Detailed findings & methodology
No one could have predicted that when a group of armed farmers faced soldiers from the world’s greatest power in a little town in Massachusetts, a war would start that would eventually lead to the creation of the United States. Massachusetts was the most likely place American colonists would come into conflict with Great Britain because that was where tensions between the British and the colonies had been simmering the longest, due to events like the Boston Massacre.
Japan’s quest for dominance in Asia meant that the empire had to destroy its biggest obstacle — the United States naval fleet based at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Tactically, the attack was a success, but strategically, it was a disaster for Japan as the U.S. entered World War II.
A chapter of America’s long, sad story of race relations was written in Arkansas in 1957. Despite a landmark ruling on school desegregation by the U.S. Supreme Court, nine African American students were prevented from attending an all-white high school in Little Rock until President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the ruling.
Many of the events on our list are tragic, including the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands — the Trail of Tears in the South — as well as attacks from domestic and foreign terrorists.
In the case of several states, fighting between white settlers and Native Americans ranked as the most important historical event. The treatment of indigenous people shaped America in many ways, and often occurred in frontier states.
Disasters like the Chicago Fire and the Big Burn in Idaho were catastrophic. However, they led to improvements in building codes in Chicago and a greater awareness for preserving America’s forests. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 spoiled the environment around Prince William Sound in Alaska and those who inhabit the region still live with its consequences.
Some decisions by states have had cultural and economic implications. Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012. Nevada, choosing to face moral condemnation over economic disaster, rolled the dice in 1931 and became the first state to legalize gambling to generate revenue.
One of the most significant scientific breakthroughs in the 20th century happened in the desert at Los Alamos in New Mexico in 1945, when scientists detonated the world’s first atomic bomb, ushering in an age of unimaginable destruction and potential power.
It’s been said that what distinguishes American history from histories of other countries is that American history is marked by progress, and we see this in many events on this list. Whether they are civil rights landmarks, the resurrection of a city from its ashes, or the establishment of national parks and forests to preserve our natural heritage, Americans continue to look forward.
In order to determine the most important event in the history of each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state historical information and media reports of significant events throughout history. Many of the events, such as the Jamestown settlement in the area that would eventually become Virginia, occurred before the area was formally established as a state. Those events were still considered. Events were ranked based on a combination of their cultural, political, and economic impact. Our selection process frequently favored events unique to a state’s culture and history, such as the legalization of gambling in Nevada. We avoided events such as the signing of an international treaty in a particular state that could have happened anywhere, and included events like the eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano that could have only happened in Washington state.
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