Each U.S. state has borne witness to an important historical event that has shaped its history — for better or worse. In many cases, the event has had implications beyond that state’s borders, with profound consequences for the nation and, in some cases, the world.
These events include political changes, armed conflict, legal rulings, tragedies, cultural shifts, economic upheavals, ecological episodes, and scientific breakthroughs. But all of them changed the destiny of a particular state.
24/7 Tempo reviewed state historical information, research sources, and media reports of significant events throughout U.S. history to determine the most important event in the history of each state.
Over the past century, we’ve witnessed some of the most profound changes in human history. Between wars, technological developments, progress in civil rights, and breakthroughs in science and medicine, the old order has been swept away — here is the most important event the year you were born.
> Event: Selma-to-Montgomery march
> Year: 1965
> Location: Selma to Montgomery
The march from Selma to Montgomery was an effort to register African American voters in Alabama. Early during the 54-mile trek, marchers were attacked by local police and those opposed to equal voting rights. The incident was broadcast on television and it horrified the nation. Eventually, the marchers received protection from the National Guard, and after three days they reached Montgomery. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that guaranteed the vote for African Americans.
> Event: Exxon Valdez oil spill
> Year: 1989
> Location: Prince William Sound
When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed into a reef in the Prince William Sound in Alaska the hull was pierced and more than 10 million gallons of oil spilled into the water. The problems were compounded as a storm spread the oil even farther across Alaska’s Southern coast.
Thousands of animals died as a result, and hundreds of miles of coastlines were polluted — and much of the coast is still damaged today. The Exxon Valdez spill is now known as one of the of the most environmentally damaging events in history. The tanker’s captain was acquitted of piloting the ship while intoxicated.
> Event: Grand Canyon National Park opened
> Year: 1919
> Location: Northern Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most impressive landscapes, and in 1919, the U.S. government made nature’s cathedral into a national park. The geological wonder is 277 river miles long, as many as 18 miles wide, and is one mile deep. The canyon is famous for its cavalcade of colors and ancient rock formations that tell the geological story of the North American continent. Nearly five million people visit the park each year.
> Event: Desegregation of Little Rock schools
> Year: 1957
> Location: Little Rock
Even though the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, segregation remained in effect in many areas and opposition to the ruling was fierce. When nine black children attempted to attend classes at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Gov. Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to stop them from going to class.
The Little Rock Nine were unable to go to class until President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the ruling. The students attending a previously all-white high school, despite the racial abuse they endured, proved to be a seminal moment in the civil rights movement.
> Event: Gold Rush
> Year: 1849
> Location: Sutter’s Mill
When James Marshall, a transplanted carpenter from New Jersey, discovered bits of gold in the American River near Sutter’s Mill, he set off one of the greatest gold rushes of all time. Miners extracted about $2 billion worth of the metal during the California Gold Rush. California’s non-native population grew from about 800 in early 1848 to 100,000 by the end of 1849. The gold rush fast-tracked California’s admission to the Union, and it became a state in 1850.
> Event: Legalization of marijuana
> Year: 2012
> Location: Statewide
Nationwide support for marijuana legalization has slowly increased since the 1970s, but one of the biggest victories for cannabis advocates came in Colorado in 2012, when the state voted to legalize pot for recreational consumption for anyone over 21. Previously, states only allowed medical marijuana, but required a prescription from a doctor.
This law is in direct violation of federal laws banning marijuana, but there has so far been no federal crackdown on cannabis sales. Both Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana on election day in 2012, but Colorado was a bit quicker in drafting rules to sell it, so it gets the nod as the first state to legalize pot.
> Event: First colonial constitution
> Year: 1639
> Location: Hartford
About 150 years before the United States Constitution was ratified, Connecticut adopted the first colonial constitution in 1639. The document was titled “Fundamental Orders” and was written mostly by lawyer Roger Ludlow and outlined the framework of government that placed the well-being of the community above that of the individual. The document contained the notion that the basis for authority originates from the “free consent of the people.” This document paved the way for the U.S. Constitution still in use to this day, and Connecticut is still known as the “Constitution State”.
