Historical Events Facts



Modified: 17 Feb 2022

german soldiers, ww2, historical events facts

There are highs and lows in history, events people can take pride in or feel shame at. Here are some of those heights and depths, provided by historical events facts.

  1. The last Ice Age started 2.7 million years ago and ended about 12,000 years ago.
  2. Humans first appeared about 300,000 years ago.
  3. The oldest historical records go back to around 3500 BC.
  4. There are 40 calendars in use around the world today.
  5. An estimated 100 hundred billion people have ever lived.
  1. The first civilization in history developed in Sumer around 4500 BC.
  2. The Ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid between 2580 and 2560 BC.
  3. Qin Shi Huang became the First Emperor of China in 221 BC.
  4. Roman civilization rose and fell between 500 BC and 500 AD.
  5. The Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to 15th century AD.
  6. The Renaissance started in the 14th century and finished in the 17th century.
  7. The Scientific Revolution took place during the 18th century.
  8. The Industrial Revolution dominated the 19th century.
  9. World War I and World War II dominated the first half of the 20th century.
  10. The Cold War dominated the latter half of the 20th century.
  1. The Mayans saw turkeys as divine animals.
  2. Karl Benz in Germany developed the first cars in the 19th century.
  3. More than 600 plots existed to kill or overthrow Fidel Castro.
  4. Roman Emperor Caligula appointed his favorite horse a senator.
  5. Winston Churchill could smoke up to 15 cigars in a day.
Table of Contents

The American Revolution marked the beginning of modern democracy.

The American Revolution raged between 1765 and 1783. It’s a straightforward fight for independence by the American colonies. But the historical part of the revolution is the ideas behind it. The revolutionaries took inspiration from the ancient Greek city-states and the Roman Republic. American patriots fought for freedom, equality, and the right to govern themselves. Those ideas got vindicated in the rise of the United States. They would also pass on to the French Revolution decades later.

Inspired by the Americans, the French drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. And from there, modern democracy would only grow and spread around the world.

John Trumbull’s portrait of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Photo from Wikipedia

The Protestant Reformation broke the power of the Roman Catholic Church.

We’re sure you know how influential the church was during the Middle Ages. They kept this influence into the Renaissance and seemingly held on to it. The Protestant Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries proved that wrong. A disagreement over doctrine and the pope’s authority turned into something more. The rise of the various Protestant churches across Europe and beyond was one result. Another was that of nations and societies breaking free of the church’s influence. This secularization of society led to the 18th century’s scientific revolution.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was symbolic of the end of the Cold War.

The Berlin Wall divided democratic West Berlin from Communist East Berlin. For decades, many East Berliners tried to cross the wall and escape to freedom. Some succeeded, but others did not. This became symbolic of the desire for freedom in Communist countries.

It all came to an end in 1989 when the wall’s guards got ordered to stand down. East Berliners rushed to the wall to escape to the west. West Berliners cheered them on, but it didn’t stop there. Within days bulldozers on both sides of the wall tore it down to cheers from the people.

Berlin wall, historical events facts
Image from Adobe Stock

The wall’s fall became symbolic worldwide in more ways than one. It showed the German people’s desire for unity as a single nation. It showed the weakness and failure of the Communist system. And more than anything else, it began the end of the Cold War. Only two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union itself had fallen.

World War One is also remembered as the Great War.

This is usually seen in sources dating back to before WWII. There are several reasons why World War 1 got that name. One reason is that all the great nations of the world at the time fought in the war. Another reason is the sheer number of dead at its end, about 40 million. Finally, the end of the war saw the world’s map redrawn. Four empires had fallen: Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottomans. New nations had risen from their ruins, particularly in Eastern Europe.

Australian troops charging Turkish lines during WWI.
Photo from Wikipedia

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident set off the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Here’s something little-known from historical events facts. To most people, WWII started in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. For Japan and China, it started in 1937.

