(19th century - 20th century - 21st century - more centuries)
Decades: 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s
As a means of recording the passage of time, the 20th century was that century which lasted from 1901-2000 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar (1900-1999 in the sense of the Common Era calendar). Colloquially, this is often known as the nineteen hundreds (1900s), referring to the years 1900 to 1999.
The twentieth century was a remarkable shift in the very existence of humanity due to the technological, medical, social, ideological, and international innovations. Terms like genocide, holocaust, nuclear war, and terrorism rose to common language and an influence on the lives of everyday people. The trends of mechanization of goods and services and networks of global communication, which were begun in the 19th century, continued at an ever-increasing pace in the 20th. In spite of the terror and chaos, the 20th century saw many attempts at world peace. As the 35th United States President John F. Kennedy said:
"What kind of peace do we seek? I am talking about a genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living. Not merely peace in our time, but peace in all time. Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breath the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal."
Virtually every aspect of life in virtually every human society changed in some fundamental way or another during the twentieth century.
For a more coherent overview of the historical events of the century, see The 20th century in review.
Important developments, events and achievements
Science and technology
- The assembly line and mass production of motor vehicles and other goods allowed manufacturers to produce more and cheaper products. This allowed the automobile to become the most important means of transportation.
- The invention of heavier-than-air flying machines and the jet engine allowed for the world to become "smaller". Space flight increased knowledge of the rest of the universe and allowed for global real-time communications via geosynchronous satellites.
- Mass media technologies such as film, radio, and television allow the communication of political messages and entertainment with unprecedented impact
- Mass availability of the telephone and later, the computer, especially through the Internet, provides people with new opportunities for near-instantaneous communication
- Applied electronics, notably in its miniaturized form as integrated circuits, made possible the above mentioned rise of mass media, telecommunications, ubiquitous computing, and all kinds of "intelligent" appliances; as well as many advances in natural sciences such as physics, by the use of exponentially growing calculation power (see supercomputer).
- The development of Nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides resulted in significantly higher agricultural yield.
- Advances in fundamental physics through the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics led to the development of nuclear weapons, the nuclear reactor, and the laser. Fusion power was studied extensively but remained an experimental technology at the end of the century.
- The big bang model of cosmology was developed.
- Inventions such as the washing machine and air conditioning led to an increase in both the quantity and quality of leisure time for the middle class in Western societies.
- Most influential inventions in the 20th century: Antibiotics, Internet
Wars and politics
- Rising nationalism and increasing national awareness were among the causes of World War I, the first of two wars to involve all the major world powers including Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and the British Commonwealth. World War I led to the creation of many new countries, especially in Eastern Europe.
- The economic and political aftermath of World War I led to the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe, and shortly to World War II. This war also involved Asia and the Pacific, in the form of Japanese aggression against China and the United States. While the First World War mainly cost lives among soldiers, civilians suffered greatly in the Second -- from the bombing of cities on both sides, and in the unprecedented German genocide of the Jews and others, known as the Holocaust.
- An Anglo-American covert operation named Operation Ajax (1953)overthrew the freely elected democratic Government of Iran and Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Excuses for the deposing included his nationalization of the oil industry which was previously operated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This event forms one of the root causes of the Middle-Eastern dislike of American policies and many events which surface today.
- During World War I, in Russia the Bolshevik putsch led to the Russian Revolution (of October/November 1917). After the Soviet Union's involvement in World War II, Communism became a major force in global politics, spreading all over the world: notably, to Eastern Europe, China, Indochina and Cuba. This led to the Cold War with the western world, led by the United States.
- The "fall of Communism" in the late 1980s freed Eastern and Central Europe from Soviet supremacy. It also led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into successor states, many rife with ethnic nationalism.
- Through the League of Nations and, after World War II, the United Nations, international cooperation increased. Other efforts included the formation of the European Union, leading to a common currency in much of Western Europe, the euro.
- The end of colonialism led to the independence of many African and Asian countries. During the Cold War, many of these aligned with the USA, the USSR, or China for defense.
- The creation of Israel, a Jewish state in a mostly Arab region of the world, fueled many conflicts in the region, which were also influenced by the vast oil fields in many of the Arab countries.
Ten overall largest mass killings of the 20th century
(measured in numbers of people killed; also see  (http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstatx.htm))
- World War II and regime of Adolf Hitler (1937-1945), over 50 million dead, including the Holocaust, killing two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe (6 million).
- Regime of Mao Zedong in China (1949-1976), over 40 million dead (incl. about 25 million died of famine)
- Regime of Joseph Stalin (1924-1953), over 20 million dead.
- World War I (1914-1918), over 15 million dead.
- Russian Civil War (1918-1921), over 8.5 million dead.
- Chinese Civil War (1917-1945), 6.5 million dead.
- Korean War (1950-1953), 3 million dead.
