Urban Milestones 1600 1700 1800 1900 2000






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JANUARY 2, 1900 The direction of the Chicago River is reversed, thereby cleansing the city’s drinking water of waste and sewage.

SEPTEMBER 8, 1900 A hurricane devastates Galveston, then Texas’ largest city, killing an estimated 8,000 people, in the nation’s deadliest natural disaster.

APRIL 12, 1901 New York City’s tenement house law dictates improved light and sanitary facilities for tenements built after the passage of the law.

JULY 17, 1901 Andrew Carnegie provides $5.2 million to build 65 public library branches in New York City, and funds library construction in cities throughout the nation.

1970 1970
Henry Z. Steinway, president of Steinway & Sons, and Mary Lindsay, wife of Mayor John V. Lindsay, stand within a concert grand piano rim during a tour at the official opening of the Steinway factory extension in Queens, January 31, 1967. Gay Liberation Front poster, 1970. Fred Burkhardt, Marie LaGuardia, President Joseph Shenker and Judge Gene Canudo at the dedication of LaGuardia Community College, December 5, 1970. We regret the recent loss of President Shenker, he set a standard for creativity and academic excellence.

OCTOBER 27, 1904 The first electric underground railway (subway) is opened in New York; August Belmont’s Interborough Rapid Transit Company runs from City Hall to Grand Central Terminal, then west to Times Square and north on Broadway to 145th Street.

JUNE 27, 1905 The Industrial Workers of the World (often called the Wobblies), led by mine union leader “Big Bill” Haywood, holds founding convention in Chicago, challenging the more conservative craft-oriented American Federation of Labor.

SEPTEMBER 16, 1905
Fifth Avenue Coach Company in New York operates gasoline-electric powered buses along Fifth Avenue from Washington Square to East 88th St.

APRIL 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroys 25,000 buildings and kills between 450 and 700 people.

APRIL 17, 1907 A record-breaking number of immigrants, 11,747, are processed at Ellis Island. Total for entire U.S. in 1907: 1.28 million immigrants. Seventy-eight percent of this record breaking number arrive at Ellis Island

MARCH 30, 1909 Queensborough Bridge, connecting the boroughs of Queens and Manhattan in New York, opens Queens to unprecedented development.

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MARCH 25, 1911
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York kills more than 140 mostly young women and reveals unsafe conditions in the garment industry.

OCTOBER 22–31, 1913
The Emancipation Exposition, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, opens in New York. More than 30,000 attend conferences and exhibitions about people of African descent around the world.

AUGUST 5, 1914 First traffic light in the U.S. stops traffic at Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Cleveland.

JULY 25, 1916 Comprehensive zoning code in New York City ensures light and air for the canyons of lower Manhattan; new construction is required to have setbacks above 100-150 feet.

OCTOBER 16, 1916 Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic in Brooklyn and is soon jailed for violating the Comstock Act (an anti-obscenity law) by distributing information about contraception.

JULY 28, 1917 Fifteen thousand blacks march silently down Fifth Avenue in New York, protesting lynching and the July 2, 1917 riot against blacks in East St. Louis.

1919–1935 The Harlem Renaissance: artists, intellectuals, singers, and musicians explore the urban African-American experience.

FEBRUARY 6–11, 1919
In a general strike in Seattle, 65,000 demand higher wages, following World War I wage controls.

JULY 27, 1919 A race riot on the south side of Chicago erupts after a black youth crosses an imaginary line dividing segregated Lake Michigan beach at 29th Street. Fifty-eight die.

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1910 - 1920 - 1930 - 1940 - 1950 - 1960 - 1970 - 1980 - 1990

1974 1977 1977
Children play on a fire engine in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, 1974. Men playing dominoes in New York City, c. 1977. New York City, c. 1977.


AUGUST 1, 1920 Marcus Garvey’s UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association) holds its first International Convention of Negro Peoples of the World in New York.

NOVEMBER 2, 1920 Pittsburgh’s KDKA, the first commercial radio station in the United States, broadcasts election results.