On July 7, 1937, an argument over a missing Japanese soldier led to a battle at Wanping. Attempts by both sides to negotiate failed. On July 25, the Battle of Beiping-Tianjin began. The Second Sino-Japanese War had also begun and ended only with Japan’s surrender in 1945.

World War Two was the most devastating war in history.

It’s not hard to see why. 70 million people died all over the world in that war. The worst part of it all was that more than half of those who died were civilians. And most of those 40 million dead civilians were targets of both parties.

Most infamous of all is the Holocaust when the Germans rounded up and killed 6 million Jews. The German invasion of the Soviet Union also saw over 19 million civilians killed. In the Pacific, the Japanese killed over 10 million civilians over the course of the war. But the Allies also killed their fair share of civilians.

Over 500,000 people died in Germany alone during the bombings of 1943-1944. And the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 also killed 300,000 people.

The poison gas used in the Holocaust was Zyklon-B.

It means Cyclone-B in English. It’s made from hydrogen cyanide and was a pesticide. The Nazis instead used it in the gas chambers of the death camps like Auschwitz during the Holocaust. It was estimated that Zyklon-B caused 1.1 million deaths in the death camps.

Labels from Zyklon-B canisters used during the Holocaust.
Photo from Wikipedia

This is still in use today, but no longer as a pesticide. Instead, it’s used as a raw material in the chemical industry. The name Zyklon-B is no longer in use and is known as Cyanosil today. A grim example from historical events facts, to be sure.

The only nuclear attacks in history were on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The USA developed nuclear weapons towards the end of WWII. President Truman then decided to use them against Japan to force them to surrender. He did this hoping to convince the Japanese to surrender immediately.

The alternative was to invade, with the expectation of tens of millions of casualties. Hiroshima got bombed on August 6, 1945. Three days later on August 9, Nagasaki also got bombed. The bombings killed an estimated 300,000 people. But the President’s gamble worked. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito of Japan surrendered to the Allies.

Johannes Gutenberg invented a printing press in 1440.

Believe it or not, that simple invention changed world history. Gutenberg’s printing press was the first of its kind in Europe. Before his invention, books and other written materials were handmade. This made production slow and a luxury afforded only by the rich and powerful.

Thanks to his printing press, large amounts of written materials became available. The public had access to literature whether religious, political or otherwise. Literacy across Europe rose in the years and decades that followed. This led to reasoned thinking and new ideas no longer limited to a small and privileged elite. Everyone could now reason and come up with new ideas on their own.

The height of the Roman Empire was also known as the Pax Romana.

This is among the more well-known historical events facts. In English, that means the Roman Peace. It lasted for two hundred years, between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. It began with the reign of Emperor Augustus and ended with the reign of Emperor Commodus.

The legions kept the empire’s enemies away and maintained the rule of law in the empire. Traders and travelers alike could go from one end of the empire to the other. The peace and prosperity were such that writers of this age thought it would last forever.

The poor reign of Emperor Commodus brought the Pax Romana to an end. A century of civil wars, foreign invasions, and outbreaks of plague followed, but the Pax Romana was not forgotten though. Instead, it became a golden age that many looked back to as inspiration for the future.

The Renaissance brought an end to the Middle Ages.

This period of history dominated the 15th and 16th centuries. Its name means ‘reawakening’. This is because of the perception made in comparison to the Middle Ages that came before. In the Renaissance, people didn’t limit themselves to living from one day to the next. Neither did they spend so much time on matters of faith and religion.

Humanism, the idea that Man was the master of their fate and the world around them, was the rule of the day. This was further encouraged by the rediscovery of the art and culture of Greece and Rome.

Renaissance, historical events facts
Image from Adobe Stock

Forgotten and ignored since the fall of Rome, they inspired the people to new heights. Art, history, law, music, and philosophy flourished. The Renaissance only lasted two centuries and ended in war. But its achievements set the stage for the rise of the modern world in the coming centuries.

Ancient Greece’s victory in the Persian Wars allowed western civilization to rise.