> Event: First state to join the U.S.
> Year: 1787
> Location: Statewide
Known as “The First State,” Delaware was the first of the original 13 states to ratify the Constitution, making it the first member of the United States of America. While some states were somewhat skeptical of this new document, Delaware’s delegation voted to ratify it unanimously, 30-0, on Dec. 7, 1787.
Many states in the Constitutional Convention were much slower to adopt the constitution. Virginia and New York held out until 1788; North Carolina refused to sign before the Bill of Rights was introduced in 1789; and Rhode Island became the last of the 13 states to approve the Constitution in 1790.
> Event: Launch of Apollo 11
> Year: 1969
> Location: Cape Canaveral
Neil Armstrong and Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the moon, and Apollo 11 got them there. They lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral (then called Cape Kennedy) on July 16, 1969. Cape Canaveral became the site for launching rockets into space because rockets taking off from an East Coast location got a boost from the Earth’s spin. The launching facility was located near the ocean in case of accidents.
> Event: Trail of Tears
> Year: 1831
> Location: Statewide
The forced removal of Native Americans from their homelands, known as the Trail of Tears, took place across several Southern states. However, it is particularly connected to Georgia as the state was involved in two influential court cases that set the stage for the removal.
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and Worcester v. Georgia affirmed that the indigenous tribes could operate as sovereign nations. However, President Andrew Jackson ignored the rulings. From 1831 to 1840, tens of thousands of Native Americans were relocated west. Thousands did not survive the trip.
> Event: Attack on Pearl Harbor
> Year: 1941
> Location: Honolulu
The assault on the United States naval fleet at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire was a surprise attack, though relations between the two nations had been deteriorating for years. The United States did not think an attack would occur near the U.S. mainland, and the naval facilities at Pearl Harbor, where the fleet was based, were not well defended. The attack destroyed 20 American ships, more than 300 airplanes, and killed more than 2,400 people. Fortunately for America, oil storage depots, shipyards, and other facilities in Hawaii were not destroyed, and the U.S. aircraft carriers were not in Hawaii during the attack, which brought the United States into World War II.
> Event: The Big Burn
> Year: 1910
> Location: Northern Idaho
The Western United States in 1910 suffered from a severe drought that left much of the wilderness especially susceptible to fire. The conditions led to The Big Burn, a massive forest fire that torched over 3 million acres of land across Montana, Washington, and Idaho and killed 87 people, at least 78 of them firefighters.
The deaths and wide swath of damage started a renewed interest in conservation in Americans. President Theodore Roosevelt attempted to acquire land for the national forest system after his election in 1904, but Congress refused. The Big Burn shifted public interest, and in 1911, Congress passed a law leading to the purchase of more than 20 million acres of land for the national forest system. Also, the National Forest Service’s budget was doubled.
> Event: Chicago Fire
> Year: 1871
> Location: Chicago
Prolonged dry weather and the haphazard construction of wooden structures all contributed to the conditions for the Chicago Fire. The blaze killed 300 people, destroyed thousands of buildings, and damaged an estimated $200 million worth of property. Luckily for the city, its transportation infrastructure was left intact. In the wake of the conflagration, Chicago implemented stricter building and fire codes. From the ruins emerged the nation’s first skyscrapers and a teeming metropolis.
> Event: Native American Uprising
> Year: 1811
> Location: Tippecanoe
In the early 19th century, Native American tribes had had enough of white settlers moving into their lands. An organized resistance, brought together by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, set up a village in Central Indiana. Gov. William Henry Harrison led around 1,100 men to confront them.
Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, initially requested a ceasefire, but he broke it and attacked the militia in the early morning. Harrison’s troops endured the attack and eventually forced the native fighters to retreat. Though Harrison lost more troops than the tribes, he developed a reputation as a war hero that eventually helped him get elected president decades later.
> Event: Creation of caucuses
> Year: 1976
> Location: Statewide
The caucuses are unique to Iowa in its political procedure of selecting presidential candidates. For candidates such as Jimmy Carter, success at the caucuses in 1976 generated momentum toward his eventual nomination for president. The process emerged out of the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
For the Democrats, the caucuses are akin to a neighborhood meeting in which supporters of a particular candidate make their pitch to caucus-goers. Caucus attendees then gather in groups in various parts of the room for the candidate of their choice. The elected chairperson of the caucus counts the supporters of each candidate. The Republican process is less complicated.
> Event: Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
> Year: 1954
> Location: Topeka
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case provided one of the first major victories of the civil rights movement. Oliver Brown sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education, saying the city’s schools for black students were not as good as those for white students.
The case made it to the Supreme Court in 1952, where the justices ruled that the idea of public facilities being “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. This decision made racial integration the law of the land and marked a major step forward in U.S. history.
> Event: Fort Knox starts holding gold bullion
> Year: 1937
> Location: Fort Knox
The United States Bullion Depository, housed within Fort Knox, was opened in 1937 to store the nation’s gold reserves. It is one of six U.S. Mint facilities and is located next to a U.S. Army garrison. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the holdings swelled to 649.6 million ounces, the highest amount ever held there. The gold is kept in the form of bars measuring 7 inches in length, 3.625 inches in width, and are 1.75 inches thick. The depository has held other valuables such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.
> Event: Hurricane Katrina
> Year: 2005
> Location: Southeastern Louisiana
Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf of Mexico in August 2005. The hurricane hit several states, but Louisiana took the brunt of the storm. Katrina battered New Orleans and the surrounding area with 127 mile per hour winds. Most of the levees in New Orleans failed, leading to overwhelming flooding.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that 1,833 people were killed either directly or indirectly as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Over 1,500 of those fatalities were in Louisiana. The storm also caused over $108 billion in damages, making it the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
> Event: The Year Maine Burned
> Year: 1947
> Location: Statewide
In 1947, Maine received about half of its normal rainfall for the summer and into the fall, setting up dry conditions that led to a fire. The blaze began on Oct. 17 in a cranberry bog. Then, strong winds fanned the flames, spreading the fire until it eventually engulfed more than 17,000 acres, including 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park. Today, the aftermath of the fire at the park can be seen in the diversity of its scenery. Nature has replaced a blanket of evergreen trees by a colorful palette of deciduous trees.
That fire was a prelude for the rest of the year. The fall of 1947 saw many other serious fires. By the end of the year, more than 200,000 acres and 1,000 homes had been destroyed. The repeated destruction earned 1947 the nickname “The Year Maine Burned.”
> Event: The Toleration Act
> Year: 1649
> Location: Statewide
The colony of Maryland was settled in 1634 with the intention of expanding religious freedoms compared to England at the time. Anglicans and Catholics were often at odds, which made it a surprise when the charter for Maryland was given to a Catholic family from the Anglican King James.
Maryland sealed its reputation as a haven for religious liberty when it passed the Toleration Act, which said that no one who “professes to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be any way troubled, harassed or embarrassed for … his or her religion.” That may seem restrictive by today’s standards, but it was a big step in the 17th century.
> Event: Battle of Lexington
> Year: 1775
> Location: Lexington
As battles go, the Battle of Lexington was little more than a skirmish. But it was there that militiamen from Massachusetts, where resentment toward the English crown was most intense, chose to stand their ground against the British Empire. The British killed eight militiamen and wounded nine others at Lexington, then they continued on to Concord to destroy munitions stored there. When the British tried to return to Boston, more colonists attacked them, killing or wounding 250 British soldiers. The American Revolution had begun.
