Dates extend to 1988; those marked "c." are approximate.
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Dates in red are from the basic timeline of events related to "From Stargazers to Starships".
For an extensive list of links on the history of physics
Dates in black are from the history of society and technology, and are meant to provide a broader context for the dates of the basic list.
and astronomy, see the AIP Center for the History of Physics
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For a timeline of the exploration of the magnetic environment
of the Earth, Sun and Planets, see here.
c. 500 BC---Pythagoras.
432 BC---Meton introduces his calendar in Athens.
- 13000-11000 BC---Estimated arrival of humans in America (probably aided by clothing and fire, if they came via Alaska).
- 10000 BC---approximate end of last ice age.
- 3000 BC--beginning of the bronze age, named for the first useful metal alloy.
- 2700-2300 BC---Pyramids built in Egypt. First large states and cultures thrive in the river valleys of the Nile, Euphrates and Indus.
Egyptians invent hieroglyph writing, use papyrus (crude paper).
Euphrates cultures write on wet clay (afterwards dried), using marks from the end of a dowel.
- 1400 BC (approx)---Iron first produced by Hittites, in what is now Turkey.
- 1200 BC (approx)---Trojan war. "Illiad" and "Odyssey" probably written in the century that followed.
- 1000-586 BC---Biblical kingdom of Judah
c. 270 BC---Aristarchus of Samos proposes Earth goes around the Sun.
c. 250 BC---Erathosthenes (276-192 BC) estimates size of the Earth.
- 431-404 BC---Peloponnesian war between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta, and their allies. Extensive battles involving long-range oar-driven warships.
- 333 BC---Alexander the Great, of northern Greece, defeats Persia's army at Issus, goes on to conquer the lands from Egypt to India. He founds numerous cities named Alexandria, including one in Egypt (still existing) which becomes a great center of learning and site of a large library.
c. 135 BC---Hipparchus discovers precession of the equinoxes, estimates distance of the Moon.
- 200 BC (approx)---Parchment developed in the city of Pergamum (now in Turkey), a superior writing material made of animal skin. Pergamum's library rivals Alexandria's.
- 146 BC---Rome defeats and razes its main rival, Carthago (near today's Tunis). It then begins building an empire which ultimately covers much of Europe and North Africa. Roman culture spreads and extends Greek culture, Romans (or rather, their slaves) build water conduits, bridges and thousands of miles of paved roads, causing cities to flourish.
46 BC---Julius Caesar reforms the Roman Calendar
- 48 BC---Julius Caesar seizes control of Rome. After him Rome is ruled by a long line of emperors.
c. 140 ---Claudius Ptolmaeus (Ptolemy) writes "He Mathematike Syntaxis" (known 1000 years later as "Almagest"), proposing his world system.
- 30 to 36---estimated date of the crucifixion.
c. 820 ---Caliph Al Ma'mun establishes "House of Wisdom" in Baghdad
c. 780-850---Al Khorezmi. (c. 780-850)
- 313---The Roman Emperor Constantinus adops Christianity; in 330 he builds new capital and names it Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Roman empire gradually divides into western and eastern parts ("Byzantine Empire"), with capitals at Rome and Constantinople.
- 410---Alaric, leader of the Visigoths, captures and sacks Rome. Decline of Rome: Attila king of the Huns devastates much of its empire, reaches the gates of Constantinople and later (452) of Rome.
Beginning of Europe's "dark ages" which continue to the Renaissance (see below): cities decay, trade, shipping, literacy, scholarship and life expectancy all decline.
- 622---Mohammed flees to the city of Medina, marking the beginning of Islam (and the starting date of the Moslem calendar). His followers conquer the Near East, North Africa and Spain.
1543---Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) publishes his theory of the solar system.
1572---Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) observes a "new star."
1582---Pope Gregory the 13th reforms the calendar.
- 1000-1400 Age of feudal lords in Europe: castles, knights, religious fervor, only very rudimentary science and technology. Also age of Vikings, some of whom sailed as far as Greenland and America. Mongols overrun and subjugate southern Russia.
- 1095-1291 Crusades
- 1460 Johann Guttenberg invents the printing press with movable type. Combined with paper (a Chinese invention which gradually reached Europe and displaced parchement), the printed book is the major force behind a cultural and technical growth spurt, the Renaissance (French for "rebirth").
