Events That Changed The World

These are ten events from the Twentieth Century that changed the world. Undoubtedly, there are other significant world changing events we could have included. For example, other world changing events

  • Stock Market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression.
  • Dunkirk and the escape of the British army.
  • Battle of Britain
  • Operation Barbarossa and the invasion of Russia.
  • Creation of State of Isreal
  • Iranian Revolution
  • Freedom of Nelson Mandela from jail in South Africa.

It is always hard to choose a top ten. But, this is a few we have choosen.

Assassination of Archduke F. Ferdinand and Outbreak of World War I

June 28, 1914,


In 1914, Europe was a tinder box of tension and military rivalry. The spark for war could have been many incidents, but, as it happened the assassination of an Austrian archduke – Franz Ferdinand by a Serb provoked widespread declarations of war and the fulfilment of treaties which led to the horrendous conflict of the first world war.

The war was to last four years and cost the lives of millions of men from all corners of the world.

Russian Revolution 1917

25 October 1917 – Start of October Uprising by Bolsheviks

Since the publication of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, there had been sporadic Communist revolutions in European countries, but nothing had really succeeded. But in October 1917, the Bolshevik revolution, led by Lenin, brought about a radical new form of government with world wide implications. Lenin was a fervent Marxist and wasted little time in implementing his version of a ‘dictatorship of the Proletariat’. Communist Russia divided the world. It was seen by some as an alternative to the inequities of Capitalism and by others as an embodiment of totalitarianism and lack of freedom.

Invasion of Poland

1st September 1939

On 1st September, 1939, Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland, ostensibly for ‘lebensraum’ and to redress the imbalances of the Treaty of Versailles, but the invasion of a sovereign nation finally convinced the allies – Great Britain and France of Hitler’s wider intentions for the occupation of Europe. After appeasing Hitler over Austria and Czechoslovakia, Poland proved the final straw and on September 3rd, Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. The Second World War was to last until May 1945, costing the lives of approximately 50 million people. Less well known is that, under a secret Nazi-Soviet pact the Soviet Union also occupied parts of Poland at the same time as Germany’s invasion.

Pearl Harbour 1941

December 7, 1941


“A day that will live in infamy” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt

In 1941, the axis powers held a supremacy over Europe and parts of Asia. Great Britain stood undefeated, but, without the strength to win against an overpowering enemy. The bombing of Pearl Harbour, led to the escalation of the world war into the Pacific arena and also brought American into war with both Japan and Germany. Three years later, it was American troops who provided the majority of the manpower in the liberation of occupied Europe.

Atomic Bomb Hiroshima

August 6, 1945


The US atomic bombs of 1945, devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation finally brought the Japanese to surrender, bringing to an end a fierce and costly Pacific war. The surrender of Japan had at one time seen unthinkable. But, the atomic bomb hastened the Japanese surrender. The atomic bomb had implications beyond just the end of the Second World War. It showed the world the potential devastation a third world war could cause. Even now the legacy of Hiroshima and the threat of nuclear war hangs over the world.

Indian Independence 1947

15 August 1947

India had stood as the crowing jewel in the crown of the British Empire. It was the second most populous nation in the world. After many years denying Indian calls for independence, Britain finally agreed to full Indian independence in 1947. Indian independence was accompanied by a painful separation and the birth of a new nation – Pakistan. The separation led to painful incidences of sectarian violence and killing; it led to the migration of many millions of people who found themselves on the wrong side of the border. The independence of India also created a new independent nation which claimed allegiance to neither US or the Soviet Union – but a third way as Nehru called it. With economic development, India has the potential to become a new superpower in the coming century.

The Establishment of Maoist China

October 1, 1949

In the aftermath of the second world war, China was involved in a bitter civil war between the Communists led by Mao Tse Tung and the Nationalists by Chiang Kai-shek,. On October 1st, 1949, the triumphant Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China. This created another powerful Communist State in the most populated country in the world. The Communist hold on power, profoundly influenced the lives of the Chinese who suffered under the great famine of the 1960s and Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s. Even now, the Chinese Communist party retains strong political power – even if it has adapted its economic policies.

Assassination of John F Kennedy

November 22, 1963


One of the most shocking and unexpected moments of world history. John F Kennedy had been President since his election in 1960. He was young, liberal and Catholic and had inspired many with his positive vision of the world.

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what can you do for your country.”

(JFK from Inauguration speech Jan 1961)

After his assassination, Lyndon Johnson became President and American involvement in Vietnam grew, leading to a bitter conflict that came to divide America. Although Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination, evidence points to a wider conspiracy and the involvement of more than one lone gunmen.

Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 1989


For decades, the Berlin wall had stood as a symbol of the ‘Iron Curtain’ splitting West and Eastern Europe. On the one side Communist authoritarian states, on the other side liberal democracies. The wall had been built to prevent East Germans escaping into West Germany, indeed many had been shot trying to escape. But, more than anything else its presence was symbolic. The fall of the Berlin wall was an iconic moment when the Soviet Union gave up its grip on Eastern Europe. In the 50s and 60s the Soviet Union had sent tanks to quell independence movements in Hungary and then Czechoslovakia. But, this time, Mikhail Gorbachev, the proponent of Perestroika and Glasnost approved the request for freedom.

9/11 Terrorist Attacks.

