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Historical Period: 20th Century

Updated on April 20, 2018
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.

Overview

A period of significant change, the 20th century extends from 1901 to 2000 CE (Common Era).

Marked by shifts in politics, ideology, economics, society, culture, science, technology and medicine, this era experienced worldwide wars, decolonization, improvements in transportation and communications, population growth, space exploration and the birth of the Digital Revolution.

The British Empire began the century as the world’s leading authority, continuing to stretch across the world. However, in the years following World War II, violence and independence movements prompted a reduction of its extent along with that of other empires. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom still had a strong influence in world affairs as did the United States, Russia, China and Japan.

Furthermore, World War II left a void filled by American influence and culture. The Hollywood motion picture industry, Broadway, rock and roll, pop music, fast food, big-box stores and the hip-hop lifestyle spread around the world. This spread helped increase a second major period of globalization and despite small-scale wars and conflicts, this new interconnected world did not encounter an extensive worldwide conflict in the latter half of the century.

Humanity itself went through rapid acceleration as well. While it took until 1804 for the world population to reach 1 billion, there was an estimated 2 billion people by 1927 and 6 billion by 1999.

Culture

The expansiveness of the 20th century makes it difficult to discuss culture. A plethora of significant movements arose in the artistic world, including dadaism, synchronism, orphism, fauvism, informalism, Modernism, Neo-expressionism, Pop art and Abstract expressionism.

Additionally, music went through substantial transitions throughout the years, giving each decade its own sound and musical expression.

The rise in globalization led to Western literary ideals to spread into non-Western cultures and the most prominent literary movements emerging in the 20th century were Modernist, characterized by experimentation with literary form and expression, Postmodernist, defined as a rejection of previous literary approaches and relying on various narrative techniques, and Postcolonial, addressing problems and consequences of decolonization.

Film became an important cultural mainstay throughout the century too, evolving from silent black-and-white shorts into a massive industry. Just as it was with music, each decade seems to have its own cinematic thumbprint.

Likewise, video games developed as forms of entertainment, hastily flourishing into a thriving economic powerhouse of lights, colors, sounds and compelling stories.

Science & Technology

A considerable amount of scientific and technological advancement occurred in the 20th century. Though it commenced with horses as the main mode of transportation, simple automobiles as marvels, kerosene locomotives and freighters as the most reliable means of intercontinental travel, they gave way to high-speed railways, cruise ships, commercial air travel, high-performance cars and the space shuttle.

Scientific progress exploded. New areas of research unfolded and fields of study already established gained immense ground. The introduction of the internet paved the way for anyone with access to a computer and a thirst for knowledge to seek out whatever information may be available.

