That wacky century!


Stuff That Happened from 1901 C.E. to 2000 C.E.

Now that the Twentieth Century has drawn to a close, let us sit back and savor our memories of the events that shaped our world.  Or shaped our country.  Or didn't shape much of anything.  And of course, at least half of these probably won't really be memories to most of you unless you're a Centenarian or something.  But don't let that stop you.  Just pause for a moment with me here, won't you, and reflect on these Days Gone By.

At the end of the last Century, Rome had long since fallen.  The Dark Ages were drawing to a close and the Medieval Period was . . . no, wait, that's the end of the last Millennium, not the end of the last Century, isn't it?  Ahem.  At the end of the Nineteenth Century, the automobile had just been invented.  Disinfection was still a new medical technique, and anesthesia was limited to circus side shows.  Human beings had never flown in heavier-than-air machines, unless you count gliding, which aviation historians apparently don't.  The term "computer" referred to a profession, not a machine.  Or at least that's what somebody told me, and it sounded like a good story so I'm reprinting it here.  In fact, all of my alleged historical facts pretty much belong in the hearsay category.  I ain't a historian.  I don't need to be.  All I need to do is publish false information on a webpage and everybody will send me e-mail correcting it, won't you?  Ah, the beauty of modern technology.

(Actually, I didn't lavish nearly as much attention on this page as I did on That Wacky Millennium!.  This page only covers 1/9 as much history, after all.)

And if there's a favorite Historical Event of yours that happened in this century but that I left out (no, your first date does not count), send it to and I may or may not get around to reading it. 

1901 – The Nineteenth Century officially ends and the Twentieth Century begins. Unfortunately, everybody did all their partying in 1900 and never bothered to ask a calendar expert if 1900 was really the beginning of the 20th century (which it isn't).  Those wacky Gregorians!

1903 – Wilbur and Orville Wright's biplane, christened with the thoroughly original name "The Flyer", takes off from a field in Kitty Hawk and stays airborn for 12 seconds.  It is not the first powered heavier-than-air machine to sustain flight for any length of time, though.  The Wright Brothers' biggest contribution to aviation comes several years later with the invention of the aileron.  Those wacky bicycle mechanics!

1908 – Henry Ford begins cranking out Model Ts, reducing the price of cars drastically by dumbing down the job of the auto assembly worker.  This causes traffic jams and suburbia.  Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs win their last World Series.  That wacky Fred Merkle!

1909 – Hans Geiger (of Geiger-Müller Counter fame) and E. Marsden shoot some helium at some gold, causing Ernst Rutherford to discover that atoms have a nucleus.  This leads to the Nuclear Generation, whose members manage to mispronounce it as "nuke-you-lar".  That wacky alpha particle scattering!

1912 – Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett fall madly in love aboard a sinking Royal Mail Steamer Titanic, killing over a thousand passengers.  It was sad when the great ship went down.  Those wacky lifeboats!

1913 – Federal Reserve Act and Income Tax Constitutional Amendment enacted.  Many conspiracy theories follow.  Those wacky Bavarian international banker freemason illuminatists!

1914-1918 – World War I happens.  Record-breaking numbers of people die.  Those wacky trench diggers!

1916 – U.S. Supreme court (in the Brushaber Case) says the Income Tax Amendment didn't really amend the Constitution, it just clarified it by classifying an income tax as an indirect or excise tax.  Ha ha.  Those wacky justices!

1917 – Russia and a few of its neighbors become the first test case for Marx's theories.  Unfortunately, some of the variables from the control group infect the sample and skew the results.  Then Stalin comes in and really skews the results.  Those wacky communists!

1918 – Britain and France blame World War I on Germany, and require them to pay a hillion jillion Deutschmarks in reparations; Germany accomplishes this by printing a hillion 1-jillion-Deutschmark bills.  Ethanol is banned throughout the United States thanks to, of all things, a Constitutional amendment.  The Boston Red Sox win their last World Series of the millennium.  That wacky Harry Frazee!

1920 – 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, allowing all female U.S. citizens to vote.  Unfortunately, they screw up their first chance big-time by electing Warren G. Harding president.  Those wacky suffragettes!

1925 – John Logie Baird, a Scotsman, invents the first working television.  It sends 30 piddling scan lines worth of picture to a rotating motorized display unit, which can't even display a proper shade of white.  And if it isn't Scottish, it's crrrrrrap.  That wacky collection of way too many moving parts!

