The 50 Most Iconic Family Moments of the Last 100 Years
There are instances in time that forever change the course of history. The first transatlantic flight. The attack on Pearl Harbor. The Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The first African American president.
These are the events that you discussed at your family dinner table or watched together around the TV. While it was hard to narrow them down, these 50 iconic moments throughout the last 100 years have redefined our lives, shaping what politics, technology, sports and pop culture mean to us today.
Whatever your age, which ones made the biggest impact on you and your family?
2010s: Total Solar Eclipse
Families everywhere stocked up on special glasses that could be used to watch the first total solar eclipse in about a century on Aug. 21, 2017. While some Americans just stayed to watch in their hometowns, others made a family vacation out of it, traveling to cities across the country that were in the 60- to 70-mile wide "path of totality" that gave them the experience of total darkness.
These included cities like Salem, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina, which hosted festivals and saw a major boom in tourism as a result of the rare event.
2010s: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized
In the landmark civil rights case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court struck down all state laws banning same-sex marriage and required states to honor marriage licenses already granted. The June 2015 decision was the culmination of longtime activism for marriage equality that began in the 1970s and encompassed both state- and federal-level cases — some of which supported the cause of same-sex marriage and some of which detracted from it.
This decision represented a pivotal moment in American history, as families with same-sex parents who were previously discriminated against could now enjoy equal rights and privileges under the law.
2010s: Malala Yousafzai Wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Malala Yousafzai is a young Pakistani woman who became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her work promoting girls’ rights to education. In her hometown, she was viciously attacked by Taliban forces because she stood up for her own and other girls’ rights to continue schooling after the Taliban had forbidden it.
Upon being shot in the face, she was airlifted to England, where she continues to live and advocate for girls all around the world. Yousafzai's story and life’s work has inspired millions of girls to believe that they have a right to an education. Even though we take that right for granted in the U.S., American schoolchildren often read Malala’s story and take to heart that even a very young person can do enormous good.
2010s: Michael Phelps Dominates at the Olympics
Though he began his outrageously successful Olympic run in the previous decade, the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics solidified Michael Phelps’ dominance as the most successful athlete of all time to compete in the games. The swimmer holds the world record for the highest number of gold medals and has won the World Swimmer of the Year Award eight times, among numerous other distinctions.
He’s a fan favorite and helped bring in millions of viewers during his four Olympic games. Now retired, the Baltimore native participates in philanthropy projects promoting healthy lifestyles among youth.
2010s: The Mars Rover, Curiosity
Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2011 and successfully made the 350 million-mile journey followed by a safe landing on Mars. The goals of this NASA mission were to explore Martian geography and climate and to investigate the possibility of microbial life on Mars and suitability for future human exploration.
Space enthusiasts — both young and old — have regularly tuned into the Mars Rover’s data and images, inspired by the technological triumph of human-driven exploration of other planets.
2000s: Barack Obama Becomes First African American President
In early 2006, Barack Obama was a little-known, first-time senator from Illinois, but by 2008, he had been elected the first African American president of the United States. With a message of optimism and togetherness, the Obama campaign was able to mobilize an impressive number of young voters and voters of color to come to the polls in support of his historic candidacy.
He won the election in what is widely considered a landslide, with 365 votes from the electoral college. A jubilant tone took hold across countless cities and municipalities on election night, and Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, drew an epic crowd of 1.8 million people.
2000s: iPods and iPhones Introduced
The first iPod was introduced by Steve Jobs and Apple all the way back in 2001 — an eon in technological history. It revolutionized the way people — young people very much included — listened to music by offering thousands of titles at the touch of a button. And when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, you could say that the course of history changed.
With the capability of personal computing in one’s back pocket or purse, access to rapid communication and virtually unlimited information quickly became a reality. Has smart technology made our lives simpler and more convenient, or has it only made us more screen-dependent and stunted in our conversation and research skills? The jury’s still out.
2000s: Red Sox Win the 2004 World Series
In 1920, the owner of the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and the so-called “curse of the bambino” was born. In the next 86 years, the Red Sox did not win a single World Series championship though they came frustratingly close numerous times. The Yankees, on the other hand, proceeded to win the championship no less than 26 times by this time.
So, it was a tremendous victory for the Red Sox and their long-suffering fans when, in 2004, they finally broke the curse of the bambino and took home the World Series championship against the St. Louis Cardinals.
