The 25 Crucial Events of the Second Millennium

Selected by Olle Järnefors and Reidar Österman, Stockholm, Sweden
[The Swedish version first published on the WWW on December 31st, 1999.]

=> In Swedish, please!

This is version Br1, 2000-01-17 (a news list is included).
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On this web page, we have created a list of the 25 most crucial events - in our opinion - for mankind as a whole during the second millennium, 1000--1999. We have divided them into four groups: discoveries, technological inventions, social inventions, decisive events. The page has several sections. At the end of each section, there is a navigation bar. To get a hardcopy of it all, including web addresses, simply print this page.



We got the idea to make this list when we saw a news report on Swedish television about a new exhibition, 1000 Years of Future Visions, at Nordiska museet (the Nordic Museum) here in Stockholm. (That is the official English name. A more faithful translation of the Swedish name of the exhibition would be: "1000 Years of Faith in Progress".) This exhibition was opened in the autumn of 1999 and intended to cover the most important events of the second millennium, In the news report the project leader was asked why the year 1968 had got a special room of its own in the exhibition. The reply was that 1968 was the most important year of the millennium, because "that was the year everything happened".

The perspective on the history of this millennium should be raised above that of people who were young at the end of the 1960's, in our opinion.

Start | Background | Discoveries | Technology | Social | Events | Time line | News | Data

Five discoveries

 1492  America
Columbus; the Native Americans did not manage to discover Europe first; the Chinese never reached America; the discovery of the Vikings came to nothing.

 1687  classical mechanics
Newton; the foundation both of the scientific conception of the world and of all more advanced mechanical designs.

 1796  smallpox vaccination
Jenner; the first effective medical treatment of a serious disease.

 1856  the theory of electromagnetism
Maxwell; made possible most practical applications of electricity, the first glimpse into subatomic phenomena.

 1905  the theory of relativity
Einstein; made clear physical limitations on what can be done, the nature of matter as frozen energy, the dependence of each other and the curvature of space and time, and the provisional and approximate character of scientific theories; no Nobel prize was awarded for the theory of relativity, though Einstein lived until 1955!

Other discoveries: 142x the central perspective (Brunelleschi). c1507 the solar system (Copernicus). 1522 Magellan's circumnavigation of the world. c1610 the tonality of major and minor keys (Lippius). c1666 the differential and integral calculus (Newton; independent of him Leibniz c1675). c1780 the classical-romanticist musical forms (Haydn). c1800 the modern atomic theory (Dalton). 1847 hospital hygiene (Semmelweis shows that childbed fever is caused by a contagion transmitted between patients via doctors and nurses). 1858 the theory of evolution (Darwin, Wallace). c1870 impressionism (the break of tradition that began modernism in the visual arts). 1900 blood groups (Landsteiner; Nobel Prize 1930). 1912 continental drift (Wegener). 1921 insulin (Banting + Best; Nobel Prize 1923). 1925 quantum mechanics (Heisenberg, Schrödinger; Nobel Prizes 1932, 1933). 1928 penicillin (Fleming; Nobel Prize 1945). 1929 the expansion of the universe (Hubble). 1953 the DNA spiral (Crick + Watson; Nobel Prize 1962). 1955 the teory of the immune system (Jerne; Nobel Prize 1984). 1965 big bang (confirmed by the cosmic background radiation; Nobel Prize 1978).

Start | Background | Discoveries | Technology | Social | Events | Time line | News | Data

Eight technological (re)inventions

 1346  gunpowder
the battle at Crécy; the first use of gunpowder for military purposes; the start of modern weapon technology and the arms race.

c1450  the printing press
Gutenberg; essential for the scientific revolution and for mass education, news-distribution, and the creation of public opinions (the Chinese invention in the 10th century of printing by means of detachable types had no global effects).

 1769  the steam-engine
Watt; this was the first in a long succession of inventions making it possible to replace man and animals by machines for performing mechanical work.

 1830  railways
the first track (Liverpool--Manchester) for public transport using mechanical operation; began the development of successively more far-reaching, faster, and cheaper mass communication of people and goods.

 1896  the radio
Marconi, Popov; the first technology for mass communication of sound (and later moving images in its refinement television).