> Event: Model T built
> Year: 1908
> Location: Detroit
The Model T built by Henry Ford revolutionized travel in the United States. It was constructed to make car ownership affordable to average American workers. Ford built more than 15 million of the vehicles, also called the “Tin Lizzie,” from 1908 to 1927. Most models were started by a hand crank and reached top speeds of 45 miles an hour. Ford and others decided to build cars in Michigan because of the availability of iron ore and timber, and the rail and water routes made it convenient to ship cars to metropolises such as Chicago and New York City.
> Event: Mayo Clinic founded
> Year: 1864
> Location: Rochester
The Mayo Clinic has become the standard by which all hospitals are measured. The institution was chosen as the best hospital in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The Mayo Clinic has its roots in immigrant founders Dr. William Worrall Mayo and Mother Alfred Moes, each of whom took separate routes to Rochester before they founded the hospital. Their visions of hospital care and teams of specialists have been realized today. In 1919, the institution became a not-for-profit organization.
> Event: Lynching of Emmett Till
> Year: 1955
> Location: Money
The lynching of 14-year-old African American Emmett Till shocked the nation and served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement. Till, a Chicago resident, was visiting relatives in Mississippi. He was kidnapped and killed after white residents in the town of Money claimed he whistled at a white woman. When Till’s body was found it was grotesquely disfigured and his mother chose to have an open casket at his wake to show the world the horror of the crime. There was a trial and the accused murders were acquitted by an all-white, male jury. In January 2017, Timothy Tyson, author of “The Blood of Emmett Till,” said the woman whom Till allegedly made advances toward told him she lied about the incident.
> Event: Admitted as slave state
> Year: 1820
> Location: Statewide
Tensions between slave states and free states were rising in the United States in the early 19th century, particularly over the issue of whether the expanding nation should admit new states as free or slave states. In 1820, Congress passed legislation known as the Missouri Compromise that kept the balance of power between free states and slave states. The compromise allowed the admission of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Neither the North nor the South was happy with the compromise, but the Union managed to hold together for another 41 years.
> Event: Battle of the Little Bighorn
> Year: 1876
> Location: Little Big Horn
In 1876, General George Armstrong Custer led U.S. Army soldiers to forcibly relocate members of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes after gold was discovered on their lands. Thousands of Native Americans, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, rallied to the Little Bighorn River.
Custer was ordered to wait for reinforcements, but he attacked the main encampment of the tribes. Custer and his soldiers were overwhelmed and all killed within an hour. That would be the last decisive victory of indigenous tribes against the Army, as the government increased the use of force to quell any rebellions.
> Event: Kansas-Nebraska Act
> Year: 1854
> Location: Statewide
The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide if the state would be a slave state or a free state. The legislation prompted settlers on each side of the slavery issue to pour into Kansas to affect the outcome of the first election after the law had passed. The election results produced violence, earning the state the name “Bleeding Kansas.” A pro-slavery legislature was chosen amid charges of fraud, and because of this Congress refused to admit Kansas as a state. Anti-slavery settlers eventually outnumbered pro-slavery supporters and Kansas was admitted as a free state just before the Civil War.
> Event: Gambling legalized
> Year: 1931
> Location: Statewide
With the nation in the throes of the Great Depression, Nevada, looking for more revenue, became the first state to legalize gambling in 1931. The decision would have profound consequences for the state and the nation. Gambling and casinos, run by organized crime, turned Las Vegas, which was a desert stopover for soldiers during World War II, into an entertainment colossus. With the gambling taboo removed, other states eventually legalized gambling.
29. New Hampshire
> Event: First government independent from England
> Year: 1776
> Location: Statewide
New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free or Die,” so it should come as no surprise that the state was the first to declare itself independent from England. The state set up its own government away from colonial rule in January 1776, months before the Continental Congress. In 1778, it was also the first state to hold a constitutional convention.