Sociological Timeline

  • 1901 - First Nobel Prizes awarded
  • 1903 - Teddy Bear invented
  • July 1, 1903 - First Tour de France held
  • Nov. 3, 1903 - Independence of Panama
  • Dec. 17, 1903 - First controlled heavier-than-air flight by the Wright Brothers
  • Jan. 22, 1905 - Russian Revolution of 1905 begins
  • Feb 8, 1904 - Russo-Japanese War begins
  • 1905 - Trans-Siberian Railways opens; Albert Einstein formulates theory of relativity
  • Sept. 5, 1905 - Russo-Japanese War ends
  • April 18, 1906 - San Francisco Earthquake
  • June 16, 1907 - Russian Revolution of 1905 ends
  • January 1908 - First edition of Scouting for Boys in United Kingdom
  • 1908 - first commercial radio transmission; Ford Motor Company invents Model T
  • Nov. 20, 1910 - Mexican Revolution begins
  • 1911 - Ernest Rutherford identifies atomic nucleus
  • March 25, 1911 - Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, leads to workplace safety reforms
  • Oct. 10, 1911 - Xinhai Revolution overthrows Qing Dynasty in China
  • Jan 1, 1912 - Republic of China established
  • Feb 14, 1912 - Arizona admitted as last state of continental United States
  • Oct. 8, 1912 - Balkan Wars begin
  • 1913 - Niels Bohr formulates first cohesive model of atomic nucleus, paves the way for quantum mechanics; Ford Motor Company introduces first moving assembly line
  • May 29, 1913 - Igor Stravinsky premieres The Rite of Spring
  • Dec. 23, 1913 - Federal Reserve System founded
  • June 28, 1914 - Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated
  • July 28, 1914 - World War I begins
  • Feb 8. 1915 - D. W. Griffith releases The Birth of a Nation as first ever feature-length film
  • March 8-16, 1917 - February Revolution in Russia
  • Nov. 7-8, 1917 - October Revolution in Russia, Russian Civil War begins
  • Nov. 11, 1918 - World War I ends
  • June 28, 1919 - Treaty of Versailles signed, German Empire collapses and Weimar Republic established
  • 1920 - Ernest Rutherford discovers proton; Prohibition begins in the United States
  • Jan. 10, 1920 - League of Nations established
  • May 3, 1921 - Northern Ireland established
  • May 21, 1920 - Mexican Revolution ends
  • June 21, 1921 - Adolf Hitler becomes Fuhrer of the Nazi Party
  • Feb. 2, 1922 - James Joyce publishes Ulysses
  • June 28, 1922 - Irish Civil War begins
  • Oct 25 1922 - Russian Civil War ends
  • May 24, 1923 - Irish Civil War ends
  • Oct. 23, 1923 - Walt Disney Company founded
  • 1924 - George Gershwin composes Rhapsody in Blue
  • Jan. 21, 1924 - Death of Vladimir Lenin, power struggle begins between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin
  • March 3, 1924 - Ottoman Empire ends
  • July 18, 1925 - Adolf Hitler publishes Mein Kampf
  • Dec. 25, 1926 - Hirohito becomes Emperor of Japan
  • 1927 - Joseph Stalin becomes leader of the Soviet Union; Charles Lindbergh flies to Paris
  • Aug. 1, 1927 - Chinese Civil War begins
  • Oct. 6, 1927 - Alan Crosland releases The Jazz Singer as the first “talkie” film
  • 1928 - Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin; bubble gum invented
  • Nov. 18, 1928 - Mickey Mouse created
  • Feb. 11, 1929 - Vatican City becomes independent state
  • Oct. 24, 1929 - Wall Street Crash of 1929, Great Depression begins
  • 1930 - Clyde Tombaugh discovers Pluto
  • March 3, 1931 - “The Star-Spangled Banner” adopted as United States national anthem
  • April 11, 1931 - Empire State Building completed
  • Sept. 18, 1931 - Japanese invasion of Manchuria
  • Nov. 7, 1931 - Chinese Soviet Republic begins
  • 1932 - Neutron discovered
  • 1933 - Prohibition ends in the United States; Holocaust begins
  • Jan. 30, 1933 - Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of the German Reich
  • March 4, 1933 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt becomes President of the United States
  • June 30-July 2, 1934 - Night of the Long Knives
  • 1936 - Hoover Dam completed
  • May 28, 1937 - Neville Chamber becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • July 7, 1937 - Second Sino-Japanese War begins