 1935  nylon
Carothers; the first important man-made material substance, with properties not found in any inexpensive natural material.

 1948  the transistor
Bardeen + Brattain + Shockley (Nobel prize 1956); that electronic component which has made possible small, cheap and powerful computers and mobile telephones.

 1960  the contraceptive pill
Sanger + Pincus; for the first time gave women the power over reproduction and made possible the second phase of the emancipation of women, following legal equality.

Other technological (re)inventions: 101x the Western music notation (Guido from Arezzo). c1510 portable clocks. 1764 the spinning jenny (first machine for mechanized production, Hargreave). c1830 photography (Daguerre + Niepce; the invention of daguerrotypy was donated to mankind 1839). 1835 elektrical telegraphy (Morse, Cooke + Wheatstone). 1860 the internal-combustion engine (Lenoir). 1876 telephony (Bell, Grey). 1887 the grammophone (Berliner). 1895 moving photographic images (Lumière). 1903 aeroplanes (Orville Wright + Wilbur Wright). 190x distribution networks for electrical power. 1936 television (the first regular transmission to the general public). 1945 the atom bomb (Oppenheimer; no Nobel Prize). 1946 the electronic computer (Eckert + Mauchly). 1969 the first visit to the moon. 1993 Internet (not least web technology).

Start | Background | Discoveries | Technology | Social | Events | Time line | News | Data

Six social (re)inventions

 1088  universities
Bologna 1088, Oxford 1249, Paris 1253; the only institution and social milieu where free research and higher education can be pursued.

c1200  trade capitalism
Venice, Genoa, and Hanseatic towns; the early form of advanced economical organization that made possible the growth in population and prosperity of later centuries.

 1689  sovereignty of the people
the conception that the institutions of government are responsible for and shall be elected by the people and are not given authority by God: England from 1689, Sweden 1718 - 1772, France 1791 - 1799, USA from 1776.

 1695  freedom of the press
the conception that public authorities shall not prevent anyone from expressing his views and disseminate information to the public, irrespective of the subject, using the most effective means: the printing press (censorship abolished in England in the 18th century; full but short-lived press freedom in Sweden from 1766 and in France from 1789; press freedom in USA from 1791).

 187x  mass production and mass distribution
first in USA; the quick exploitation of technological advances, more efficient production methods, and distribution of products by means of mass media, advertising, and systems of mass transportation, which independent, profit-seeking companies further, together with the feed-back of consumers' preferences and appraisals of competing products on a free market, make possible a standard of living for most people in many countries at the end of the 20th century that is higher than even that of royalty and aristocracy in previous centuries.

 1913  general suffrage
together with sovereignty of the people and freedom of the press, it constitutes the essentials of a democratic government (Norway 1913, Denmark 1915, Germany, Poland 1918, Sweden 1921; woman suffrage earlier in non-sovereign states: Wyoming 1869, Utah 1870, New Zealand 1894, Australia 1902, Finland 1906; equal right to vote for all adult men: USA 1789, Great Britain 1832, France 1848, Sweden 1909).

Other social (re)inventions: c1200 insurance (insurance of sea transports). c1600 public postal service (Holland, France). 1602 limited liability comapnies (the Dutch East India Company). c1610 public news service (the first newspapers in many European cities). 16xx international law (Grotius 1625, the Peace of Westphalia 1648). 1723 reading education for all children (by law in Sweden). 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Start | Background | Discoveries | Technology | Social | Events | Time line | News | Data

Six decisive events

 1077  Henry IV in Canossa
King Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire did penance before Pope Gregory VII in Canossa. This prevented the Christian church from taking control of the secular power of sovereigns, by making the foremost weapon of the church, excommunication, impotent.

 1433  China gives up the prospect of world domination
The last Chinese sea expedition (under Zheng He) to Southern Asia, Arabia, and Eastern Africa returned to China, leaving the world open to the European colonialism and cultural dominance of later centuries.

 1699  the Turks are stopped outside Vienna
This meant that the decentralized power structure, religious pluralism, and relative intellectual freedom that Europe had achieved could be preserved and further developed in the scientific, industrial, and democratic revolutions.