30. New Jersey
> Event: Battle of Trenton
> Year: 1776
> Location: Trenton
By the end of 1776, the Continental Army was a spent force. It had been beaten in New York and was chased across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania by the British Army. General George Washington needed a victory to lift the hopes of the nascent nation. He took a risk by crossing the Delaware River that was choked with floating ice the day after Christmas and surprised the Hessian troops billeted in barracks in Trenton. The Army killed or captured the entire force of 1,400 Hessians. The victory boosted Americans’ belief in the cause of fighting to liberate themselves from British rule.
31. New Mexico
> Event: Atomic bomb testing
> Year: 1945
> Location: Alamogordo
Scientists detonated the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert, and the world would never be the same. The code name for the nuclear test was “Trinity,” and the following month atomic weapons were used against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with such devastating effect that the Japanese surrendered shortly after. The U.S. wasn’t the only member of the nuclear club for long — the Soviet Union set off its first atomic bomb in 1949, ratcheting up Cold War tensions.
32. New York
> Event: Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
> Year: 2001
> Location: New York City
The world was shocked when two hijacked commercial airplanes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. Another plane hit the Pentagon and another crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The skyscrapers collapsed with thousands of people and first responders trapped in them. In all, close to 3,000 people died in the attacks.
The terrorist attack by the extremist group al-Qaeda has had massive and far-reaching implications for the U.S. and the world since. Soon after, the U.S. began fighting in Afghanistan, which was then controlled by the Taliban. The September 11 attacks also provided the impetus for the Iraq War in 2003.
33. North Carolina
> Event: Manned flight
> Year: 1903
> Location: Kitty Hawk
Though the Wright Brothers grew up in Ohio, they found the perfect place for their flying machine experiments in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers pored over weather records before determining that North Carolina would suit their needs.
The first flight lasted just 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. By the end of the day, the world’s first airplane stayed in the air for nearly one minute.
34. North Dakota
> Event: Standing Rock protest
> Year: 2016
> Location: Standing Rock reservation
A protest against a proposed oil pipeline captured the nation’s attention in 2016 and 2017. The Dakota Access Pipeline route in North Dakota was through Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and under the Missouri River — the reservation’s source for drinking water. Residents protested, fearing the oil would contaminate the water.
Hundreds of Native American activists and allies came to the reservation to protest what reservation residents believed was an encroachment on their sacred lands and a threat to their crucial water supply. Dozens of protesters were arrested, and the Obama administration blocked the project. Though the Trump administration has since reversed the decision and construction of the pipeline was completed, the company responsible for the pipeline is facing a litany of lawsuits that claim its security officers used unnecessary force on those protesting.
> Event: Ohio and Erie canal opened
> Year: 1833
> Location: Ohio and Erie Canal
During the early days of its history, Ohio was tough to access for much the country due to its geography and lack of infrastructure. An ambitious construction project, which became known as the Ohio and Erie Canal sought to change that. The canal, which took nearly seven years to build, now serves as a 110-mile link between the Ohio River and Lake Erie.
More than connecting two sides of Ohio, the canal provided an important link between the Midwest and the East Coast. Before the canal, it cost $125 to ship a ton of goods between the Ohio and the east coast. After the canal became functional, the price dropped to $25 per ton.
> Event: Federal Building bombing
> Year: 1995
> Location: Oklahoma City
Until Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terror attack on American soil was committed by domestic terrorists. The attack killed 168 people, injured about 650 others, and damaged some 300 buildings. Anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh loaded a truck with explosive materials and detonated it outside the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He chose that building because it contained offices of the federal agencies the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives. McVeigh was captured and eventually executed. Co-conspirator Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison.
> Event: Lewis and Clark Expedition
> Year: 1806
> Location: Clatsop County
For the first few decades of American history, most of the country we now know was relatively mysterious to European settlers. Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson asked Meriwether Lewis to lead an expedition exploring the land west of the Mississippi River.
