American History Timeline

American History Timeline


What follows is a brief timeline of some of the historical milestones in American history.  Although this background information is helpful, your ability to comprehend the essentials—Main Idea, Detail, Inference—from what you are given to read is more important for answering questions than tapping into an encyclopedic memory.


BC      Native Americans.

1000  Leif Ericsson lands in Newfoundland, Canada.

1492  Christopher Columbus “discovers” America (reaches Bahamas).

1501  Explorer Amerigo Vespucci’s first name co-opted for “America.”

1587  Sir Walter Raleigh founds Roanoke Colony (North Carolina).

1590  Roanoke Colony deserted.

1607  Captain John Smith founds Jamestown (Virginia).

1620  Plymouth Colony founded (Massachusetts); Mayflower Compact signed.

1626  Peter Minuit (Dutch) purchases Manhattan from Native Americans for $24.00.

1664  British seize New Amsterdam from Dutch and rename it New York.

1754 – 1763  French and Indian War.  England gains control of eastern North America.

1770  Boston Massacre.  Five civilians killed while protesting British rule.

1773  Boston Tea Party.  Patriots dressed as Indians dump tea in protest over tax.

1775  Revolutionary War begins at Lexington and Concord (Massachusetts) between British troops and colonial “Minutemen.”

1776  Declaration of Independence.

1777  Articles of Confederation become nation’s first constitution.

1781  General George Washington leads American victory over Lord Cornwallis at Battle of Yorktown.

1783  Treaty of Paris formally recognizes United States of America’s independence from British Empire.

1787  Federalist Papers urge ratification of United States Constitution.

1789  George Washington elected first President of the United States.

1789  Constitution (in its current form) ratified.

1791  Bill of Rights ratified.

1803  Marbury v. Madison decision expands power of Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.

1803  Louisiana Purchase (United States from France).

1805  Lewis and Clark Expedition reaches Pacific Ocean.

1812  War of 1812 begins, declared by United States against Britain over trade and territorial issues.

1814  Frances Scott Key composes “Star-Spangled Banner” during Battle of Fort McHenry.

1814  Treaty of Ghent ends War of 1812, maintaining sovereignty of United States.

1820  Missouri Compromise.  In order to preserve “balance,” Maine is admitted as a free state, Missouri as a slave state.

1823  Monroe Doctrine.  President James Monroe proclaims American continents are prohibited from further colonization.

1831  Nat Turner Rebellion.  A slave revolt is quelled in Virginia.

1838  Trail of Tears.  Thousands of Cherokee Indians die in forced march from Georgia to Oklahoma.

1845  United States annexes Texas.

1845  The term “Manifest Destiny” is coined by journalist John L. O’Sullivan to advocate the expansion of white settlers across the American continent.

1846-1848  Mexican-American War.  At Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico cedes California, Texas, and rest of Southwest to United States.

1848  California Gold Rush.

1849  Harriet Tubman uses the Underground Railroad to help slaves (like herself) escape.

1852  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin fuels
anti-slavery fervor.

1857  Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision declares Congress lacks the power to ban slavery; also decrees slaves are not citizens.

1859  Abolitionist John Brown leads a raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in an unsuccessful attempt to incite a slave revolt.

1860  Abraham Lincoln, running on a platform opposing slavery, is elected sixteenth President of the United States.

1861  Confederate States of America (Confederacy) formed when eleven Southern states secede from the Union to protect “states’ rights,” arguably a euphemism for slavery.

1861  Civil War begins with Confederate attack of Union installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

1863  Emancipation Proclamation.  President Lincoln proclaims all slaves held by the Confederacy are from then on “forever free.”

1863  Battle of Gettysburg.  Union forces defeat Confederate forces at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  Arguably the turning point of the war.

1863  Gettysburg Address.  Lincoln’s succinct message after Battle of Gettysburg reasserts “government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

1865  Civil War ends when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.

1865  13th Amendment abolishes slavery throughout United States.

1865  President Lincoln assassinated.

1867  United States acquires Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in [Secretary of State] “Seward’s Folly.”