- Vietnam War and other related wars in Indochina (1945-1975), 2.5 million dead.
- Expulsion of Germans after World War II, over 2 million dead.
- Armenian Genocide of 1915 by the Turks, up to 2 million dead.
The Congo Free State caused an estimated 5 to 10 million deaths, but a part of them were in the 19th century. The current Congolese Civil War costed 3.3 million lives, of which approx. 1.5 million in the 20th century.
Furthermore the regime of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea caused an unknown number of deaths. Estimates reach up to 3.5 million.
Culture and entertainment
- Movies, music and the media had a major influence on fashion and trends in all aspects of life. As many movies and music originate from the United States, American culture spread rapidly over the world.
- After gaining political rights in the United States and much of Europe in the first part of the century, women became more independent throughout the century.
- Modern art developed new styles such as expressionism, cubism, and surrealism.
- The automobile provided vastly increased transportation capabilities for the average member of Western societies in the early to mid-century, spreading even further later on. City design throughout most of the West became focused on transport via car. The car became a leading symbol of modern society, with styles of car suited to and symbolic of particular lifestyles.
- Sports became an important part of society, becoming an activity not only for the privileged. Watching sports, later also on television, became a popular activity.
Highest grossing films of the 20th century
- Titanic (1997)
- Star Wars (1977)
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
- Jurassic Park (1993)
Most critically acclaimed films
Disease and medicine
Natural resources and the environment
- The widespread use of petroleum in industry -- both as a chemical precursor to plastics and as a fuel for the automobile and airplane -- led to the vital geopolitical importance of petroleum resources. The Middle East, home to many of the world's oil deposits, became a center of geopolitical and military tension throughout the latter half of the century.
- A vast increase in fossil fuel consumption leads to depletion of natural resources, while air pollution possibly leads to global warming and the ozone hole. The problem is increased by world-wide deforestation, also causing a loss of biodiversity. The problem of a depletion of natural resources is decreased by advances in drilling technology which led to a net increase in the amount of fossil fuel that is readily obtainable at the end of the century, as compared with the amount considered obtainable at the beginning of the century.
- Gnassingbe Eyadema, Togo
- Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d'Ivoire
- Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia
- Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya
- Idi Amin, Uganda
- Nelson Mandela, South Africa
- Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
- Gamal Abdal Nasser, Egypt
- Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana
- Julius Nyerere, Tanzania
- Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia
- Colonel Moammar Al Qadhafi, Libya
- Cecil Rhodes, South Africa
- Haile Selassie, Ethiopia
- Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegal
- Ahmed Sékou Touré, Guinea
- Theodore Roosevelt, USA
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, USA
- Dwight Eisenhower, USA
- John F. Kennedy, USA
- Richard Nixon, USA
- Ronald Reagan, USA
- Bill Clinton, USA
- George H. W. Bush, USA
- Wilfrid Laurier, Canada
- William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada
- Pierre Trudeau, Canada
- Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Cuba
- Fidel Castro, Cuba
- Juan Perón, Argentina
- Salvador Allende, Chile
- Augusto Pinochet, Chile
- Emiliano Zápata, Mexico
- Pancho Villa, Mexico
- Mao Zedong, People's Republic of China
- Deng Xiaoping, People's Republic of China
- Pol Pot, Cambodia
- Mahatma Gandhi, India
- Indira Gandhi, India
- Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan
- Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia
- Jawaharlal Nehru, India
- Emperor Hirohito, Japan
- Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
- Sun Yat-sen, Republic of China
- Chiang Kai-shek, Republic of China
- Achmad Sukarno, Indonesia
- Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore
- Corazon Aquino, the Philippines
- Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines
- Kemal Atatürk, Turkey
- Neville Chamberlain, United Kingdom
- Winston Churchill, United Kingdom
- Margaret Thatcher, United Kingdom
- Charles de Gaulle, France
- Eamon de Valera, Ireland
- Franz Joseph of Austria, Austria-Hungary
- Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany
- Václav Havel, Czech Republic
- Adolf Hitler, Germany
- Helmut Schmidt, Germany
- Helmut Kohl, Germany
- Gerhard Schröder, Germany
- Benito Mussolini, Italy
- Francisco Franco, Spain
- Jozef Pilsudski, Poland
- Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia
- Milan Kučan, Slovenia
- Olof Palme, Sweden
- Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania
- Lech Walesa, Poland
- Middle East
- Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran
- Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran
- Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iran
- Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran
- Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran
- Mohammad Khatami, Iran
- Abdul Nasser, Egypt or United Arab Republic
- Anwar Sadat, Egypt or United Arab Republic
- David Ben-Gurion, Israel
- Golda Meir, Israel
- Menachem Begin, Israel
- Hafez el Assad, Syria
- Saddam Hussein, Iraq
- King Hussein, Jordan
Economics and business
Writers and poets
Decades and years