2000s: Facebook Launches
In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg launched the site that would eventually become known as Facebook. In 2006, it was expanded for public use … and the rest is pretty much history. With more than 2 billion users worldwide, the importance of Facebook — and how it changed the way people socialize and get information — cannot be overstated.
Though other social networking sites are gaining in popularity with younger groups, Facebook remains the most widely used social media site, shaping an entire generation in the process.
It’s difficult to capture the full impact that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had on our country and our culture. After al-Qaeda suicide operatives crashed two passenger planes into the World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon, a fourth plane was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when passengers rose up against the terrorists.
Everyone who was alive and aware on this infamous day remembers the shock, anger and fear brought on by the news of the attacks. Day-to-day routines halted for some time as airports, businesses and schools closed, and the nation entered a state of mourning. The 9/11 attacks directly led to the American-led War in Afghanistan and indirectly to the War in Iraq — conflicts that have lasted nearly two decades and cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
In the days and months leading up to the turn of the century, people all over the world wondered and worried about whether computers would succumb to bugs related to the way they tracked calendar time. So, while some people were partying like it was 1999, others were gearing up for the potential end of the world.
The Y2K bug, or the Millennium bug as it was also known, turned out as a needless worry — but many American families watched the ball drop that New Year’s Eve with bated breath and a couple gallons of water in the basement, just in case.
1990s: ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ Hits the Shelves
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first in the lengthy book series, was published in the U.S. in 1998 — and its reception was dramatic. American children and their parents — soon-to-be followed by readers of all ages and stripes — were enthralled by J.K. Rowling’s fascinating wizarding world and by the tenacious and brave titular character and his friends.
The first book’s publication marked the beginning of an era that transformed kid literature and popular movies.
1990s: Princess Diana’s Death
Princess Diana died in a car accident along with her fiancé, Dodi Fayed, in Paris in August 1997. Fans around the world, including millions of Americans, profusely mourned the death of a woman who was born into privilege, and married into even greater wealth and notoriety, but cared deeply for those of lesser means.
During and after her marriage to Prince Charles, she was involved in many charitable organizations helping sick children, victims of HIV/AIDS, as well as those suffering from cancer and mental illness.
1990s: HAART Therapy Is Introduced to Treat AIDS
AIDS was first detected in 1981, becoming the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 by 1994. While a variety of therapies were created during this time, including the drug AZT, it wasn’t until 1995 that the U.S. saw its first decline in AIDS diagnoses in the history of the illness.
The reason for the decline? A combination drug treatment called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). If taken as prescribed, the therapy made it so HIV patients had “effectively no risk” of transmitting the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
1990s: Hubble Telescope Launched
Space enthusiasts celebrated when, in 1991, the Hubble Telescope was first launched into low earth orbit. It wasn’t the first space telescope launched by the U.S., but it was the largest and most complex of its time; its launch was considered a technological triumph by space hobbyists everywhere.
In the intervening years, Hubble has contributed greatly to our understanding of the galaxy by transmitting millions of gigabits of data — including some of our most detailed and celebrated images of space.
1980s: The Berlin Wall Falls
On Nov. 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, one of the most corporeal symbols of the Cold War, was ordered open by East German officials. People flocked from communist East Germany to capitalist West Germany, and within two years, the concrete barrier was torn down.
The fall of the Berlin Wall ushered in the reunification of East and West Germany and the gradual end of the Cold War between Western Europe and the U.S., on one hand, and the Communist Soviet bloc, on the other.
1980s: The Challenger Disaster
In January 1986, children, teachers and families across the United States tuned into the live launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Inspired by the presence on the shuttle of a schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe, many children were closely following the story.
On live broadcast, the Challenger broke up over Cape Canaveral, Florida, as a result of faulty O-rings just 73 seconds after liftoff, and all seven crew members died. The disaster caused an almost three-year break in NASA’s crewed space program and a lengthy investigation into the causes of the accident, ordered by President Reagan.
1980s: ‘We Are the World’ Plays on Repeat
Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wrote the well-loved "We Are the World" song that was recorded and released as a charitable fundraiser in March 1985. Dozens of celebrity actors and musicians participated in the recording and the video for the song, the proceeds of which supported victims of the Ethiopian famine.
The single played seemingly nonstop on the radio and on MTV for months, sold 20 million copies and won three Grammys.