11th September 2001

The US had experienced sporadic terrorist attacks before. But, the sheer audacity and scale of these terrorist attacks shocked the US and the world. The loss of life was estimated at just under 3,000. The event changed American foreign policy. It was a motivating factor behind the controversial invasion of Iraq and led to a ‘war on terror’ symbolised by Guantanamo Bay and a debate over the justification of torture.

Photos that Changed the world.

The Atomic Bomb


August 9, 1945

The picture was taken from one of the B-29 Superfortresses used in the attack on Nagasaki. The Fat Man mushroom cloud resulting from the nuclear explosion rises 18 km from the point of impact.

Over 50 million people died in the Second World war, but, the atomic bomb left humanity fearing the next world war could be utterly devastating.

From a single bomb, over 150,000 people died at Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki.


Hindeburg Burning 1937


Zeppelin LZ-129 Hindenburg shortly after catching fire on May 6, 1937 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station

The Hindenburg was not the first rigid airship to crash, but, the widespread media coverage and spectacular photos such as this, led to the end of hydrogen airships as a means of transport. The media coverage was heightened by live commentary by Herbert Morrison, describing the events, as broadcasted to WLS radio. Oh, the humanity!” The crash also became symbolic of twentieth century disasters which were now much more prominent in the public consciousness because of the power of mass media.

Source: wiki

The Great Depression


“Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.” – Library of Congress

The statistics of the Great Depression were startling – unemployment of over 25%. Falling output of over 33%. But, photos such as this gave a human face to the economic statistics. This photo of Florence Owens Thompson became one of the most iconic photos of the period. It encapsulates the misery, humanity and helplessness of the period, but, at the same time encompasses a stoic and dignified attitude in the face of adversity. The photograph was taken by Dorothea Lange, who helped to develop the art of documentary photography.

source: Library of Congress

Dead on the Field of Gettysburg


Incidents of the war. A harvest of death, Gettysburg, July, 1863

In the 1870s, photographer was in its infancy. In fact the civil war was a boom time for photography as families often had photos taken, before their sons went off to war. It was photography that could also bring home to a wider audience the dreadful consequences of war, as this photo illustrates.

Source: LOC

Images from Ground Zero 9/11 2001


A New York City fireman calls for 10 more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center. The attack sent shock waves across the world and altered the course of US and global foreign policy.

Source: wiki

Fall of the Berlin Wall


Since its creation in 1961, the Berlin wall epitomised the “Iron Curtain” which separated East Europe from West Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall symbolised the end of Communist / Soviet control in Eastern Europe. Germany could once again be re-united.

Images from First World War


First World War. July 1916. Wounded British troops on the Somme.

The First World War was billed as the war to end all wars. The outbreak of war led to a wave of patriotic feeling and enthusiastic support for going to war across Europe. It was only after shocking casuality figures that the initial euphoria died away. Photos like this presented a much different image of war than the careful propoganda of the protagonists.

Assasination of J F Kennedy 1963


John F. Kennedy motorcade, Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963, just a few minutes before the fatal assassination attempt. Photo by Victor Hugo, released into Public Domain


Taken by Mary Moorman (Mary Krahmer) 22 November 1963 one-sixth of a second after the fatal head shot to JFK. Four US Presidents have been assassinated whilst in office, but, none shocked the world as much as the assassination of JFK.

Source: wiki

The Horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps

Assasination of J F Kennedy 1963


Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, a member of a congressional committee investigating Nazi atrocities, views the evidence at first hand at Buchenwald concentration camp. Weimar, Germany.

Bombing of Guernica – 1937

Bombing of Guernica - 1937

Only 34 years after the development of the first aeroplane, the world was shocked as the German Luftwaffe used planes to bomb the civilian town of Guernica during the Spanish civil war. The damage was extensive and foreshadowed the role of ‘carpet bombing’ of civilian areas which was to be a feature of the Second World War and future wars.

Source: German Federal Archives (link)

Beatles Arrive in the US

Beatles Arrive in the US

The Beatles symbolized the rapid social and cultural changes that occurred in the 1960s. Here they receive a rapturous reception on their first visit to the US.

The Beatles arrive in America. Library of Congress

Lenin and The Triumph of Communism


Lenin address a crowd during Russian civil war of 1920. The Bolsheviks would emerge as the controlling force in Russia leading to the totalitarianism of Stalinist Russia. This photo was cut in half by Stalinist censors to remove Leon Trotsky from the official history.

March On Washington 1963

March On Washington 1963

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was one of the high points of the civil rights movements. Though boycotted by the Nation of Islam, the march was best remembered for Martin Luther King’s soul stirring speech – “I Have a Dream…”

Source: Wiki

Moon Landing 1969

Moon Landing 1969

20 July 1969 Buzz Aldrin. Photo by Neil Armstrong.

This picture captures the excitement of man’s first walk on the moon.

Source: NASA

First Flight of Aircraft

First Flight of Aircraft

For many years, powered flight was seen as an impossible dream. But, on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers succeded in developing the first heavier than air aircraft flight. Within the next few decades, aircraft travel was to grow exponentially profoundly changing the nature of long distance travel.

Gandhi on Salt March 1930

Gandhi on Salt March 1930

Gandhi at Dandi, South Gujarat, picking salt on the beach at the end of the Salt March, 5 April 1930.

The salt march was a pivotal moment in the campaign for Indian independence. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, the peaceful protest brought widespread publicity to the campaign for Indian independence both domestically and internationally. Though the British did not give any direct concessions as a result, over 80,000 Indians were jailed as a result and many were inspired to join the independence movement which culminated in Indian independence in 1947.