The Persian Wars were a series of campaigns and battles between 499 and 449 BC. At the time the Persians attempted to conquer Greece. We’re sure you’ve watched the film 300, which is a dramatization of the Battle of Thermopylae. This battle was at the height of the Persian Wars, and the only one the Greeks lost.

Even then, it only inspired them to fight harder and win against the Persians. If not for the Greek victory, western civilization would likely not exist. The Roman Empire would never have arisen, and people may be speaking Persian in Europe today. Something to think about from historical events facts.

Alexander the Great conquered his empire in only 13 years.

This empire was also the largest in the entire ancient world, 5000 km from west to east. It stretched from Greece and Macedonia in the west, to India in the east. And from Central Asia in the north, it stretched south to the Persian Gulf.

The empire did not last long, though. Alexander’s death at the age of 33 meant he failed to build a proper government for his empire. After his death, his generals divided the empire between them.

Genghis Khan built the largest land empire on Earth.

Genghis Khan united the Mongols in the 13th century and led them out of their country. In the following decades, they conquered the Mongol Empire. Covering 14.7 million km2 of territory, it stretched from the Sea of Japan in the east to Kiev in the west. And from Russia in the north, it stretched south to Vietnam.

Much like Alexander the Great’s empire, the Mongol Empire got divided after Genghis Khan’s death.

Genghis Khan, historical facts
Photo from Adobe Stock

The Black Death killed between 75 to 200 million people across the world.

One of the most devastating pandemics in history was the Black Death of the 14th century. The name comes from how the lymph nodes of the infected turned black and swollen.

It was thought that the disease came from China and spread with the Mongol invasions. The Mongols brought the plague with them across the Middle East to Kaffa on the Black Sea. Rats with infected fleas slipped aboard Italian ships, who brought them back to Italy. And from there, the disease spread to the rest of Europe.

Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453.

You’ve heard of the city of Istanbul in Turkey. That wasn’t always its name though. Before 1923, the city’s name was Constantinople. It means the City of Constantine, who founded the city in the 4th century AD. After Emperor Theodosius died, it became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The empire lasted until the 15th century when it was finally conquered by the Ottomans.

Colonialism lasted for 500 years.

The first western colonial empires were the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. They rose during the 16th century but began to decline in the 17th century. This was because of competition from other European nations. This included Britain, France, Holland, and later on Germany, Italy, and even Belgium.

Colonialism brought western civilization and modern innovations to all corners of the world. But with the good came the bad, such as exploitation and racism. The deaths and cost of WWI weakened colonialism, but it only ended after WWII. Even then the scars and legacy of the colonial era continue to haunt the world.

At least 17,000 people died in the Reign of Terror.

The French and American Revolutions saw the beginning of modern democracy. But the French Revolution also saw the Reign of Terror and its infamous guillotine. Aristocrats, the rich, and those with royalist sympathies died in the name of public order. But royalist sympathies soon became an excuse to kill those on whom the mob’s displeasure fell.

By the time the Reign of Terror ended, an estimated 17,000 people died in executions. The most famous victims were the former King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.

The American Civil War brought an end to slavery.

Before the civil war, the USA had been the biggest market for slaves from Africa. This led to controversy across the country, especially in the north. Their industrialization and American ideals of freedom and equality drove the issue.

A work by Thure de Thulstrup, showing Confederate troops charging the Union lines at Gettysburg.
Photo from Wikipedia

In the south though, slavery became necessary to work the fields. The election of Abraham Lincoln who was a known abolitionist led to a crisis. This, in turn, led to the secession of the Confederacy and the beginning of the civil war. The Union’s victory not only ended the Confederacy but ended slavery once and for all. The end of the demand for slaves in America collapsed the slave market worldwide.

The Industrial Revolution completely changed both civilization and society.

For most of human history, civilization and society were agrarian in nature. Most people worked on farms growing crops or watched over herds of animals. The 19th century’s Industrial Revolution changed that.

