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- The First Americans
- Colonial Period
- Federal Period (1800-1850)
- Civil War
- The Gilded Age: 1870-1912
- World War I and The Roaring Twenties
- The Great Depression
- World War II
- A Decade of Revolution
- The End of a Millennium
- A New Millennium
- Time Line
The First Americans
The first people to inhabit what is now the Eastern US, were Asians who arrived around 28,000 years ago. Traveling over the Bering Strait on the land bridge, then connecting Siberia with Alaska, they made their way south, eventually reaching the Americas. Evolving into numerous linguistically and culturally separate tribes, these early inhabitants are thought to have numbered between 1.5 and 2 million in the continental US by the time Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.
Groups such as the Adena and Hopewell cultures established sizable populations in the Ohio Valley as early as 1000 BC. Known collectively as the mound builders , these advanced cultures were characterized by the conical or dome-shaped burial mounds they built—some even in the form of totemic animals. The rich soil of southeastern riverbeds fostered the master farmers and skilled artisans of the Mississippian culture, who settled into villages where they raised corn, beans, squash and other crops. Remains of a number of Mississippian sites (AD 800-1600)—which feature huge temple mounds—are scattered throughout the east, from Ocmulgee and Etowah in Georgia to Cahokia in Illinois. Although the North American tribes never achieved the degree of civilization reached by their Mayan and Aztec predecessors, artifacts unearthed at their sites suggest complex societies, with well-developed economic, governmental and religious systems.
At the time of European settlement of the US, various groups of Eastern Woodland Indians occupied the vast land stretching the length of the Atlantic seaboard south to the Gulf of Mexico, west across the Appalachians to the Mississippi Valley and north to the Great Lakes. These hunter-gatherers were also fishermen and farmers who found food as well as material for shelter, tools and fuel in the dense forests that blanketed the east. Within two basic language groups—the Algonquian speakers who lived in communal wooden longhouses, and the Iroquoian speakers who lived in wigwams (conical huts overlaid with bark or animal hides)—the Woodland Indians comprised many smaller tribes. Settlers in the northeast met such tribes as the Massachuset, Pequot, Mohawk, Oneida and Delaware; in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, Europeans encountered the Shawnee, Illinois, Sauk, Ottawa, Fox and Potawatomi. The Powhatan, Secotan, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole and Natchez tribes, among others, held sway in the south.
Unfortunately, the Europeans brought with them a host of diseases—smallpox, influenza, measles—that took their toll on Native American populations, who had no immunity to such previously unknown plagues.
Some historians believe the Vikings explored North America as early as AD 1000, but the evidence is murky. What is known is that beginning in 1492, when Columbus discovered the Caribbean, numerous Spanish, Dutch, French and English adventurers explored the Americas, laying claim to various areas. The Spanish, then the dominant European military power, concentrated on Florida, the Gulf Coast and California, while the English emphasized the eastern seaboard and the French gained a foothold in Canada and along the Mississippi River after unsuccessful attempts at colonization on the southeast coast.
In 1565, the Spanish established the first permanent US settlement at St. Augustine, Florida, and soon after established a garrison across the state at Pensacola. The English followed 22 years later with an unsuccessful attempt at Roanoke Colony in present-day North Carolina. Undaunted, the English founded Jamestown a bit farther north in 1607. By 1624 Jamestown was a thriving settlement, with flourishing crops of a plant called tobacco and even a fledgling legislature. Meanwhile, some 600mi up the coast, an English religious sect called the Puritans had established the Plymouth Colony in 1620. Others followed in 1629, settling the area around present-day Boston.
The 1660 restoration of Charles II to the English throne launched a frenzy of new colonization. The colony of Connecticut was chartered in 1662, Carolina in 1663, and New York—colonized by the Dutch as New Amsterdam in 1624—was claimed for England in 1664. Pennsylvania and Delaware followed. The 13th and last colony, Georgia , was chartered in 1732 as a refuge for English debtors.
