Large numbers of African Americans begin to move from the rural South to large industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest. This movement, which continued for decades, is known as the Great Migration.

Percy Julian is born in Montgomery, Alabama.

Bayer registers the name Aspirin as a trademark for its new pain reliever, invented two years earlier.

J. S. Thurman patents the first powered vacuum cleaner. The folding umbrella and the jack are patented the same day (3 October).


In Africa the region around Calabar is made part of the British colony of Nigeria.

Eastman Kodak introduces the Brownie camera for $1, making photography available to everyone.


Booker T. Washington meets with President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. Many call the meeting a “breach of racial etiquette.”


At 17, Jelly Roll Morton plays his unique style of piano in bars around New Orleans, combining ragtime, blues, and other styles. He and others later claim this to be the birth of jazz.

Record numbers of immigrants arrive in the United States to find work, freedom, and better lives, most from Italy, Austro-Hungary, and Russia.


The Wright Brothers make the world’s first airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.


New York City opens its first subway line.


Revolution breaks out in Russia.

Albert Einstein proposes his theory of relativity.


San Francisco is devastated by a major earthquake.


The Ford Model T goes on sale, the first automobile that working people in the U.S. can afford.


W. E. B. DuBois and others found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


The Titanic sinks on its first voyage after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic, killing nearly 1,500 people.


Panama Canal opens.

World War I breaks out in Europe.



Percy Julian graduates from the Alabama State Normal School and is admitted to DePauw University.

Keating-Owen Act is the first law restricting child labor in the United States.

Jeanette Rankin of Montana is the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—four years before women gained the right to vote in national elections.


The United States enters World War I, which has been raging in Europe since 1914, on the side of Britain, France, and Russia against Germany and Austria.

Communists take control of the Russian government.

Two ships collide in the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. One of the ships is carrying military explosives, and the crash causes an explosion that kills almost 2,000 people.


Germany and Austria surrender, and World War I ends.


A worldwide influenza epidemic kills around 25 million people, 675,000 of them in the United States.


Race riots break out in 25 cities across the U.S. The largest riot is in Chicago. The summer of 1919 is called “Red Summer.”

The Chicago White Sox throw the World Series after being bribed and threatened by gangsters. Several players are banned from baseball for life for their part in the “Black Sox” scandal, including Shoeless Joe Jackson.

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bans the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. During prohibition, gangsters like Al Capone become rich and powerful selling bootleg liquor. Prohibition lasts until 1933 when it is repealed by the 21st Amendment.


Percy Julian graduates first in his class at DePauw with a B.S. in chemistry.

The world’s first commercial radio station goes on the air in Detroit. By 1929 nearly every family in the U.S. will own a radio.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives women the right to vote in national elections.

The 1920 census shows that for the first time in U.S. history more people are living in cities than in rural areas.

The racehorse Man o’ War, the grandfather of Seabiscuit, is named horse of the year after winning the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness.

Percy Julian begins teaching at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.


A race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaves as many as 300 people dead.


Percy Julian earns a master's degree in organic chemistry from Harvard University. He stays at Harvard as a researcher until 1926.


40,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan march in Washington, D.C. With 4 million members, the KKK is powerful across the United States, controlling many state and local governments.

T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather, and Sinclair Lewis all have new novels published.

Teacher John Scopes is put on trial in Tennessee for teaching evolution, against Tennessee law at the time. The trial becomes known as the Scopes Monkey Trial.

A. Philip Randolph organizes the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first successful African American trade union.



Percy Julian begins teaching at West Virginia Collegiate Institute.

Robert Goddard launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket in Massachusetts.

Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes publishes The Weary Blues, and A. A. Milne publishes the first of his Winnie-the-Pooh books.


Al Jolson stars in The Jazz Singer, the first motion picture with sound.

Babe Ruth, traded from the Boston Red Sox in 1919, hits a record 60 home runs for the New York Yankees. The record will stand until 1961.

Charles Lindbergh flies alone from New York to Paris in the first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Airplanes are a national craze, as other pilots like Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post also become famous.


Percy Julian becomes head of the chemistry department Howard University in Washington, D.C.



Percy Julian starts working on his Ph.D. at the University of Vienna, Austria.

Vatican City becomes independent from Italy, making it the world’s smallest nation.

The Great Depression begins in the United States with the stock market crash. Depression also grips much of the rest of the world, including Austria.

Ernest Hemingway pens A Farewell to Arms.


The National Socialist (Nazi) Party becomes more powerful in Germany and Austria, placing second in German elections.

Clyde Tombaugh discovers the planet Pluto.


Percy Julian graduates from the University of Vienna with a Ph.D. He returns to Howard University.

The state of Nevada legalizes casino gambling.

Josef Stalin becomes the ruler of the Soviet Union.

Japanese armies invade China.

Managua, Nicaragua, is devastated by a massive earthquake.



Percy Julian leaves Howard University. He begins teaching and doing research at DePauw University, his alma mater.

Hattie Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate, representing the state of Arkansas.

James Chadwick discovers the neutron.


The United States is still gripped by the Great Depression, and unemployment hits 25 percent.

President Franklin Roosevelt starts massive government programs to help relieve the effects of the Great Depression. The programs are known as the New Deal.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party come to power in Germany.


Dust storms rage across many Great Plains states. The storms blow away the topsoil from farms across the region, making it impossible to grow crops. The Great Plains is nicknamed the Dust Bowl, and many farmers, already poor because of the Great Depression, are made destitute.