Farming machinery meant farming no longer needed as many laborers as before. Jobless men migrated to the cities, where they found new work. This new work involved operating the machines that make up the modern industry. While the Industrial Revolution had many effects, this was the start of it all. That is the reorientation of civilization and society from agriculture to industry.

The Medical Revolution began with the development of vaccines.

The first vaccine was against smallpox, developed by Edward Jenner in 1798. Other doctors would follow his lead in the decades to come. Vaccines for diseases like anthrax, measles, mumps, and rabies among others soon followed. These developments were often accompanied by laws requiring vaccination. But vaccines were only the beginning of modern medicine. Germ theory and the field of bacteriology only sped up the growth of modern medicine.

The assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand started WWI.

Big things have small beginnings. We’re sure you’ve heard of that before, and usually in a good way. This time it’s not.

In June 1914, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary rode an open car in Sarajevo. A Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip shot the archduke and his wife dead. This simple act of nationalism started a war that would kill 40 million people.

The October Revolution began the Soviet takeover of the former Russian Empire.

By now it seems a given that revolutions end with the rise of freedom and democracy. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia would prove that wrong. There were actually two revolutions that year.

The first was in February and saw the Tsar abdicate and Russia become a republic. The republic’s decision to keep fighting WWI caused public anger, as the people had grown tired of the war. Preying on this, the Soviets gained support in the October Revolution. Their taking power and making peace with Germany started the Russian Civil War. And following the civil war’s end in 1922, the Soviet Union was born.

The Great Depression is the worst economic depression in history.

Well, it’s not called ‘The Great Depression’ for nothing. Making it even worse was how it began. The years before the depression were prosperous with low unemployment and high growth. Then on October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crashed. This started bankruptcies, layoffs, and the like which saw unemployment reach record highs. It would take a decade of economic and financial reforms for the economy to recover. And even then, it took the industrial demands of WWII for that recovery to finish.

the great depression, historical events facts
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Soviet Union put the first manmade satellite in space on October 4, 1957.

That satellite’s name was Sputnik. In Russian, it means ‘traveling companion’, though it could also mean ‘satellite’. Sputnik’s launch came as a shock for the USA. No one had expected the Soviets capable of such a feat ahead of them. Now there’s something interstellar from historical events facts.

Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space.

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin rode Vostok-1 to space. He completed one orbit around the Earth before returning on the same day. Once again, the news shocked the USA, and for the same reason as with Sputnik. That said, thousands of Americans sent letters of congratulations to Yuri Gagarin. Despite the Cold War and being from the Soviet Union, he had made history.

The assassination of US President John F. Kennedy was on November 22, 1962.

A tragic, but unforgettable example from historical events facts. At the time the president was parading in an open car in Dallas, Texas. Also with him was his wife Jacqueline Kennedy and the Governor of Texas, Jon Connally.

At 12:30 PM, Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president and governor with a rifle from a nearby building. The president and governor were both rushed to a hospital, but only the governor survived. President Kennedy died 30 minutes after his arrival in the hospital.

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was on April 4, 1968

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian minister who led the Civil Rights movement in America. Like Gandhi in India, King refused to use or support violence to achieve his goals. Instead, he used civil disobedience such as demonstrations and marches.

Martin Luther King Jr., Black history facts, historical events facts
Photo from Wikipedia

On April 4, 1968, King was staying at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. While standing on a balcony in the evening, James Earl Rey shot him with a rifle. King went to a hospital but died less than an hour later.

King Hammurabi of Babylon introduced the world’s first known legal code in 1754 BC.

This code is also known as the Code of Hammurabi. Half of it deals with business law, while another third of the code is about family law. The code is particularly known for its following the principle of ‘eye for an eye’.

Gunpowder was first discovered in China during the 9th century AD.

And by accident at that. Chinese alchemists were actually trying to discover the Elixir of Life. It was going to make the Emperor immortal. Instead, they discovered gunpowder.

