Around the world, 1969 was a year for the ages: the Vietnam War reached its bloody peak, the United States took a giant leap for mankind and safely landed astronauts on the moon, and a youth-driven counterculture emerged that would come to define the next decade through protests and music.
It was a triumphant year for the New York sports world and less so for Baltimore: The Mets clinched the World Series over the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, while the Jets made good on quarterback Joe Namath's bold "guarantee" and beat the Baltimore Colts to become Super Bowl champions.
In the entertainment industry, the Academy Awards' Best Picture Oscar was presented to “Oliver!” but one of the most successful films was “The Stewardesses,” which would be the most profitable 3D film ever to be released until “Avatar” debuted in 2009. The Beatles also gave their last public performance as a band on the roof of Apple Records in London.
Of course, the most famous event of 1969 was arguably the Apollo moon landing. After landing on the lunar surface six hours earlier, on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon; Buzz Aldrin followed 19 minutes later. An event watched by about 600 million people around the world, TV networks ABC, CBS, and NBC covered the event from Sunday morning to Monday evening and together spent between $11 million and $12 million following Apollo 11. But that wasn't enough to convince some people that the moon landing was real—the leading conspiracy theory of the year was that the whole thing was filmed in a studio in Arizona by Hollywood director Stanley Kubrick.
Stacker has compiled the 30 most notable events from 1969 in the order that they occurred. Take a walk down memory lane and rediscover what made the year one of the most momentous in history.
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Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th president of the United States on Jan. 20, after defeating Hubert Humphrey in the November election and delivering a victory to the Republican Party. “The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep,” Nixon told the American public during his inauguration speech. Later, Nixon would become the first and only president to date to resign from office because of the Watergate scandal.
The last issue of the historic Saturday Evening Post was published Feb. 8, ending more than a century's worth of popular fiction, feature stories, humor, and cover illustrations made famous by Norman Rockwell. Beginning in the 1960s, the Post shifted to using photographs instead of illustrations for cover art and lost a key component of its identity. This, combined with competition from television and Life magazine, led to a decline in revenue before the publication officially closed its doors. It returned in 1971 as a quarterly publication and was reinvented yet again in 2013.
Baseball icon Mickey Mantle announced his retirement during a March 1 press conference just as the New York Yankees were beginning spring training. Mantle was plagued with numerous leg and knee injuries, and his 1967 and 1968 seasons were marked by lower batting averages and fewer runs. He was 37 years old when he announced his departure, saying he never wanted to “give the fans anything less than they are entitled to expect” from him.
Golda Meir—a native Ukrainian who grew up in Milwaukee—was elected prime minister of Israel on March 17, becoming the country's first female leader. Her tenure was marked by her efforts toward achieving peace in the Middle East through diplomacy, and she was often referred to as Israel's “Iron Lady.” Prior to becoming prime minister, Meir served in the Israeli legislative body and was a signatory of Israel's independence declaration in 1948.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as the United States' 34th president, died March 28 at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. from congestive heart failure at age 78. Eisenhower was president from 1953 to 1961 and counted the end of the Korean War as well as the development of the Interstate Highway System among his signature achievements. The former president's funeral was held in Abilene, Kansas; in his speech, President Richard Nixon called him “the world's most admired and respected man.”
Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five," a novel based on the author's own experiences during the Allied bombing of Dresden during World War II, was published on March 31. The book was an instant success, spending 16 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list after rave reviews in the New York Times Book Review and (now defunct) Saturday Review. Although today the novel is considered a literary masterpiece, it continues to be controversial and has been banned in several school districts.
With the first pick in the NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—then known as Lew Alcindor—on April 12. In his first season, he was named Rookie of the Year, placed second in the league in scoring, and helped to boost the standing of his team. Though Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989, he remains the NBA's all-time leading scorer and is considered one of the greatest basketball players in history.
The 41st Academy Awards were broadcast on April 14, yielding the first tie in a major acting category in more than three decades. Katharine Hepburn won for her role in “The Lion in Winter,” while Barbra Streisand won for her debut performance in “Funny Girl.” Hepburn, who had also won the year before, was not present at the awards ceremony, but Streisand accepted the award in an emotional speech.