1980s: David Copperfield Makes the Statue of Liberty Disappear
Master illusionist David Copperfield had already been wowing audiences for years when, in 1983, he performed one of the most head-scratching illusions that had yet been seen. In front of a live audience and a continuous-take camera roll, he appeared to make the Statue of Liberty vanish.
Even an aerial view, provided by helicopter, showed only the circle of lights that surround the statue. Before apparently making Lady Liberty reappear, he told the audience and the cameras why he wanted to perform the illusion: to remind us that our freedoms are not to be taken for granted and that we have a responsibility that comes with our privilege.
1980s: ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ Drives the Franchise to Mega Fame
The much-anticipated second installment of the original “Star Wars” trilogy was at first shunned by some critics, but the 1980 movie has since become celebrated as one of the best American movies of all time.
Kids and families drove the franchise to super-fame as the highest-earning film of 1980 while clamoring for the plethora of Star Wars-themed toys and memorabilia that followed. This past Father’s Day — almost 40 years later — certain dads we know were gifted with a Star Wars T-shirt containing a Darth Vader speech bubble that read, “I am your father.”
1970s: Atari 2600 Released
A new age of in-home video games was born when Atari released its 2600 game system on Sept. 11, 1977. Equipped with a microprocessor, ROM cartridges, paddle controllers and two joysticks, the first game to debut was called Combat and the second — you may have heard of it — was Pac-Man.
The name Atari quickly became synonymous with “video game,” and its introduction changed the way American youth spent evenings, weekends and summers — representing a gradual shift away from more traditional forms of play toward screen-based entertainment.
1970s: American Bicentennial
July 4, 1976, marked the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and was celebrated nationwide in a series of events that recalled and commemorated the founding of the United States.
Because the Bicentennial came right on the heels of the end of the Vietnam War and its accompanying cultural and political divides, the Ford administration sought to create a sense of national unity around the Bicentennial celebrations by stressing shared American history and values.
1970s: ‘Jaws’ Debuts
Steven Spielberg made a splash on the international film scene in 1975 with the release of his first widely successful film, “Jaws.” The story of the mega-shark gone hungry for human flesh terrified and delighted at least two generations of American kids.
Until it was beat out by “Star Wars” in 1979, “Jaws” was the highest-grossing film of all time, forever changing the way Americans talked about film and went to the movies. The age of the blockbuster had begun.
1970s: Involvement in the Vietnam War Ends
In 1973, President Nixon signed a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese, ending the nearly two decades of American involvement in the war. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1975, that the North and South Vietnamese armies also declared an armistice.
The Vietnam War is widely considered one of the most wasteful wars — both in lives and material cost — in American history. The country's involvement in the war affected family life in many ways, including the fact that families were torn apart by the draft and by the rise of bitter ideological divides between older and younger generations.
1970s: Kent State Massacre
The country’s long-standing cultural and political divides over the Vietnam War came to a head in May 1970, when Ohio National Guards opened fire on a group of unarmed student protesters of the Vietnam War. Four students were killed and nine injured, and the event caused a national uproar.
Across the country, a 4 million-student strike led to the closure of hundreds of schools and universities. A few days after the shootings, 100,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the Vietnam War and the shootings at Kent State.
1960s: The Moon Landing
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 became the first crewed spacecraft to land on the moon. As Neil Armstrong uttered his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” an estimated 20 percent of the world’s population watched on television.
Most Americans felt exceedingly proud of the accomplishment, as it showed the technical prowess of the United States and was seen as ushering in a great age of space exploration.
1960s: The Beatles Come to America
The Beatles landed in New York City in February 1964 and began what’s often referred to as their “American invasion.” Thousands of adoring fans — mostly adolescent and teen girls — greeted them as they deplaned, and an estimated 73 million Americans watched their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The band of four from Liverpool, England proceeded to change with the times and to inspire millions of American young people to don the accouterments and ethos of the anti-Vietnam War and hippie movements.
1960s: The Day Kennedy Was Shot
On Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was riding in a motorcade in Dallas, when he was shot by former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald. He died in the hospital 30 minutes later.
News of the president’s death reverberated around the country and the entire world. There are reports that, in some cities, traffic ground to a halt as news of the assassination spread, and that many school children were dismissed early. That evening, families gathered in front of their televisions to hear the developing story and to grieve the loss of Kennedy.
1960s: ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the well-loved civil rights leader and clergyman, gave his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., before a crowd of 250,000 people on Aug. 28, 1963.
