An American History Timeline can be broken up into seventeen eras if time. Each era is defined by an event that led to some sort of change whether it be social or economic.
American History Timeline
Exploration and Colonization 1492 – 1763
This era begins with Christopher Columbus’s accidental discovery of the New World and ends with the beginning of the French and Indian War. During this time European powers began to build global empires and colonize a New World full of different possibilities. Some major events that took place during this time: Fall of the Aztec and Inca civilizations, Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Establishment of Jamestown, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and the other 13 original colonies, and The Great Awakening.
American Revolution 1763 – 1789
This includes the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. This time marks a time of new ideas of how a government should behave and be held accountable. The main idea was that every man had the right to life, liberty, and property. While this idea took awhile to apply to everyone in the New World it was revolutionary and would set the stage for possible reforms in the future.
Constitutional Era 1789 – 1815
The Constitution era ushered in a new form of government that nobody knew would work or not. It was an experiment that the world watched. It called for self-government and that the government was to be run by the people rather than over the people. This revolutionary new idea had some bumps along the way which included the controversy of Citizen Genet, The French Revolution, XYZ Affair, and the War of 1812.
American Expansionism 1816 – 1860
During this time America pursued expansion across the continent. They began to populate most of the Louisiana Purchase as well as head further west into California. During the James Polk administration America defeated the Mexicans in the Mexican-American War and expanded their border from sea to shining sea. However, with expansion came conflict since the issue of slavery was hotly debated. With the addition of every state there needed to be a discussion as to whether that state would be a slave state or free state.
Civil War 1861 – 1865
For four long years Americans made war on each other. Every large and small town was affected by this conflict as nobody had witnessed casualties be so high. It seemed like every major battle set a new record for casualties. The Civil War would devastate the southern economy and strengthen the North’s economic influence. After the war was over the United States would need to heal itself.
Reconstruction 1865 – 1877
It took four years to destroy an entire half of a nation and twelve years to repair it. While slaves finally were given their freedom they would face new challenges during this time period as the nation began to repair itself, but not completely embrace all the necessary change. Freed slaves would still endure much violence and discrimination in the North and South. The south also had to deal with the economic change of no longer having free human labor to bolster their agrarian economy.
The Gilded Age 1876 – 1900
This is the time of the great entrepreneurs and monopolies. Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison began a time of industrial revolution. American industry began to ignite and new inventions such as the light bulb and the motor car changed the way American’s lived their lives. The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the North and West. As American wages were much higher than those in Europe, especially for skilled workers, the period saw an influx of millions of European immigrants. The rapid expansion of industrialization led to real wage growth of 60% between 1860 and 1890, spread across the ever-increasing labor force. The average annual wage per industrial worker (including men, women, and children) rose from $380 in 1880 to $564 in 1890, a gain of 48%. However, the Gilded Age was also an era of abject poverty and inequality as millions of immigrants—many from impoverished nations—poured into the United States, and the high concentration of wealth became more visible and contentious.
American Imperialism 1890 – 1920
The Industrial Revolution made America the wealthiest nation in the world and gave Americans a new sense of pride. During the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, American Imperialism reached its height with his construction of the Panama Canal and the global tour of the Great White Fleet. This time period began during the Gilded Age and continued during World War 1.
World War 1 1914 – 1918
World War 1 took place in the early 20th century. While America did not play a significant role in World War 1 until later in the war it changed much of our foreign policy. At the time America’s foreign policy was typically that of an isolationist. During George Washington’s farewell address he advised the country to stay out of foreign affairs, which the country had done. We had some conflicts on our native soil, but never ventured across the ocean. World War 1 changed that. After the War was over, Woodrow Wilson began work on a League of Nations that would eventually influence the creation of the United Nations. While America still remained an isolated country World War 1 laid the ground work for involvement in Europe down the road.
Roaring 20s 1920 – 1929
A time of extreme wealth. The Roaring 20s saw unprecedented economic growth as the stock market soared to new heights. The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures, and radio, brought “modernity” to a large part of the population. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality in both daily life and architecture. At the same time, Jazz and dancing rose in popularity, in opposition to the mood of World War I. As such, the period is also often referred to as the Jazz Age.
The Great Depression 1929 – 1941
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, originating in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until 1941. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how far the world’s economy can decline.
World War 2 1939 – 1945
The Great War changed the global landscape for much of the 20th century. During this time the world was in an economic depression, however the war helped boost the economies across the world and allowed for the beginning of much social change. World War 2 forever changed American involvement in foreign affairs and set the stage for social change such as civil and women’s rights. By the war’s end America wnd Russia were the dominant world powers and the economies of much of Germany were destroyed and in need of repair. Two competing visions, Communism and Democracy, would begin the next era of American History.
Cold War 1945 – 1989
After World War 2 there was an iron curtain that fell over Europe. The United States and Russia entered the Cold War and much of the foreign policy that took place the next few decades was influenced by the idea of containment. Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and other locations were all influenced by the idea of containment. The fear of Nuclear War was real and much closer than many probably will ever know. The Cold War came to an end when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet Union began to dissolve.
Baby Boom 1946 – 1959
After World War 2 the men came back from the war and began to populate the nation again with their new wives. This resulted in a baby boom. The baby boom changed the United States overnight. Classes went from a handful of students to 30 or 40 in one grade. Economics also began to change as did industry.
Civil Rights Movement 1954 – 1968
After World War 2 black men came back to a country that did not give them equal rights. The United States was still stuck in the mindset of “separate but equal.” Blacks were to have separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, neighborhoods, etc. Also, women’s rights began to be discussed. While the men went to war many women went to work and when the men returned from war the women did not want to return to the home. Each movement saw much progress during this time period. Martin Luther King Jr. helped lead the way for new amendments to guarantee blacks equal rights. While racism did not end with these changes it created more opportunity.
Vietnam War 1954 – 1975
The Vietnam War began under John F Kennedy and ended during the Presidency of Richard Nixon. It would be under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson when Vietnam would reach its height. The war was highly controversial and caused many peace marches throughout the nation. The nation that united after the Great Depression divided during the Vietnam War. The war would end during Nixon’s presidency and begin a shift in our thinking.
Information Age 1989 – Present
Computers have changed the way the world works and how we interact with each other. Information that would take weeks or even months to travel can now be shared in a moment. Social Media burst onto the scene in the early 21st century that allowed people to communicate quicker and with more people at once than ever before.