  • Sept. 22, 1937 - Chinese Soviet Republic ends
  • Dec. 13, 1937 - Nanking Massacre
  • Dec 21, 1937 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the first animated feature-length film
  • June 1938 - First appearance of Superman
  • Sept. 1, 1939 - Germany invades Poland, World War II begins
  • Dec. 7, 1941 - Attack on Pearl Harbor
  • June 6, 1944 - Normandy landings
  • 1945 - Holocaust ends
  • April 12, 1945 - Death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • April 30, 1945 - Death of Adolf Hitler
  • Sept. 2, 1945 - Second Sino-Japanese war ends; World War II ends
  • May 14, 1948 - United Nations established Israeli Independence
  • Sept. 21, 1949 - People’s Republic of China established
  • May 1, 1950 - Chinese Civil War ends
  • June 25, 1950 - Korean War begins
  • 1952 - first scheduled flight by commercial jet
  • 1953 - Elvis Presley begins musical career
  • March 5, 1953 - Death of Joseph Stalin
  • July 27, 1953 - Korean War ends
  • May 20, 1954 - “Rock Around the Clock” performed by Bill Haley & His Comets, brings rock & roll into American mainstream
  • Nov. 1, 1955 - Vietnam War begins
  • Oct. 4, 1957 - Sputnik 1 launched, Space Age begins
  • 1959 - First documented AIDS cases
  • 1960 - First televised debate between presidential candidates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon;
  • April 12, 1961 - Yuri Gagarin becomes first man in space
  • Oct. 16-28, 1962 - Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Aug. 28, 1963 - Martin Luther King Jr. delivers “I Have a Dream” speech
  • Nov. 22, 1963 - John F. Kennedy assassinated
  • Feb 7, 1964 - Beatles land in United States for the first time
  • 1967 - Summer of Love
  • May 26, 1967 - Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • June 5-10, 1967 - Six Day War
  • April 4, 1968 - Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated
  • Jan. 20, 1969 - Richard Nixon becomes President of the United States
  • July 20, 1969 - First manned mission to the moon begins
  • July 24, 1969 - Neil Armstrong becomes first man to walk on the moon
  • Aug. 15-17, 1969 - Woodstock
  • Jan. 30, 1972 - Bloody Sunday
  • 1973 - Sears Tower completed
  • May 14, 1973 - Skylab launched as the first space station
  • 1974 - World reaches 4 billion people
  • Aug. 9, 1974 - Richard Nixon resigns
  • April 30, 1975 - Vietnam War ends
  • April 11, 1976 - Steve Wozniak invents Apple I computer
  • 1977 - First mass-produced personal computers introduced; Smallpox eradicated
  • Aug. 20, 1977 - Voyager 2 launched
  • Nov. 5, 1977 - Voyager 1 launched
  • Dec. 24, 1979 - Soviet-Afghan War begins
  • 1981 - AIDS epidemic officially begins
  • April 12, 1981 - First orbital flight of the Space Shuttle
  • Aug. 1, 1981 - MTV launches
  • Oct. 1, 1982 - Sony CDP-101 the first commercially released CD player
  • Nov. 30, 1982 - Michael Jackson releases Thriller
  • 1985 - First use of DNA fingerprinting
  • Jan. 28, 1986 - Challenger disaster
  • April 25-26, 1986 - Chernobyl disaster
  • 1987 - World population reaches 5 billion
  • Feb. 15, 1989 - Soviet-Afghan War ends
  • April 15, 1989 - Tiananmen Square protests begin
  • 1989 - Fall of the Berlin Wall
  • 1990 - Tim Berners-Lee invents World Wide Web
  • April 24, 1990 - Hubble Space Telescope launches
  • Aug. 2, 1990 - Gulf War begins
  • Feb. 28, 1991 - Gulf War ends
  • March 31, 1991 - Yugoslav Wars begin
  • Dec. 26, 1991 - Dissolution of the Soviet Union
  • April 29 - Los Angeles riots begin
  • May 4, 1992 - Los Angeles riots end
  • April 6, 1992 - Bosnian War begins
  • Nov. 1, 1993 - European Union formed
  • Jan. 1, 1995 - World Trade Organization established
  • Dec. 14, 1995 - Bosnian War ends
  • 1996 - Dolly the Sheep becomes first successful cloned mammal
  • February 1998 - Kosovo War begins
  • Sept. 4, 1998 - Larry Page and Sergey Brin create Google
  • 1999 - World population reaches 6 billion
  • June 11, 1999 - Kosovo War ends
  • Nov. 2, 2000 - International Space Station begins operations

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