Percy Julian and his colleague make synthetic physostigmine, a drug for treating glaucoma. Julian marries Anna Johnson on Christmas Eve.

Persia changes its name to Iran.

Nylon is invented by DuPont chemist Wallace Carothers.

Amelia Earhart becomes the first person to fly an airplane from Hawaii to California.

Italian armies invade Ethiopia.



Percy Julian moves to Chicago to become director of research at the Glidden Company's Soya Products Division. Julian perfects a soybean protein for coating paper that makes huge profits for Glidden.

African American athlete Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in track and field at the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. This embarrasses Hitler and the Nazis, who claim white Germans are superior to people of other races.

Oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia for the first time. The oil is discovered by explorers working for Standard Oil of California.

The Spanish Civil War begins.


William Henry Hastie becomes the first African American federal judge when he is appointed to a federal court in the U.S. Virgin Islands.


The radio play War of The Worlds causes panic in the northeastern United States when many listeners mistake the play for a news report of a real Martian attack on Earth.

In Germany, mobs loot Jewish-owned businesses and burn synagogues across the country. The evening is called Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass.”


The Wizard of Oz, the first color movie, is released.

Television is introduced to the world at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

Germany invades Poland, starting World War II in Europe.



Percy Julian’s son, Percy Jr., is born. Julian forms a company called Suburban Chemical, where Glidden executives let him to pursue his interest in steroids after hours, since Glidden wasn’t interested in the steroid business.


Japan attacks Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into World War II. The war has been raging in Europe since 1939 and in the Pacific since 1931.


Percy Julian's soybean protein is converted into the fire-retardant Aer-O-Foam, affectionately known as "bean soup." It saves the lives of thousands of sailors and airmen during World War II.


Julian’s daughter, Faith, is born.


World War II ends when Germany surrenders in May and Japan surrenders in September.



The Nuremberg Trials are in full swing in Nuremberg, Germany. These proceedings tried the most important captured Nazi leaders, including Hermann Göring and Rudolf Hess.

Percy Julian’s life story, “The Man Who Wouldn’t Give Up,” runs in the pages of Reader’s Digest.


Percy Julian receives the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal.

India becomes independent from Britain, largely because of a nonviolent campaign led my Mohandas Gandhi.


China’s long civil war ends as the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, take control of the country.


Percy Julian is named Chicagoan of the Year. He moves to Oak Park, Illinois, a mostly white suburb of Chicago. His house is firebombed.

The Korean War begins when North Korea invades South Korea. The United States and many other nations fight on the side of South Korea, while China sides with North Korea. The war ends in a stalemate three years later.

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy accuses many government officials of being Communists, with little or no evidence. He continues his accusations for four years until he is finally censured by Congress in 1954.

People start moving out of U.S. cities in large numbers to live in the suburbs. This trend continues through the next decade.


“Rocket 88” is recorded by Ike Turner and his band under the fictitious band name “Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats” in Memphis, Tennessee. Many people consider this the first rock and roll record.

Color television is invented by RCA. Color broadcasts begin later that year, though most TV sets are still black-and-white.


James Watson and Francis Crick determine the structure of DNA, using X-ray photographs taken by Rosalind Franklin.

Jonas Salk invents the first polio vaccine.

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climb Mt. Everest, the world’s highest mountain. They are the first people ever to climb it.

More than 20 million U.S. households have television sets.



Percy Julian leaves Glidden to form Julian Laboratories.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The world’s first human kidney transplant is performed at Harvard University Medical School.


The Soviet Union organizes the Warsaw Pact to defend against the Western European alliance, NATO, as the cold war becomes more intense.

The Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott is organized to protest racial segregation on the city’s buses. A young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., becomes famous for leading the boycott.


Rock and roll is sweeping America with Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” and Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.”


Percy Julian becomes head the Council for Social Action of the Congregational Christian Churches.


Fidel Castro comes to power in Cuba.


Nigeria becomes independent from Britain.


Percy Julian sells Julian Laboratories to the drug company Smith, Kline, and French for more than $2 million.

Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union becomes the first person to travel in space when he orbits Earth in a space capsule.

The Berlin wall is built by the East German and Soviet governments to prevent East Germans from escaping into West Berlin.



A nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is narrowly avoided in the Cuban missile crisis.


President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas, while riding in a parade.

Martin Luther King, Jr., gives his famous “I have a dream” speech at a large rally in Washington, D.C.


Percy Julian forms two new businesses, the Julian Research Institute and Julian Associates.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed in the United States. The law bans racial segregation in schools, public places, and hotels; bans racial discrimination in employment and trade unions; and bans states from preventing anyone from voting because of race.

A U.S. surgeon general’s report warns that smoking causes cancer and other health problems.

The Beatles make their U.S. television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

U.S. forces enter the Vietnam War on the side of the South Vietnamese.


Malcolm X is assassinated in New York City.


Percy Julian works to end housing discrimination in Oak Park, Illinois.


Percy Julian is named to the board of trustees at DePauw University. Also a member of the board of trustees at Howard University, he helps quell a student occupation of the administration building.


Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, by James Earl Ray.


Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins are the first people to land on the moon.


Ray Tomlinson invents electronic mail (e-mail), though most people won’t start using it until the early 1990s.


Percy Julian is elected to the National Academy of Science.


President Richard Nixon resigns because of the Watergate scandal.


Percy Julian dies of liver cancer.