Decade By Decade
Years of History
The years go by in rapid succession, decade by decade, century after century. From 1913 to the present, the years are chronicled here that end in three; to mark some of the events and milestones that, seemingly, happened not that long ago after all:
The year 1913: One hundred years ago, there were continued problems along the U.S./Mexico border due to the lawless murders of Pancho Villa and his notorious band of robbers. The problem escalated with the assassination of Mexican President Francisco Madero and his Vice-President. In Greece, monarch King George was also assassinated, and Greece declared war on Bulgaria. In England a woman threw herself under King George V’s carriage to protest the traditional lack of women’s rights. She was immediately killed. In the United States, there was a massive flood in the Ohio valley, substantially burying the city of Cincinnati. Ohio native William Howard Taft left the White House in March, and the former governor of New Jersey and Virginia native Thomas Woodrow Wilson moved in. Wilson, a Democrat, was the first Virginian to be elected to America’s highest office since Zachary Taylor in 1851 -- and he had only occupied it for a short time when he died unexpectedly shortly after the 4th of July in 1852. As a youth, Wilson had met the aged Robert E. Lee in 1869, a moment he remembered all his life.
President Wilson visited Gettysburg in July 1913 during the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The commemoration had been planned for five years, with a large tent city built on the actual battlefield south of town. Tens of thousands of visitors flocked to Gettysburg for the anniversary, including over 50,000 Civil War veterans. President Wilson spoke to them during a special program on July 4.
During the summer and fall of 1913, a Gettysburg man made headlines across the nation. Eddie Plank, the left-handed pitcher of the Philadelphia A’s, was voted MVP during the World Series. Known to baseball fans as “Gettysburg Eddie”, the professional player was well liked in Gettysburg. At nearly the same time of year, the Lincoln Highway -- the first coast-to-coast highway in America -- was announced. Preparations for creating, leveling, and covering the highway began in October that year. One of the towns bisected by this historic road was Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Civil War veterans line up for lunch
at the Gettysburg Grand Reunion, 1913
(National Park Service)
In 1913, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a 22-year-old cadet in his third year at West Point. He would turn 23 in October, and had not yet met Mamie. He was well aware of the problems along the Mexican border, and dreaded the thought of having to go to Texas upon his graduation to keep order and protect American lives.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was serving as Assistant Secretary to the Navy, having been appointed by the newly elected President Wilson. He held that post through the First World War.
That same year, Congress approved the design and location for the yet-to-be created Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
By 1913, nickelodeons were still popular, but the movie industry began to introduce longer reeled films with serious subjects. Mary Pickford (her real name was Gladys Smith) was the highest paid actor in the business, and in 1913 she was allowed to select some of her scripts and alter them to suit her personality. Madame Butterfly and Rags were two of her pictures that year.
In 1913 there were two amendments passed to the Constitution. The 16th Amendment, ratified on February 3, 1913, allowed Congress to impose a national income tax upon American citizens. A few months later, on April 8, the 17th Amendment was ratified, which changed the way senators from the 48 states were chosen. Before 1913, senators were chosen by the state legislature. After the 17th Amendment, the electorate from the states were to vote for their senators, and each senator would serve for a period of six years. The amendment also allowed for the state to appoint a senator to fill a vacancy until it was time for the public to hold an election.
Although by Groundhog Day in 1913 the tradition was nearly a quarter century old, Punxsutawney Phil was first photographed that year.
In 1913, the Alpha Fire Company in Littlestown, located 10 miles south of Gettysburg, traded in their horse-drawn carriage for a gasoline powered fire engine, the first in the county to do so.
One hundred years ago, the ranks of blue and gray had begun to grow thin. Two Civil War era figures who died in 1913 were Custis Lee, age 80, Confederate general and son of the renowned Robert E. Lee; and Harriet Tubman, age 93, the pioneer of the famed Underground Railroad that led slaves to freedom. Two future U.S. Presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, were born.
In 1913, Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, considered the oldest town in Adams County, celebrated its sesquicentennial year.
