Simple math reminds us that 1999 was only two decades ago. But, if we're honest, it simultaneously seems so much closer and so much farther away than that. On the one hand, the advent of technology, makes ‘99 feel lightyears away (remember, in 1999 the internet was just truly beginning, while today most of us carry it around in our pockets).
There is a lot of nostalgia for 1999, especially among millennials, for whom it marks the end of the “good old days.” There's also no denying that much of what came out of the ‘90s had a major effect on pop culture and society as a whole. The music, style, and breaking news of that decade continue to inform and inspire.
To see just how well you remember the last year of the 20th century, Stacker rounded up some of the biggest events of 1999—from the Y2K scare and President Bill Clinton's acquittal on two articles of impeachment to the premiere of "SpongeBob SquarePants" and Pokémon fever. Using data from various sources we've created a unique list of political, cultural, and technological occurrences and achievements as well as year-defining statistics and memorable incidents.
Read on to test your knowledge and find out how well you truly remember 1999.
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The secret affair between President Bill Clinton and his intern Monica Lewinsky was one of the biggest scandals of the 1990s. It dominated headlines and gossip rags for weeks and culminated an impeachment trial for President Clinton. On Feb. 12, 1999, the Senate found him not guilty on two counts of perjury and obstruction of justice and acquitted him on both counts.
A regular school morning in Littleton, Colo., turned into tragedy when two Columbine High School students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher, and wounded 23 others, before turning their guns on themselves in one of the deadliest episodes of school violence America has ever seen. The episode, which took place April 20, 1999, remains one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history and forever changed the way police officers respond to active shooter incidents.
One of the most exciting, adrenaline-pumping events in sports' history happened on July 10, 1999. The United States Women's National Soccer Team, whose core group was composed of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck, Kristine Lilly, and Joy Fawcett, defeated China by a single penalty kick to win the FIFA World Cup in front of a sold-out crowd at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The athletes' run at the title was one of the most closely followed events of the year. The iconic sports bra celebration that followed the team's win remains pop culture legend.
On May 27, 1999, the first human visit to the International Space Station (ISS) took place for an admittedly brief—albeit momentous—supply and service mission. Astronauts began to reside on the ISS the following year.
While the launch of humans to the ISS was a major moment for NASA, not all of the news for them that year was good. Two separate probes launched to Mars were lost in 1999: the Mars Climate Orbiter, lost Sept. 23, and the Mars Polar Lander/Deep Space 2, lost Dec. 3. At least one of these losses was attributed to engineering team errors after one team used metric units and another team used English units, and the loss of both set back the exploratory program almost a decade until the successful landing of the Phoenix in 2008.
“Pokémon Red and Blue” officially came to the United States in late 1998, but it wasn't until the release of “Pokémon: The First Movie” on Nov. 12, 1999, that Pokémon fever truly took over. The movie debuted at #1 in the box office, and kids' love for the franchise only grew from there. As of 2017, the Pokémon market size was about $53 billion. New iterations like “Pokémon Go” are still being released regularly, thrilling a whole new generation of kids.
On Halloween morning 1999, EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed off the coast of Nantucket. All 217 passengers on board were killed. The flight left New York's John F. Kennedy airport on a calm night, and it seemed as if it would be an easy trek to Cairo. Half an hour later, air traffic controllers lost all contact with the plane. A years-long investigation determined that the plane had been crashed deliberately by a pilot intent on personal revenge, but by that time relations between the United States and Egypt were so tense that Egypt refused to accept the official report.
When the Panama Canal project went bankrupt in 1902, the U.S. bought the rights to the project for $40 million and finished it, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Once Panama became an independent country in 1903, the U.S. agreed to pay $10 million for a perpetual lease on the canal and an additional $250,000 in annual rent. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaty, which called for transfer of control over the canal in 1999. By Dec. 31, 1999, the Panama Canal officially belonged its namesake country.
The euro, the single currency of the European Union, was introduced on Jan. 1, 1999. Residents of the original 11 member states (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain) had until 2002 to exchange all of their old currency for the euro at set irrevocable conversion rates. Nineteen countries use the euro today, making it the most widely used currency after the U.S. dollar.
Pluto may have been downgraded to "dwarf planet," but back in 1999 it was the ninth member of our solar system. Pluto is unique in that it has a highly elliptical orbit (versus other planets' more circular orbits), meaning that its position relative to the sun varies depending on where it is in its cycle. On Feb. 11, 1999, Pluto moved farther from the sun than Neptune; it will remain the most distant “planet” until 2227.
The first episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” premiered on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999. The episode, called “Help Wanted,” introduced Americans to Bikini Bottom and created a fandom that eagerly awaited the almost 300 episodes that have followed. The show's creator, Stephen Hillenburg, died on Nov. 26, 2018, leaving behind a legacy as the genius behind one of the highest-rated and longest-running cartoons of all time.
The death of JonBenét Ramsey remains one of the most popular unsolved murder cases in American history. When the 6-year-old's lifeless body was found in the basement of her home in 1996, it stoked a media frenzy. Speculation about who did it and why ran rampant for years. On Oct. 13, 1999, the Boulder County District Attorney announced no indictments would be made due to a lack of evidence, essentially causing the case to go cold. The murder remains unsolved to this day and has been the basis of dozens of movies and TV specials grasping to provide a culprit—and an answer.
Often regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky retired on April 18, 1999, following 20 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL). He remains the all-time leading scorer in the NHL, with 2,857 career points. He is also the only player to have had his jersey number (99) retired. Gretzky went on to coach professionally, before becoming an owner (he currently is a part-owner of the Edmonton Oilers, his first NHL team) and runs the Wayne Gretzky Foundation, which aims to give underprivileged youth a chance to play hockey.
