History through the Decades
In the 1930s, the Great Depression gripped our nation. In 1931, the Star-Spangled Banner became our national anthem, and gangster Al Capone was convicted. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president while Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly. The year 1936 saw Jesse Owens win four Gold Medals in the Olympics held in Berlin, Germany, breaking Olympic and world records; German Chancellor Adolf Hitler did not recognize them. Radio shows were popular and big band music had people dancing the foxtrot, lindy hop, Charleston and jitterbug.
The 1940s saw the U.S. drawn into World War II. There were food rations and a host of efforts to support the war on the home front. Radio was a mainstay in homes, for news and for big band and jazz music, with hits like the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by The Andrews Sisters, “All or Nothing at All” by Frank Sinatra, and “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday. Big names in music were Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
The 1950s saw the U.S. continuing a time of growth and change. Fashion trends saw women sporting chin length and shorter hair and poodle skirts, wingtip shoes for the men, leather jackets, and blue jeans. Gasoline cost 25 cents per gallon, and an average car cost $2,200. It was a decade of many firsts – the first telephone answering machine, credit card, pocket-sized transistor radio, home microwave ovens, computer hard disk, and microchip. Color TV came into people’s homes, and Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly were big on the radio. Moviegoers thrilled to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
Change and civil unrest were trends in the 1960s. Freedom riders challenged segregation in the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out for civil rights, including his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He would be assassinated in 1968. President John F. Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, accomplished by Neil Armstrong in 1969. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. U.S involvement in the Vietnam War grew throughout the decade. The Beatles were a hit on the radio, and the Motown sound was popular, especially in Michigan.
The 1970s saw the Vietnam War draw many young soldiers. The decade also saw the resignation of President Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal. Americans celebrated its bicentennial birthday in 1976. Moviegoers enjoyed some landmark Box Office films, such as “The Godfather,” “Jaws,” “Rocky” “Saturday Night Fever” and “Star Wars.” Young people at home pulled on bell bottoms and danced to disco. Alex Haley’s “Roots” was a popular book and mini-series. Video cassette recorders gained mass market success, and an AMC Gremlin car cost $1,879.
The decade of the 1980s saw former actor Ronald Reagan serving as president, and times of major change around the world as Mikhail Gorbachev lead the Soviet Union into what would be the end of an era. At home, young people were breakdancing to music on boom boxes, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was everywhere. Children kept their Cabbage Patch Dolls and Care Bears, and teens donned mullets and became “mallrats.” Sally Ride became the first woman in space, and America witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, which claimed seven, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. In 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down.
The final decade of the 20th century saw the end to the Cold War and dissolution of the former Soviet Union. The First Gulf War was fought in 1990-91. Bush left office and Bill Clinton began his two terms in office. In the middle of the decade, the murder trial of O.J. Simpson captured the nation’s attention. Britain’s Princess Diana died in 1997, and the end of the decade, 1999, saw the mass shootings at Columbine Schools. On the radio, people listened to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Can’t Touch This” by M.C. Hammer. Moviegoers thrilled to “Jurassic Park” and “Titanic.”
The first decade of the new millennium will be remembered, sadly, for the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, and the resulting War on Terror. George H.W. Bush was president as U.S. forces invaded Iraq, leading to the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule as Iraqi president. Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg founded social networking service Facebook in 2004. At home, the popularity of the Internet, mobile phone and text messaging surged. At the movie theater, computer-generated films such as “Avatar” became widespread.
The decade began with Barack Obama in the White House. The Occupy Wall Street movement protested what many felt was the undue influence of corporations on government. The Patient and Affordable Care Act is signed into law in 2010, designed to make health accessible for more Americans. In 2011, Osama bin Laden, leader of militant Islamic group Al-Qaeda, was killed. Reality TV shows grew in popularity, and the box office saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” engage in a new generation of fans. Donald Trump was elected president and took office in 2017.