The year 1923: Much had transpired historically in the decade between 1913 and 1923. Millions had perished in the Great War between Germany and the Allies of Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, and the United States. Long sustained battles like the Somme and Verdun had claimed over one million lives each, with even more casualties of wounded and captured. In addition to the war, the Spanish influenza claimed millions more lives of all ages. By the year 1923, life had begun to flourish again, and there was much prosperity in America and Europe -- with the exception of Germany. In the year 1923, a young Austrian corporal, who had witnessed Germany’s capitulation from the recent war, was still angry and protested greatly, causing his arrest and subsequent imprisonment. His name was Adolf Hitler.
In the United States, Warren Harding, a former newspaper publisher from Marion, Ohio, was in his third year as the President. He was popular because the United States was in good shape financially. Scandals, however were on the horizon due to his extra-curricular activities and his under-the-table deals. During the summer of 1923, President Harding and his wife, Florence, traveled by train to Alaska. Harding was the first President to visit this territory purchased by Lincoln’s and later Andrew Johnson’s Secretary of State William Seward in 1868. Harding began to feel ill during the return voyage, stopping at San Francisco. On August 2, he complained of “a sinking feeling.” He died that night of an unknown cause. The doctor believed it could have been a blood clot or a heart attack, but requested an autopsy. Mrs. Harding refused. Shortly after midnight on August 3, Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s Vice President, received a phone call. He took the oath of office in his Vermont home.
In 1923 Harry Houdini became a national figure after breaking free from a strait-jacket while dangling from a skyscraper in New York City. Baseball great Babe Ruth was the nation’s most famous sports figure after hitting two home runs for the New York Yankees, helping them to win the World Series. That year Yankee Stadium first opened to the public -- and it was soon dubbed “the house that Ruth built.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with his wife, Mamie, and infant son John, were living in Panama. Mamie, who did not like the heat, mosquitoes, and her husband’s constant absence, managed to stay just a year in the central American nation, and then returned to her parents’ home in Denver.
In 1923, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formally organized, with Vladimir Lenin at the helm. The block of communist nations would last almost seventy years. In Japan, a massive earthquake killed about 142,000 people.
In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania retired baseball great Eddie Plank sold his garage business on the corner of York and Stratton Streets. Now officially retired, although he never used the word, he spent time assisting his brother, Ira, who was a baseball coach at Gettysburg College. He also hoped to devote more of his time to his wife, young son, and his aging parents.
Ninety years ago, many Hollywood notables were born, including Charlton Heston, Rhonda Fleming, and singer Hank Williams. The notorious Pancho Villa died by violence in 1923 at the age of 55. The elderly Gustave Eiffel, the engineer of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, passed away at age 91.
The year 1933: Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in his first term as President of the United States in the year 1933, having taken the oath of office in March -- the last President to do so. Shortly before he took office, he was nearly assassinated by a mentally unstable man, who shot at him while in Miami, Florida. FDR’s companion in the car, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, was killed.
There were two Amendments made to the U.S. Constitution in 1933. The 20th Amendment changed the date of the Presidential Inauguration from early March to the 20th of January. It was not ratified until January 25th, so President Roosevelt still took the oath in March. For his second, third, and fourth terms, he was inaugurated on January 20th. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment -- which had prohibited the sale, transportation, or use of alcoholic beverages. It was ratified in December.
The Great Depression was America’s great burden in 1933. It had permeated the entire nation, even affecting the world; and outgoing President Herbert Hoover received the bulk of the blame. Banks had closed, unemployment rose to frightening levels, and hordes of people stood in bread lines for sustenance. To calm the nation, Roosevelt began his fireside chats that year, carried by radio to most American homes. In the year 1933, the famous quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” was used during one of these broadcasts. He also made history that year in introducing The New Deal to help those in need. Because of the widespread effects of the Depression, the movie business soared. Unemployed people lined up at theaters to forget their troubles for a few hours, though the cost of a movie ticket had risen to 25 cents.
Baseball games increased in popularity in the 1930s. Babe Ruth made history in Chicago in 1933 by hitting the first home run ever in the All Star game, an annual competition between the American and National Leagues. That year the New York Giants won the World Series.
There was unrest across the Atlantic as well. In India, there were wide protests against Britain occupying that country, which was still part of the British Empire. Mahatma Gandhi initiated a hunger strike, one of his methods of peaceful protest, to show his distaste for British influence in his home country.
