20th Century – 7 Historical Events that happened in the 20th Century

The 20th century was quite possibly the most historically significant century in human history. It was dubbed by historian Eric Hobsbawm as the ‘Era of Extremes’ and this is no surprise. Two world wars changed humanity forever, communism fought an even war on democracy and the Chinese emerged from the shadows of world geopolitics with their Great Leap Forward. All of these were huge, and some were pivotal, but I want to look beyond these massive forces of global and national transformation and destruction. Here, we’ll take a closer look at seven moments, pivotal moments, that changed the world forever in the 20th century. 

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – 1914

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie leave the Sarajevo Town Hall, June 28th 1914.
Credit: Walter Tausch // CC BY-SA 3.0,

While I do want to steer away from events that took place during wartime, this is my number one, because it directly caused the first world war. A foiled terrorist attack by Bosnian Serb nationalists, The Black Hand Gang, results in the non-fatal shooting political of target Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. He’s rushed to hospital, but his chauffeur takes a wrong turn. One of the attackers is having a sandwich, lamenting his missed opportunity, before the car turns down his street. Gavrilo Princip rises, shoots, and kills the Archduke. Austria-Hungary are furious about the attack. They provide the Serbians with an ultimatum. Anything ignored or refused will result in a declaration of war. The Russian-backed Serbs refuse this ultimatum. Austria-Hungary declared war, so the Russians begin to mobilize in support of Serbia. The Germans then march on Belgium, because Russian mobilization kicks off their own war machine. Unbeknownst to the Germans, this invasion of Belgium activates the Treaty of London, an old agreement between the Belgians and the British ensuring British support if Belgium is invaded. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis – 1962

This U-2 reconnaissance photo showed concrete evidence of missile assembly in Cuba. Shown here are missile transporters and missile-ready tents where fueling and maintenance took place. Part of the 20th century cuban missile crisis
U-2 reconnaissance photograph taken in Cuba showing evidence of Soviet nuclear missiles being assembled in Cuba, 1962.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After two world wars, and perhaps over one hundred million deaths, wealthy men with extraordinary power still thought it necessary to risk the lives of millions more in the most dangerous flexing of muscles the planet had ever seen. Nikita Khrushchev installed nuclear missiles in communist-friendly Cuba, just 103 miles from Florida, at the height of the Cold War. This brought us moments from nuclear extinction, due to the mad concept of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction.’

The letter published by Khrushchev on October 26th, 1962, agreeing to dismantle the weaponry and remove them from Cuba, both strengthened the US position publicly and perhaps saved millions of lives across the globe in the 20th century. 

The Founding of Amazon – 1994

Jeff Bezos, founder of private space company Blue Origin and the Amazon.com which was founded in the 20th century, visited the Los Angeles Air Force base, Space and Missile Systems center and spoke to the Commanders and Leaderships of Air Force Space Command at Ft. MacArthur, San Pedro, Calif., Oct 25, 2017.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, 2017.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Some might see the founding of an online bookstore just six years before the end of the 20th century as a curious inclusion, but I feel as though we are still yet to see the sheer dominance with which this brand could control lives in the West. 

This online bookstore was founded 27 years ago in Bellevue, Washington. It now makes up over half of all US e-commerce transactions and its streaming subscription service has well over 150 million members. Its cloud services have over 31% of the global market and are used by multinational corporations like Netflix, Reddit, NASA, and Airbnb. This is the most important brand on the planet, owned by the richest man on the planet. It is entirely within reason to suggest that, based on current growth trends, Amazon could become the first company to adequately eliminate competition in multiple critical areas of service and production.

The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 (Women’s suffrage) – 1918

At the beginning of the 20th century, Emmeline Pankhurst is being carried away by a police officer after being arrested outside buckingham palace.
Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst arrested outside Buckingham Palace, May 21st, 1914.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After decades of reasonable protest and the war that broke the camel’s back, women were finally given the right to vote in elections (in the UK), closely followed by the USA just a year later. Although women were getting closer and closer to securing this right, the support, strength, and resilience of women during the war seemed to tip the scales in their favor. 

The Vatican City is the only nation where it’s impossible for women to vote, while countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Egypt make it extremely difficult for female voters. Despite this, globally, many more women have been elected to senior government positions in the last 100 years than the previous 10,000 and the inclusion of women in national politics has made for a far more colorful and compassionate landscape. 

Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – 1945

Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) after the atomic bombs were dropped on the cities, August 1945.
Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) after the atomic bombs were dropped on the cities, August 1945.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

I don’t like its inclusion, because it technically occurred during the second world war, despite ending it within the East. However, the detonation of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 1945 respectively, changed the world forever in a moment. It showed man’s potential for evil at a distance. It ended the lives of over 200,000 civilians in the name of ‘deterrent’. Two bombs. 

This not only foreshadows the drone strikes of the 21st century, and our willingness to murder innocents in the name of political or military strategy, but it is the only recorded use of nuclear power on a large population. It revealed the potential of nuclear energy and its volatile nature. It formed the backbone of both nuclear deterrent organizations and international military policy (Mutually Assured Destruction) for decades and is still our only reliable protection from extreme nuclear holocaust. 

The Fall of the Berlin Wall – 1989

20th Century Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989. The photo shows a part of a public photo documentation wall at the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. The photo documentation is permanently placed in the public.
People standing on top of the Berlin Wall near Brandenburg Gate, November 9th, 1989.
Credit: Lear 21 at English Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bloated, creaking Soviet machine was lurching cautiously at the close of the 1980s. Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, was trying (and failing) to feed the minds and bodies of a hungry and idle population under a barrage of increasing Western influence. 

The Berlin Wall, built 28 years earlier, was a symbol of the insularity of the USSR, and its destruction in the frosty November of 1989 was a rejection, by East Berliners, of said insularity. The people wanted globalization. Communism, or any meaningful representation of it, was dead. 

Invention of the Internet

This, like number 3, happened at the close of the 20th century. It flashed with potential, but nobody realized its immense power for recreating and warping societies and global influence. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, the world’s first web server and browser. This invention changed the way we communicate, the way we store information, the way we interact as human beings, fundamentally and immeasurably forever.


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