Known for his nonviolent approach to civil rights through the invocation of scripture and civil disobedience, Dr. King’s speech marked a moment of political and social upheaval in American history at a time when young people were involved in activism in record numbers.
1960s: The Cuban Missile Crisis
In October 1962, families all around the U.S. and the world watched as President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev engaged in a tense, 13-day standoff over the Russian installation of nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba.
The missiles were perceived as an existential threat by many Americans during this pivotal moment of the “duck and cover” era, where nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. seemed imminent. The crisis was ultimately averted when Krushchev agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba, and the U.S. agreed not to invade the communist island nation.
1950s: Polio Vaccine Invented
In 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had successfully tested a polio vaccine; the first doses were commercially available by 1955. The year before his announcement, a polio epidemic had sickened 58,000 people and killed 3,000 in the U.S. alone.
Polio, a disease that often causes paralysis or partial paralysis, had afflicted human civilizations since the beginning of recorded history. Since the widespread introduction of the vaccine, few cases have been reported in the U.S., and no instances of polio have originated here since 1979.
1950s: Disneyland Opens
Walt Disney, in trying to create the kind of park adults and children would both enjoy, bought a 160-acre plot in Anaheim, California, and began construction on Disneyland. When it opened its doors in 1955, some of the fixtures of today’s Disneyland — including Main Street, Frontier Land, Fantasy Land, King Arthur’s Carousel and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — were already part of the park.
Fun fact: Ronald Reagan, a then-Hollywood actor, was one of the anchors hosting the live broadcast of Disneyland’s debut.
1950s: Brown v. Board of Education
In this precedential 1954 Supreme Court decision, segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional. The court voted unanimously and, in the process, overturned the prior precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson, which had upheld segregation in the now-infamous “separate but equal” clause.
Though desegregation was by no means a smooth road, Brown v. Board of Education was a significant milestone in the civil rights movement and made a difference in the lives of students of all races from that moment forward.
1950s: The First TV Remote Is Introduced
The first TV remote was released by Zenith in 1950 (remember Zenith?) and was called — get this — “Lazy Bones.” It was connected to the television by a wire, as wireless remotes were still a few years off.
Thus, a new tradition in American life was born as siblings from every walk of life began fighting for control of the remote.
1950s: The Korean War Begins and Ends
In 1950, soldiers from communist-controlled North Korea invaded South Korea. One month later, American troops had joined the war in defense of South Korea — a conflict which represented a political, social and ideological battle between the West and the Soviet-led communist bloc.
About 5 million soldiers and civilians were killed during the Korean War, and North and South Korea remain divided along political and economic lines to this day. Though the Korean War did not garner the same kind of media attention as the Vietnam War several years later, the TV show "M*A*S*H," which took place in a field hospital in South Korea, was one of the most-watched and well-loved programs of the era.
1940s: The Color Line in Baseball Is Broken
In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American player to enter Major League Baseball. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and proceeded to win Rookie of the Year. He led the Dodgers to win six National League pennants and a World Series championship.
But despite his athletic prowess, he faced racism from fans as well as from some of his fellow baseball players. When traveling with the team, segregation laws prevented him from eating at the same restaurants and staying in the same hotels as his teammates.
1940s: First Computer Built
The first large-scale all-electronic computer was completed in 1945 and first put to work in December of that year. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (EINAC) took up the space of an entire room and held 18,000 vacuum tubes, at least one of which broke and needed to be replaced every few days.
A little-known fact about the first all-electronic computer: Two women, Frances Bilas and Jean Jennings, were mathematicians who worked as programmers on EINAC.
1940s: The Slinky Is Invented
Richard James reportedly invented the slinky by accident in November 1945 while working on a naval engineering project. He immediately recognized its appeal and, along with his wife Betty, borrowed $500 to launch the business venture and invented a machine to manufacture slinkys.
Their first 400 slinkys sold out within a few minutes, and a trend was born. The toy’s success in the mid-1940s reflects a pivotal moment when mass-marketed toys and consumer goods began taking a prominent place in the American household and economy.
1940s: The Allies Win the War
The Germans surrendered to Allied forces in May of 1945. After the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Empire of Japan also surrendered, and Allied troops returned home.
About nine months after their return, the inception of the Baby Boomer generation was in full swing. As American families grew and post-war prosperity also increased, the U.S. entered a new cultural era focused on entrepreneurship, convenience and consumerism — trends that have lasting effects today.
