American Timeline: 1492-Today

Image Above

The Eaglets.

Bald eagle chicks, aka Haliaeetus leucocephalus.

Photographer: Dave Menke, 2008. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Scroll down to
the date on which the bald eagle enters American history.


October 12, 1492
Christopher Columbus, Spanish flag in suitcase, arrives in the Americas.

Landing of Columbus - October 12, 1492 - Oil on canvas by John Vanderlyn, Architect of the Capitol
Landing of Columbus
Oil on canvas by John Vanderlyn, Architect of the Capitol

Columbus and his crew make landfall on the island of Guanahani, probably San Salvador Island, also called Watlings Island, one of the Bahamas islands.

April 1513
Juan Ponce de León of Spain goes ashore on an island, or so he thinks, and names it Florida.

Jacques Cartier explores the St. Lawrence River for France.

Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto explores the Mississippi River.

Saint Augustine (today's northeastern Florida, about 40 miles or 65 km southeast of Jacksonville), the oldest permanent settlement in the US, is founded by the Spanish.

Jamestown, Virginia, the first English permanent settlement in North America, is founded. The Virginia Company of London decides this site is the perfect location because no Indians live here. Turns out, the property was vacant for a reason. You couldn't get anything to grow on this swampy land.

Pilgrims from the ship Mayflower set up a settlement at Plymouth, Plymouth Colony, near Cape Cod.

The Act Concerning Religion passed by the General Assembly, aka Maryland's legislature, is the first law of religious toleration in the English colonies.

French explorer Sieur de La Salle investigates the lower Mississippi valley and claims the entire region for France. He calls it Louisiana.

French Louisiana 1682–1762
French Louisiana 1682–1762

Georgia, the 13th and last of the English colonies in America, is founded.

The French and Indian War between France and England begins in America.

The Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War. The French leave, the British take over. See also the Seven Years' War.

The Quartering Act and the Stamp Act anger Americans. Nine colonies are represented at the Stamp Act Congress.

British troops fire on a crowd, killing five people in the so-called Boston Massacre.

The Boston Tea Party, the first action in a chain leading to war with Britain, takes place.

The First Continental Congress meets at Philadelphia and protests the five Intolerable Acts, also called the Coercive Acts. Meanwhile, Britain closes down Boston harbor and deploys troops in Massachusetts.

The battles of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill occur. George Washington on the roll.

The Second Continental Congress meets.

The Declaration of Independence is adopted by Congress. Thomas Jefferson is pleased and the colonies declare independence.

1778 - 1779
General George Rogers Clark leads a victorious expedition into the Northwest Territory. Here is his route on a map. Look for Inset B.

Campaigns of the American Revolution, 1775-1781. Inset:The West and South, 1778-1781.
American Revolution 1775-1781

George Washington accepts the surrender of Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown VA after the defeat of the British at the Battle of Yorktown. The Articles of Confederation become the government of the US.

June 20, 1782
The bald eagle becomes officially the national emblem of the United States, so declare the founding fathers at the Second Continental Congress.

The Bald Eagle
The Bald Eagle
Glacier National Park Wildlife, NPS

Why a Bald Eagle? How about a Bold Turkey?

Along those lines, here are Benjamin Franklin's remarks to his daughter, Sarah Bache, in 1784, in which he criticizes a veterans' organization (the American Order of the Cincinnati) for choosing the bald eagle as their emblem.

"Others object to the bald eagle [i.e., on the Cincinnati's emblem] as looking too much like a dindon, or turkey. For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly ... like those among men who live by sharping and robbing ... he is generally poor, and often very lousy. Besides, he is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district ... I am, on this account, not displeased that the figure [i.e., the Cincinnati's drawing] is not known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours ... He is, besides, (though a little vain and silly, it is true, but not the worse emblem for that), a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on".

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife


The 1783 Peace of Paris formally ends the Revolutionary War. Britain accepts the loss of the colonies.

1786 - 1787
Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts shows weaknesses of the Confederation government.

The US Constitution is ratified by the necessary nine states to ensure adoption.

The new US government goes into effect. George Washington is inaugurated president. Go here for George Washington's First Inaugural Address.

The first Congress meets in New York City.

The Bill of Rights is added to the Constitution and guarantees individual freedom.