1868  14th Amendment establishes all native-born and naturalized people as citizens with rights of due process.

1870  15th Amendment gives all men the right to vote, regardless of race, color, or previous slavery.

1871  Great Chicago Fire.

1876  Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Colonel Custer’s U.S. cavalry regiment wiped out by Chief Sitting Bull’s Sioux Indians.

1890  Lakota Indians massacred at Battle of Wounded Knee, ending Indian Wars.

1890  Sherman Antitrust Act passed, prohibiting monopolies.

1892  Ellis Island (New York) becomes main immigration portal for United States.

1896  Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision declares racial segregation—the doctrine of “separate but equal”—to be constitutional.  Discriminatory Jim Crow laws soon follow.

1896  Alaska Gold Rush.

1898  Spanish-American War.  After USS Maine explodes in Havana harbor, United States declares war on Spain.  Spain ultimately grants independence to Cuba.

1900  Boxer Rebellion in China, quelled, in part, by United States.

1903  Wright brothers fly first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1906  San Francisco earthquake.

1908  Ford Model T automobile mass-produced via assembly line.

1912  Titanic sinks.

1914  Panama Canal opens.

1914  WWI begins in Europe.

1917  United States enters World War I.

1918  World War I ends.

1920  League of Nations (U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s idea) convenes without U.S. representation.

1920  19th Amendment establishes women’s right to vote (women’s suffrage).

1927  Charles Lindbergh makes first trans-Atlantic flight.

1927  The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, is released as the first “talkie” (movie with sound).

1929  Stock Market Crash.

1929  Great Depression begins.

1930  Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, by means of its protectionism, makes Great Depression worse.

1932  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) elected 32nd President of the United States.

1933  FDR institutes the New Deal, a series of government programs aimed at lifting country out of Great Depression.

1934  Dust Bowl, a severe drought in the Great Plains, begins.

1935  Social Security instituted.

1939  Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II in Europe.

1941  Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brings United States into World War II in both Asia and Europe.  Great Depression ends.

1944  D-Day.  United States and allied forces land in France, begin liberation of Europe.

1945  FDR dies; Harry Truman becomes 33rd President of the United States.

1945  Germany surrenders on V-E Day, ending World War II in Europe.

1945  United States drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

1945  Japan surrenders on V-J Day, ending World War II in Asia.

1945  The United Nations, arguably the successor to the failed League of Nations, is established.

1946  Cold War between United States and Soviet Union begins.  Berlin and Germany soon divide into East (Soviet) and West (Democratic) entities, respectively.

1947  President Truman initiates the Truman Doctrine, pledging American economic and military aid to any country threatened by Communism.

1948  Marshall Plan, a U.S. initiative to rebuild post-war Europe, begins.

1948  U.S. overcomes Soviet-initiated Berlin Blockade with Berlin Airlift.

1949  North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) formed.

1950-1953  Korean War results in Communist North Korea and Democratic South Korea.

1954  Senator Joseph McCarthy accuses public figures of Communist ties; his inquiries eventually fizzle.

1954  Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education declares racial segregation in schools unconstitutional, thereby overturning the “separate but equal” provisions of its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

1957  Little Rock, Arkansas high school integrated amid fierce local white opposition.

1960  John F. Kennedy elected 35th President of the United States.

1961  President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warns against unwarranted influence of military-industrial complex.

1962  Cuban Missile Crisis resolved after near-nuclear confrontation between United States and Soviet Union.

1963  President Kennedy assassinated.

1963  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leads civil rights March on Washington, delivers “I Have A Dream” speech.

1964  President Lyndon Baines Johnson achieves passage of Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

1964  United States’ involvement in simmering Vietnam War becomes full-blown after Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

1965  Voting Rights Act prohibits voting discrimination.

1968  Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated.

1968  Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy assassinated.

1968  Amid Vietnam War stalemate on the battlefield and protests at home, President Johnson decides not to run for another term.