Lewis was joined by William Clark as co-commander and other adventurers who became known as the Corps of Discovery. They set out from St. Louis, Missouri in 1804, noting the wildlife they encountered along the way. More than a year later, they arrived at the northwestern tip of Oregon thanks to the help of their native guide Sacagawea. There they constructed Fort Clatsop to ride out the winter. In 1806, they completed their nearly 8,000-mile round trip journey, returning to St. Louis.
> Event: Signing of Declaration of Independence
> Year: 1776
> Location: Philadelphia
The Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and expresses the ideals of the new nation and why it chose to separate from Great Britain. The document put forth the assertion that all men are created equal, the creator endows men with “certain unalienable rights,” and that governments derive their power from the governed. Philadelphia, the largest city in the Colonies at the time the Declaration of Independence was approved, was also where the Constitution was adopted.
39. Rhode Island
> Event: King Philip’s War
> Year: 1675
> Location: Statewide
King Philip’s War, also known as the Great Narragansett War, marked a turning point in the relationship between natives and white settlers. While there had been simmering resentment and some violent skirmishes between natives and settlers for decades, the war became one of the largest conflicts since European settlers arrived.
Tribal leader Metacom, called King Philip by the settlers, led a revolt against the Europeans after three of his warriors were executed after they were found guilty of murdering a native who converted to puritanism. During the 14-month conflict, colonial militias attacked and destroyed native villages, with much of the fighting taking place in Rhode Island.
40. South Carolina
> Event: Attack on Fort Sumter
> Year: 1861
> Location: Charleston Harbor
After seven states declared they had seceded from the Union, the Confederate government and existing U.S. government were at odds over who owned what in the South. President Abraham Lincoln wanted to resupply Union forces at South Carolina’s Fort Sumter, but Confederate forces turned the supplies away.
Months later, in April 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his men to fire on the fort. Union troops quickly ran out of ammunition and were forced to surrender Fort Sumter. Though no people were killed in the fighting, the battle marks the beginning of the Civil War.
41. South Dakota
> Event: Mount Rushmore
> Year: 1941
> Location: Keystone
One of America’s iconic images is among the newest, as Mount Rushmore National Memorial was opened in 1941. The 60-foot high stone visages of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson are framed against the Black Hills of South Dakota. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum selected Mount Rushmore in the early 1920s because of the site’s dimensions — 1,000 feet long and 400 feet wide. Work started on the project in 1927. The original plans from Borglum called for all four presidents to be shown from the waist up, but there was not enough funding to realize his vision.
> Event: Scopes Monkey Trial
> Year: 1925
> Location: Dayton
John Thomas Scopes, a high school science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, taught his students about evolution in 1925 to protest of a new law that would fine anyone who taught a “theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation.” Scopes was fined and called on the American Civil Liberties Union to help prove the law was unconstitutional. Former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan offered to help the prosecution.
The case garnered so much attention that it was moved to the courthouse lawn over concerns the extra people in the court would cause the floor to collapse. The defense wasn’t allowed to question the constitutionality of the law, so it called Bryan to the stand to defend his beliefs. But Bryan couldn’t, making contradictory statements about his faith. The defense eventually requested a guilty verdict so it could later be appealed. Scopes was ordered to pay the minimum fine of $100, but that verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court.
> Event: Kennedy Assassination
> Year: 1963
> Location: Dallas
Even though the campaign for the 1964 election had not yet started and President John F. Kennedy had not formally announced he was seeking re-election, the Democrat had come to Texas seeking early support for a re-election bid, hoping to garner support from the staunchly conservative state. Kennedy’s popularity was building and he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds in Dallas before Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated him. Kennedy was never able to fulfill his ambitious goals for the country. The assassination of Kennedy traumatized the nation and has haunted the city of Dallas for many years.