MAY 31–JUNE 1, 1921
A race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, kills 60 African-Americans and destroys a thriving neighborhood and business district.

MAY 26, 1924
The National Origins Act of 1924 limits new immigration, favors northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern Europeans, and bans all immigration from East and South Asia.

JULY 1, 1925 Cleveland opens the first municipal airport in the U.S in continuous operation; 100,000 visitors celebrate the occasion.

AUGUST 25, 1925 A. Philip Randolph organizes the first national black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in Harlem.

NOVEMBER 15, 1926 The National Broadcasting Company (NBC), jointly owned by RCA, General Electric and Westinghouse, broadcasts its first show over a 25-station network to nearly half of the nation’s five million radio owners.

MARCH 4, 1929
Oscar DePriest from Chicago becomes the first black to serve in Congress from a northern state (Illinois).

MAY 28, 1929 The Regional Plan Association stresses the need for decentralization of the population as it estimates future growth of greater New York to reach 20 million by 1965.

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1910 - 1920 - 1930 - 1940 - 1950 - 1960 - 1970 - 1980 - 1990


MARCH 19, 1931 Gambling is legalized in Las Vegas.

MAY 1, 1931 The Empire State Building opens in New York, surpassing the Chrysler Building as the tallest in the world, at 102 stories.

OCTOBER 25, 1931
The George Washington Bridge, connecting upper Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey, opens; it has the longest main span in the world at the time, 3,500 feet.

MAY 1, 1933
Dorothy Day, champion of the poor, distributes the first copies of the monthly newspaper The Catholic Worker in New York’s Union Square for one cent, still the price in 2008.

MARCH 19, 1935 Harlem riot, sparked by police brutality and discrimination in housing, employment and education, is directed against property and the police rather than groups of blacks and whites. Property damage is estimated at $2 million.

DECEMBER 3, 1935 New York City Housing Authority marks the opening of First Houses, the first low-rent public housing development in America, located at East 3rd Street and Avenue A.

JULY 11, 1936 The Triborough Bridge, connecting three boroughs of New York (Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx), opens to vehicular traffic.

DECEMBER 30, 1936
Flint, Michigan, is the scene of a 44 day sit-down strike against General Motors. United Auto Worker membership grows from 30,000 to 500,000 in one year.

The National Housing Act (Wagner-Steagall Act) inaugurates the federal housing program.

OCTOBER 1, 1937 Harlem River Houses, one of the first two federally funded housing projects in New York City, opens in Manhattan, as an outcome of the 1935 riots; however, public housing is still segregated.

MAY 27, 1937
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco and Marin County; an estimated 200,000 pedestrians cross the bridge, followed the next day by more than 32,000 cars. Its main span is 4,200 feet.

APRIL 30, 1939
The New York World’s Fair opens in Flushing Meadows, Queens, heralding future progress and hope for America during the Great Depression.
OCTOBER 15, 1939 LaGuardia Airport opens as the first commercial airport in New York.

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DECEMBER 30, 1940 The Arroyo Seco Parkway (today known as the Pasadena Freeway) links Pasadena and Los Angeles and begins a wave of highway construction that transforms urban transportation in America.

JUNE 17, 1941
The Colorado River Aqueduct brings water to Los Angeles along a 242-mile route.

MAY 31 1943 Zoot Suit riots erupt in Los Angeles, as U.S. servicemen stationed there attack Mexican-Americans, who struck back. These riots reflect ethnic tension as Mexican population in L.A. increases during World War II.

APRIL 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier by playing his first major league game for the Brooklyn Dodgers against Philadelphia at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field.

JULY 15, 1949
The Wagner-Ellender-Taft Housing Act establishes a private sector-government relationship in urban housing.


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1950 Pittsburgh is the first major American city to demolish and reshape a large part of its downtown, creating the Golden Triangle.

MAY 25, 1950 The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel opens, linking Brooklyn and Manhattan, and is still the world’s longest continuous underwater tunnel. In 2000, 63,000 vehicles passed through the tunnel daily.

