Events and Inventions of the First Decade of the 20th Century

The first decade of the 20th century resembled the one that had just ended more than it would resemble the rest of the century to come. For the most part, clothing, customs, and transportation remained as they had been. The changes associated with the 20th century would come in the future, with the exception of two major inventions: the airplane and the car.

In this first decade of the 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest man ever to be inaugurated as president of the United States, and he was a popular one. His progressive agenda foretold a century of change.

1900

King Umberto I
Assassination of King Umberto. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

February 8: Kodak introduces Brownie cameras. Manufacturer George Eastman would like a camera in every home, so the cameras sell for $1. Film was 15 cents, plus a 40 cent processing fee.

June 1900–September 1901: When the bloody uprising known as the Boxer Rebellion occurs in China, the protest against foreigners ultimately leads to the end of the last imperial dynasty—the Qing (1644–1912).

July 29: Italy's King Umberto is assassinated after several years of social unrest and the imposition of martial law.

Max Planck (1858–1947) formulates the quantum theory, making the assumption that energy is made up of individual units he called quanta.

Sigmund Freud publishes his landmark work "The Interpretation of Dreams," introducing his theory of the unconscious as it is reflected in dreams.

1901

Guglielmo Marconi
Italian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi broadcast the first transatlantic wireless signals on Dec. 12, 1901. The Print Collector / Print Collector / Getty Images

January 1: Australia's six colonies joined together, becoming a commonwealth.

January 22: Britain's Queen Victoria dies, marking the end of the Victorian era; her reign of more than 63 years had dominated the 19th century.

September 6: President William McKinley is assassinated, and at the age of 42, his vice president Theodore Roosevelt is inaugurated as the youngest U.S. president ever.

November 24: The first Nobel Prizes are awarded, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The peace prize goes to Frenchman Frédéric Passy and Swiss Jean Henry Dunant.

December 12: In Newfoundland, Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) receives a radio signal from Cornwall, England, consisting of the Morse code for the letter "S." It is the first transatlantic transmission.

1902

Mount Pelee
The Aftermath of the Mount Pelee volcanic eruption. Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images

May 8: Mount Pelee on the West Indian island of Martinique erupts, producing one of the deadliest eruptions in history, obliterating the town of St. Pierre. It proves a landmark event for vulcanology.

May 31: The Second Boer War ends, ending the independence of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, and placing both under British control.

November 16: After President Teddy Roosevelt refuses to kill a tied-up bear during a hunting trip, Washington Post political cartoonist Clifford Berryman satirizes the event by drawing a cute fuzzy teddy bear. Morris Michtom and his wife soon decided to create a stuffed bear as a children's toy, calling it "Teddy's Bear."

The U.S. renews the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, making Chinese immigration permanently illegal and extending the rule to cover Hawaii and the Philippines.

1903

Wright Brothers
The Wright Brothers' first powered flight. Ann Ronan Pictures / Print Collector / Getty Images / Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

January 18: Marconi sends the first complete transatlantic radio message from President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII.

The first license plates are issued in the U.S., by the state of Massachusetts. Plate No. 1 goes to Frederic Tudor, and it still is used by his descendants.

October 1–13: The first World Series is played in Major League Baseball between the American League Boston Americans and the National League Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh wins the best of nine games, 5-3.

October 10: British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1828–1928) founds the Women's Social and Political Union, a militant organization that will campaign for women's suffrage until 1917.

December 1: The first silent movie, "The Great Train Robbery," is released. A short western, it was written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter and starred Broncho Billy Anderson and others.

December 17: The Wright Brothers succeed in making a powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, an event that would change the world and have a huge impact on the century to come.

1904

Panama Canal
Construction on the Panama Canal. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

February 8: The Russo-Japanese War begins, with the two imperialists squabbling over Korea and Manchuria.

February 23: Panama gains independence and sells the Panama Canal Zone to the U.S. for $10 million. Canal construction begins by the end of the year, as soon as the infrastructure is in place.