Over the following centuries, gunpowder found a place in war. These included bombs, fire arrows, and even a kind of gun. Gunpowder spread beyond China through the Mongols, coming with them all the way to Europe. Talk about something explosive from historical events facts.

Norse explorers reached America before Christopher Columbus did.

Christopher Columbus is usually credited for discovering America. But in fact, Norse explorers from Scandinavia reached it as far back as the 9th century AD. They even founded colonies of their own at Vinland, in what is now Canada. These colonies were long abandoned by the time Columbus made his journey, though.

The Crusaders slaughtered helpless Muslims at the end of the First Crusade.

When people think of crusaders, they usually think of knights in shining armor who can do no wrong. Those only exist in stories and fairy tales though. When Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade in 1095, the crusaders had other motives. They looked forward to the chance to carve out kingdoms of their own in the Middle East. In 1099, they captured Jerusalem and slaughtered their Muslim prisoners. Afterward, they carved out kingdoms of their own, as they wanted at the beginning. Something of a reality check from historical events facts.

Pope Urban II, first crusade, historical events facts
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Minamoto no Yoritomo became the first shogun in 1192.

Shogun was a military and political position in medieval Japan. They were military dictators, governing in the Emperor’s name. In practice, the Emperor became a figurehead while the shogun held all real power.

Minamoto was the first shogun, with shoguns governing Japan until the 19th century. At that time, the position was passed between three families one after another. Those were the Minamoto, the Ashikaga, and the Tokugawa. The Tokugawa surrendered the position during the Meiji Restoration and it was abolished for good.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the Prince.

The Prince is a manual on practical politics. It set off an uproar after getting published, because of what it was. Before, rulers and leaders had to govern according to Christian morals. Machiavelli argued instead that practicality, not morality, should guide the government.

Ferdinand Magellan died in the Philippines on April 27, 1521.

Ferdinand Magellan left Spain on September 20, 1519, to find a western route to Asia. He arrived in the Philippines on March 16, 1521. He immediately began attempting to convert the natives to Christianity. Though he met some success, the native ruler Lapulapu refused to convert. Magellan tried to force the issue but was instead killed in the Battle of Mactan.

After his death, his crew continued their journey and returned to Spain on September 6, 1522. They were the first to travel around the world, proving it round once and for all. Though Magellan failed to survive the journey, he shared in the credit even after his death.

The English defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.

During the 16th century, Europe fought a series of wars over the issue of religion. The Protestant Reformation had divided Europe between Catholic and Protestant countries. In 1588, Catholic Spain sent its armada to begin an invasion of Protestant England.

Spanish Armada, historical events facts
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Instead, the English destroyed the armada in a great victory for the Protestant cause. More important was how this victory marked the beginning of the end of the Spanish Empire. Later on, Britain began to rise as the biggest empire on Earth.

Nicholas Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres in 1543.

People once thought that the Sun, Moon, stars, and other planets orbited the Earth. This went as far back as Greco-Roman times and received support from the church.

But in 1543, Nicholas Copernicus used scientific evidence to show otherwise. The Earth and other planets orbited the Sun. This was a controversial position to make and earned Copernicus the church’s anger. In the end, though, Copernicus was right.

The Thirty Years War was the bloodiest in history until WWI.

The Thirty Years War took place between 1618 to 1648. It started over religion, with the Catholic Emperor trying to rule over Protestant princes.

In the end, it became a war over which nation would lead Europe. France under Louis XIII, or the Holy Roman Empire under Ferdinand III. It ended with the Peace of Westphalia, which saw the empire weakened and France dominant. It also ended with 8 million deaths, of which only 200,000 were soldiers.

The English Civil War ended with the beheading of Charles I.

The English Civil War was between 1642 and 1660, the King against Parliament. Parliament won and beheaded King Charles I for treason. They then abolished the monarchy, only to restore it in 1660.

Construction of the Taj Mahal took place between 1632 to 1653.