1951 Pauli Murray, a graduate of Hunter College, CUNY, writes “States’ Laws on Race and Color,” which Thurgood Marshall later calls the bible of the civil rights movement.

DECEMBER 31, 1953
Hulan Jack is sworn in as Manhattan Borough President, the first African-American to serve in that post.

MAY 17, 1954 In Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Plessy v. Ferguson by a vote of 9-0, declaring segregation in public schools as inherently unequal.

APRIL 5, 1955
Richard J. Daley, newly elected mayor of Chicago, serves for the next 21 years and makes Chicago into “the city that works.”

DECEMBER 1, 1955
Rosa Parks refuses to change her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus, sparking the year-long Montgomery bus strike and the modern civil rights movement.

JUNE 29, 1956
The Federal-Aid Highway Act creates the interstate highway system, linking all state capitals and most cities with populations larger than 50,000.


1958 The Seagram Building, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe’s “glass box” masterpiece, opens in New York and shapes the appearance of many American cities.


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AUGUST 28, 1963 The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brings 250,000 Americans to the capital, setting in motion the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gives his “I have a dream” speech.

SEPTEMBER 15, 1963
A bomb explodes in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing 4 African-American girls between the ages of 11 and 14. This vicious crime shocks the nation.

MARCH 21–25, 1965
In the March on Montgomery, Alabama, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. leads 25,000 protestors in a rally outside the state capitol building.

AUGUST 11–15, 1965 The Watts riot in Los Angeles lasts seven days and leaves 34 people dead.

OCTOBER 3, 1965
The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965 is signed into law by President Johnson at the Statue of Liberty, eliminating the racist quota system of the National Origins Act of 1924.

AUGUST 1, 1966
James Colston is named president of Bronx Community College of CUNY, becoming the first black college president in New York State.

OCTOBER 29–30 1966
Betty Friedan and 27 others found the National Organization of Women in New York.

JULY 6, 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. announces the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s first voter registration drive in a northern city, Cleveland, Ohio.

JULY 23–27, 1967 Detroit riots leave 43 dead and more than 1,100 injured. A large swath of the city is destroyed amid charges of police brutality.

West Indian/American Day Carnival moves from Harlem to the streets of Brooklyn, where it now attracts more than 2 million spectators.

NOVEMBER 7, 1967 Carl Stokes is elected mayor of Cleveland, becoming the first African-American mayor of a major city.

AUGUST 26–29, 1968
The Chicago Democratic National Convention nominates Hubert H. Humphrey as the party’s presidential candidate. Protesting the government’s continuation of the Vietnam War, students and radicals are violently attacked by
Chicago police. The Convention reveals the deep rifts in American society.

JANUARY 3, 1969
Brooklynite Shirley Chisholm, a graduate of Brooklyn College, CUNY, takes office as the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.

JUNE 28, 1969 The Stonewall riots begin when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, fight back during a police raid. The gay rights movement becomes a mass movement for equal rights.


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AUGUST 26, 1970 Women’s Rights marches in cities across America celebrate the 50th anniversary of the right of women to vote and call for a Women’s Strike for Equality.

NOVEMBER 3, 1970 Herman Badillo, representing the Bronx, becomes the first Puerto Rican elected to the U.S. Congress.

MAY 29, 1973 Tom Bradley, an African-American, is elected mayor of Los Angeles, goes on to serve five terms.

APRIL 16, 1979
Jane Byrne is sworn in as the first and only female mayor of Chicago. Mayor Byrne ran as a reformer, breaking her ties with the Daley political machine.

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NOVEMBER 7, 1989
David Dinkins is elected the first African-American mayor of New York in a narrow victory over Rudy Giuliani.


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JANUARY 2, 1991 Sharon Pratt Kelly is sworn in as mayor of Washington, D.C., the first African-American woman elected mayor of a major American city.

APRIL 29, 1992 Riots break out in Los Angeles over the acquittal of the white police officers accused of assault in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African-American; 53 people die.

NOVEMBER 3, 1992
New Yorker Nydia Velázquez becomes the first woman of Puerto Rican descent elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.



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