Vermont is the first new state admitted to the Union.

Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, which leads to large-scale cotton growing in the South.

The national capital is moved from Philadelphia to Washington DC.

Louisiana territories are purchased from France. Here is more on the Louisiana Purchase.

1804 - 1806
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark blaze an overland trail to the Pacific and return.

Robert Fulton's steamboat makes a successful journey from New York City to Albany NY.

Atlantic slave trade abolished.

1812 - 1815
The U.S. fights Great Britain for the second and last time. This is the War of 1812.

The Missouri Compromise settles the problem of slavery in new states for the next 30 years. This map illustrates free and slave territory, and then some.

Slavery and Emancipation in the United States, 1777-1865. Inset: The Region South of the Great Lakes.
1777-1865 United States Slavery and Emancipation

The Monroe Doctrine warns European nations that the US will protect the Americas.

The Erie Canal, from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, becomes a great water highway to the Middle West.

The inauguration of President Andrew Jackson introduces the era of Jacksonian Democracy. Here you can read Jackson's First Inaugural Address.

Texas wins its independence from Mexico by means of the Texas Revolution.

The first migration begins on the Oregon Trail. And here is the Oregon Trail on a map:

Westward Development of the United States, 1790-1900
1790-1900 United States

Texas is annexed and admitted as a state. Here is a map of Texas in 1845.

The Oregon boundary dispute is settled with Britain. The Mexican War begins.

Brigham Young leads a party of Mormons into the Salt Lake valley, Utah.

The Mexican War ends. The US gains possession of the California and New Mexico regions.

The California gold rush begins.

The Compromise of 1850 admits California as a free state, postponing war between the North and South. Here is more on Daniel Webster.

The Gadsden Purchase adds 117,935 sq km (45,535 sq mi) to what is now the southwestern US.

The Republican Party is organized in opposition to slavery.

The Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court declares that the Missouri Compromise is illegal.

Abraham Lincoln is elected president. South Carolina secedes from the Union.

The Confederate States of America is formed by eleven pro-slavery southern states under the leadership of Jefferson Davis. The Civil War begins.

Telegraph links New York City with San Francisco.

General Ulysses S. Grant launches a Union attack in the West. The Confederate invasion of Maryland is halted at Antietam. The Homestead Act grants 160 acres to each settler.

Federal forces win decisive battles at Gettysburg PA, Vicksburg MS, and Chattanooga TN.

The Emancipation Proclamation is delivered, issued by Lincoln, declaring slaves in Confederate states to be free.

General William Tecumseh Sherman captures Atlanta and marches across Georgia.

General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox (VA) Court House, ending the Civil War. The Confederates are defeated.

Slavery is abolished under the Thirteenth Amendment.

Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.

Reconstruction acts impose military rule on the South. Alaska is purchased from Russia.

The first transcontinental railroad is completed as two lines meet at Promontory UT.

The telephone is invented.

The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia celebrates the 100th birthday of the US.

Sioux Indians are defeated by US troops at Little Bighorn (Little Big Horn)

The withdrawal of the last federal troops from the South ends the Reconstruction period.

The first practical electric light is invented by Thomas A. Edison.

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act is passed in an effort to curb the growth of monopolies.

US troops defeat Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee.

Henry Ford’s first car is driven on the streets of Detroit.

The United States annex Hawaii.

The U.S. wins the Spanish-American War and gains the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Cuba becomes independent.

The air age begins with the successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers.

Federal income tax is authorized by the 16th Amendment.

The Panama Canal is opened under the control of the US.

World War I breaks out in Europe.

President Woodrow Wilson appeals for neutrality in the US.

A German submarine sinks the British ship Lusitania with the loss of 124 American lives.

A telephone line is established coast-to-coast.

The Great Migration begins. By the year 1970, 6 to 7 million African Americans will have moved from the South to the North.

The US declares war against Germany. Check this event in the Timeline of World War I.

President Woodrow Wilson proposes Fourteen Points as the basis for peace. Here you can read his Fourteen Points speech.

Americans fight at Château-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Saint-Mihiel, and Argonne Forest in France. An armistice ends the war.

1918 - 1919
President Woodrow Wilson attends the Paris Peace Conference of victorious nations.

