Modern America, 1914-Present


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1913-1921: Wilson Administration 
1917: America enters World War I 
1918: Wilson's Fourteen Points
1919-1920: "Red Scare"; Palmer raids
1919: Chicago race riot
1920: 19th Amendment (women's suffrage) 
1920: Radio broadcasting begins
1922: Coolidge elected president
1927: Lindbergh flies the Atlantic solo; first talking motion pictures 
1928: Kellogg-Briand Pact; Hoover elected president
1929: Stock market crash
1930s: Great Depression
1932: Roosevelt elected president
1932: Amelia Earhart flies across the Atlantic
1935-1939: Roosevelt's New Deal plans
1941: Pearl Harbor attack; U.S. enters World War II
1945: Roosevelt dies; Truman becomes president; Potsdam conference; atomic bombs dropped on Japan; World War II ends; United Nations established
1947: Truman Doctrine; Marshall Plan
1949: NATO established
1950s: postwar growth in American economy
1954: McCarthy hearings
1950-1953: Korean War
1952: Eisenhower elected president
1954: Brown v. Board of Education; first McDonald's hamburger stand opens
1955: Montgomery bus boycott; Warsaw Pact signed
1957: Postwar peak of US birthrate; Eisenhower Doctrine; Soviet Union launches Sputnik; Little Rock, Ark., school integration violence
1958-1959: Berlin airlift
1959: Alaska and Hawaii attain statehood
1960: Sit-in movement for civil rights begins; Kennedy elected president
1961: Bay of Pigs crisis
1962: Cuban missile crisis
1963: Civil Rights march in Washington, D.C.; President Kennedy assassinated; Johnsonbecomes president
1964: War on Poverty begins; Civil Rights Act
1965-1968: Race riots; Vietnam War escalates
1968: Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert 
Kennedy assassinated; Nixon elected president
1969: U.S. astronauts land on moon
1970: Environmental Protection Agency 
created; Clean Air Act
1971: Pentagon Papers published; 26th Amendment changes voting age  to 18
1973: U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam War
1973-1974: Watergate investigations 
1974: Nixon resigns; Ford becomes president
1976: Carter elected president
1980: Reagan elected president
1983: Reagan announces SDI plan (Star Wars)
1988: Bush elected president
1989: Berlin Wall comes down
1991: Persian Gulf War
1992: Clinton elected president

1995: Federal building bombed in Oklahoma City

1998: Clinton impeached

2001: World Trade Center and Pentagon attacked

2003: U.S. invades Iraq

Updated June 17, 2004
Mark Canada, 2004

History and Culture

By Sarah Wright
Editorial Assistant, University of North Carolina at Pembroke

The modern era has been a time of great changes in the United States.  World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II devastated the American people.  Yet there were also times of prosperity, such as the "Golden Twenties" and the decade after World War II.  America has also seen many great leaders during the past century: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and  John Kennedy.  These leaders dealt with war, depression, and the threat of Communism, but still managed to protect the interest of the people and the ideals of America.  Another topic that is synomous with modern America is technology.  As far back as 1920, when radio broadcasting began, Americans thrived on technology.  People of this era made immense and sometimes overwhelming technological advancements, including the inventions of television, portables, modern computers, the Internet, and CD players.  Modern American history changed from decade to decade and continues its rapid evolution into the twenty-first century. 

The Roaring Twenties, or the Jazz Age, can be described as the era of "flaming youth," in which young adults appreciated having a good time and challenged society.  Conventions that had been passed from generation to generation were suddenly unpopular, and a new way of life, set with rapid changes, formed.  Relationships between the sexes grew relaxed, and instead of "calling on someone," a person "picked up his date."  Motion pictures became popular during this era.  Thirteen thousand movie houses existed in the United States by 1912.  Radio was extremely popular, since it reached more people than movies did.  In 1926, the National Broadcasting Company was created.  Sports thrived during this time, at least partly because radio brought the games to the homes of millions of people.  This era witnessed many of the great sports players, including all-around athlete Jim Thorpe, football player Harold "Red" Grange, baseball star Babe Ruth, golfer and runner Babe Zaharias, and many others.  The Twenties can also be described as the Age of the Consumer.  Advertisement, in the areas of print and radio, reached a new level, as producers tried to make their goods look more attractive than their competitors'.  The automobile had an important impact on America's economy during the Twenties.  By 1929, an average American family owned one car.  A major force behind the success of the automobile was Henry Ford, who gave America the Model T and the moving assembly line.  The Twenties were definitely an era of prosperity, but this high could not last forever.  On October 29, 1929 the Stock Market crashed, and the value of stocks plummeted. 