 1776  the American revolution
This was the first anti-colonial and democratic revolution, which created a country powerful enough to eventually save Europe and Japan from three totalitarian dictatorships with global ambitions.

c1800  the population explosion
It started in Western Europe and spread throughout the whole world in the footsteps of improved public health and economic standard. In Western Europe it stopped in the 1930's. Since 1800, the number of living humans has increased almost sevenfold.

 1989  the collapse of communism
Because of its admirable goal and seemingly rational means, communism was the most seductive and therefore most dangerous form of totalitarian ideology that has hitherto arisen. Its sudden and complete collapse was notable for its very small cost in human lives lost.

Other decisive events: 1331 the Black Death breaks out in China (reaches Finland and Yemen 1351). 1453 the Turks conquer Constantinople. 1517 the Reformation (Luther). 1588 England defeats the Spanish Armada. 1848 the will of the People appears throughout Europe. 1865 Lincoln preserves the unity of the United States. 1914 the outbreak of World War I. 1945 the end of World War IIt.

Start | Background | Discoveries | Technology | Social | Events | Time line | News | Data

The time line

Here is an overview in chronological order of the 25 events during the second millennium that we consider have been the most important for mankind. The letter code at the end of a line indicates the category where we have put the event. In the section for this category, the importance of the event is further explained: [D] = discoveries. [T] = technological inventions. [S] = social inventions. [E] = decisive events.

 1077   Henry IV in Canossa [E]
 1088   universities [S]
c1200   trade capitalism [S]
 1346   gunpowder [T]
 1433   China gives up the prospect of world domination [E]
c1450   the printing press (Gutenberg) [T]
 1492   America (Columbus) [D]
 1687   classical mechanics (Newton) [D]
 1689   sovereignty of the people [S]
 1695   freedom of the press [S]
 1699   the Turks are stopped outside Vienna [E]
 1769   the steam-engine (Watt) [T]
 1776   the American revolution [E]
 1796   smallpox vaccination (Jenner) [D]
c1800   the population explosion [E]
 1830   railways [T]
 1856   the theory of electromagnetism (Maxwell) [D]
 187x   mass production and mass distribution [S]
 1896   the radio (Marconi, Popov) [T]
 1905   the theory of relativity (Einstein) [D]
 1913   general suffrage [S]
 1935   nylon (Carothers) [T]
 1948   the transistor (Bardeen + Brattain + Shockley) [T]
 195x   the contraceptive pill (Sanger + Pincus) [T]
 1989   the collapse of communism [E]

The time distribution of important events
[D] [Skip over ASCII diagram]

1000 1100 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 1900 2000
   o   #     #      #   o## #o  ooooo##o #o#o########o
       #     o      o     o oo   o   ##  # # ooo#o#o
                            o    o       o o ooooooo  

Legend:  #  one of the 25 most important events
         o  one of the 50 other important events

Start | Background | Discoveries | Technology | Social | Events | Time line | News | Data

What's new?

Ver. Date    News

Br1  000117  The year when the pill was approved as drug is 
             now given. Improved readability for non-visual 
             browsers. Some TITLE texts in the navigation bars 
             have been corrected. Minor cosmetic improvements.

B    000116  Lists with a total of 50 other important events 
             have been added to the four categories, as well 
             as a time line and a chronological list of the 
             25 most important events.
             The pill reclassified as an invention. Margaret 
             Sanger's rôle in its creation acknowledged.
             Copyright conditions according to OpenContent 

Ar1  000103  The first version of an English 
             translation of the Swedish original text in:
             => viktigaste-25-1xxx-lst.html.
             Fuller document data, including copyright notice.

A    -       There never existed any version A (due to version 
             co-ordination with the Swedish original).

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Document data

Authors:     Olle Järnefors (Stockholm, Sweden)
                e-mail:    <>
             Reidar Österman (Stockholm, Sweden)
                e-mail:    <>
                home page: <>
Title:       The 25 Crucial Events of the Second Millennium
Date:        2000-01-17
Version:     Br1

Description: This is a list with the 25 most crucial events
             - in our opinion - for mankind as a whole during
             the second millennium, including explanations of
             the importance of each event. Also 50 other 
             important events are noted.
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Alternative: => viktigaste-25-1xxx-lst.html
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