- 1492 Columbus discovers America, followed by Spanish (and some Portugese) explorers. The main powers in Europe are Spain, France, England, Turkey and a confederation of German princes ("Holy Roman Empire.")
1588 The "Spanish Armada," a fleet attacking Britain, is destroyed by the British navy and by storms. For the first time Britain is able to claim part of the American continent.
1609---Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) builds the first astronomical telescope and observes for the first time craters on the Moon, satellites around Jupiter, and the way Venus goes through phases like the Moon (crescent, etc.) .
---Johann Kepler (1571-1630), using Tycho's observations, formulates his first two laws of planetary motion (3rd law in 1619).
- Europe and Asia are introduced to American crops--potatoes, tomatoes, corn. Europe´s diet is also gradually enriched by sugar, oranges and pepper, originating in India.
1686---Isaac Newton (1647-1727) publishes "Philosophie Naturalis Principia Mathematica," outlining laws of mechanics and law of gravity.
- After an abortive attempt (1586) to establish a colony in Virginia, the first English settlers--the "Pilgrims"--land in Massachussetts Bay in 1620 and establish a settlement.
- 1618-1648---The 30 years' war. A century after Martin Luther broke away from the Roman church, a great religious war sweeps Europe, devastates Germany and establishes Sweden as a major military power. In the civil war in England, parliament suspends monarchy 1645-1660, king beheaded 1649.
- 1683---TheTurkish army reaches Vienna but is repelled; among the booty the victors discover coffee, develop a taste for it. Englishmen begin smoking tobacco, an American plant.
1769---James Watt (1736-1819) devises the modern steam engine.
- 1708---Abraham Darby begins extensive iron production in England, based on roasted coal (coke). As firewood gets scarce, coal becomes England's choice fuel and coke replaces charcoal in iron production. To run the pumps that keep coal mines dry, Newcomen in 1712 invents a crude steam engine.
- 1712---Russia's king (czar) Peter the Great "opens a window to the West" by founding a new capital, which he names St. Petersburg and which becomes Russia's main port on the Baltic sea.
1798---Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) first measures the force of gravity between two objects in his laboratory.
- 1775-83---US War of Independence. Britain's colonies in America achieve a growing degree of self-sufficiency. Benjamin Franklin prints books in Philadelphia, also demonstrates (1749) that lightning is an electrical phenomenon. Later (1775-1783) the colonies rebel against Britain, win their independence and form a confederation. In 1787 they write a constitution and form a federal republic.
- 1781---William Herschel, a German musician settled in Britain, discovers the planet Uranus with a mirror telescope he had constructed.
- 1783---The Montgolfiere brothers in France, owners of a paper factory, build the first hot air balloons; balloons lifted by hydrogen follow.
- 1789---The French Revolution: France rebels against its king, who is later deposed and executed. The French follow the US example and set up a republic, but a military officer, Napoleon Bonaparte, gradually gains power. From 1798 to 1815 France under Napoleon fights a series of wars and for a while rules or controls most of the European continent.
- 1793---Alexander Mackenzie crosses Canada from coast to coast.
- 1796---Edward Jenner in Britain introduces vaccination against smallpox.
1806---William Congreve devises military rockets; used 13 September 1814 in British attack on Baltimore.
- 1803---US purchases Louisiana from Napoleon. To explore the new lands and the mountains beyond, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark cross the continent from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River.
1835---Gaspard Coriolis (1792-1843) publishes the laws of mechanics in rotating frame, including an extra force on moving objects.
- 1807---Robert Fulton uses steam to run the first commercial paddlewheeler on the Hudson river;
- 1803---John Dalton, a chemist, argues that observations in chemistry require matter to be composed of atoms.
- 1811---Simòn Bolivar begins a series of wars to liberate Spain's colonies in South America, leading to the independence of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
- The Industrial revolution: George Stepehnson in Britain (1825) and Peter Cooper in the US (1830) found successful railroads, run by steam. Mass production of fabric and paper. Henry Bessemer in 1856 finds a way to mass-produce steel.