We’re sure you’ve heard of the Taj Mahal before. What you might not know is that the Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum. Emperor Shah Jahan ordered it for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth. Shah Jahan was later entombed in the Taj Mahal with his beloved wife. Talk about an example of devotion for historical events facts.

The Ottomans lost in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

In the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire launched a massive invasion to conquer Europe. One of their commanders even pledged to keep his horses at St. Peter’s in Rome. These ambitions came to an end in 1683. The Ottomans had surrounded Vienna for two months when help finally came.

German, Austrian, and Polish armies arrived and defeated the Ottomans. The defeat was so crushing that they had to retreat back into the Balkans. This defeat also marked the beginning of the slow decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Isaac Newton published the Principia Mathematica in 1687.

Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica contained his research and findings on motion and gravity. They became the definitive texts on physics until the 20th century. And it would take another genius and his work to take their place. That genius was Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity.

The Allies launched Operation Overlord on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Operation Overlord was the beginning of Europe’s liberation from Nazi Germany. It was a series of landings made on France’s Normandy coast. Over 150,000 soldiers took part in the operation. Almost 7000 ships and over 3000 planes were also involved. All those made it the largest seaborne invasion in the history of the world.

American troops landing in France on D-Day, D day facts, historical events facts
Photo from Wikipedia

Japan began a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The goal of the attack on Pearl Harbor was to keep the USA from interfering in the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia. In that goal, they succeeded. The US Navy lost 8 battleships and over 300 planes. Over 2000 officers and crew died. These losses gave the Japanese 6 months to operate without interference. It wasn’t until June 1942 and the Battle of Midway that the US Navy finally counterattacked.

The Boston Massacre resulted from a fight that got out of hand.

The Boston Massacre took place in Boston, Massachusetts on March 5, 1770. It began with a mob insulting a British soldier. This drew the attention of other soldiers, who rushed to help their comrade. The mob then attacked with stones and clubs, only for the soldiers to respond with gunfire. Tensions between the colonists and the British government rose higher as a result. The Boston Massacre helped start the American Revolution.

John Jacob Astor died in the Titanic Disaster.

Here’s another little-known example from historical events facts. Over 1500 people died when the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in 1912. Among them was the businessman John Astor, one of the richest people in the world at the time. He valued at $87 million, equal to $2.3 billion today. In fact, he was the richest passenger aboard the Titanic.

Titanic departing on its fateful journey, titanic facts, historical events facts
Photo from Wikipedia

The Quakers made the first recorded protest against slavery in history in 1688.

In 1688, four Quakers in Pennsylvania wrote a formal protest against slavery. They argued it was an injustice against all men, no matter their skin color. They also argued that if it was alright to enslave blacks, then it was also alright to enslave whites. And then they brought the protest to the Society of Friends in Philadelphia. The authors brought it up for every year that came after. Even then, it wasn’t until 88 years later that the society as a whole condemned slavery.

The Miracle of the Hudson took place on January 15, 2009.

On January 15 in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 ran into a flock of geese soon after takeoff. Some of the geese flew into the engines, wrecking them and leaving the plane with no power. The pilot and co-pilot managed to glide the plane to an emergency landing on the Hudson River. The crew and passengers then evacuated the plane. Local boats rescued them from the cold water. The entire crew was later publicly honored for succeeding in saving all their passengers.

Boats surround the sinking US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.
Photo by Izno from Wikipedia

The September 11 attacks are the worst terrorist attacks in history.

On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists hijacked four passenger planes in the air. They then flew two of the planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. They flew the third plane into the Pentagon. The terrorists planned to hit the White House with the last plane, but the passengers fought back. Instead, the plane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Almost 9000 people died because of the attacks, and the World Trade Center collapsed.

Barack Obama became the first African-American President of the USA in 2008.

Barack Obama ran as the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 2008 elections. At the time he’d been US Senator for Illinois since 2004. He won the popular vote and the electoral college alike. He ran for reelection in 2012 and again won both the popular vote and the electoral college.