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Inquiry Unlimited presents

An Historical Chronology of the USA
Part 2: 1950 - 1997

(Basic narrative and chronology derived from 1997 The World Almanac)


[ 1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 ]


  • Trial of Julius Rosenberg and his wife Ethel who were found guilty on March 29 of conspiracy to commit wartime espionage. They were sentenced to death and executed on June 19, 1953.
  • Treaty signed in San Francisco on September 8 by U.S., Japan, and 47 other nations.

  • U.S. seizure of nation's steel mills ordered by Pres. Truman on April 8 to avert a strike was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court on June 2.
  • The peace contract between West Germany, U.S., Great Britain, and France was signed on May 26.
  • The last racial and ethnic barriers to naturalization were removed on June 26 with the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952.

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican) became the 34th president [1953-1961] of the United States.
  • Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that the U.S. had given France $60 million for the Indochina War.
  • The Korean War - exhibits at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library
  • March 5, 1953 - Death of Josef Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union
  • The Cold War
  • July 27, 1953 - U.S. and North Korea sign armistice at Panmunjon. The 38th parallel is established as boundary between North and South Korea.

  • Nautilus, the first atomic-powered submarine, was launched at Groton, CT on January 21.
  • Hearings on communist subversion activities in America conducted during 1953-54 by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
  • May 17, 1954 - Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education (Kansas) - A follow-up to Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court rules that segregated schools are "inherently unequal" not separate but equal as a violation of the 14th Amendment clause guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. "Separate but equal" public schools are unconstitutional.
  • Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) formed by a collective defense pact signed in Manila on September 8 by the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand.

  • U.S. agreed on February 12 to help train the South Vietnamese army.
  • The Supreme Court on May 31 ordered "all deliberate speed" in integration of public schools.
  • The AFL-CIO merge as the two largest labor unions form one union.
  • 1955 - Dr. Jonas Salk develops a vaccine that fights poliomyelitis.
  • December 5, 1955 - Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing on December 1 to give her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This led to the Montgomery, AL city bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr. which lasted for 54 weeks.

  • Massive resistance to Supreme Court desegregation rulings was called for March 12 by 101 Southern congressmen.
  • Federal-Aid Highway Act of June 29 created an interstate highway system.
  • First transatlantic telephone cable began operation on Sept. 25.
  • October -November 1956 - The Suez Canal Crisis

  • September 9, 1957 - The President signs the 1957 Civil Rights Act which helps to protect voting rights for all.
  • On September 4, 1957, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus called out the National Guardsmen to bar 9 black students from entering previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock. On Sept. 21, Gov. Faubus complied with a federal court order to remove the National Guardsmen. On Sept. 23 the blacks entered school but were ordered to withdraw by local authorities because of fear of mob violence. Pres. Eisenhower sent federal troops Sept. 24 to enforce the court's order.
  • October 4, 1957 - The Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first earth satellite, into orbit

  • Explorer I, the first U.S. earth satellite to go into orbit, was launched by the Army on Jan. 31 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

  • Alaska was admitted as the 49th state on January 3, 1959.
  • Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state on August 21, 1959.
  • The St. Lawrence Seaway was opened on April 25, 1959.
  • Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev visited the U.S. making a transcontinental tour from Sept. 15 - 27, 1959.

  • Sit-ins begin on February 1 when 4 black college students in Greensboro, NC refused to move from a Woolworth lunch counter when denied service. By September, 1961 more than 70,000 students, whites and blacks, had participated in sit-ins.
  • Congress approved a strong voting rights act on April 21, 1960.
  • A U-2 reconnaissance plane of the U.S. was shot down in the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960.
  • May 1, 1960 - Francis Gary Powers' U2 spy plane is shot down over the U.S.S.R.
  • June 30, 1960 - Internal violence when the Congo (Zaire) becomes independent from Belgium. U.N. troops intervene.
  • Kennedy-Nixon debate on television

  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the 35th president [1961-1963] of the United States.
  • The U.S. severed diplomatic and consular relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961 after disputes over nationalizations of U.S. firms and U.S. military presence at Guantanamo base.
  • Invasion of Cuba's "Bay of Pigs" on April 17 by Cuban exiles trained, armed, and directed by the U.S. attempting to overthrow the regime of Premier Fidel Castro failed.
  • The Peace Corps was created on March 1, 1961 by executive order.
  • Encourages an aggressive United States space program to land on the moon
  • Commander Alan B. Shephard Jr. was rocketed from Cape Canaveral, Fl in a Mercury capsule on May 5 in the first U.S. crewed suborbital space flight.
  • U. S. Satellite programs unified
  • "Freedom Rides" from Washington, DC across the deep South were launched in May to protest segregation in interstate transportation.