- 1826---crude photography by L.J.M. Daguerre, greatly improved in the decades that follow.
1838---Friedrich Bessel first measures distance to the star 61 Cygni, using the diameter of the Earth's orbit as baseline.
1840--- Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) publishes "Etudes sur les glaciers", proposes that giant glaciers once covered central Europe.
1843---James Prescott Joule (1818-89) measures the "exchange rate" between mechanical energy and heat.
- 1836---John Ericsson invents the ship's propeller.
- 1837--Samuel Morse invents his telegraph; in 1844 first commercial telegraph line opens, by 1866 undersea telegraph cables link Europe and America.
1852---Radanath Sikhdar (1813-70) identifies the highest peak on Earth, later named for Sir George Everest (1790-1866).
- 1846---Anesthesia by ether is introduced by William T. Morton in Boston.
- 1849---California gold rush.
1857---Christoph Hendrik Buys Ballot (1817-90) proposes the rule for the swirl direction of large storms and hurricanes.
- 1856---Commodore Perry and a US fleet open up Japan to western culture and technology; rapid modernization follows, enabling Japan to defeat Russia in war less than 50 years later.
1883---Ernest Mach (1838-1916) publishes a critical study of Newtonian mechanics.
- 1859---Charles Darwin publishes "Origin of the Species"
- 1859---Edwin Drake extracts petroleum from an oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Beginning of a world-wide effort to find and extract oil, refine it and use its constituents for light, heat and later to run gasoline and diesel engines.
- 1861---Italy unified under the king of Piedmont; 1850-70, Germany unified under Prussian leadership..
- 1860-65---US Civil War
- 1865---Joseph Lister introduces antiseptics to surgery, cutting its risks.
- The Industrial revolution continues: bicycles are introduced (high-wheelers, then "safety models"), mass production of fabrics, also Brooklyn Bridge (1883), Statue of Liberty (1886), Eiffel Tower (1889).
- 1870---Suez Canal opens, a shortcut between Europe and Asia. Age of exploration and colonization in Africa.
- 1870---Railroad across the US. In 1891-1905, the trans-Siberian railroad is built.
- 1876---Telephone invented
- 1879---Edison invents the electric lightbulb, initially using a fragile carbon filament.
- 1882---Electric power stations in London and New York. Large scale refrigeration.
- 1885-1900---After the introduction of electric train engines, the construction of subways begins in the major cities of Europe (starting with London, then Budapest) and the US (starting with Boston, then New York).
1899, 19 October---Robert Goddard (1882-1945) climbs cherry tree, resolves to pursue his dream of spaceflight.
1903, 17 December---First successful flight by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
- 1884---Charles Parsons invents his steam turbine, which ultimately becomes the preferred power plant of electric power stations and ships. Diesel engine introduced in 1897 by Rudolf Diesel.
- The beginning of automobiles (Marcus 1864 in Austria; Benz, 1887 in Germany; Duryea, 1893 in the US).
- 1890---Nitrocellulose photographic film introduced (George Eastman of Kodak, Rochester NY), making possible the first "movies."
1911---Andre Bing in Belgium patents multistage rocket.
- 1906---Lee De Forest invents the triode--the vacuum-tube device (based on the Edison effect) by which weak electric signals can be greatly amplified. It makes possible radio, sound films, loudspeakers and later a whole generation of electronic devices.
- 1909---L.H.Baekeland introduces "bakelite", first mass-produced plastic material. It is widely used as electrical insulator.
- 1904-1914---Panama canal is built.
1916---Goddard tests rockets with De-Laval nozzles.
1926, 16 March---Goddard launches his first liquid-fuel rocket.
- 1911---Amundsen reaches South Pole.
- 1912---Emperor overthrown in China, republic proclaimed.
- 1914-1918---World War I. The main opponents are Germany, Austria and Turkey, lined up against Russia, France, Britain, Italy. In 1917 Russia withdrew, defeated, and the Czar was overthrown by Communist workers (Russian Revolution) but the US entered to help Britain, whose side prevailed. A very large, destructive war, the first in which technology played a major role, including airplanes, tanks, machine guns, submarines and poison gas.
1927, 5 July---German "Society for Space Travel" founded.