Life in the Colonies
From 1700 to 1775, the colonial population increased almost tenfold, aided by massive immigration of German, Dutch, Irish and Scotch-Irish farmers and laborers seeking a better life. In 1700 approximately 250,000 colonists inhabited the mainland; by 1800 that number had reached 5.3 million.
Vibrant cities emerged, among them New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston. Although not as populous as their European counterparts (mid-18C Philadelphia, for example, had a population around 25,000, compared to more than a half-million in London), these burgeoning cities were not only lively centers of business and trade, but also seats of learning and culture.
At the beginning of the 18C, the colonists looked to England to set the tone in fashion, architecture, religion and the arts; but by mid-century, cultural patterns were assuming a distinctly “American” flavor. Before the Revolutionary War, seven colleges were founded, including the northern Ivy League institutions of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown, and William and Mary in Virginia. Most notably, an independent spirit was beginning to blossom among the colonists—many of whom were beginning to chafe under English rule.
Tensions between the colonists and the Crown escalated during the 1760s. Britain’s decision to maintain troops in the colonies after the end of the French and Indian War (1754-63) infuriated many settlers. A further alienating factor was the British Parliament’s decision in 1763 to forbid settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains. The final straw was the passage of a series of taxes—including a tax on tea—levied on the colonists, who lacked representation in Parliament. In late 1773 a group of Patriots boarded cargo ships in Boston Harbor and tossed cases of tea overboard. The incident, today known as the Boston Tea Party , prompted the English to clamp down even harder on the rebellious citizens. Sixteen months later, in April 1775, colonists clashed with English soldiers at Lexington, Massachusetts in the first battle of the American Revolution.
During the first months of the war, the English held the advantage, winning most of the battles and laying siege to Boston. Still, the colonists persevered, meeting in Philadelphia in July 1776 to adopt the Declaration of Independence , formally severing ties with England. Written by Thomas Jefferson , the declaration relied on the Enlightenment-era idea of government as a social contract.
In December of 1776, the war’s tide turned when Gen. George Washingtonrepelled British general William Howe at Trenton, New Jersey. Although Howe returned to take Philadelphia the following summer, Washington’s triumph galvanized the colonists. Their cause was further bolstered in 1778 when Britain’s old enemy, France, came to the aid of the Colonial army.
In 1781 Revolutionary and French forces managed to trap Gen. Charles Cornwallis on the narrow peninsula at Yorktown, Virginia. Cut off from the British navy, Cornwallis surrendered. The 1783 Peace of Paris granted the young nation independence from Britain and established its western boundary at the Mississippi River. Only parts of Florida remained under Spanish rule.
The New Nation
In 1781 colonial delegates had met in Philadelphia, adopting the formal name of the United States of America and issuing the Articles of Confederation . That document set up a Congress charged with carrying out the country’s foreign relations. But after the war, it soon became clear the Articles were much too weak to govern the infant country. The confederation had no control over the states, no taxing power and no ability to stabilize currency. These limitations led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, where the US Constitution was drafted, establishing a centralized, democratic government with executive, legislative and judicial branches. In gratitude for his war service, convention delegates elected George Washington (1732-99) as the first president of the young Republic.
Federal Period (1800-1850)
From 1800 to 1850 three major themes dominated the American experience: westward expansion, the coming of industry and massive strides in transportation. By 1800 the new union boasted 16 states; Vermont was added in 1791, Kentucky in 1792 and Tennessee in 1796. The republic’s 5.2 million citizens were almost evenly divided between North and South, most inhabiting a narrow coastal strip stretching along the Atlantic from New England to the Florida border.
As the population increased in the East, these coastal residents came to view the West as the land of opportunity. In 1775 frontiersman Daniel Boone blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap, a natural passage in the Appalachians leading from Virginia into Kentucky and the fertile lands beyond. Twenty years later, the Wilderness Road , which traced Boone’s trail, was opened to covered-wagon and stagecoach traffic. Between 1775 and 1810, more than 300,000 Americans crossed the Cumberland Gap to begin new lives in the West.