  • Lt. Col. John H. Glenn Jr. became the first American in orbit on February 20 when he circled the earth 3 times in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7.
  • James Meredith became the first black student at University of Mississippi on October 1 after 3,000 troops put down riots.
  • On October 22 a Soviet offensive missile buildup in Cuba was detected by the US with the bases eventually being dismantled.
  • Rachel Carson's environmentalist theme book The Silent Spring was published.

  • The Supreme Court ruled on June 17 that laws requiring recitation of the Lord's Prayer or Bible verses in public schools were unconstitutional.
  • June 11, 1963 - National Guard troops sent to University of Alabama to enforce desegregation laws
  • March on Washington by 200,00 people on August 28 in support of black demands for equal rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech.
  • President John F. Kennedy was shot and fatally wounded on November 22 as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, TX. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the president shortly after in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested and charged with the murder. He was shot and fatally wounded on November 24 by Jack Ruby, 52, a Dallas nightclub owner who was convicted of murder on March 14, 1964 and sentenced to death. Ruby died of natural causes on January 3, 1967 while awaiting retrial.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat) [1963-1969] became the 36th president of the United States after the death of John F. Kennedy.
  • Creation of the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy's assassination
  • U.S. troops in Vietnam totaled more than 15, 000 by year's end. [Vietnam Veteran's Memorial ](see: 915.97)
  • Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique ignites the women's movement.

  • Panama suspended relations with U.S. on January 9 after riots. On December 18 the U.S. offered to negotiate a new canal treaty.
  • The U.S. send military planes to Laos on May 27.
  • The major civil rights bill passed Congress on July 2 and signed by Pres. Johnson that same day banned discrimination in voting, jobs, and public accommodations.
  • Medicare Bill was signed on July 30 establishing government health insurance to persons over 65 years old.
  • U.S. Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution on August 7 authorizing presidential action in Vietnam.
  • The Warren Commission released a report on September 24 concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald was solely responsible for the Kennedy assassination.
  • President Johnson was elected to a full term on November 3, defeating Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

  • President Johnson ordered continuous bombing of North Vietnam below the 20th parallel.
  • On April 28, 14,000 U.S. troops were sent to the Dominican Republic during a civil war.
  • March from Selma to Montgomery, AL led by Martin Luther King, Jr. to demand federal protection of blacks' voting rights. A new Voting Rights Act was signed on August 6.
  • From August 11-16, a Los Angeles riot by blacks living in Watts area resulted in the death of 34 people and property damage estimated at $200 million.
  • On the night of November 9-10, an electric power failure blacked out most of the northeastern U.S. as well as 2 Canadian provinces.

  • U.S. forces began firing into Cambodia on May 1.
  • On June 29, the bombing of the Hanoi area by U.S. planes began. By December 31, U.S. troops numbered 385,300 in South Vietnam along with 33,000 in Thailand.
  • Edward Brooke, Republican of Massachusetts, was elected on November 8 as the first black U.S. senator in 85 years.

  • The 25th Amendment providing for presidential succession was ratified on February 10.
  • Riots from July 12 - 17, by blacks in Newark, NJ killed 26 people, injured 1,500 more and 1,000 arrested. In Detroit, MI from July 23-30 more than 40 died; 2,000 were injured; 5, 000 were left homeless by rioting, looting, and burning in the city's black ghetto.
  • Thurgood Marshall was sworn in on October 2 as the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
  • On November 7, Carl B. Stokes (Democrat of Cleveland) and Richard G. Hatcher (Democrat of Gary, Indiana) were elected the first black mayors of major U.S. cities.
  • U.S. troops in South Vietnam numbered 475,000 by December.

  • On January 23, the USS Pueblo and her 83-man crew were seized in the Sea of Japan by North Koreans. On December 22, 82 men were released.
  • Pres. Johnson curbed bombing of North Vietnam on March 31. Peace talks began in Paris on May 10. All bombing of North Vietnam was stopped in October.
  • Martin Luther King Jr., 39, was assassinated on April 4 in Memphis, TN. James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, pleaded guilty to the slaying and was sentenced to 99 years.
  • On June 5, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (Democrat of New York), 42 years old, was shot in the Hotel Ambassador, Los Angeles after celebrating presidential primary victories. He died on June 6. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Jordanian, was convicted of murder.
  • Vice Pres. Hubert Humphrey was nominated for president by Democrats at their national convention in Chicago from August 26-29 marked by clash between police and antiwar protesters.
  • The Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, won the presidency, defeating Hubert Humphrey in a close race on November 5.
  • Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D. NY) became the first black woman elected to Congress.

  • Richard Milhous Nixon (Republican, California) became the 37th president [1969-1974] of the United States.
  • Vietnam peace talks began on January 18.
  • On July 20, U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, 38, commander of the Apollo 11 mission, became the first person to set foot on the moon.
  • Between August 15-17, the Woodstock music festival near Bethel, NY drew 300,000 - 500,000 people.
  • On November 15, Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations reached their peak in the US marched in Washington, DC.

