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Top 30 World Changing Events of the
20th Century


The 20th century was a time of incredible technical advance, world war, and hundreds of
influential stories.  Here is a list of the 30 most talked about and influential stories of
the century.

30. Soviets Launch the First Earth-Orbiting Satellite (1957)

The space age begins with the Soviet Union's Oct. 4 1957 launch of the first artificial
Earth satellite.  It's a sphere about 22 inches in diameter and weighs 184 pounds.  The
Soviets called it Sputnik and claimed that artificial satellites "will pave the way for
space travel."  Later Sputnik missions carrying dogs and other animals were conducted.
Their safe return proved man can escape Earth and return alive.  It was an amazing and
extremely influential step in space travel.


29. 1918 Flu Pandemic

In 1918, a worldwide influenza epidemic killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people in
just months, by far more than the numbers who died in World War I.  Scientists think it
may have started at Ft. Riley, Kansas, with U.S. troops carrying the first flu wave to the
war in Europe.  In Europe the virus mutated into a deadly strain of subtype H1N1 and
picked up the name the Spanish Flu. 
It quickly spread across the globe claiming the life
of healthy young adults. 
An estimated 500 million people, one third of the world's
population became infected.  In the middle of October 1918, 4,597 people died in
Philadelphia during a one-week span.  Statistics like this exist for areas all over the


28. Birth Control Pill Approved (1960)

A contraceptive pill manufactured by G.D. Searle & Co. named Enovid receives FDA
approval for use by prescription only.  Approval was disclosed on May 9, 1960 in the
United States and a few months later it was approved as a contraceptive in the UK.
Enovid was discontinued in 1988, along with other first-generation high-estrogen
COCPs, although birth control pills have become a staple and societal norm.


27. Germany Invades Poland to Start WWII (1939)

Adolf Hitler's Germany invades Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. The European Fascist powers,
Germany and Italy, May 22 sign the Axis alliance, also known as the Pact of Steel,
formalizing mutual military interests. Japan is reluctant to accept Hitler's 1939
invitation to formally join the German-Italian Axis agreement, but reverses its view with
the fall of French and Dutch colonial strength. Japan signs the tripartite Axis military
alliance in September 1940.


Sharing #27 - Adolf Hitler Becomes Chancellor
of Germany (1933)

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was named chancellor and head of the National
Socialist Party of the new German government.  He needs the support of the
Nationalists to stay in power, but he eventually forms the Third Reich and Nazi


26. The First Computer (1946)

University of Pennsylvania researchers John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert develop
ENIAC and are widely credited for inventing the first digital computer. It contains
18,000 vacuum tubes, weighs 30 tons and computes 1,000 times faster than any other
machine.  In 1973, a judge rules that Mauchly derived ENIAC from John Vincent
Atanasoff's ABC computer. The ruling invalidates ENIAC's patent and calls Atanasoff
the inventor of the first electronic computer.


25. Legalization of Abortion (1973)

The United States Supreme Court rules that women have a right to abort a fetus during
the first trimester of pregnancy. The Roe vs. Wade decision gives rise to opposing
groups and a national debate.  The pro-life organizations attempt to limit or deny
abortions, while pro-choice groups defend and preserve women's rights to abortions.
The abortion issue remains one of the most heated in America.


24. The Creation of the World Wide Web (1990)

On December 25, 1990, British computer scientist Timothy Berners-Lee introduced the World
Wide Web and
implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and
server via the Internet.  His original purpose was
to help physicists communicate more effectively
around the world.  Within a few years the Web's ease of use opened the Internet to those outside
the scientific community.  By the end of the century, it was the world's fastest growing
communications medium.


23. D-Day (1944)

On June 6, 1944, the Allies land in France.  It is D-Day and the largest amphibious invasion in the
history of the world is planned. 
The assault was conducted in two phases, an air assault landing
of American, British, Canadian and Free French airborne troops and an amphibious landing of
Allied infantry and armoured divisions off the coast of France. 
Roelif Loveland writes "We saw
the curtain go up this morning on the greatest drama in the history of the world, the invasion of
Hitler's Europe."


22. Charles Lindbergh Flies Over The Atlantic (1927)

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic
Ocean.  The
solo non-stop flight took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island New York and
landed at Le Bourget Field in Paris.  Lindbergh used the single-seat, single-engine monoplane
named the Spirit of St. Louis.  He was given America’s highest military decoration, which is the
Metal of Honor. 
New York journalist Edwin L. James wrote “not since the armistice of 1918 had
Paris witnessed a downright demonstration of popular enthusiasm and excitement equal to that
displayed by the throngs flocking to the boulevards for news of the American flier."


21. The October Revolution (1917)

The October Revolution occurred in 1917 and was the second phase of the Soviet
Revolution.  Bolshevik "Red Guard" troops burst into the Winter Palace in St.
Petersburg, known then as Petrograd, and removed Russia's provisional government.
The revolution brings the Bolsheviks to power in Russia and is followed by the Russian
Civil War.  The leader of the Bolsheviks is a former law student named Vladimir Lenin.