1927 – Philo T. Farnsworth (yes, that's his real name) invents real television.  This paves the way for the later invention of the TV Dinner, the Couch Potato, and Joanie Loves Chachi.  That wacky cathode ray tube!

1928 – Alexander Fleming, another Scotsman, accidentally leaves one of his Petri dishes exposed to the air, and it gets infected with bread mold.  When he noticed that the area around the mold was bacteria-free, he proclaimed, "Ach, cap'n, the engines canna take it any more!"  Just kidding; he actually proclaimed, "There can be only one!" and decapitated Sean Connery with his claymore.  This led to the development of penicillin.  That wacky fungal defense-mechanism secretion!

That very same year – Otto Frederick Rohwedder invents sliced bread.  It's the best thing since itself.  That wacky Wonder Bread®!

1929 – U.S. Television video standard approved by the F.C.C., which will eventually require (yich) NTSC to be backward-compatible with it.  Stock prices across the entire New York Stock Exchange take a nosedive.  This sets off a minor recession in the U.S..  Those wacky stockbrokers!

1931 – U.S. economy is in recovery from the minor recession set off by the Stock Market Crash in 1929.  Those wacky wage earners!

1932 – The world-wide recession finally hits the United States.  The U.S. enters the Great Depression.  In a brilliant political maneuver, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt blames the depression on the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which as we all know was entirely Herbert Hoover's fault.  No one bothers to correct Mr. Roosevelt.  Those wacky Democrats!

1933 – Ethanol is un-banned in the U.S. thanks to another Constitutional amendment.  Edwin Howard Armstrong invents Frequency Modulation; his boss, Lee DeForest David Sarnoff, eventually drives him to suicide.  Acting on emergency power authority granted to him by the U.S. Congress, newly elected U.S. president Roosevelt institutes the "new deal" in which he outlaws private ownership of gold.  That wacky Gold Standard!

1934 – Now that private ownership of gold is illegal in the U.S., Roosevelt re-defines the U.S. "dollar" from 25.8 grains of 900-fine gold to 15.375 grains of 900-fine gold, and starts paying off the 20 billion dollar federal debt in these new smaller "dollars".  That wacky national debt!

1935 – As if a Great Depression wasn't bad enough, the destructive farming practices used in the midwest finally catch up with them, and formerly arable land becomes a great big Dust Bowl.  This causes Steinbeck to engineer a new strain of wrathful grapes.  That wacky nitrate depletion!

1938 – Realizing that the British Air Force secretly under construction is not yet big enough to challenge Nazi Germany, Neville Chamberlain lets the Nazis invade North Czeckoslovakia, giving some wimpy public excuse about "peace in our time".  This buys Britain time to build more airplanes but gets Chamberlain kicked out of office.  His successor burps at Lady Astor a lot.  That wacky Appeasement policy!

1939-1945 – World War II happens.  Five times as many people die as in World War I, but you'd never know it from the movies that come out of this war.  As a result of the length of the war, the rate of technological innovation takes on a lightning-paced life of its own that continues through to the next Millennium.  Those wacky Nazis!

1941 – Howard Florey (an Australian) and Ernst Chain (a British guy) discover that the Penicillium chrysogenum fungus can be grown in huge vats.  Armed with this invaluable bread-mold knowledge, they invent a way to mass-produce penicillin.  Penicillin makes good for, oh, 30 or 40 years, before penicillin-resistant strains of disease-causing bacteria begin to show up.  That wacky natural selection process!

1945 – First nuclear bomb tested in New Mexico.  Second and third nuclear bombs tested in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Those wacky fissionables!

1947 – India stops being a British colony, thanks to Ben Kingsley's Oscar®-winning performance.  That wacky doctrine of non-cooperation!

1948 – Stalin blockades West Berlin in order to draw attention away from his attempts to acquire U.S. nuclear secrets.  He buys the final pieces of the puzzle from J. Robert Oppenheimer, for $500 and a free dinner.  Meanwhile, Bell Labs invents the Transistor, paving the way for cheap computers, portable stereo amplifiers, and the Tamagachi.  Those wacky doped silicon substrates!

1949 – The Soviet Union, also known as The Bad Guys, detonates its first nuclear device.  The Cold War begins.  That wacky military-industrial complex!