The Great Depression, the decade that followed the Jazz Age, was one of turmoil and poverty.  Jobless, penniless, starved people struggled through this decade with hopes that the end of the depression was just around the corner.  It was not until President Roosevelt's New Deal came into effect that the light indicating the end of the darkness began to shine for many people.  Under the New Deal, the U.S. government set up many programs and agencies, including the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).  Most people labeled the New Deal a success, since considerable recovery took place, and the Roosevelt administration had a sense of optimism.  The Second New Deal set up the Social Security Act of August 1935 and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  After a few years the New Deal began to wind down and lose its impact on the economy. In 1939, when World War II broke out, orders from European countries poured in American companies, causing a increase in business.  This increase helped the American economy revive and stay on its feet. 

The United States played a role in World War II even before 1941, helping England and France by shipping supplies, but not until the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7 did America officially enter the war.  World War II had major effects on the economy, resulting in factory conversion to wartime products and the rationing of meat, sugar, shoes, and other items.  Social changes included increased marriage rates.  Many young couples felt the need to establish formal bonds before the men went to risk their lives in the war. The number of women in the work force also increased during this time.  By 1944, 6.5 million additional women began working outside the home.  World War II brought to life the atomic bomb, which devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.  This event marked the beginning of the nuclear weapons race, which remains a threat today.  The year 1945 brought an end to the war, but the effects of it--the millions of lives lost, the new threat of Communism, and the potential of nuclear attack--would remain a factor in American society and politics for years to come. 

Postwar society during the 1950's was a time of the baby boomers and re-established domesticity.  Family life and the security of marriage were important to most Americans, so people began building families.  The threat of Communism unnerved the security of Americans. Truman announced his foreign policy of containment, designed to control this threat.  The fear of Communism was so great that Americans believed rumors.  Senator Joseph McCarthy, who claimed to know of prominent Americans who had ties to communism, used Senate hearings as his own personal scaffold to eliminate opponents and create a name for himself. 

The 1960's and 1970's were decades well remembered even today.  The Bay of Pigs crisis, Vietnam War, assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and civil rights movment played an important part in the minds and lives of Americans.  The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 and was assassinated in 1968.  Civil rights riots broke out all over America.  The younger generation protested the wasteful war in Vietnam.  The space program was launched into high gear, as America viewed it as a race to establish itself as leader of the free world.  In the 1970s, the Watergate scandal and the oil crisis added to the stress and concerns of Americans.  The Cold War remained a threat to America, which viewed the Soviet Union as its major enemy. 

The past thirty years have been about change--change in technology, minorities, women, the economy.  It seems that the past presidents--Reagan, Bush, and Clinton--have wanted to make everyone happy.  Special interest groups increasingly dominate the political scene.  American technology has exponentially grown to reach heights people fifty years ago would not have dreamed of.  Although America has no flying cars or a space station on Mars, the rate at which technology grows is overwhelming.  Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in technology in the past few years is the Internet, a worldwide computer network used for entertainment, commerce, education, and communication.  Even into the twenty-first century, America will continue to change and grow, creating more history for people to learn about.  Because this history is so recent, another twenty years may well change how we interpret it in the future.


  • Bailey, Thomas A., et al.  The American Pageant.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. 
  • Garraty, John A.  The American Nation: A History of the United States Since 1865.  9th ed. Vol. 2.  New York:  Addison Wesley Longman, 1998, 2 vols.