Westward expansion got a further boost in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase , orchestrated by President Thomas Jefferson. In this $15 million deal that doubled the country’s size, Congress purchased the French-owned territory—bounded by the Mississippi River, the Rocky Mountains, Canada and the Gulf of Mexico—from Napoleon. Jefferson’s sponsorship of the scientific expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark a year later underscored the importance of the historic purchase.
However, as the settlers moved west they usurped more and more of the Indians’ land. This led to mounting tensions and, eventually, to armed conflict. Looking for a permanent solution to the “Indian problem,” President Andrew Jackson engineered the Indian Removal Act in 1830. By the terms of this law, eastern tribes were to be relocated to a designated area west of the Mississippi River; they would be paid for their land in the east and would hold perpetual title to their new territories in the west. The Cherokees were the last group to leave on the infamous “ Trail of Tears ,” ushered westward on a cruel trek by US soldiers.
Trade and Transportation
The nation’s economy expanded along with its geographical horizons. Eli Whitney ’s 1793 invention of the cotton gin pushed the South’s production and export of cotton from 10,000 pounds to 8 million pounds annually between 1790 and 1800. As the nation pushed westward, the Midwest became the leading producer of pork, corn and wheat.
This outburst of industrial activity was facilitated by enormous strides in transportation. Begun in 1811, the first National Road covered the distance from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, by 1838. The success of the first commercial steamboat , launched by Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston in 1807, opened the way for increased trade on the Mississippi River and spurred the growth of great port cities such as New Orleans. Back east, the 363mi-long Erie Canal , completed in 1825, made New York State the conduit of trade and migration between the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes.
The first steam-powered railroad began operations in England the same year the Erie Canal opened. By 1854 more than 17,000mi of rail lines crisscrossed the eastern US, and an additional 12,000mi of track were under construction. These advances drastically reduced the time and money needed to move raw materials to factories and finished goods to market.
By 1850 Americans could justifiably feel smug about their country. The population stood at an all-time high of 23 million, the country had expanded to 30 states (California became the 31st on September 9, 1850), industrial production was at its peak, and literacy rates were higher than those in Europe. But looming over all this optimism was the dark cloud of slavery. Of all the issues dividing North and South, the institution of slavery provoked the strongest emotion.
The Slavery Question
Slaves were first imported by the British from Africa around 1619, primarily to work plantations in the South (Northerners used slaves as well, although to a far lesser extent). As the South’s fertile soil and mild climate fostered its lucrative plantation economy, the practice of slavery steadily increased. The Constitution banned the importation of slaves after 1808, but illegal importation continued until the Civil War. By 1860 there were four million slaves in the US, the majority of them in the South.
Numerous moves to ban this “peculiar institution” were introduced in both the Congress and state legislatures as early as the 1780s, supported by those who felt slavery was tyrannical and immoral. But after cotton gained ascendancy, that support withered. Southern delegates knew that abolishing slavery would mean the end of their economic mainstay and affluent lifestyle.
With westward expansion the controversy grew increasingly rancorous and an active Abolitionist movement emerged. The Abolitionists, who wanted slavery abolished by law, operated an Underground Railroad system by means of which they helped slaves flee the South. In Congress, Northerners argued that slavery should be banned from the western territories, and a series of compromises narrowly averted armed conflict. John Brown’s failed raid on the US arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 crystallized Southern paranoia. With the election of Republican president Abraham Lincoln in 1860, conflict seemed inevitable.
On the eve of the Civil War, the North and South, roughly equal in population, were two separate and radically different societies. The North was dominated by trade and manufacturing, the South by agriculture. Since large-scale cultivation of crops such as cotton, rice, indigo and tobacco depended on slavery for its huge profits, most Southerners supported the practice, while most Northerners abhorred it. Northerners also favored a strong, centralized government; Southerners preferred leaving governing to the states.
No longer able to compromise by 1861, the separate regions became separate nations. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in December 1860. In February 1861, the Confederate States of America was formed, with Jefferson Davis as its president and Montgomery, Alabama, as its capital (the Confederate capital was moved four months later to Richmond, Virginia). By March six more southern states had seceded. On April 12, the Civil War began when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, in Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor.