20. Computer Chips Invented (1959)

In 1959 engineer Jack Kilby and physicist Robert Noyce were separately seeking patents
for the first computer chip or integrated circuit.  After years of lawsuits, they joined
forces to become co-inventors of the chip.  Basically an integrated circuit is a
miniaturized electronic circuit constructed of individual semiconductor devices.
Integrated circuits are used in almost every electronic device on the market today.
Computers would not be relevant without this invention.


19. The Sinking of RMS Titanic (1912)

The unsinkable British steamship Titanic, the largest ocean liner in the world, hit an
iceberg on April 15, 1912 and sank in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage. 
sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 of the 2,223
people on board, making it one of
the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. 
The ship was sailing from
Southampton, England, to New York.  The vessel carried an inadequate amount of life


18. U.S. Stock Market Crashes (1929)

On Oct. 24, 1929, the United States suffered a sudden and massive crash of the New
York stock exchange.  A long lasting economic depression and mass panic ensued.  By
1932, Wall Street stocks were worth only 11% of what they had been three years earlier.
Many investors were ruined and salaries plummeted, while unemployment skyrocketed.
The U.S. and much of the world fell into a deep economic depression.  Unfortunately
we have been experiencing another Stock Market crash and economic downfall of late.


17. The Collapse of the Soviet Union (1991)

The Soviet Union’s collapse into independent nations began early in 1985 after years of buildup at
the expense of domestic development and economic growth.   Several Soviet Socialist Republics
began resisting central control, and increasing democratization led to a weakening of the central
government.  On August 19, 1991, eight
high-level Soviet traditionalists claimed that Soviet leader 
Mikhail Gorbachev was ill and they wanted to impose emergency measures.  The coup collapsed
and Gorbachev returned Aug. 22 but resigned from the Communist Party.  The Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics formally ends Dec. 25, most of its nations having declared independence.


16. The Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)

The Berlin Wall was a physical barrier erected by the German Democratic Republic which
completely encircled West Berlin, separating it from East Germany.  It came to symbolize the Iron
Curtain between Western Europe and the Communist Eastern Bloc.  Needless to say people
wanted to escape into West Germany.  The
Berlin Wall’s restrictions on travel in Germany were
lifted on Nov. 9, 1989.  German citizens began dancing on the wall and literally chopping away at
the barrier which for so long divided them.  The fall of the Berlin Wall is a watershed moment in
the decades-long struggle between communism and capitalism.


15. U.S. Supreme Court Ends Seperate But Equal (1954)

The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the "separate but equal" concept prevalent in
bi-racial communities.  In the case, Oliver Brown sued the Board of Education of
Topeka, Kan., to allow his daughter to attend the white school near their home. Chief
Justice Earl Warren came back with a unanimous decision in Brown vs. the Board of
Education and found that segregation violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution.  The decision leads to more than a decade long struggle in school districts
segregated under local laws and is a huge step in the civil rights movement.

Sharing #15 Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 granted equal access to public accommodations to
everyone regardless of race, religion or national origin.  The enactment of the law
resulted from numerous civil rights demonstrations, including lunch counter sit-ins and
other activities designed to show the hardships and pervasiveness of segregation in


14. Outbreak of World War I (1914)

The First World War begins after a young Serbian man shoots Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to
the Austrian throne, on June 28, 1914.  The war will pit Great Britain, France, Russia, Serbia,
Belgium, Japan and eventually the United States against Germany and Austria-Hungary. 
The main
combatants descended into a state of total war, pumping their entire scientific and industrial
capabilities into the war effort.  More than 15 million people were killed, making it one of the
deadliest conflicts in history.


13. The Invention of the Assembly Line (1908)

An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which parts are added to a product in a
sequential manner in order to create a finished product much faster than with
handcrafting-type methods.  The assembly line revolutionized world industry and
manufacturing process.  It was developed by the Ford Motor Company in 1908.  Fords
Assembly Line was an innovation that greatly increased production.  It reduced costs and
made cars significantly more affordable for American families.  The technology quickly
spread all over the world.


12. AIDS (Outbreak 1981)

In 1981, a fatal sexually transmitted disease called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
was identified in the U.S. 
This condition progressively reduces the effectiveness of the immune
system and leaves individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumors.   
In 1983,
French scientists identified the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.  The disease has become a
worldwide pandemic and
killed an estimated 2.1 million people, including 330,000 children in 2007
alone.   The number of people infected with HIV continues to rise in most parts of the world, with
Sub-Saharan Africa being by far the worst-affected region.


11. Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1905)

Physicist Albert Einstein presents four important scientific papers in 1905.  One explains
for the first time his theory of special relativity, which topples classical Newtonian
physics by showing that space and time are relative to the observer, and that the only
constant is the speed of light.  He was a genius.


Conclusion (Numbers 1-10)

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Elizabeth - September 27, 2009 at 11:52 AM
I enjoy reading your articles.  Probably better than reading the newspaper!! Thanks so

Bryan - September 30, 2009 at 8:09 PM

I am glad you enjoyed the article.  This might be my most researched list.

Taylor - May 10, 2010
Thank you so much for this article!  This helped me a lot with my Social Studies
Thanks!  And wonderful articles and writing by the way.

Copyright The List Blog - Top 10, All Rights Reserved, Posted Sept. 26, 2009