The US Senate rejects the League of Nations.

Prohibition is established by the 18th Amendment.

The right to vote is given to women by the 19th Amendment.

Congress grants the right to citizenship to Native Americans.

Charles A. Lindbergh makes the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact outlaws war.

The stock market reaches a new high and then crashes. The panic marks the beginning of the Great Depression. Thirteen million workers become unemployed. Herbert Hoover has to work overtime.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected president.

FDR launches the New Deal, a recovery program that includes major public works. The gold standard is suspended.

The National Recovery Act is passed. Bank deposits are insured. The Tennessee Valley Authority is organized.

The 21st Amendment repeals prohibition and the sale of alcohol resumes.

The Fair Labor Standards Act provides a federal yardstick for wages and hours of workers.

Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II. The US declares neutrality.

The US begins a huge rearmament program; the first peacetime draft takes effect. Franklin Delano Roosevelt defies tradition and accepts the presidential nomination for a third term.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, brings the US into World War II. Germany declares war on the US. Check this event in the Timeline of WWII.

Americans launch a counteroffensive in the Pacific. The Allies invade North Africa.

The invasion of Italy is the Allies’ first landing on the European continent.

June 6, 1944
The Allies launch the greatest sea-to-land assault in history in the invasion of France. Check this event in the Timeline of WWII.

The GI Bill of Rights is passed.

May 8, 1945
Germany surrenders.

August 6, 1945
The US drops atomic bombs on Japan at Hiroshima

August 9, 1945
The US drops atomic bombs on Japan at Nagasaki.

September 2, 1945
Japan surrenders. The Cold War begins between the US and the Soviet Union.

The Philippines is granted independence by the US.

The Truman Doctrine, offering aid to counter communism in Greece and Turkey, is declared.

The Marshall Plan, a program to aid post-war European economies, transfers 13 billion dollars into Europe.

The US and its allies force the Soviet Union to lift the Berlin blockade.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization ( NATO) is founded.

The US and several other members of the UN send military forces to the aid of the Republic of Korea. Bitter war develops against North Korean and Chinese troops.

More on the Korean War.

A two-term limit is put on the presidency by ratification of the 22nd Amendment.

The US and its allies end the occupation of West Germany. The election of  Dwight D. Eisenhower ends 20 years of Democratic governance.

The Korean War ends.

Racial segregation in public schools is declared illegal by the Supreme Court.

The Senate finally gets a handle on the Red Scare, aka McCarthyism, the crusade against alleged communists carried out by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Start of campaign of civil disobedience to secure civil rights for Americans of African descent.

The Eisenhower Doctrine to strengthen the US position in the Middle East is adopted.

Alaska becomes the 49th state, Hawaii the 50th.

A US spy plane is downed over the Soviet Union.

President John F. Kennedy is elected president.

The CIA is involved in an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

More on the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

American troops are sent to defend West Berlin.

The Cuban missile crisis erupts. The Soviets remove missiles from Cuba at the urging of the US.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom takes place.

President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas TX.

Lyndon Baines Johnson becomes president.

The landmark Civil Rights Act is passed, now law. It aims to halt discrimination on grounds of race, color, religion, or nationality.

The US steps up its military interventions in Vietnam.

US combat forces fight in Vietnam. More on the Vietnam War.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides for presidential succession.

The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy provoke riots.

Richard Nixon is elected president while people are fed up with the Vietnam War.

Neil Armstrong is the first person to walk on the Moon.

Four students at Kent State University in Ohio are killed by National Guard soldiers during anti-Vietnam War protests.

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution gives 18-year-olds the right to vote in all elections.

President Richard M. Nixon is re-elected and visits China and the Soviet Union.

Vietnam ceasefire agreement signed. The US withdraws its troops from Vietnam. The campaign had claimed some 58,000 American lives. More on the Vietnam War.

The Watergate Scandal and the threat of impeachment force President Richard M. Nixon to resign.

Gerald Ford is sworn-in as Nixon's successor.

Jimmy Carter elected president.

President Jimmy Carter hosts the Camp David talks between Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar el-Sadat.

The second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks ( SALT II) treaty is signed by the US and the Soviet Union.

Militants seize 66 American hostages in a takeover of the US embassy in Teheran, Iran. A 444-day hostage crisis begins.

