1900s – 7 Historical Events that happened in the 1900s (1900-1909)

The first decade of the twentieth century did much to set the stage for what was to come. Change was afoot, as an ancient European monarch died, pivotal inventions and discoveries were made, and warfare took a more modernized, destructive direction that would serve as a warm-up to The Great War a decade later. Here are 7 historical events that took place in the 1900s (1900-1909).

The death of Queen Victoria (January 1901)

The corpse of Queen Victoria on her deathbed, 1901. The Queen is lying on a bed, surrounded by white fabric, holding a cross. There are portraits of Prince Albert above the bed, and to the side. Flowers surround the Queen.
Queen Victoria on her deathbed, 1901.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Grandmother of Europe certainly left her mark in her 63-year reign of the United Kingdom. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren filled the continents’ courts: at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, no less than eight different European countries had her relatives on the throne. Beginning her reign in 1837 when her childless uncle William IV died, Victoria was never meant to be Queen, sitting fifth in the line of succession until a series of deaths paved the way for her. Her time on the throne was one of the most successful of any monarch in British history and one of the longest of any around the world. Outliving many of her own children and grandchildren, Victoria died on the 22nd of January aged 81, succeeded by her son Edward VII. Today, she has countless statutes worldwide to show the impact she made

The assassination of President McKinley (September 1901)

The Last Photo of President William McKinley
25th President of the United States, William McKinley, walks up the stairs of the Temple of Music, on the day of his assassination, September 9, 1901.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Across the pond, the United States of America also lost a leader early in the century, but it came under far more shocking circumstances. On the 6th of September 1901, 6 months into his second term, President William McKinley was assassinated. He was in Buffalo, New York, attending an event at the Temple of Music Hall greeting the public, as people stood in line to shake hands with the affable President. Security lingered nearby nervously, and after 10 minutes of greeting, their nerves proved to be warranted, as Leon Czolgosz approached and shot McKinley twice with a revolver he concealed in a handkerchief. One-shot ricocheted off a jacket button, and the other wasn’t considered lethal, but nevertheless, on 14th September, McKinley succumbed to gangrene caused by the wound. 45 days later, Czolgosz was executed by an electric chair.

The Boxer Rebellion comes to an end (September 1901)

Beginning in 1899, the Chinese rebelled against their Qing government over the westernization of the country, with the Christian and foreign influence increasing. Tired of being extorted by foreign powers and their own government, the Boxer movement (so-called as martial arts was known as Chinese boxing at the time) fought back, beginning with attacks on missionaries and the destruction of foreign property. An Eight-Nation alliance was formed involving many of the world powers, storming Qing China to try and suppress the rebels and protect their interests. This, however, only served to anger the Qing government, and although they were split, most sided with the Boxers in 1900 and declared war on the invading colonizing powers. Finally defeated after two years of fighting, many of the key Boxers were executed. The ensuing “Unequal Treaty” only served to weaken the Qing dynasty, leading to their downfall a decade later after almost 300 years.

The Wright Brothers take flight (December 1903)

Photograph of the first powered airplane flight, 1903 (1900s)
The Wright Brothers conduct the first powered flight on December 17th, 1903.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Orville and Wilbur Wright were skilled mechanics, developing ideas while working with bicycles about the possibilities of heavier-than-air controlled flight. From 1900 they completed early tests with gliders and designed the machine and engine that would make them famous: the Wright Flyer. On the 17th December 1903, in North Carolina, it first took to the skies during a series of flights, in which the brothers took turns and witnesses looked on. The initial reaction to their achievement was virtually nonexistent, being considered impressive but not important. Much of Europe, meanwhile, refused to believe the authenticity of the flight, and it was only with further improvements, both by the Wright Brothers and others that pushed the boundaries and improved the technology, that their monumental accomplishment gained the recognition it deserved. 

The Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 to September 1905)

Treaty of Portsmouth delegations: Russians (far side of table) -- Korostovetz, Nabokov, Witte, Rosen, and Plançon; and Japanese (near side of table) -- Adachi, Ochiai, Komura, Takahira, and Sato.
Photograph of negotiations for the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Both the Russians and Japanese hoped-for expansion in the Far East and a sphere of influence over the area of Korea and North-East China, coming to loggerheads in negotiations. When they broke down, Japan decided to strike first by launching a surprise attack at Russian-controlled Port Arthur. In the ensuing war, the Japanese crushed the Russians, humiliating them in naval warfare, establishing themselves as a new world power on the military stage, and sending shockwaves through the west. It was the first time an army from Asia had defeated one from Europe. The Russian’s performance was considered a national embarrassment, causing their first revolution, a constitutional reform, and laying the first brick in the eventual collapse of their autocracy a decade later. This conflict was also the testing ground for modern warfare technologies that would become commonplace in the First World War.

Albert Einstein formulates his Theory of Special Relativity (September 1905)

Color Photograph of Albert Einstein in a suit at the age of 24 in Switzerland in 1903 (1900s)
Colorized photograph of Albert Einstein in c. 1903.
Credit: Richard White

Albert Einstein was known for two theories that cemented his genius: the General Theory of Relativity, formulated in 1915, and his Special Relativity, which in 1905 changed what we thought of as space and time. Many of the theories Einstein proposed were tested and proved correct in the decades that followed, with its biggest achievement in changing the academic notions of space and time as separate entities. Einstein’s most famous equation, and probably the most recognizable in the world, E = mc2, arose from special relativity, postulating that energy and mass are the same physical entity. His paper came just months after he received his Ph.D., while still working as a patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland, and aged just 26, he was catapulted to the forefront of the academic world.

The Ford Motor Company invents the Model T (October 1908)

The car that revolutionized travel worldwide first appeared in the US in the latter months of 1908. Automobiles were not a new idea by any means, but were largely unaffordable, unreliable, and reserved for the upper classes of the world with more money than sense. Founding his Ford Motor Company in 1903, Henry Ford produced 19 previous models (ascending through A in the alphabet) until the iconic Model T debuted in October 1908. Affordable, reliable, and freely available to the middle classes, orders started flying in. The Model T became the first mass-produced car, selling millions in its first 20 years, and changing the automobile industry forever.

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