Important Events during 1955-1975

  • Polio Vaccine

    A study showing the Salk polio vaccine to be effective is released. Mass inoculations will follow and the disease, which has been a serious threat for generations, will virtually disappear.
  • Geneva Summit

    The first summit conference between Soviet and American leaders, along with those of France and Great Britain, begins in Geneva, Switzerland. No important agreements are forged, but the meeting eases some Cold War tensions.
  • Minimum Wage/Eisenhower's Heart Attack

    Eisenhower signs the Minimum Wage Act, raising the minimum wage from $.75 to $1.00 per hour.While vacationing in Colorado, Eisenhower plays 27 holes of golf and eats a hamburger with raw onion. That night, he suffers a heart attack and he'll remain in the hospital until November 11th.
  • Rosa Parks Arrested

    In Montgomery, Alabama, the Black seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man and is arrested. The ensuing boycott, coordinated by a young Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., will mark an important turning point in the African-American freedom struggle.
  • Interstate Highway System

    Eisenhower signs the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which will create the Interstate Highway system, one of the biggest public works projects in U.S. history.
  • Ike Reelected

    Eisenhower is elected to a second term as president.
  • Soviets Test ICBM

    Officials of the Soviet Union announced that they have launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile. The Americans will have such a weapon of their own ready for launch four months later.
  • Little Rock Desegregation

    Eisenhower sends federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the court-ordered desegregation of the city's public schools. As a result, nine Black students are allowed to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School.
  • Sputnik

    The Soviets launch Sputnik, the first manmade satellite. The achievement shocks Americans, who begin to fear that the Russians are pulling ahead in technology.
  • First Nuclear Power Plant

    The first full-scale nuclear power plant begins operation in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, supplying electricity to Pittsburgh.
  • U.S. Launches Satellite

    The U.S. launches its first satellite, Explorer I, marking U.S. entry into the "space race" with the Russians.
  • Transatlantic Air Travel Begins

    The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) begins the first regular jet airline service across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Kitchen Debate

    American Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev debate the merits of capitalism versus communism during Nixon's visit to the Soviet Union. The talk takes place beside a model kitchen at a trade exhibition and becomes known as "the kitchen debate." The confrontation boosts Nixon's status in the U.S.
  • Lunch Counter Sit-Ins

    Sit-in demonstrations begin in Charlotte, North Carolina as Black students protest segregation at a Woolworth's lunch counter. The movement spreads across the South in the weeks that follow.
  • U-2 Shot Down

    An American U-2 spy plane is shot down over the Soviet Union. Pilot Gary Powers survives the crash and admits spying. The incident sours U.S.-Soviet relations and dooms the Paris summit conference later in the month.
  • JFK Defeats Nixon to Win Presidency

    John F. Kennedy becomes the youngest elected president. Eisenhower is disappointed by Kennedy's defeat of his former running mate Richard Nixon in a close election.
  • Johnson Visits South Vietnam

    Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson visits South Vietnam and offers military and economic aid to Diem. By the end of the year, the U.S. military presence in Vietnam will reach 3,200 men (although combat units will not be deployed until 1965).
  • Bay of Pigs

    A force of 1,500 Cuban exiles, trained and financed by the United States, lands at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the Castro regime. The operation, initiated and planned during the Eisenhower administration but launched under Kennedy, is a fiasco that badly damages U.S. prestige.
  • First U.S. Combat Death

    An American serviceman dies in Vietnam, the first combat death reported. For many Americans, the death will mark the beginning of the Vietnam War.
  • Diem Overthrown/Kennedy Assassinated

    With U.S. encouragement, South Vietnamese General Duong Van Minh overthrows the Diem regime, and the following day, he orders the execution of Diem and his brother. General Duong's military rule is recognized by the United States.
    While riding in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas, President John F. Kennedy is shot and killed. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the presidency.
  • USS Maddox