1940s: The Attack on Pearl Harbor
On Dec. 7, 1941, “the date that will live in infamy,” the Empire of Japan bombed the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, destroying many of the navy’s ships stationed there and causing thousands of deaths. The United States declared war and soon became involved in both the war in the Pacific and the war in Europe.
American efforts at reconstructing the economy in the wake of the Great Depression soon transformed into producing wartime goods and services, and many American families were separated as men and boys went off to war.
1930s: World War II Breaks Out
While the United States was still reeling from the Great Depression, tensions in Europe turned to fighting. America’s closest allies at the time, the U.K. and France, were quickly drawn into the conflict that would take over the European continent and eventually spill over to much of the rest of the world.
Even before the U.S. was itself drawn into the war, many Americans — including Jewish Americans with relatives in Germany and Poland — closely followed events via radio broadcast.
1930s: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Hits the Big Screen
In 1939, the technicolor fantasy film, “The Wizard of Oz,” was released to wide acclaim. The film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy, a young girl from Kansas who is magically transported to the Land of Oz.
There she learns a thing or two about believing in herself, the salience of home and the strength of friendship. “The Wizard of Oz” gave Americans the classic song, “Over the Rainbow,” as well as a number of quotes and references that persist in pop culture to this day.
1930s: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Is Invented
Ruth Graves Wakefield is credited with developing the recipe for the Toll House Cookie, aka the first chocolate chip cookie, in 1938.
While American families may have taken a few years to catch on to this delicious trend, today it’s considered as American as apple pie.
1930s: The New Deal
The New Deal, instituted as a nationwide infrastructure-building program by Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide jobs for the scores of unemployed workers of the Great Depression, reflects a hopeful moment in the midst of an extremely difficult time.
Children and young people benefitted both directly and indirectly from the reforms, programs and regulations of the New Deal. For instance, millions of undernourished children received free meals through the Works Progress Administration, and many recent high school graduates were lodged, fed and employed in national parks and forests all around the country.
1930s: The Great Depression
Following the 1929 stock market crash, the U.S. plunged into the Great Depression — a time of economic hardship all across the country and, ultimately, the world. It was compounded by a severe drought that hit the plains agricultural regions of the U.S., causing years of dust storms that earned the region an unfortunate moniker, the Dust Bowl.
Dorothea Lange’s photos of children with dirty faces and worried-looking mothers squinting at an environmental wasteland have become iconic images representing this moment in American history.
1920s: Mickey Mouse Debuts
Walt Disney debuted the character of Mickey Mouse in his short film, “Steamboat Willie,” in November 1928. From there, it was only a matter of time before Mickey became the star of no less than 130 films, numerous comic strips, and loads and loads of merchandise.
That’s not to mention Disneyland, which opened in 1955, attracting families from across the globe to enjoy the entertainment and rides.
1920s: The First ‘Talking Motion Picture’ Is Released
Also in 1927, the musical film, “The Jazz Singer,” became the first full-length motion picture to have what’s known as “lip-synchronous speech.” In other words, it became the first movie in which it appeared and sounded like the characters were talking.
The movie, about a young Jewish man who leaves his family’s fold in order to become an entertainer, effectively ended the reign of silent films and marked the rise of the modern American movie. Cue the popcorn for families everywhere.
1920s: Transatlantic Flight
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew "The Spirit of St. Louis" from New York to Paris in the world’s first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. The trip took 33 hours and earned him national hero status as well as the $25,000 Orteig Prize, offered to the pilot of the first successful nonstop flight between American and European soils.
Many other aviators before Lindbergh tried and failed to complete the mission.
1920s: The First World Series Broadcast
Radio was still a new medium in 1921, when the first World Series game was broadcast in October of that year. The Giants played the Yankees in eight games — a matchup that would repeat itself in future years and become known as the “subway series,” because both teams hailed from New York City.
The Giants beat the upstart Yankees 5-3, at least in part because the Yankees’ star player Babe Ruth had suffered two injuries that prevented him from starting the final three games.
1920s: The Passage of the 19th Amendment
It wasn’t until Aug. 18, 1920, that the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote in the United States. Though the women’s suffrage movement was several decades old by that point and limited suffrage had already been won in certain territories, women remained disenfranchised at the federal level until the early 20th century.
By a vote of 50-49, Tennessee became the 36th state to pass the 19th Amendment, making it federally illegal to discriminate in voting rights on the basis of sex.