In Germany, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany -- the first time a non-German had won the office. Born in Austria, Hitler changed his citizenship to German so that he could be elected. He immediately began to improve the conditions in Germany, but at the same time began to introduce legislation that cast aspersions on certain ethnic people, especially Jews. The change alarmed only a few, while others did not believe anything drastic could happen to them in a republic. One of the concerned was Jewish scientist Albert Einstein. In 1933 he decided to leave Europe and settled in New Jersey.
In 1933, the wrought-iron fence that once surrounded Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. was placed on Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to create a boundary between the Soldiers National Cemetery and the town’s Evergreen Cemetery.
In 1933, former President Calvin Coolidge, age 60, died suddenly of a heart attack while he was shaving at his home in Massachusetts. Louis C. Tiffany, artist and designer of the famous company that bore his name, died at age 85. Elizabeth “Libby” Custer, widow of Civil War general George Armstrong Custer, died at age 89. And General Adelbert Ames, the Maine native and West Point graduate who was the first colonel of the 20th Maine, and who fought as a brigade commander at the Battle of Gettysburg, died at age 97. He was the last surviving Civil War general.
The "V" for victory was omnipresent in daily
The year 1943: President Roosevelt was near the end of his third term in 1943, and the world was embroiled in the disastrous and all encompassing World War II. The victory garden was part of the majority of American households, growing their own food so that the troops could be better fed overseas. The ubiquitous victory sign was seen, and sold, in various venues -- from clothing and jewelry to household products to lamps and even fishing lures. In that way, wherever one stood at home or away, he or she would be reminded of victory in war. Rubber drives, gas rationing, and the selling of war bonds to help fund the fight against Hitler were all a daily part of life in the year 1943.
In 1943 FDR appointed General Eisenhower as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, with the task of organizing three million troops to invade the European continent and drive off the Nazis. Ike immediately went to work to plan for that invasion. That same year the Japanese withdrew from Guadalcanal, a Pacific island that had been hotly contested for many months for its strategic location as an air base.
The Americans had discovered a breakthrough with their secret codes. In 1942, during the Battle of Midway, they had used Navajo code talkers who sent the messages in their native language. Neither the Nazis nor the Japanese code specialists could discover how to break the code. It proved a turning point in the war for the Allies, and was a significant reason, in addition for the brave fighting of the Allied troops, for the victory at Guadalcanal. These special codes continued their active use throughout the year.
In 1943, one of the Nazis' closest friends, Benito Mussolini, was overthrown and imprisoned.
In 1943 the Pentagon and the Jefferson Memorial were built in Washington, D.C., and the board game Clue was invented.
The year 1943 was a year of much death and destruction, where millions of soldiers, civilians, prisoners in concentration camps, and resistance fighters perished in the war. General Yamamoto, who had orchestrated the bombing of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, was one of those casualties. Actor Leslie Howard was killed when his plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe. (Sir Winston Churchill was supposed to have been on the flight, but he was taken off when they learned that the plane might be marked for destruction.) There were many others who left us that year: Scientist and botanist George Washington Carver, authors Stephen Vincent Benet and Beatrix Potter, composer Sergei Rachmaninov, physicist Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford’s son Edsel, and actor Dwight Frye, who had portrayed the hapless Mr. Renfield in the 1931 film Dracula.
John F. Kennedy, age 25, narrowly escaped death when his ship, PT 109, was sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Two of his crew were killed, and when radio contact had been severed, the U.S. Navy believed that none of the crew had survived. No neighboring ships came to their aid, and Kennedy’s family was notified that he had been lost at sea. Kennedy and the surviving crew endured an arduous swim to an inhabited island and managed to get rescued.
The year 1953: General Eisenhower was inaugurated President on January 20, 1953. One of Ike’s campaign promises was that he would bring the Korean War to an end. He kept that promise. Within months of his occupancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Ike negotiated peace, bringing the war to an end with an American victory, in July.
With the end of the war with North Korea, a new threat appeared on the horizon -- the Cold War -- between communist Russia (the Soviet Union) and the United States. Perhaps the catalyst came when the USSR announced that they possessed a hydrogen bomb -- which would make the atomic bomb miniscule in comparison. It caused much unrest for the United States, who as yet did not have one. In the midst of this new fear, spies seemed to be omnipresent. Among them were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were arrested for spying for the Soviets. In 1951 they were convicted of treason and in 1953 they were executed.