In the beginning, the South won decisive victories at Bull Run , Virginia—in both 1861 and 1862—and in the York Peninsula Campaign of 1862. Pushing north into Maryland that September, Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s forces held fast at the Battle of Antietam —with 23,000 men killed or wounded, it was the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. Although Lee retreated, the fact that his army survived the battle emboldened him to push farther north. But when Confederate forces under Lee made their way toward the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg in July 1863, they were trounced by Gen. George Meade’s troops at Gettysburg .
That same year, on the western front, Ulysses S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg , Mississippi, ended with a Confederate capitulation. With the Mississippi River now firmly in Union control and a blockade against southern Atlantic ports, the South began to suffer from a lack of food and supplies. In 1864 Union general William Tecumseh Sherman’s conquest and burning of Atlanta on his “March to the Sea” campaign sealed the secessionists’ fate.
In April 1865 Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse , Virginia. An estimated 600,000 men had been killed and several thousand more injured in what remains the highest casualty rate for any war ever fought by Americans. The war’s legacy left the South in physical and economic ruins. It would be a long time before relations between North and South were cordial again.
To add insult to injury, certain political voices emerged urging strict punishment of the South. Although Lincoln’s plan was to welcome the former Confederacy back into the Union without imposing harsh penalties, his plan died along with him when he was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth five days after Lee’s surrender.
Instead, the vindictive voices of the Radical Republicans won out. The 1867 Reconstruction Act placed the southern states under martial law. Federal troops patrolled the streets and the Radical Republicans ran corrupt state legislatures. By the time Reconstruction was over in 1876, white Southerners were even more alienated than they had been at war’s end.
The situation was not a whole lot better for blacks. Lacking education or skilled training, many had no jobs: those who did, often worked as tenant farmers for the masters who had once owned them. Although Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had technically granted slaves in the Confederate states their freedom in 1863, the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments furthered their cause by banning slavery (1865) and guaranteeing civil rights (1868). All men—not women—were granted the right to vote per the 15th Amendment (1870), regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”
The Gilded Age: 1870-1912
The Gilded Age was a time of unprecedented invention and capitalism that did not see its equal until the high-tech revolution of a century later. Not unlike the unfettered individualism of the 1990s, the Gilded Age glorified the entrepreneur and the worship of materialism. It was during this era that America’s captains of industry came to power—the great railroad barons, steel and oil tycoons and shipping magnates (Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie). Achieving enormous wealth (there was as yet no federal income tax), they built lavish homes in places like Newport, Rhode Island, New York City and Palm Beach, Florida.
In 1870 the US population stood at 38.6 million, up 15 million from 20 years earlier. Many of the additions were immigrants, lured to eastern US cities by the prospect of industrial jobs. As their ranks swelled, so did the cities. By 1900 almost 40 percent of the country’s population were urban dwellers.
After the Civil War, industrialization spread rapidly and oil, coal, copper and steel production soared. While this upsurge began in the Northeast, within a decade it was spreading westward. After 1880, the discovery of iron in northern Minnesota and Alabama expanded the steel industry westward into Minneapolis and south to Birmingham. Meatpacking became a major US enterprise after 1875, centered in Chicago and St. Louis. Flour milling, brewing and the manufacture of farm equipment also found bases in the Heartland.
Factories operating at full speed spelled employment for the thousands of immigrants an others streaming into the cities east of the Mississippi River. But vast discrepancies in income and lifestyle separated the ultra-rich industry titans from those who toiled for them. Cities became crowded and dirty as workers poured in and factories filled the air with smoke and noxious fumes. Low factory wages meant workers could not afford decent housing, and slums appeared. Finally, these inequalities erupted into full-blown labor hostilities as workers fought for their rights against an unsympathetic political establishment.
Things began to change with the dawn of the Progressive Era (1890 to 1920). Prompted in part by the writings of authors such as Upton Sinclair ( The Jungle, 1906), who brought the horrors of Chicago’s meatpacking industry to the fore, several states passed laws regulating wages, hours and workplace safety.