1950 – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg become the first big-time victims of the U.S. Red Scare, thanks to Jell-O® brand gelatin dessert.  Meanwhile, Alan Turing, arguably the world's first computer scientist, having broken the Nazi's secret code to help Great Britain win the second world war, is jailed in Great Britain for being a homosexual.  Those wacky homophobes!

1950-1953 – The Korean War happens.  Lots of people die.  Both sides end up exactly where they started.  That wacky 38th parallel!

1954 – Building on Einstein's lesser-known theory of stimulated emissions, Charles Townes invents the first laser (called a "maser" because its emissions lay in the microwave spectrum).  Those wacky population inversions!

That very same year – Sherwood "Shakey" Johnson opens up the first Shakey's Pizza Parlor, which became the first restaurant chain to sell modern American pizza as we know it.  That wacky crust spinner!

1955 – Disneyland opens, on the same day that Roger M. Wilcox, author of this esteemed webpage, will be born 10 years later.  That wacky Buena Vista!

1957 – The U.S. enters a minor recession, causing the VW Bug to catch on.  The Soviet Union places a beach-ball-sized artificial satellite in low Earth orbit, resulting in the formation of the NASA and ESA bureaucracies.  The U.S. Ford Motor Company introduces four mid-priced makes of cars produced by their new Edsel division.  Those wacky marketing blunders!

1958 – The U.S. completely fails to catch up with the Soviet space program, because space exploration is "supposed to be peaceful" and Werner von Braun used to be a military man.  The notion of "rocket science" as being a difficult subject is coined into the English-speaking imagination.  It is a dark day for us all.  Those wacky Keplerian orbital elements!

1961 – The first human being in space, Yuri Gagarin, also makes (on the same flight) one almost-complete orbit of the Earth.  Is that cool, or what?  Those wacky Soviet-employed German scientists!

1963 – The U.S. becomes probably the last country on earth to go off the Gold Standard.  U.S. President John F. Kennedy gets assassinated, from the Grassy Knoll, by Space Aliens under mind-control from Elvis who are working with the Bavarian Illuminati to get Jackie Kennedy pregnant with Bigfoot's love-child.  That wacky Warren Commission!

1965 – Roger M. Wilcox, author of this esteemed webpage, is born.  U.S. dimes and quarters stop being made out of silver, thus ending the era of U.S. specie money.  (U.S. half dollar coins are still made partially out of silver through 1970, but most of their bulk is now taken up by a thick layer of copper.)  Disney releases That Darn Cat!.  (It's not much of a movie, but its title epitomizes Disney live-action movie making.)  Malcom X gets assassinated for not being a black separatist anymore.  That wacky Nation of Islam!

1966 – The original Star Trek TV series makes its debut on NBC.  It will eventually get cancelled, gain an underground cult following, spring back to life as a long drawn-out motion picture, and snowball into the biggest franchise in the history of Paramount.  All while completely missing the profound implications of half the magic-technology it proposes (and forgetting about 9/10 of this technology when it's convenient for the plot).  That wacky Great Bird!

1968 – Another Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., both get assassinated.  In protest to this, youngsters grow their hair long, burn their draft cards, and listen to songs with subversive lyrics like "Picture yourself on a train in a station."  Those wacky hippies!

1969 – Woodstock happens.  The U.S. goes off the Silver Standard.  Neil Armstrong, and some other guy nobody ever remembers, walks on the moon; his first words after touching the lunar surface are "The dust is really fine, almost like a powder."  Those wacky NASA astronauts!

1970 – Astronauts Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon lead a star-studded special effects extravaganza when their oxygen tank explodes en route to the moon.  Private ownership of gold is re-legalized in the United States.  Those wacky gold futures contracts!

1971 – In response to new U.S. emission control laws, the catalytic converter appears on nearly every new car, choking off engine horsepower and reducing fuel efficiency.  Auto manufacturers could have built multiple ignition engines instead, but nooooooo.  Those wacky incompletely-combusted hydrocarbons!

That very same year – E. Gary Gygax publishes a little 3-part supplement to the Chainmail! medieval wargaming system called "Dungeons & Dragons."  That wacky +5 holy vorpal defender frost-brand flame-tongue dragon-slayer luckblade of wounding, dancing, sharpness, thunderbolts, speed, quickness, life stealing, nine-lives stealing, and final word!

1972 – The last human beings set foot on the moon.  That wacky geologist astronaut!

1973 – The U.S. Supreme Court declares that laws prohibiting abortion during the first 3 months of pregnancy are in violation of the Constitution's 4th amendment.  That wacky Operation Rescue!