In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norkay were the first humans to successfully reach the pinnacle of the world atop Mount Everest in the Himalayas. John F. Kennedy, the war hero and newly elected senator from Massachusetts, married Jacqueline Bouvier.
In England, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey -- though she had been named queen at the death of her father the previous year.
In 1953 the double helix of DNA was discovered. The first Chevrolet Corvette came off the assembly line. Favorite films included From Here to Eternity, the Academy Award winner about the bombing of Pearl Harbor,and Shane, a western about a gunslinger who couldn’t shed his past.
President Eisenhower decided he didn’t like the name Shangri-La, which was what former President Roosevelt had christened the Chief Executive mountain retreat near Thurmont, Maryland. Ike named it Camp David, in honor of his father (and his young grandson).
Those who passed on in 1953 included Soviet president Joseph Stalin, author Dylan Thomas, playwright Eugene O’Neill, singer Hank Williams and athlete Jim Thorpe.
The year 1963: Fifty years ago, the year 1963 proved to be an eventful one for the United States. That year, in Gettysburg, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was commemorated. John F. Kennedy was in his third year as President, and in March he and the First Lady (and daughter Caroline) visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In 1963 Martin Luther King, already drawing headlines for his peaceful protests for equal rights, made history in the front of the Lincoln Memorial in the summer with his “I Have a Dream” speech.
President Kennedy, center, visited Gettysburg
on March 30, 1963
(National Park Service)
In 1963 AT&T marketed the first touch-tone telephones. Zip codes were introduced by the Postmaster General. Air conditioners were first used in homes to combat the summer heat. Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, Mona Lisa, was offered on loan from Europe, and popularly viewed at the National Gallery of Art.
While waiting for a connecting flight in London’s Heathrow Airport, television host Ed Sullivan saw screaming crowds greeting four young musicians from Liverpool. He decided to book them on his show in the United States in 1964. "Beatlemania" had arrived in Europe -- and by December it reached the American continent.
In 1963 South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated.
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas; a shocking occurrence for America and the world. Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office in Air Force One. Mrs. Kennedy, remembering her visit to Gettysburg, requested that his grave be similar to that of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, a monument located on the western edge of town.
General Eisenhower was in New York at the time of the assassination. He received a call from President Johnson, asking him to fly to Washington for consultations. Ike complied and spent two days there, helping the new President to make the transition into the White House and to calm the public during the dark days that followed.
Other deaths in1963 included singer Patsy Cline, poet Robert Frost, authors Alduous Huxley and C. S. Lewis, and NAACP founder W.E. B. DuBois.
The year 1973: A decade after the turbulent times in 1963, the year 1973 seemed equally unstable. Riots on college campuses protested the Vietnam War. Continued stalemates and the rising death toll also enraged the press. Richard Nixon, recently re-elected for a second term, agreed to end the war; and by August all American troops had left Indochina. At home, the Watergate scandal shocked the American people, as Congress held hearings about the illegal activity where it appeared that President Nixon had authorized a break-in at the Watergate Hotel to obtain information to facilitate his reelection in 1972. In October, Vice-President Spiro Agnew suddenly resigned and pleaded no contest to taking bribes. He was replaced by Nixon appointee Gerald Ford, the former President Pro-Tem of the Senate.
President Nixon fought the allegations and appeared on television in November, insisting that he was not a crook. It was discovered that several minutes of taped conversation from the Oval Office were missing. The President issued an executive order in which he refused to turn it over to Congress.
In 1973 the Supreme Court heard the case Roe vs. Wade, and sided with Ms. Roe, legalizing abortion in the United States.
In 1973 former President Lyndon B. Johnson suddenly died at his ranch in Texas. Others who passed on that year included artist Pablo Picasso, director John Ford, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, author J.R.R. Tolkien, and actresses Betty Grable and Veronica Lake.
The year 1983: Ronald Reagan was serving as the 40th U.S. President. That year, he worked to issue his new Star Wars plan, where satellites in space would protect military installations and block any attempt from enemy combatants to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.
That same year, during unrest in Lebanon, terrorists bombed a United States military barracks in Beirut, killing 305 people, including 245 United States Marines.