In 1901 Theodore Roosevelt became president, following the assassination of President William McKinley. Although born to wealth, Roosevelt believed the monopolistic practices of industrial tycoons were counter to the public good. After breaking up a railway monopoly in 1903, he established the Department of Commerce and Labor as a federal regulatory agency to oversee business and industry. Concerned that industrialization was squandering the nation’s natural resources, he set aside large tracts of land as forest preserves and national parks. He also pushed through legislation regulating the drug and meatpacking industries.
The end of the Gilded Age was marked by the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913. This amendment, which established a federal income tax, put an end to the era’s outrageous excess.
World War I and The Roaring Twenties
The sinking of another luxury liner a few years later precipitated US entry into World War I, which had been raging in Europe since 1914. When German U-boats attacked the British passenger ship Lusitania , killing 124 Americans, German-American relations deteriorated, leading to President Woodrow Wilson ’s decision to enter the war in 1917. Fighting against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Turkey) on behalf of the Allies (Britain, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy) were 4.7 million Americans. In March 1918 the first Americans served in battle in France. Six months later, the war was over, 116,000 American lives had been lost, and the US teetered on the brink of the greatest era of prosperity in its history.
By 1920 the country’s transformation from an agricultural economy into an industrial power was complete. The population stood at over 100 million and for the first time ever, more people lived in cities of 2,500 or more than in rural areas. Efficiencies of production and economies of scale had made items formerly reserved for the elite—such as automobiles, refrigerators and telephones—affordable for the masses.
New inventions proliferated—radio, motion pictures, the airplane—bringing the outside world to formerly isolated areas. The first commercial passenger flights began in 1925 when Congress authorized the US Post Office to contract private carriers for airmail routes. By mid-decade, unemployment stood at 2 percent, and the average American enjoyed a higher quality of life than ever before.
The decade soon earned the name “Roaring Twenties,” not only because of its prosperous economy, but also owing to the sudden, massive societal changes that transformed the culture. The 19th Amendment finally granted women the right to vote in 1920, unleashing other new freedoms. Bobbing her hair and donning shocking knee-length dresses, the “flapper” became the icon for feminism.
Even though the US had legally banned liquor with the adoption of the Prohibition Amendment in 1919, alcohol flowed freely in clubs known as speakeasies—to the tune of a sultry new sound called jazz. Since distillers were outlawed from manufacturing spirits—except for a few who gained exemption for “medicinal manufacturing”—a new, illegal liquor industry arose. Called “bootlegging,” the business soon came under the auspice of powerful gangsters, such as Al Capone and Charles “Bugs” Moran, who controlled its manufacture and distribution.
One of the wildest parties of all, though, was on Wall Street. During the 1920s, for the first time, average Americans began buying common stocks, entering what had once been the sole province of the wealthy. As the good times continued, investors grew giddier, bidding stocks up to dizzying heights. Even though construction and factory production began to decline in 1927, few heeded the warning. Finally, on October 29, 1929, the bubble burst and the market collapsed, wiping out fortunes overnight and erasing $75 billion in market value.
The Great Depression
The 1929 crash was followed by a surge of bank failures the next year, ushering in the greatest period of economic peril the country has ever known. By 1932 nearly a quarter of Americans were unemployed, industrial production was at 40 percent of capacity and the median national income had been cut in half. Compounding the misery, a drought across the Great Plains decimated crops and turned the area into a dust bowl. It was a disaster of epic proportions.
A young New Yorker named Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932 (he would serve an unprecedented three terms in office) and immediately launched a massive program to turn the country around. Roosevelt’s New Deal expanded the federal government’s ability to shore up the economy by setting the price at which the government would buy gold, increasing the money supply, and instituting price controls and farm price supports. It also put into place agencies to regulate the stock exchanges and insure individual bank deposits.
The other part of the New Deal aimed to create jobs and prevent exploitation of the workforce. Its most important elements were a system to provide pension payments to aged and disabled Americans (the Social Security Administration); a public works program to provide government jobs for the unemployed; and enactment of minimum-wage, collective bargaining and child-labor laws.