1974 – Richard Milhous Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to resign from office.  Gerald Ford becomes the first U.S. president to get there without ever having won an election.  Those wacky Watergate burglars!

1975 – Ebola makes its show-stopping world premiere in Zaire, killing 90% of the people it infects.  Those wacky viruses!

1976 – The movie Logan's Run is released.  It's almost nothing like the book, but is good in its own way, as is evidenced by The Highly Unofficial Logan's Run FAQ.  That wacky William F. Nolan!

1977 – Star Wars is released, reshaping the face of high-budget cinema forever.  Those wacky imperial stormtroopers!

1979 – Susan B. Anthony is immortalized by putting her image on a U.S. dollar coin so badly designed that it stops being minted almost immediately.  The older, large coin dollars with Eisenhower's picture on them are not re-introduced.  That wacky undecagon!

1981 – IBM introduces a microcomputer based on an Intel CPU designed to be source-compatible with 8080 assembly language; this so-called "Personal Computer" eventually takes over the world.  Perhaps the least intelligent U.S. president in this millennium is inaugurated into office, and as a result the U.S. Congress accelerates federal Deficit Spending to a level unheard of since the end of the second world war.  That wacky national debt!

1982 – U.S. one-cent pieces stop being made out of copper.  If you make a deep scratch in one, you'll see a definitely non-copper-looking metal underneath, which is cheap zinc.  No U.S. coin is worth anywhere near its face value any more.  Those wacky tokens!

1984 – The Macintosh, the only serious rival to the PC architecture, sputters onto the scene; it borrows some ideas from Xerox PARC and eventually leads to MS Windows.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control announces that a newly-isolated virus called H.I.V. is the cause of AIDS.  Unfortunately, the arrogance behind their assertion fuels doubts and results in a kind of AIDS underground, most prominently exemplified by Peter Duesberg, which spends years asserting that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.  Those wacky T-cells!

1985 – "New Coke" appears, at about the same time the old radioactive water problems at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant are cleaned up.  (Coincidence?  Read the book!)  Those wacky Edsel-like marketing blunders!

1986 – Experimenters at the Soviet nuclear power plant in Chernobyl take all the control rods out of the reactor, making it go boom.  NASA plays catch-up with the Soviet space program in terms of body count; the last thing to go through Christa McAuliffe's mind is a heat-resistant tile (rim-shot).  Those wacky solid rocket booster rubber sealant rings!

1989 – The walls separating Federal Germany from Communist Germany come down.  The bricks are carefully preserved, though, so as to make nice souvenirs for people who want to shell out good money to own a broken brick.  Meanwhile, students on protest in Tianenmen Square get run over by tanks.  Those wacky most-favored-nation trading partners!

1991 – The U.S. and a few measly nations wage a lopsided war against Iraq.  Lots of people die.  The Soviet Union dissolves after a failed coup attempt, officially ending the Cold War.  (The military-industrial complex and the NASA bureaucracy that grew up because of the Cold War, however, do not end.)  Now freed from Communism, the Russians suffer a severe economic depression and blame it all on women.  Those wacky Russkies!

1992 – Dan Quayle misspells "potato" in front of a news camera crew.  And that's all any U.S. voter will ever remember about him from that moment onward.  Quayle may be stupid, but voters are stupider.  The 2-hour pilot episode of Babylon 5 premieres.  That wacky JMS!

1998 – The Useless Pages chooses That Wacky Millen[n]ium! as its Useless Site of the Week for the week of March 15th.  Don't believe me? It's archived here: Those wacky Ides of March!

1999 – U.S. President Bill Clinton repeats Andrew Johnson's performance on the impeachment floor.  Then, on September 13th, Moonbase Alpha gets thrown into deep space by a nuclear lunar explosion.  That wacky Commander Koenig!

2000 – The last year of the 20th Century.  And the Second Millennium.  Once again, the Book of Revelation fails to come true, despite widespread predictions that it would.  (Never mind the fact that the Book of Revelation doesn't mention any specific dates.  That has never kept anyone from leaping to the unjustified conclusion that the End Is Near.)  The world does not come to an end, unless you count those few pieces of software out there that break when the year ends in "00", and the lack of popular acceptance of the new Sacagewia dollar coin in the U.S..  Those wacky doomsayers!

Go back to my main page for more wondrous outpourings of my personal, ahem, creativity.

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