- 1922 to 1925---Fascism, the creed of a strong, all-controlling government, gains power in Italy under Benito Mussolini.
- 1924---In Russia, Communist leader V.I. Lenin, dies; after that Joseph Stalin gradually gains power, kills or exiles all his rivals and institutes a reign of terror.
1932---1 November--Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977) starts conducting rocket research for the German army.
- 1927---Charles Linbergh flies solo from the US to Paris.
- 1929---The New York stock market crashes, beginning a long economic depression, in the US and across the world.
- 1929---Edwin Hubble concludes from astronomical observations that distant galaxies recede from us in all directions, and that therefore the universe is expanding.
- 1927-1930---Talking films (black and white). "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) pioneers color movies, but more than 10 years pass before color films become prevalent.
- 1930---In Germany, hard-hit by the economic hardships following WW-I and by the world-wide depression, the Fascist Nazi party under Adolph Hitler comes 2nd in the polls in 1930, takes power 1933.
1936---Theodore von Karman starts the Guggenheim Aeronautical Lab at the California Institute of Technology, later leading to JPL.
- 1932---Sulfa drugs, first new anti-bacterial weapon. Penicillin follows during World War II, and other antibiotics are developed after the war.
1944, 8 September---V2 rockets begin falling on Britain
1947, 14 October---X-1 rocket plane piloted by Chuck Yaeger breaks sound barrier.
- 1936---The DC-3, the first modern airliner, can reach 210 mph with 21 passengers.
- 1939-1945 World War II. A world-wide conflict is started by Hitler's Germany, whose army annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, then attacked Poland. Germany was allied with Italy and after December 1941 with Japan, which launched its own war of expansion (it had invaded China years before that). A war with unsurpassed destruction and cruelty, including Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, of whom about 6 million were killed in a deliberate plan. Technology played an even greater role than in World War I, including long-range bombing raids, improved submarines, jet engines, radar and towards the end, large military rockets and nuclear bombs. Opposing Hitler were France (which fell to the Germans), Britain, Russia and after 1941, the United States: 1941-3 the Germans became bogged down in brutal winter fighting in Russia, in 1943 the US and its allies invaded Italy and forced its surrender, then in 1944 they invaded France and in 1945 first Germany and then Japan surrendered. In 1945 in San Francisco, the victors formed the "United Nations", an international union whose major role was to ensure peace and arbitrate conflicts.
- 1943---Oswald Avery at the Rockefeller Institute in New York proves that DNA, a hitherto unexplained substance in all nuclei of living cells, carries the genetic information.
1949, 24 February---"Bumper" 2-stage rocket reaches altitude of 393 km.
- 1947---Transistor invented, compact solid-state device that replaces the triode and is much more durable. In 1956 Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley are awarded the Nobel prize for this.
- 1947---India becomes independent, along with a great number of colonies (especially in Africa), as Britain and France dismantle most of their empires. Indonesia is established in 1949.
- 1948-1949---The start of the "cold war" between the western allies (Britain, France and the US) and the Soviet Union, with a blockade of Berlin by the Soviets, who try to force out the western allies. Contact is maintained by a massive airlift.
1957-8---The International Geophysical Year (extended to 18 months).
1957---4 October, Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1
- 1949---A million TV receivers (black-and-white) in the US; two years later the number reaches 10 million.
- 1949--Britain puts the first jet airliner into service, the Comet. It is later withdrawn because of structural faults, but by 1958 the French Caravelle and the larger Boeing 707 jets enter service. Gradually jets begin dominating air transport, while travel by ocean liners declines sharply.
- 1950---The "Marshall Plan" led by US general George C. Marshall revitalizes the European economy by providing extensive but judicious aid.
- 1950---North Korea invades South Korea. The US army stops the invasion and after a while enters North Korea, but a major intervention by China's army forces a stalemate.
- 1951--UNIVAC, first large electronic computer, built by Sperry-Rand.
- 1952---United States explodes "Mike", the first hydrogen bomb, perhaps 500 times more powerful than the nuclear "atomic" bomb.
- 1953---Edmund Hillary and Tenzing reach the top of Mt. Everest.
- 1954---Following a supreme court ruling, the US government outlaws Black/White segregation in public schools.
