Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#115 The 100 Top News Stories of the 20th Century


On the somewhat risky assumption that you have not yet overdosed on all the century and millennium "look-backs," here is a list of the top 100 news stories of the 20th century as determined by a survey of 67 AMERICAN journalist and historians. The survey was conducted by Newseum, a journalism museum based in Arlington, VA., more information about which can be found at

The lists reminds me of a survey I encountered some years ago in which journalists were asked to list what they thought would be the most exciting story on which they could ever imagine reporting. The first choice was the Second Coming of Christ and the second choice was the first coming of an alien civilization.


Rick Reis

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Copyright 1999 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Rank Year Headline
1 1945 U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki: Japan surrenders to end World War II
2 1969 American astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to walk on the moon

3 1941 Japan bombs Pearl Harbor: U.S. enters World War II

4 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright fly the first powered airplane

5 1920 Women win the vote

6 1963 President John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas

7 1945 Horrors of Nazi Holocaust, concentration camps exposed

8 1914 World War I begins in Europe

9 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ends "separate but equal" school segregation

10 1929 U.S. stock market crashes: depression sets in

11 1928 Alexander Fleming discovers the first antibiotic, penicillin

12 1953 Structure of DNA discovered

13 1991 U.S.S.R dissolves, Mikhail Gorbachev resigns: Boris Yeltsin takes over

14 1974 President Richard M. Nixon resigns after Watergate scandal

15 1939 Germany invades Poland: World War II begins in Europe

16 1917 Russian revolution ends: Communists take over

17 1913 Henry Ford organizes the first major U.S. assembly line to produce Model T cars

18 1957 Soviets launch Sputnik, first space satellite: space race begins

19 1905 Albert Einstein presents special theory of relativity: general relativity theory follows soon after

20 1960 FDA approves birth control pill

21 1953 Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine proven effective in University of Pittsburgh tests

22 1933 Adolf Hitler named Chancellor of Germany: Nazi Party begins to seize power

23 1968 Civil rights leader Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

24 1944 D-Day invasion marks the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe

25 1981 Deadly AIDS disease identified

26 1964 Congress passes landmark Civil Rights Act outlawing segregation

27 1989 Berlin Wall falls as East Germany lifts travel restrictions

28 1939 Television debuts in America at New York World's Fair

29 1949 Mao Tse-tung establishes Peoples Republic of China: Nationalists flee to Formosa (Taiwan)

30 1927 Charles Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic in first solo flight

31 1977 First mass market personal computers launched

32 1989 World Wide Web revolutionizes the Internet

33 1948 Scientists at Bell Labs invent the transistor

34 1933 FDR launches "New Deal": sweeping federal economic, public works legislation to combat depression

35 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis threatens World War III

36 1912 'Unsinkable' Titanic, largest man-made structure, sinks

37 1945 Germany surrenders: V.E. Day celebrated

38 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizes abortion

39 1918 World War I ends with Germany's defeat

40 1909 First regular radio broadcasts begin in America

41 1918 Worldwide flu epidemic kills 20 million

42 1946 'ENIAC' becomes world's first computer

43 1941 Regular TV broadcasting begins in the United States

44 1947 Jackie Robinson breaks baseball's color barrier

45 1948 Israel achieves statehood

46 1909 Plastic invented: revolutionizes products, packaging

47 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott begins after Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white person

48 1945 Atomic bomb tested in New Mexico

49 1993 Apartheid ends in South Africa: law to treat races equally

50 1963 Civil rights march converges on Washington, D.C.: Martin Luther King gives "I Have A Dream" speech

51 1959 American scientists patent the computer chip

52 1901 Marconi transmits radio signal across the Atlantic

53 1998 White House sex scandal leads to impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton

54 1947 Sec. of State George Marshall proposes European recovery program (The Marshall Plan)

55 1968 Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in California

56 1920 U.S. Senate rejects Versailles Treaty, dooms League of Nations

57 1962 Rachel Carson's Silent Spring stimulates environmental protection movement

58 1964 British rock group The Beatles takes the U.S. by storm after debut on the Ed Sullivan Show

59 1965 Congress passes Voting Rights Act, outlawing measures used to suppress minority votes

60 1961 Yuri Gagarin becomes first man in space

61 1941 First jet airplane takes flight

62 1965 U.S. combat troops arrive in South Vietnam, U.S. planes bomb North Vietnam

63 1975 North Vietnamese forces take over Saigon

64 1942 Manhattan Project begins secret work on atomic bomb; Fermi triggers first atomic chain reaction

65 1945 Congress passes "GI Bill of Rights" to help veterans

66 1961 Alan Shepard becomes first American in space

67 1973 Watergate scandal engulfs Nixon administration

68 1906 Earthquake hits San Francisco, "Paris of the West" burns

69 1945 United Nations is officially established

70 1961 Communists build wall to divide East and West Berlin

71 1920 Mohandas Gandhi begins leading nonviolent reform movement in India

72 1911 Standard Oil loses Supreme Court antitrust suit, monopolies suffer blow

73 1973 U.S. withdraws last ground troops from Vietnam

74 1949 North Atlantic Treaty Organization established

75 1928 Joseph Stalin begins forced modernization of the Soviet Union; resulting famines claim 25 million

76 1932 Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt beats incumbent President Herbert Hoover

77 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet Premier, begins era of "Glasnost"

78 1900 Max Planck proposes quantum theory of energy

79 1997 Scientists clone sheep in Great Britain

80 1956 Congress passes interstate highway bill

81 1914 Panama Canal opens, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

82 1963 Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique inaugurates modern women's rights movement

83 1986 The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes killing crew including school teacher Christa McAuliffe

84 1950 U.S. sends troops to defend South Korea

85 1968 Violence erupts at Democratic National Convention in Chicago

86 1900 Sigmund Freud publishes The Interpretation of Dreams

87 1958 China begins "Great Leap Forward" modernization program, estimated 20 million die in ensuing famine

88 1917 U.S. enters World War I

89 1927 Babe Ruth hits 60 home runs - a single-season record that would last for 34 years

90 1962 John Glenn becomes first American to orbit the earth

91 1964 North Vietnamese boats reportedly attack U.S. ships: Congress passes Gulf of Tonkin resolution

92 1997 Pathfinder lands on Mars, sending back astonishing photos

93 1938 Hitler launches "Kristallnacht," ordering Nazis to commit acts of violence against German Jews

94 1940 Winston Churchill designated Prime Minister of Great Britain

95 1978 Louise Brown, first "test-tube baby," born healthy

96 1948 Soviets blockade West Berlin: Western allies respond with massive airlift

97 1975 Bill Gates and Paul Allen start Microsoft Corp. to develop software for Altair computer

98 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion kills more than 7,000

99 1925 Teacher John Scopes' trial pits creation against evolution in Tennessee

100 1964 The U.S. Surgeon General warns about smoking-related health hazards