Robin Knox-Johnston became the first person to sail nonstop around the globe alone on April 22, ending a 312-day journey with his arrival in Falmouth, England. Knox-Johnston was one of nine participants in a contest launched the year prior by The Sunday Times, which promised a “golden globe” to the first person who could single-handedly complete the round-trip journey alone. In 2007 at age 68, Knox-Johnston circumnavigated the globe once again as part of the Velux 5 Oceans Race.
Monty Python, the legendary British comedy group, formed on May 11. It included Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Later in 1969, the group's sketch comedy show “Monty Python's Flying Circus” would air on BBC, and eventually develop into touring shows, movies, books, and musicals, making the group one of the most famous symbols of British pop culture. The TV show would also serve as one of the early inspirations for “Saturday Night Live” in the U.S.
The last episode of the "Star Trek" TV series—titled "Turnabout Intruder"—aired on June 3 on NBC, much to the dismay of fans. When the cast and crew shot the episode, it wasn't yet apparent that it would be the last, so no closure was provided. Originally, the episode was set to premiere March 28, but President Dwight Eisenhower's death on the same day forestalled the finale. Captain Kirk utters the final lines of the series, telling viewers, "If only… if only."
Just after midnight on June 28, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The cops roughly handled bar patrons and staff, arresting 13 people, including some who had violated the state's “gender-appropriate clothing” statute. This event sparked riots, leading to almost a week of protests and violent encounters with law enforcement. But the conflict ultimately served as the spark for the global gay rights movement. In 2016, President Barack Obama made the bar and its surrounding area a national monument.
On July 7, 814 American soldiers from the U.S. 9th Infantry Division departed Vietnam as the United States began the long process of withdrawing troops from the Vietnam War. In total, 25,000 troops were withdrawn in what would be the first of 14 stages of disengagement from the war. However, American troops would remain in the country in some capacity until 1973, when the Paris Peace Accords were signed.
Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the moon on July 20, as millions of people watched from home. Apollo 11's lunar module landed that day in a shallow moon crater, and six hours later, Armstrong left the module and took his first steps on the moon, declaring that it was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Armstrong and Aldrin collected samples of moon rock and dust and brought 47 pounds back on the lunar module which scientists continue to study today.
Senator Ted Kennedy pled guilty on July 25 to abandoning a crime scene on the island of Chappaquiddick, in which a young woman whom he was driving drowned after a car accident. The incident occurred on the night of July 18, when Kennedy's car veered off a narrow bridge and into a creek. Kennedy escaped the vehicle, but did not alert police of the accident until the next morning. In a television address, Kennedy claimed to have been in a state of shock and that he had made several attempts to find Mary Jo Kopechne in the water before returning to his hotel.
British troops arrived in Northern Ireland on Aug. 14 amid rising tension between the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which sought to end anti-Catholic discrimination in jobs and housing, and counter-demonstrators. The British troops were deployed to assist local police, who were completely overwhelmed and exhausted after the unrest had grown violent and rioting had broken out. These events contributed to the eventual re-emergence of the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary organization that aimed to reunify Ireland.
On Aug. 8, cult leader Charles Manson ordered his followers to murder five people in a Hollywood home, including pregnant actress Sharon Tate and coffee empire heiress Abigail Folger. The cult members wrote messages on the walls of Tate's home in the blood of the victims, causing widespread panic in Hollywood. Manson was later convicted of his crimes and sentenced to death, a sentence that was later commuted to life behind bars when California overturned the death penalty.
The Woodstock Festival was a three-day rock concert from Aug. 15–18 that became one of the most famous music events in American history, as well as a symbol of hippie culture. The festival took place on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, N.Y., and drew over 400,000 people who had traveled from far and wide to see Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix, among others. The turnout was significantly higher than was expected, and highways in the area became unusable as attendees parked their cars in the road to walk to the festival.
Hurricane Camille—one of just three Category 5 hurricanes to touch down in the United States—made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Aug. 17. The hurricane caused a 25-foot storm surge, which flooded about 860,000 acres of land in Louisiana and drowned Mississippi seawalls. The exact wind speed of the hurricane will never be known because the storm broke all measuring equipment available. About 150 people died from the storm in Mississippi and Louisiana, while 106 died in Virginia from flash floods that occurred as the storm broke up.
