill Manifest Destiny, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.09855.