- 1955--Radio emissions from Jupiter are detected, mystify observers. They later turn out to come from the planet's radiation belt.
- 1955---Jonas Salk develops vaccine against polyomyelities, followed (1960) by the Salk oral vaccine; the disease is effectively eradicated.
- 1953-1958---Watson and Crick show that DNA is a double helix and its mode of replication is established. By 1966 the "genetic code" is revealed, by which specific proteins are created. The beginning of modern molecular biology.
- 1956--Soviet army crushes attempt of Hungary to break away from Communist block.
- 1956---First large commercial nuclear power station, at Calder Hall, opens in Britain.
1958---31 January--Launch of Explorer 1.
- ---3 November---Launch of Sputnik 2, carrying a dog named Laika.
- ---5 December---Vanguard disaster.
- ---26 March---Launch of Explorer 3.
- ----1 May---US National Academy receives from James Van Allen a report on the discovery of the radiation belt.
1958-9---"Project Orion" to design nuclear-powered spaceships.
1959, 2 January---Luna 1 launched by Soviet Union, comes within 6000 km of Moon; Luna 2 (September) observes first signs of "solar wind"; Luna 3 (October) takes picture of Moon's far side.
1961, 12 April---Yuri Gagarin becomes first human to orbit Earth.
- 1958---Interstate highway network in the US started.
- 1958---NASA established by US President Eisenhower.
1962, 20 February---John Glenn becames first American in orbit.
- ---5 May---Allan Shepard becomes first American in space, completes 15-minute suborbital hop.
- ---25 May---US president J.F. Kennedy announces project to land human on Moon within decade.
- ---14 December--Mariner 2 (launched August 27) passes by planet Venus.
1965---HARP cannon operated on Barbados.
- 1962---The placing of Soviet Missiles on Cuba produces international crisis, which ends when the missiles are withdrawn.
- 1963---President J.F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
- 1963---Nuclear test ban treaty
1968, 21-7 December---Apollo 8 with three astronauts loops around the Moon, returns to Earth.
1969, 20 July---Apollo 11 astronauts land on the Moon.
1970, 11 February---First launch of a Japanese spacecraft, by Lambda 4S rocket.
- ---23 March---first Gemini flight, carrying 2 US astronauts together.
- ---14 July---Mariner 4 passes above Mars, returns first pictures.
1971, 2 December---Soviet Mars 3 entered orbit around Mars, landed capsule which transmitted for 20 seconds.
1973, 2 March (5 April)---Pioneer 10 (11) launched towards Jupiter, arrives 4 December 1973 (5 December 1974; Saturn, 1 September 1979)
- ---11-17 April---Apollo 13 astronauts narrowly escape failed spacecraft.
- ---24 April---First launch of a Chinese satellite, by the Long March 1 rocket.
- ---17 November---Soviet Russia lands remotely controlled vehicle (Lunokhod) on the surface of the Moon.
1974, 29 March---Mariner 10 (launched 3 November 1973) flies past the planet Mercury.
1975, 8 June---Soviet Venera 9 lands on Venus, returns pictures
- ---1973, 14 May---Skylab space station launched (astronauts follow later).
- 11 June---Venera 11 also lands, takes pictures.
1975---Viet Nam war ends.
1975---Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak create the first personal computer, the "Apple"
1976, 20 July---Viking 1 soft-lands on Mars, takes pictures, searches for life.
1977, 5 September (August 20) ---Voyager 1 (2) launched towards Jupiter. arriving 5 March (9 July) 1979, continuing to encounter Saturn 12 November 1980 (26 August 1981) . Voyager 2 continued to Uranus (25 January 1985) and Neptune (25 August 1989).
1979, 24 December---First flight of Europe's Ariane rocket.
1981, 12 April---First flight of the Space Shuttle.
1986, 6 March---Russia's Vega 1 flies past Comet Halley, after dropping French balloon experiment on Venus.
- 1981---AIDS begins spreading in the US.
1988, 15 November---Soviet space shuttle "Buran" conducts its first (unmanned) flight.
- --14 March--Europe's Giotto flies past Comet Halley.
Author and curator: David P. Stern, email@example.com
Last updated 6 March 1999