World War II
During the late 1930s, a series of totalitarian governments had come to power around the globe: now they were threatening Europe and Asia. Americans became increasingly alarmed as Adolf Hitler’s armies marched through Europe; the isolationism spawned by World War I was crumbling.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor , Hawaii. The following day, Congress declared war on Japan. That same week, the two other Axis Powers (Germany and Italy) declared war on the US.
Within the space of one mind-boggling week, the US had committed to defensive war on two fronts. In the European theater, the Americans and their allies (Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union) invaded North Africa, defeating the German army at El Alamein. Meanwhile, the Japanese were making steady headway in the Pacific. They were finally stopped at the Battle of Midway , a three-day contest between the Allies and the Japanese fought almost entirely by air over 2sq mi Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Back in Europe, the invasion of Normandy on the west coast of France began on June 6, 1944. On what became known as D-Day , Allied soldiers stormed the beaches, and by the following April, the Allies had breached German lines and were fast closing in on Hitler. As Allied troops approached Berlin later that month, Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered.
A few months later, Japan finally capitulated, following President Harry S Truman ’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. By mid-August 1945 the war was over; more than 400,000 American lives had been lost.
The Postwar Years
The years immediately following World War II were marked by domestic prosperity. Returning war veterans began promising corporate careers or went into business for themselves. Housing developments sprang up overnight and the birthrate increased so dramatically that the generation born during these years earned its own moniker—the “Baby Boomers.”
While the Soviet Union had been an ally to the US in World War II, conflicting political ideologies—Western free-market democracy versus the controls of Communism in the Soviet Union—culminated in a 40-year standoff known as the Cold War . This era was marked by constant tension, exacerbated by military buildups, covert operations, nuclear-weapons testing and propaganda campaigns on the part of both countries.
Although Dwight D. Eisenhower , elected president in 1952, was not politically progressive, his tenure was highlighted by an activist Supreme Court. Presided over by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the court outlawed racial segregation, spelled out the rights of criminal defendants, and laid down the “one man, one vote” rule, stipulating that all citizens must be represented equally in their state legislatures.
A Decade of Revolution
The 1960s were a tumultuous time, distinguished by violence and profound social change. It began on a hopeful note with the election of John F. Kennedy (1917-63) who, at 44, was the youngest president ever to occupy the White House. It continued with the movement for full racial equality. Then, in quick succession, President Kennedy, his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr .were all assassinated by gunfire. The assassinations, coupled with an unpopular war in Vietnam, angered and alienated America’s youth. There was growing discontent with the country’s big government, big business and materialistic culture.
By the mid-60s, a youth revolt was in full swing. Groups such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), formed by two University of Michigan students, were spawning antiwar demonstrations on college campuses across the US. Gradually, violence replaced passive civil disobedience as draft resisters and Black Power activists became more militant—and the “establishment” became less tolerant.
Driven away from radical politics by the violence of the late 60s, members of the youth “counterculture” heeded Harvard professor Timothy Leary’s invitation to “tune in, turn on, and drop out.” Known as “hippies,” these disaffected young people grew their hair long, wore blue jeans and tie-dyed shirts, listened to rock music, and experimented with mind-altering drugs and communal living arrangements. “Free sex” was rampant, with the introduction of the birth-control pill allowing women control over their reproductive lives for the first time.
Punctuated by the long and costly Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, the decade from 1965 to 1975 generated widespread distrust of political officials. Watergate , which took its name from the Washington, DC apartment building where its most famous offense occurred, included a number of administration officials involved in instances of burglary, illegal cover-ups, use of government agencies to harass political opponents, and illegal use of campaign contributions. Several officials were tried and convicted of criminal activities.
Not surprisingly, the 1980s (sometimes called the “me decade”) were marked by a number of movements aimed at achieving personal and spiritual fulfillment.
The End of a Millennium
Two major trends underscored the 1990s—an increasingly diverse population mix and the technological revolution. By 1990 ever-faster computers and fax machines made global communication instantaneous and, in some cases, rendered offices obsolete, as increasing numbers of workers began to “telecommute” from home. Portable devices such as cellular phones, pagers and laptop computers enabled workers to perform their duties anywhere. By the mid-90s, widespread use of the Internet was revolutionizing traditional ways of doing business.