1968  Richard Nixon elected 37th President of the United States.

1969  American astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes first man on the moon.

1973  United States signs peace treaty with Communist North Vietnam, ostensibly ending Vietnam War.

1973  OPEC Oil Embargo.  Gasoline prices rise.  Stock market falls.  Recession follows.

1974  President Nixon resigns amid Watergate scandal.

1975  North Vietnam overruns South Vietnam, creating a unified Communist country.

1978  President Jimmy Carter brokers Camp David Accord for peace between Israel and Egypt.

1983  President Ronald Reagan calls the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.”

1989  Berlin Wall torn down.  German reunification begins.  Much of Eastern Europe released from Soviet control.

1991  Under President George H. W. Bush, United States frees Kuwait from Iraq in Persian Gulf War.

1999  President Bill Clinton acquitted in impeachment trial by U.S. Senate.

2001  9/11 terrorist attacks destroy twin towers of World Trade Center in New York and damage Pentagon in Washington.

2001  President George W. Bush initiates war against terrorist threats from Afghanistan.

2003  President George W. Bush initiates war against terrorist threats and “weapons of mass destruction” from Iraq.

2008  Subprime mortgage lending leads to bursting of housing bubble.  Stock market tumbles.  Multiple financial institutions require government bailouts.

2008  Great Recession begins.

2008  Barack Obama elected 44th and first African-American President of the United States.

2009  Great Recession ends.

2019  COVID-19 Pandemic begins.

2021  Insurrection Attempt at U.S. Capitol.

Mapping America

1  America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who set forth the then revolutionary concept that the lands that Christopher Columbus sailed to in 1492 were part of a separate continent.  A map created in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller (shown at the top of this page) was the first to depict this new continent with the name “America,” a Latinized version of “Amerigo.”

2  Before that time, there was no name that collectively identified the Western Hemisphere.  The earlier Spanish explorers referred to the area as the Indies believing, as did Columbus, that it was a part of eastern Asia.

3  The map grew out of an ambitious project in St. Dié, France, in the early years of the 16th century, to update geographic knowledge flowing from the new discoveries of the late 15th and early 16th centuries.  Martin Waldseemüller’s large world map was the most exciting product of that research effort.  He included on the map data gathered by Vespucci during his voyages of 1501-1502 to the New World.  Waldseemüller named the new lands “America” on his 1507 map in the recognition of Vespucci’s understanding that a new continent had been uncovered following Columbus’ and subsequent voyages in the late 15th century.  An edition of 1,000 copies of the large wood-cut print was reportedly printed and sold, but no other copy is known to have survived.  It was the first map, printed or manuscript, to depict clearly a separate Western Hemisphere, with the Pacific as a separate ocean.  The map reflected a huge leap forward in knowledge, recognizing the newly found American landmass and forever changing mankind’s understanding and perception of the world itself.

Practice – Questions
1.  Which of the following can you infer from this passage?
A.  A map is merely a work of art.
B.  A map never changes.
C.  A map relies solely on imagination.
D.  A map is a product of accumulated knowledge.

2.  What is the main idea of this passage?
A.  Seeing is believing.
B.  Mapmakers are merely artists.
C.  A new map in the early 1500s established America as a separate landmass.
D.  People aren’t open to new ideas.

3.  America is named after:
A.  Christopher Columbus
B.  Amerigo Vespucci
C.  Martin Waldseemüller
D.  St. Dié

4.  The map discussed in this passage was created by:
A.   Martin Waldseemüller

B.  Amerigo Vespucci
C.  Christopher Columbus
D.  St. Dié

5.  Which of the following is implied by the passage?
A.  All mapmaking is performed on a whim.
B.  There is no such thing as India.
C.  There is no such thing as America.
D.  Amerigo Vespucci was more of a scholar than Christopher Columbus.

Practice – Answers
1.  D.  A map is a product of accumulated knowledge.

2.  C.  A new map in the early 1500s established America as a separate landmass.
Main Idea

3.  B.  Amerigo Vespucci

4.  A.   Martin Waldseemüller

5.  D.  Amerigo Vespucci was more of a scholar than Christopher Columbus.

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