America's first automatic teller machine, or ATM, was installed at Chemical Bank in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and began operating on Sept. 2. The invention that revolutionized the banking industry was the brainchild of Don Wetzel, who came up with the idea while waiting in line at the bank. The first ATM in Rockville Centre could only give customers cash, but by 1971, the machine was able to perform a number of functions, including providing details of an account's balance.
The beloved sitcom “The Brady Bunch” premiered in the United States on Sept. 26, and although critics generally panned the television show featuring the blended Brady family, the wholesome series has withstood the test of time. “The Brady Bunch” avoided controversial and political topics, and instead focused on family issues, such as sibling rivalries and dating. Though the show ran until 1974, it found huge success in rerun syndication afterwards.
The Beatles officially released their 12th and last recorded album, “Abbey Road,” on Sept. 26 in the U.K., where it topped the charts for 11 weeks straight. In its first six weeks, the album sold 4 million copies and eventually, it became the fourth-best selling record of the 1960s. The album includes some of The Beatles' most famous songs: “Come Together,” “Octopus's Garden,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
The Supreme Court decided Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education on Oct. 29. The verdict affected southern public schools slow to integrate, or followed laws that made integration more difficult following the 1952 Brown v. Board of Education decision that famously overturned the “separate but equal” provision. The court ruled 7-1 that all school districts were obligated to operate only integrated schools, and that the prior standard of allowing “all deliberate speeds” to integrate was no longer acceptable.
The Public Broadcast Service was officially incorporated on Nov. 3 to interconnect public television stations and provide member stations with cultural, educational, and scientific programming. PBS was founded as a successor to the earlier National Educational Television, but the network wouldn't officially launch until 1970. However, some of the network's most famous shows, like the beloved children's series “Sesame Street,” began airing in 1969, and “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” debuted in 1968.
Reporter Seymour Hersh of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam on Nov. 13, with the headline “Lieutenant Accused of Murdering 109 Civilians.” The My Lai massacre occurred on March 16, 1968, when a platoon attacked the My Lai village, expecting it to be full of Viet Cong, but finding only civilians. In total, the soldiers killed 504 villagers and committed at least 20 rapes; this event stunned the nation when it was revealed, especially since the U.S. military had helped cover it up. Pictured here is Hugh Thompson, Jr. played a major role in ending the My Lai Massacre.
Around 500,000 demonstrators descended on Washington D.C. on Nov. 15 to hold a “moratorium” against the war in Vietnam, in what was the largest rally of its kind at the time. While the initial march was peaceful, a group of about 6,000 splintered off from the main rally to throw rocks and bottles and burn flags. About 100 people were arrested. A similar protest to end the Vietnam War was held the same day in San Francisco, drawing about 250,000 demonstrators.
Brazilian soccer star Pelé scored his 1,000th goal in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium on Nov. 19 in front of 80,000 cheering fans during a penalty kick against Vasco de Gama. It was an incredible milestone in the career of one of the greatest soccer players of all time, who would score 1,282 goals throughout his entire run in soccer. The following year under Pelé's leadership, Brazil won the World Cup.
After an hours-long debate in the House of Commons, the U.K. voted to end the death penalty on Dec. 16, with a vote of 343 to 185. Two days later, the House of Lords would vote to ratify the decision, ending over two centuries of capital punishment in the country. The official vote to end the practice took place four years after an act was passed to put a temporary stop to the death penalty, following high-profile cases that some considered miscarriages of justice.
The U.S. Air Force officially put an end to its investigation into UFOs on Dec. 17, closing Project Blue Book and its 12,618 reported incidents once and for all. Project Blue Book officially launched in 1952, following two preliminary Air Force investigations to study UFO sightings: Project Sign and Project Grudge. The final report claimed that there was no evidence of extraterrestrial activity or space technology, but acknowledged that several of the supposed UFO sightings couldn't be explained.
“Leaving on a Jet Plane”—written by John Denver and sung by Peter, Paul & Mary—topped the charts on the Billboard Hot 100 from Dec. 20–26, instantly becoming a Vietnam War protest song despite having nothing to do with the Vietnam War. This hit song, which was featured on “Album 1700,” was the group's only #1 song, but even today, people croon the song's famous lines: “Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane; don't know when I'll be back again.”