The other trend with wide-ranging cultural ramifications involved the sudden rise in ethnic diversity as Hispanic and Asian immigrants added to the existing mix of European and African stock. In the decade from 1980 to 1990, Asians increased their presence in the population by an astounding 107 percent; Hispanics increased by 53 percent. By 2010 the Hispanic population is expected to displace blacks as the country’s largest minority group.
A New Millennium
The new century started with less of a bang than was expected. Fears about Y2K, a glitch that may have made computers not recognize the new date and there was concern that everything electronic would stand still. Instead, the transition from 1999 to 2000 went off without a hitch.
The smooth sailing of the new century quickly ended. A close election between presidential candidates George W. Bush and former vice president Al Gore necessitated recounts, the first formal contest in the history of a presidential election and a trip to the US Supreme Court. In January 2001 Bush is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States.
On September 11, 2001 (known as 9-11 ), two airplanes piloted by Islamic extremists terrorists hit New York’s World Trade Center, causing the towers to fall and killing nearly 3,000 civilians. Another plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., while a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field.As a result of the attacks, security at airports, high-rises, public facilities and government buildings changed, in some cases dramatically.
Despite the difficult foreign relations that 911 begat, the eastern US continued to thrive. Faster, more efficient technology further increased incidence of telecommuting, as well as distance learning.
At the turn of the second millennium, the eastern US remains America’s core, with the majority (9 out of 15) of the country’s most populous urban complexes lying east of the Mississippi River. New York City still ranks as the country’s financial and commercial nerve center and remains its undisputed leader in the arts. Similarly, Washington, DC is America’s political leader—the city that world leaders uniformly look to in time of crisis. And Chicago, center of the Midwest, reigns as a major transportation hub, with 19 rail lines linking it to every major American and Canadian city, as well as O’Hare International Airport, the nation’s second-busiest.
1565 — Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founds St. Augustine, Florida, the first permanent European settlement in North America.
1607 — Captain John Smith founds Jamestown on the coast of Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
1619 — First African slaves arrive in the colonies.
1620 — English Puritans establish Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts.
1626 — Peter Minuit purchases Manhattan Island from Indians.
1718 — Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville founds New Orleans.
1754 — French and Indian War begins.
1763 — Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War. England gains Canada and Louisiana east of the Mississippi River from France, and Florida from Spain.
1764-67 — Britain imposes a series of taxes on colonists.
1770 — British soldiers kill three colonists in the Boston Massacre.
1773 — Irate Bostonians stage the Boston Tea Party , throwing cargoes of tea into Boston Harbor to protest British taxation.
1775 — Revolutionary War begins as Minutemen clash with British troops at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Daniel Boone blazes a trail across the Cumberland Gap, opening the way for settlement of the west.
1776 — Colonists declare their independence from England when they adopt the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4.
1781 — British troops surrender to colonists at Yorktown, Virginia.
1783 — Peace of Paris formally ends the Revolutionary War, declaring American victory and setting the western US boundary at the Mississippi River.
1793 — Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin.
1803 — Congress completes the Louisiana Purchase , thus securing a vast stretch of more than 800,000sq mi lying between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
1804 — President Thomas Jefferson sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out to explore the Louisiana Purchase lands.
1807 — Robert Fulton invents the steamboat.
1812 — The War of 1812 begins with Britain.
1825 — The Erie Canal is completed, linking the Great Lakes with New York City.
1827 — The first US railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O), is chartered.
1838-39 — Cherokee Indians are removed from their southeastern lands and forced by the US government to march west to reservations in Oklahoma.
1844 — First telegraph message is sent from Washington, DC, to Baltimore, Maryland, by inventor Samuel Morse.
1848 — The first Women’s Rights Convention is held at Seneca Falls, New York. Their Declaration of Sentiments calls for educational and professional opportunities equal to those of men, and the right to vote.
1861 — Confederate States of America are organized; opening shots of the Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
1863 — Union forces win the Battle of Gettysburg. President Lincoln issues his Emancipation Proclamation , declaring all slaves in the Confederate states to be free as of January 1, 1863.