    Responding to raids on northern ports, North Vietnamese gunboats attack the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin; the Maddox suffers little damage and no casualties are reported. The U.S. declares that its destroyer was on routine patrol in international waters and that it did nothing to provoke the attack, nor did it play any part in the South Vietnamese raids. Four years later, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara will admit that the U.S. had in fact cooperated with the South.
  • First North Vietnam Bombing

    The USS Maddox reports a second assault by North Vietnamese gunboats, though evidence of such an attack is inconclusive. President Lyndon B. Johnson orders retaliatory strikes. The U.S. bombs North Vietnam for the first time.
  • Johnson Landslide

    Lyndon B. Johnson wins the presidential election in a tremendous landslide.
  • First U.S. Combat Units

    The first U.S. combat units arrive in Vietnam.
  • Troop Levels in 1966

    By the end of 1966, American troops stationed in Vietnam number 389,000. More than 6,000 Americans have been killed and 30,000 wounded in 1966 alone.
  • King Demonstrates Against War

    Martin Luther King, Jr. leads thousands of demonstrators to the United Nations building in New York, where he delivers a speech attacking U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam. Over 100,000 people attend the rally.
  • March on the Pentagon

    Thousands march to the Pentagon to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam.
  • More Troops Requested

    General Westmoreland requests 206,000 more troops.
  • Johnson Seeks End

    President Johnson meets with his military advisors who urge him to find a way to end the war in Vietnam.
  • Johnson Declines Reelection

    President Johnson states in a nationwide television broadcast, "We are prepared to move immediately toward peace through negotiations. So tonight, in the hope that this action will lead to early talks, I am taking the first step to deescalate the conflict [in Vietnam]." He also announces that he will not seek reelection in 1968.
  • MLK Assassinated

    Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. His assassin, James Earl Ray, pleads guilty and is sentenced to 99 years in prison.
  • America’s Longest War

    The war in Vietnam—its beginning marked by the first death of an American serviceman reported on December 22nd, 1961—becomes the longest war in American history.
  • Nixon Elected President

    Republican Richard Nixon is elected President of the United States.
  • Vietnamization

    The number of U.S. troops in Vietnam peaks at 543,000. President Richard Nixon announces his plan for "Vietnamization" of the war—that is, training and transitioning South Vietnamese troops to assume the roles that have been fulfilled by American troops—and promises to withdraw 25,000 American soldiers.
  • Nixon Promises Withdrawal

    President Nixon promises to withdraw 35,000 additional troops from the war in Vietnam.
  • Congress Votes to Withdraw Troops

    The House and the Senate vote to withdraw all U.S. troops in Vietnam by year's end.
  • 26th Amendment Ratified

    The 26th Amendment is ratified, lowering the national voting age from 21 to 18.
  • Watergate

    Five men are caught burglarizing the headquarters for the Democratic National Committee, located at the Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. Their arrests will set into motion the events that will eventually result in President Nixon's resignation.
  • Nixon Reelected

    Nixon defeats Democratic candidate Senator George McGovern in the presidential election. McGovern has run on an anti-war platform that would grant amnesty to draft evaders who have left the country, and would exchange American withdrawal from Vietnam for the return of American prisoners of war (POWs).
  • Vietnam Ceasefire Signed

    Representatives from South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the United States sign a peace agreement in which a ceasefire is declared, the U.S. agrees to withdraw combat troops, and the government of South Vietnam promises to hold free elections to allow its people to decide their future.
  • Vietnam War Officially Ends

    The Vietnam War is officially over for the United States. The last U.S. combat soldier leaves Vietnam, but military advisors and some Marines remain. Over 3 million Americans have served in the war, nearly 60,000 are dead, some 150,000 are wounded, and at least 1,000 are missing in action.
  • Nixon Resigns

    President Nixon resigns amidst the Watergate scandal; his vice president Gerald Ford takes office.
  • Saigon Falls

    The North Vietnamese take Saigon; the war in Vietnam ends.