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240 years ago today, the Declaration of Independence was ratified, which proclaimed the independence of the Thirteen Colonies from the United Kingdom, forming a new nation – the United States of America. Today, the USA is the world’s largest economy, home to over 300 million people, and is the world’s only ‘superpower’.

Here are 50 of the most important dates in America’s history as an independent state.


18th Century

  • July 4th, 1776 – Congress approves and ratifies the Declaration of Independence – proclaiming the Thirteen Colonies as a new independent country; the United States of America
  • April 30th, 1789 – George Washington sworn in as the first President of the United States after being elected unopposed

19th Century

  • July 4th, 1803 – Louisiana Purchase sees the United States acquire 828,000 square miles of French colonial territory for $15 million ($233m today) – it is the largest transfer of territory to the US in its history
  • March 2nd, 1807 – Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves, a federal law stating that no new slaves were permitted to be imported into the United States, was enacted and took effect in 1808. The slave trade domestically remained unchanged.
  • February 4th, 1861 – Following Abraham Lincoln’s election in November, seven states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas) break away from the US and form the Confederate States of America
  • April 12, 1861 – Civil war breaks out after the Confederacy bombard Fort Sumter
  • September 17th, 1862 – The Battle of Antietam results in the loss of over 22,000 men – it is the bloodiest single-day battle in US history
  • July 1st-3rd, 1863 – Battle of Gettysburg results in a decisive Union victory, turning the tide of the war against the Confederacy
  • April 2nd, 1865 – Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, is evacuated as Union troops move in
  • April 14th, 1865 – President Lincoln assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in the Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C.
  • May 5th, 1865 – CSA collapses, ending the American Civil War
  • December 6th, 1865 – Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, is ratified
  • October 28th, 1886 – Ceremony of dedication held after the completion of the Statue of Liberty in New York City
  • December 10th, 1898 – Treaty of Paris ends the Spanish-American War, marking the beginning of the age of the United States as a world power

20th Century (1900-1945)

  • December 17th, 1903 – Wright Brothers make the first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
  • October 1st, 1908 – Ford Model T released – it is the first affordable automobile
  • April 6th, 1917 – United States declares war on Germany, beginning its involvement in the First World War
  • August 18th, 1920 – Nineteenth Amendment ratified, giving all American women the right to vote
  • May 21st, 1927 – Charles Lindbergh makes the first transatlantic flight, flying from New York to Paris
  • October 29th, 1929 – Wall Street Crash triggers ‘Great Depression’ worldwide during the 1930s
  • December 7th, 1941 – Japanese attack the United States at Pearl Harbour, ending American neutrality and signalling their entry into the Second World War
  • August 6th, 1945 – USA drops the first atomic bomb during a conflict on Hiroshima, killing 80,000 instantly and another 80,000 in the following months through radiation sickness

20th Century (1946 -1999)

  • March 5th, 1946 – Winston Churchill gives a speech at Westminster College, Missouri, saying that an ‘iron curtain had descended across the continent’ of Europe, signalling the start of the ‘Cold War’ between the communist Soviet Union and capitalist United States
  • August 15th, 1953 – Operation Ajax begins in Iran – US/UK plot to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister and install Western-friendly leader succeeds, but Iranian Revolution reverses this in 1979
  • May 17th,  1954 – Brown v Board of Education: Supreme Court rules that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students is unconstitutional
  • April 15th, 1955 – Ray Kroc opens the first ever McDonald’s outlet in Illinois
  • November 1st, 1955 – Eisenhower deploys American troops to train the Army of South Vietnam – this marks the start of almost two decades of involvement in the Vietnam War, which would result in the deaths of over 500,000 American soldiers
  • December 1st, 1955 – Rosa Parks arrested in Montgomery, Alabama after refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger, sparking the roughly year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • October 14-28th, 1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis takes United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war
  • August 28th, 1963 – 250,000 join March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the National Mall, where civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr. gives his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech
  • November 22nd, 1963 – President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas
  • April 11th, 1968 – Civil Rights Act of 1968 signed into law, making it a federal crime to ‘by force or threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone… by reason of their race, color, religion or national origin’
  • June 28th, 1969 – Violent demonstrations take place at the Stonewall Inn, New York City – the ‘Stonewall riots’ are widely considered to mark the start of the LGBT rights movement
  • July 20th, 1969 – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon, becoming the first humans to ever land on another celestial body
  • June 17th, 1971 – President Richard Nixon declares a ‘war on drugs’ to reduce the illegal drugs trade; today, 1 in 31 Americans are incarcerated (with the prison population quadrupling since 1980) partially due to the mandatory sentences that have resulted from the War on Drugs
  • January 22nd, 1973 – Roe v. Wade: Supreme Court rules that state laws prohibiting abortion before 24 weeks is unconstitutional
  • August 9th, 1974 – Richard Nixon resigns as President of the United States after being implicated in the Watergate scandal – he is the first and only President to resign from office
  • April 12th, 1981 – Space Shuttle Columbia takes off from Kennedy Space Center – it is the first space shuttle launch
  • January 17th, 1991 – United States and allies invade Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the Gulf War
  • April 20th, 1999 – Two high school students shoot 13 people before killing themselves at Columbine High School – sparking debate over gun control, bullying, and subcultures

21st Century

  • September 11th, 2001 – Two planes crash into the World Trade Centre and a third into the Pentagon (a fourth plane crashes in a field in Pennsylvania) – over 3,000 people are killed in the worst terrorist attack on American soil
  • March 19, 2003 – United States and ‘coalition of the willing’ launch invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein – war results in instability, rise of Islamic extremism and contributes to the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
  • June 26th, 2003 – Lawerence v. Texas: Supreme Court strikes down and invalidates sodomy laws in 13 states, making same-sex sexual activity legal in every US state and territory
  • February 4, 2004 – Facebook launches – today, it is used by over one billion people worldwide
  • September 14th, 2008 – Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy as the 2008 financial crisis strikes – it is the largest bankruptcy in American history
  • November 4th, 2008 – Barack Obama is elected President of the United States, the first African-American to hold the post
  • August 9th, 2014 – Riots begin in Ferguson, Missouri, after unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer
  • June 26th, 2015 – Obergefell v. Hodges: Supreme Court rules that right of same-sex couples to marry is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, legalising same-sex marriage in all US states and territories
  • June 12th, 2016 – 49 people are killed and 53 wounded in a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida – it is America’s worst mass shooting by a single gunman, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in US history and the worst terrorist attack in America since 9/11