1865 — Civil War ends. Congress passes the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC.
1869 — The New York Stock Exchange is established. Rail service spans the continent as the Union and Central Pacific lines are joined by a golden spike at Promontory, Utah.
1870 — The 15th Amendment passes, granting “all men” the right to vote.
1879 — Thomas Edison invents the lightbulb.
1883 — The Brooklyn Bridge opens.
1913 — The 16th Amendment passes, establishing a federal income tax.
1917 — The US enters World War I on the side of the Allied Powers.
1919 — The 18th, or Prohibition Amendment is adopted, banning the sale of alcoholic beverages.
1920 — The 19th Amendment grants women the right to vote.
1927 — Charles Lindbergh completes the first solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
1929 — US stock market crashes, precipitating the Great Depression.
1931 — The Empire State Building, tallest in the world, opens in New York City.
1933 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initiates his New Deal policy.
1941 — Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in Hawaii; US enters World War II.
1944 — Allies land on Normandy beaches in France.
1945 — World War II ends. President Roosevelt dies in office.
1947 — Jackie Robinson becomes the first black player in major-league baseball when he joins the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1954 — Supreme Court outlaws school segregation in Brown vs. Board of Education .
1960 — Black students stage the first sit-in of the civil rights movement at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
1961 — Astronauat Alan Sheard makes the first American space flight aboard Freedom 7 on May 5.
1962 — President John F. Kennedy begins sending military advisers to Vietnam in an effort to contain Communism.
1963 — President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Civil-rights demonstrations in Montgomery, Alabama, are broken up by local police.
1964 — Congress passes the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. US air strikes begin against North Vietnam.
1965 — Congress passes the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Lyndon Johnson commits combat troops to Vietnam.
1968 — Martin Luther King, Jr. is assasinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
1969 — Astronaut Neil Armstrong takes man’s first steps on the moon.
1972 — Richard Nixon becomes first American president to visit China.
1973 — Last US troops leave Vietnam, thus ending the nation’s longest war; American death toll: 57,685.
1974 — President Nixon resigns for the illegal cover-up of a break-in at Democratic headquarters—a scandal known as Watergate.
1976 — Supreme Court upholds death penalty in Gregg vs. Georgia .
1979 — The first major nuclear power plant accident occurs at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
1986 — Space shuttle Challenger explodes in Florida, killing seven passengers, including first US civilian selected for space travel.
1989 — Hurricane Hugo strikes the coast of the Carolinas, inflicting more than $7 million in damages.
1990 — US troops engage Iraqi forces in the Gulf War called Operation Desert Storm.
1992 — Hurricane Andrew devastates Miami and the Florida Keys.
1996 — The Centennial Olympic Games , in Atlanta, Georgia.
1999 — President Bill Clinton becomes the first elected president in US history to be impeached by the House of Representatives for lying in a federal proceeding and obstructing justice. He was acquitted by the Senate.
2000— Former vice president Al Gore receives more popular votes, but Texas governor George W. Bush received more electoral votes in the US presidential election. The US Supreme Court halts recounts and declares Bush the winner of the election.
2001— George W. Bush is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States. Bush is the son of George H.W. Bush, the 41st president.
2001 — Terrorists fly hijacked jumbo jets into New York’s World Trade Center , felling the two skyscrapers and killing 2,979 people.
President Bush sends US troops to Afghanistan , with international support, to destroy Al-Qaeda terrorist camps and depose the Taliban government.
2002— The XIX Winter Olympic Games are held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
2003 — US troops engage in a coalition military operation in Iraq , code-named Operation Iraqi Freedom .
The space shuttle Columbia disintegrates over Texas during re-entry.
2004 — George W. Bush is re-elected to a second term as president.
2005— Hurricane Katrina, the third-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the US, hits the Gulf Coast. The city of New Orleans was one of the hardest hit cities.
2006 — The US population passes the 300 million person mark.
2007 — Gerald Ford: 38th president‘s state funeral in Washington, DC.