Millions of people living along the Atlantic coast fled their homes on Sept. 14, 1999, as Hurricane Floyd made its way toward the Bahamas and up the U.S. coast. The Category 4 storm was at its peak the day prior, north of the Dominican Republic, and eventually made landfall Sept. 16 in Cape Fear, N.C. Hurricane Floyd killed 77 people, caused billions of dollars in damage, and leveled at least 6,000 homes. While there were a handful of other major hurricanes in 1999, Floyd got the most media coverage—especially after causing Walt Disney World to shut its doors for the first time ever and halting all NASA operations at Cape Canaveral.
The morality of assisted suicide was a hot-button issue in 1999 following the conviction of Dr. Jack Kervorkian in March of that year. Dr. Kervorkian made a videotape of himself injecting his patient, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, with lethal chemicals, which later became key evidence in his second-degree murder trial. After admitting that he had helped at least 130 of his patients commit suicide, Dr. Kevorkian spent eight years in jail and opened up the conversation around an individual's right to die.
On Sept. 15, 1999, Larry Gene Ashbrook walked in Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, smoking a cigarette and proceeded to kill seven people before turning the gun on himself. Eventually deemed mentally ill, there were no clear motives for Ashbrook's crime, but it rocked America and lead to calls for stricter gun laws.
John F. Kennedy Jr. was the only son of President Kennedy, and his surname ensured him a life in the public eye in spite of him never seeking or holding a political office. On July 16, 1999, the single-engine plane he was flying (which was also carrying his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette), crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha's Vineyard. Everyone on board was killed. Their bodies were recovered days later and buried at sea, although the tragedy continued to dominate tabloid headlines for months afterward.
On a sweltering summer day in August 1999, New York City reported the first cases of West Nile Virus in the United States. Spread by mosquitoes, the illness causes flu-like symptoms in animals and people. There were 56 confirmed cases of West Nile Virus in New York by the end of that summer—a number that has only continued to grow over the last two decades.
The internet is such a fundamental part of our world these days, it can be hard to remember that its modern form has only existed since the early '90s. Growth was slow at first, but by the beginning of 1999 there were over 150 million users. By December of that year, the total number of users had ballooned to nearly 250 million.
One negative effect of this increasing dependence on computers and the internet was the Y2K scare. Early computer programmers and developers had only used two numbers to represent the year, and many feared that as the millennium rolled over computers would think it was actually 1900 and not 2000, leading to all sorts of problems for places like banks, hospitals, and nuclear plants, which relied on computer systems to run. Millions of dollars were spent trying to minimize or eliminate the effects of Y2K, which, in the end, came and went without a hitch.
On Jan. 24, 1999, doctors in Louisville, Ky., performed America's first successful hand transplant. The patient, Matthew David Scott, had lost his hand 15 years earlier in a fireworks accident, and after a grueling 15-hour surgery had a new left hand attached 2 inches above the wrist. Today, Scott is considered the most successful hand transplant recipient in the world.
One sports history's most famous faces, Yankee's center fielder Joe Dimaggio passed away on March 8, 1999. His 56-game hitting streak is considered one of the most beautiful records in baseball, and his brief marriage to Marilyn Monroe made him a household name. His death came just months before the Yankees won their record-setting 25th World Series title on Oct. 27, 1999.
South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, was not only a great political leader but also a human rights and anti-apartheid activist. After completing one term, he stepped down as president on June 14, 1999, retiring from active political life and sending shockwaves around the world. He remained a public figure and a globally recognized ambassador until his death in 2013.
Following nearly two decades of intense restorations Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, “The Last Supper” went back on display in Milan, Italy. One of the art world's most treasured pieces, and one of the Renaissance master's greatest works, the painting was finished in 1498.
The third iteration of Woodstock took place July 22–25, 1999, in Rome, N.Y. Organizers were convinced that this would be the most peaceful and successful festival yet, but found themselves sorely mistaken after 44 arrests were made and 1,200 people were admitted to the on-site medical facilities. Temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and inadequate planning are mostly to blame; not even performances from greats like James Brown, Sheryl Crow, Ice Cube, Metallica, Willie Nelson, and Counting Crows could save the event from going up in flames—literally. During a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the fed-up crowd lit fires, destroying tents and booths, and even cars.
During the 1999 X Games, on June 27, Tony Hawk became the first skateboarder to land a 900. The two-and-a-half revolution trick, done on a halfpipe in San Francisco, won the daredevil a gold medal at the games and marked the end of a decade-long attempt to master the skill. Deemed a defining mark in the sport, Hawk celebrated the 17th anniversary of his accomplishment in 2016 by landing the trick again at age 48.
Today she may be considered one of the best tennis players and athletes of all time, but back in 1999 Serena Williams was still an up-and-coming talent. On Sept. 11, she won her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, beating four Grand Slam champions in the process.
“Law & Order: SVU” is a spin-off of the original (and now defunct) “Law & Order” that premiered on Sept. 20, 1999. "SVU" is the franchise's longest-running series and a cultural touchstone. With more than 30 awards under its belt, the show has had appearances from almost every major celebrity of the last two decades.
A major population milestone occurred on Oct. 12, 1999, when the 6 billionth living human being was born. The United Nations chose a symbolic “6 billionth” baby to mark the occasion: Adnan Nevic of Bosnia. As of early 2019, the world population has jumped to 7.7 billion people.
On May 19, 1999, “Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace” debuted at the box office. Its opening weekend saw a box office draw of $64.8 million and a cumulative worldwide gross of more than $1 billion, making it one of only 37 movies (to date) to enter the Billion-Dollar Club.