  • On Feb. 18, a federal jury found "the Chicago 7" antiwar activists innocent of conspiring to incite riots during the Democratic National Convention. Five were convicted of crossing state lines with intent to incite riots.
  • The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22 with celebrations of antipollution demonstrations.
  • Four students were killed on May 4 at Kent State Universtiy in Ohio by National Guardsmen during a protest against the war.

  • Charles Manson, 36, and 3 of his cult followers were found guilty on January 26 of first-degree murder in the 1969 slaying of actress Sharon Tate and 6 others.
  • The 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 in all elections was ratified on June 20.

  • President Nixon arrived in Beijing on Feb. 21 for an eight-day visit to China.
  • The US Senate approved on March 22 a constitutional amendment banning discrimination on the basis of sex and sent the measure to the states for ratifications. (Equal Rights Amendment)
  • North Vietnamese forces launched the biggest attacks in years across the demilitarized zone on March 30.
  • Nixon announced on May 8 the mining of North Vietnam ports. The last US combat troops left on August 11.
  • Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, campaigning for the presidency at a Laurel, MD shopping center on May 15 was shot and seriously wounded.
  • President Nixon became the first US president to visit Moscow on May 22 for a week of summit talks with Kremlin leaders.
  • Five men were arrested on June 17 for breaking into the office of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC.
  • On December 18, full-scale bombing of North Vietnam resumed after Paris peace negotiations failed.

  • On January 22, the Supreme Court ruled, 7-2 in Roe vs. Wade that a state may not prevent a woman from having an abortion during the first 3 months of pregnancy and that a state may regulate but may not prohibit abortions during the second trimester.
  • Vietnam peace pacts were signed in Paris.
  • The end of the military draft was announced on January 27.
  • Top Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, and John Dean and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigned on April 30 amid charges of White House efforts to obstruct justice in the Watergate case.
  • John Dean, former Nixon counsel, told Senate hearings on June 25 that Nixon, his staff, and campaign aides, and the Justice Department had conspired to cover up Watergate facts.
  • The US officially ceased bombing in Cambodia.
  • Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10 and pleaded no contest to charges of tax evasion on payments made to him by Maryland contractors when he was governor of that state.
  • On October 12, Gerald Ford became the first Vice President appointed under the 25th Amendment. He was sworn in on December 6.
  • Between October 19-21 a total ban on oil exports to the US was imposed by Arab oil-producing nations.
  • Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned and Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was fired by President Nixon regarding Nixon’s reluctance to turn over tapes in the Watergate case.
  • Pres. Nixon selected Leon Jaworski to replace Archibald Cox on November 1.

  • Impeachment hearings were opened on May 9 against Pres. Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee.
  • John Ehrlichman and 3 White House "plumbers" were found guilty July 12 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of a former psychiatrist to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, by breaking into his Beverly Hills, CA office.
  • The House Judiciary Committee in televised hearings July 24-30 recommended 3 articles of impeachment against Nixon. The first, voted 27-11 on July 27 charged Nixon with taking part in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice in the Watergate cover-up. The second, voted 28-10 on July 29 charged a series of alleged abuses of power. The third, voted 21-17 on July 30 accused him of unconstitutional defiance of committee subpoenas. The House of Representatives voted without debate on August 20 by 412-3 to accept the committee report which included the recommended impeachment articles.
  • Nixon resigned on August 9 with Vice President Gerald Ford sworn in on the same day.
  • Gerald R. Ford (Republican, Michigan) became the 38th president [1974-1977] of the United States.
  • On September 8, Pres. Gerald Ford issued an unconditional pardon to ex-Pres. Nixon for all federal crimes that he "committed or may have committed" while president.

  • On January 1, ex-Atty. General John Mitchell and ex-presidential advisers H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were found guilty of Watergate cover-up charges.
  • The U.S. launched an evacuation of American and some South Vietnamese from Saigon on April 29 as Communist forces completed takeover of South Vietnam.
  • F.B.I. agents captured publishing heiress Patricia (Patty) Hearst, kidnapped Feb. 4, 1974 by militants of the "Symbionese Liberation Army" in San Francisco on Sept. 18. A San Francisco jury convicted her on March 20, 1976 of bank robbery.

  • The U.S. celebrated it bicentennial on July 4 marked the 200th anniversary of its independence with festivals, parades, and New York City's Operation Sail, a gathering of tall ships from around the world.
  • A mysterious ailment named "legionnaire's disease" killed 29 persons who attended an American Legion convention from July 21-24 in Philadelphia. The cause was later found to be a bacterium.
  • The Viking II set down on Mars' Utopia Plains on Sept. 3 following the successful landing by Viking I on July 20.