> Event: Transcontinental railroad completed
> Year: 1869
> Location: Promontory Point
The transcontinental railroad finally connected both coasts of the United States at Promontory Point in Utah on May 10, 1869. The task was completed by rival railroads Central Pacific and Union Pacific. The Central Pacific, moving east from Sacramento, California, used mostly Chinese laborers, which was controversial at the time because they were looked down upon due to entrenched racism in the country. The Chinese persevered through terrible conditions in the Sierra Nevada mountains and proved to be indefatigable workers. The Union Pacific, which moved west from Omaha, Nebraska, used mostly Irish workers and Civil War veterans.
> Event: First state to ban slavery
> Year: 1777
> Location: Statewide
Nearly a century before the Civil War, Vermont became the first state to outlaw slavery, just after the Colonies declared their independence. Vermont was, at that point, an independent republic. The transatlantic slave trade had yet to reach its peak.
Other states, such as Pennsylvania, followed suit within a few years, using laws that only gradually released current slaves while preventing any new ones from being brought to the state. Despite the 1777 law, there now appears to be evidence that some Vermonters still held slaves in the 19th century.
> Event: First English settlement in the United States
> Year: 1607
> Location: Jamestown
Early attempts by the English to establish a colony in the New World had failed, including the “lost colony” of Roanoke in 1587. The English tried again in 1606. King James I issued a charter to the Virginia Company to create a settlement in the New World. About 100 colonists in three ships reached a peninsula on the James River on May 14, 1607. The early settlers fought off hunger and illness, and council leader John Smith forged an understanding with Native American Chief Powhatan. More settlers and supplies came to support the colony to finally secure England’s toehold in the New World.
> Event: Mount St. Helens eruption
> Year: 1980
> Location: Mount St. Helens
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens remains the largest volcanic event in U.S. history. The explosion was triggered by an earthquake underneath the mountain. It caused huge clouds of ash and pyroclastic flows. It also triggered the largest landslide in recorded history.
The volcano, located in the Cascade Mountains, tossed more than 500 million tons of ash into the air and blotted out the sun hundreds of miles away. All told, 57 people were killed as a result of the eruption.
48. West Virginia
> Event: John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry
> Year: 1859
> Location: Harper’s Ferry
John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was one of the key incidents leading up to the Civil War. Brown, an abolitionist, came to Harpers Ferry to seize the federal armory and arsenal there. He hoped his action would cause slaves to rise up in rebellion. But the local militia resisted and U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, arrived and killed many of the raiders and captured Brown. He was tried for treason, murder, and slave insurrection against the state of Virginia (West Virginia was not its own state yet) and hanged.
> Event: Peshtigo Fire
> Year: 1871
> Location: Northeastern Wisconsin
The most destructive and deadly fire in U.S. history took place in Wisconsin and Michigan in 1871. The Peshtigo Fire killed at least 1,200 people, though some estimates place the death toll at over 2,000.
The area around Peshtigo was largely supported by logging, so sawdust and branches littered the surrounding forest. The summer had been unusually dry in Wisconsin, putting the area at huge risk of fire. The blaze started on Oct. 8 and moved so quickly that many people were unable to outrun it. It just so happens the Peshtigo Fire took place on the exact same day as the Great Chicago Fire. Recovery efforts of the American people, including Wisconsin’s governor were initially focused on Chicago, so Peshtigo never recovered. The event is largely forgotten to this day.
> Event: Establishment of Yellowstone National Park
> Year: 1872
> Location: Northwestern Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park isn’t just the first national park in the U.S., but also in the world. According to legend, explorers came to Madison Plateau in 1870. Struck by the beauty of the place, they decided Yellowstone needed to be preserved.
It’s unclear if that story is true, but President Ulysses S. Grant did sign a law establishing the park in 1872. Yellowstone stretches well over 3,000 square miles, almost all of it in Wyoming. It’s also home to Old Faithful, a world famous geyser.
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 Tempo 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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