July 21: The Trans-Siberian Railway officially opens for business, connecting European Russia to Siberia and the remote far east.

October 3: Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955) opens the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was one of the first of such schools for girls and would eventually become Bethune-Cookman University.

October 24: The first rapid transit subway line on the New York Subway makes its first run, running from the City Hall subway station to 145th street.

1905

Portrait of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein. Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

Albert Einstein proposes his Theory of Relativity explaining the behavior of objects in space and time; it will have ​a profound influence on the way we understand the universe.

January 22: "Bloody Sunday" occurs when a peaceful demonstration at Tsar Nicholas II's (1868–1918) winter palace in St. Petersburg is fired upon by imperial forces and hundreds are killed or wounded. It is the first event of the violent phase of the Revolution of 1905 in Russia.

Freud publishes his famous Theory of Sexuality, in a collection of three essays in German that he will write and rewrite again and again during the rest of his career.

June 19: The first movie theater opens in the United States, the Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, and is said to have shown "The Baffled Burglar."

Summer: Painters Henri Matisse and Andre Derain introduce fauvism to the art world in an exhibit at the annual Salon d'Automne in Paris.

1906

San Francisco Earthquake
Devastation of the San Francisco Earthquake. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

February 10: The Royal Navy warship known as the HMS Dreadnaught is launched, sparking a worldwide arms race.

April 18: The San Francisco earthquake devastates the city. Estimated at a 7.9 magnitude, the quake kills up to 3,000 people and destroys as much as 80% of the city.

May 19: The first section of the Simplon Tunnel through the Alps is completed, connecting Brig, Switzerland and Domodossola, Italy.

W.K. Kellogg opens a new factory in Battle Creek, Michigan and hires 44 employees to produce the initial production batch of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

November 4: U.S. muckraking novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) publishes the final serial part of "The Jungle" in the Socialist newspaper, "Appeal to Reason." Based on his own investigative journalism at the meatpacking plants in Chicago, the novel shocks the public and leads to new federal food safety laws.

Finland, a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, becomes the first European country to give women the right to vote, 14 years before this was achieved in the United States.

1907

Typhoid Mary in a hospital bed
Typhoid Mary. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

March: Typhoid Mary (1869–1938), a healthy carrier of the disease believed responsible for several northeast U.S. outbreaks of typhoid, is captured for the first time.

October 18: The Ten Rules of War are established at the Second Hague Peace Conference, defining 56 articles dealing with the treatment of sick and wounded, prisoners of war, and spies and including a list of prohibited weapons.

The first electric washing machine, called the Thor, is sold by Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company.

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1883–1973) turns heads in the art world with his cubist painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."

1908

Ford Model-T
Library of Congress

June 30: A huge and mysterious explosion called the Tunguska Event occurs in Siberia, possibly created by an asteroid or comet landing on Earth.

July 6: A group of exiles, students, civil servants, and soldiers called the Young Turks movement restores the Ottoman constitution of 1876, ushering in multiparty politics and a two-stage electoral system.

September 27: The first production Model-T automobile is released by Henry Ford's Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan.

December 26: Jack Johnson (1888–1946) boxes Canadian Tommy Burns (1881–1955) at the Sydney Stadium in Australia to become the first African-American boxer to be the world heavyweight champion.

December 28: An earthquake in Messina, Italy with an estimated magnitude of 7.1 destroys the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria, and takes the lives of between 75,000 and 82,000 people.

1909

Portrait of Robert Peary
Robert Peary.

De Agostini / Getty Images

February 5: U.S. chemist Leo Baekeland (1863–1944) presents his invention, the first synthetic plastic known as Bakelite, to the American Chemical Society.

February 12: The NAACP is founded by a group including W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, and Moorfield Storey.

April 6: After wintering near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island, British explorer Robert Peary ​(1856–1920) reaches what he thinks is the North Pole, although modern studies of his field notes place him 150 miles short of his destination. His claim will be formally recognized by the U.S. in 1911.

October 26: Japan's former prime minister Prince Itō Hirobumi is assassinated by a Korean independence activist.