NASA introduced the nation to the space shuttle Challenger, which made its maiden flight that year.
In 1983 Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Yuri Andropov was President of the USSR. Margaret Thatcher continued as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Menachim Begin resigned his post as Prime Minister of Israel.
During an especially cold winter in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, residents of The Gettysburg Hotel, at that time an apartment complex, were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night due to a large fire that burned the historic building. The hotel had been built in 1797.
That summer in Gettysburg, a severe storm destroyed several old trees on Cemetery Hill, including the white pine that had stood over the grave of Jennie Wade, a local girl who had been killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Some who died in 1983 were playwright Tennessee Williams, comedian Jack Benny, and actor and World War II veteran David Niven.
The year 1993: In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, there was a gala premiere of the film Gettysburg, an epic movie about the historic battle of the same name. The script was taken largely from the Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Killer Angels, by author Michael Shaara. The popular film sparked an increased awareness in the pivotal battle, and for the next several years attendance at Gettysburg National Military Park rose substantially.
In 1993 Bill Clinton took the oath of office as the nation’s 42nd President of the United States. There were six surviving U.S. Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Sr., and Clinton. That year First Lady Thelma “Pat” Nixon died after an extended illness. Others who left us that year included Audrey Hepburn, Arthur Ashe, Thurgood Marshall, Norman Vincent Peale, and Vincent Price.
The year 2003: Just a decade ago, life had changed drastically with the horrific terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Airport screenings became a way of life for many travelers, and the Department of Homeland Security was established to help offset future attacks. George W. Bush, the son of former President Bush, was halfway through his first term as President of the United States. In 2003, terrorist attacks continued in other parts of the world, including Moscow, Chechnya, and Casablanca, Morocco.
In February, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon its final approach to earth, killing all seven astronauts on board. A nightclub fire in Rhode Island killed 100 -- stemming from a pyrotechnics display by the performing band.
The popular but expensive supersonic airliner The Concorde made its final voyage in October -- stopping service due to costs.
The Iraq War began in the fall of 2003, in an attempt to stop President Saddam Hussein from creating nuclear weapons. Hussein immediately went into hiding. His two sons were killed, but the Iraqi President remained in hiding.
In 2003, comedian Bob Hope reached his 100th birthday, a goal he had set for himself many years before. He also died shortly after becoming a centenarian, a living witness to the 20th century.
In the space of 100 years, there have been many changes in the American way of life. Still, it is surprising to realize that many things have not changed. Traditions continue, unrest remains, wars are fought, and often the learning from the past seems to diminish -- though ties to our past remain strong for some of us. It remains to be seen what the future will bring, and what may already have transpired will likely have an effect on those not yet born. The decades that are and will be can still be improved, and the history of the future is still to be made. As long as we are here, we can and must continue to make a better history for those who come after us.
Sources: Beitler, Lt. Col. Lewis E. Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Harrisburg, PA: William Stanley Ray, printer, December 31, 1913. Bettman, Otto L. The Good Old Days -- They Were Terrible! New York: Random House, 1974. The Constitution of the United States. (first published in 1789) Washington, D.C.: The National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2009. Eisenhower, David with Julie Eisenhower. Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight David Eisenhower, 1961-1969. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Eisenhower, Dwight D. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. National Park Service: Eastern Acorn Press, 1967. Eisenhower, Susan. Mrs. Ike. Sterling, VA: Capital Books, 1996. Fetter, Karen. “Honoring America’s First Transcontinental Highway.” Drive Magazine, summer 2005. The Gettysburg Times, Feb. 11, 1993, microfilm, Adams County Historicl Society. Kennell, Brian A. Beyond the Gatehouse: Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. Gettysburg: The Evergreen Cemetery Association, 2000. Loski, Diana. “50 Years Ago: President Kennedy Visits Gettysburg.” The Gettysburg Experience, March 2013. McClain, Sally. Navajo Weapon: The Navajo Code Talkers. Tucson, AZ: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2002. Edward Stewart Plank obituary, The Gettysburg Times, February 25, 1926. “Remember When...A Nostalgic Look Back in Time”, Booklet by Seek Publishing for years 1923, 1933. The Warren G. Harding Home & Museum, Marion, Ohio. Whitney, David C. The American Presidents. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Births and deaths found at wikipedia.com.