1980 / 1981
President Ronald Reagan adopts a tough anti-communist foreign policy and tax-cutting policies that lead to a large federal budget deficit.

Reagan is wounded in an assassination attempt.

Sandra Day O’Connor is appointed the first woman Supreme Court justice.

President Ronald Reagan announces the Star Wars missile-defense program. The US invades Grenada.

President Ronald Reagan is re-elected.

A summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is held in Geneva, Switzerland.

The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. All seven crew members are killed.

The US bombs targets in Libya.

The Iran-Contra Affair is revealed, "Irangate" a scandal which exposed that proceeds from secret US arms sales to Iran were used illegally to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

The stock market collapses.

Reagan's vice-president, George Bush, elected president.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker spills 10 million gallons of crude oil off the Alaskan coast.

The US invades Panama, oust its government and arrest its leader, one-time Central Intelligence Agency informant General Manuel Noriega, on drug-trafficking charges.

The Berlin Wall ceases to divide the two Germanys, signaling the end of the  Cold War.

US troops are sent to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

More about the Gulf War.

An air and ground war leads to the Iraqi surrender and withdrawal from Kuwait. The Soviet Union comes apart.

Riots erupt in Los Angeles after white policemen accused of beating African American Rodney King are acquitted.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico, intended to create free-trade bloc among these three countries.

Bill Clinton elected president.

Janet Reno becomes the first woman attorney general.

The World Trade Center in New York City is bombed.

Congress defeats Clinton's flagship legislation intended to reform health care system.

Investigations into Whitewater scandal, over the Clintons' financial dealings in Arkansas, where he had been governor before becoming president.

Sexual harassment charges are filed against Clinton by a former Arkansas employee. Mid-term elections result in Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

Timothy McVeigh detonates a bomb in a terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

Read the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial Address.

Bill Clinton re-elected president.

President Bill Clinton is impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. He will be acquitted by the Senate in 1999. Not due to a lack of real problems, but by reason of the incredible depth of the sticks in many rears, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is all that is talked about for a long time.

US plays leading role in NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia in response to Serb violence against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.

The results of the presidential election are challenged by Vice President Al Gore. The US Supreme Court overrules the Florida Supreme Court’s order for a statewide manual recount of ballots. George W. Bush wins the presidency.

2001, September 11
Two hijacked airplanes demolish the World Trade Center in New York City, another crashes into the Pentagon outside Washington DC, and a fourth crashes in the southern Pennsylvania countryside.

3,025 people are killed in the attacks.

George W. Bush calls for a global War on Terror and sends US troops into Afghanistan, eventually displacing the Taliban regime.

February: - Space shuttle Columbia's 28th mission ends in tragedy when the craft breaks-up while re-entering the atmosphere. The seven astronauts on board are killed.

March: - The US launches the Iraq War to depose the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and takes control of the country after just weeks of fighting.

August, 14: - Biggest power blackout in North American history hits cities in the north and east, including New York, as well as Canadian cities.

July: - The independent 9/11 Commission finds no credible evidence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda's attacks of September 11, 2001.

George W. Bush is reelected president.

2005, August
Hundreds of people are killed when Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive storm to hit the US in decades, sweeps through gulf coast states. Much of the city of New Orleans is submerged by flood waters.

A crisis in the subprime mortgage industry, leading to foreclosures and falling home values, together with record-high prices of petroleum, pushes the US economy to the brink of recession. On September 15, the Lehman Brothers investment banking house collapses into bankruptcy. Public confidence in both the economy and government oversight plummets.

US troop deaths in Iraq top 4,100 by July, while deaths in Afghanistan reach 475.

Barack Obama is sworn in as the first African American president of the United States. Here you can read Obama's Inaugural Address.

American troops meet the 30 June deadline to withdraw from Iraqi cities under an agreement that calls for all American forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico causes the United States' biggest oil spill to date.

January: US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is shot in the head while meeting voters in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords survives but six people are killed in the rampage and 13 wounded.

May: US forces kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in an operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Read President Obama's Address
On the Death of Osama Bin Laden

December: After 8 years, 9 months, and 12 days, the Iraq War is over.

On January 21, President Obama delivers his Second Inaugural Address.




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