  • Pres. Jimmy Carter on January 21 pardoned most Vietnam War draft evaders who number approximately 10,000.
  • On August 4, Pres. Carter signed an act creating a new cabinet-level Energy Department.
  • On September 7, Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty

  • On April 18, the U.S. Senate voted to turn over the Panama Canal to Panama on December 31, 1999.
  • September 17, 1978 - Camp David Accords - peace between Israel and Egypt

  • A major accident occurred on March 28 at a nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island near Middletown, PA when a partial meltdown released radioactive material.
  • Some 90 people, including 63 Americans, were taken hostage on November 4 at the American embassy in Tehran, Iran by militant student followers of Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. He demanded the return of former Shah Muhhammad Reza Pahlavi, who was undergoing medical treatment in New York City.
  • President Carter announce on January 4, punitive measures against the USSR including an embargo on the sale of grain and high technology in retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At Carter's request, the U.S. Olympic Committee voted on April 12 against U.S. participation in the Moscow Summer Olympics.
  • In the state of Washington, Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18 in a violent blast estimated to be 500 times as powerful as the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
  • In a sweeping victory, on November 4, Ronald Wilson Reagan was elected as the 40th president of the United States defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter. Republicans also gained control of the Senate.
  • Former Beatle John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8 outside his apartment building in New York City.

  • Minutes after the inauguration of Pres. Ronald Reagan, January 20, the 52 Americans who had been held hostage in Iran for 444 days were flown to freedom following an arrangement in which the U.S. agreed to return to Iran $ 8 billion in frozen assets.
  • Pres. Reagan was shot in the chest by a would-be-assassin on March 30 in Washington, DC as he walked to his limousine following an address.
  • On April 12 the world's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle Columbia, was sent into space.
  • On July 29, Congress passed President Reagan's tax-cut legislation which was the largest tax cut in the the nation's history. It was expected to save taxpayers $750 billion over the next 5 years.
  • Federal air traffic controllers on August 3 began an illegal nationwide strike. Most defied a back-to-work order and were dismissed by President Reagan on August 5.
  • One September 21, the Senate confirmed, in a 99-0 vote, the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the first woman appointed to that body.

  • The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated after a 10-year struggle for ratification.
  • A retired dentist, Dr. Barney B. Clark, 61, became the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart during a 7-1/2 hour operation in Salt Lake City on December 2.

  • Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel in space on June 18 when the space shuttle Challenger was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL.
  • On Oct. 23, 241 U.S. Marines and sailors who were members of the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon were killed when a TNT-laden suicide bomb blew up Marine headquarters at Beirut International Airport.
  • U.S. Marines and Rangers invaded the island of Grenada on Oct. 25 in response to a request from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.

  • On February 3, the space shuttle Challenger was launched on its 4th trip into space.
  • On June 6, former vice president Walter Mondale won the Democratic presidential nomination. On July 12, Mondale chose Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D, NY) as a candidate for vice president.
  • Ronald Reagan was reelected U.S. president on November 6 in the greatest Republican landslide in history, carrying 49 states against Walter F. Mondale.

  • "Live Aid" a 17-hour rock concert broadcast on July 13 raised $ 70 million for the starving people of Africa.
  • On October, 4 Palestinian hijackers seized an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, in the open sea as it approached Port Said, Egypt. More than 400 passengers and crew were held hostage for 2 days; one American, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed.

  • On January 20, for the first time, the U.S. officially observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
  • Moments after liftoff on January 28, the space shuttle Challenger exploded killing 6 astronauts and Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire teacher on board.
  • U.S. officials predicted on June 12 that AIDS cases and deaths would increase tenfold in the next 5 years.
  • The U.S. joined other nations in imposing economic sanctions on South Africa pressuring the government to end apartheid.
  • Press reports on November 6 broke first news of the Iran-contra scandal involving secret U.S. sale of arms to Iran.

  • An Iraqi warplane missile killed 37 sailors on the frigate U.S. S. Stark in the Persian Gulf, May 17, Iraq called it an accident. The Stark's officers were found negligent.
  • Public hearings investigating the Iran-contra affair from May-August, 1987.
  • President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev met in Washington on December 8 and signed an unprecedented agreement calling for the dismantling of all 1,752 U.S. and 859 Soviet missiles with a 300-3,400 mile range.

NEW PUBLICATION AVAILABLE - From Caravels to the Constitution by Marjorie Duby
at Creative Teaching Press.

Content: Blackline masters - Using word searches, hidden messages, analogies, anagrams, and creative puzzles, students will learn about history while they apply critical-thinking skills. This resource provides students with opportunities to organize and analyze information and to draw conclusions. Extension activities promote practical, informative, narrative, and expository writing skills to help meet the standards. 112 pages [LW405 - From Caravels to the Constitution - $13.99]

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