Can You Name These Transformative Events from the '60s and '70s?

Zoe Samuel

Image: Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox

About This Quiz

The Twentieth Century was a very dramatic and significant period in human history. It saw the final collapse of feudalism's last vestiges as monarchies toppled and empires fought wars that broke even the victors. It saw a rewriting of the social contract: between men and women, capital and labor, people of different races and sexual orientations. It was a time of unique evil and tremendous hope.

Just as the first half of the century got most of the evil, the second half got most of the hope. The gains of movements that began in the 1800s began to bear real fruit, as women started to clock up wins for equality beyond the vote, Civil Rights reforms were enacted, and millions of people worldwide threw off colonizing forces to create independent democracies. Meanwhile important technologies from the personal computer to the Pill to the space race transformed the possibilities of our lives and set the stage for the digital age.

The 1960s and 1970s were a key time in this transformation. Indeed, they represent the peak of income equality in the United States! They also represent a time of technological, social and political change. It mostly wasn't as bloody as the first half of the century, thank goodness, but it was just as dramatic. How well do you remember it?

What is this murderous event that took place in China during the late '60s and early '70s?

The Cultural Revolution was when communist leader Chairman Mao decided to purge a great many potential rivals and "renew" the spirit of the Chinese revolution. At least three million people died violently and up to a hundred million were displaced from their homes, subjected to starvation or otherwise brutalized.

What happened 250,000 miles from the Earth in 1969?

The moon landing was a huge turning point as it represented mankind's first step onto a foreign body. It was also a key point in the space race and helped develop a lot of technology that turned out to have all sorts of useful applications. Indeed, the device on which you are reading this almost certainly had an ancestor built in part by NASA!

Do you know which transformative book was published in the 1960s by Betty Friedan?

Betty Friedan's book finally helped put a name to a problem that millions of women were experiencing. While most women outside the upper classes always worked, the 1950s had seen such prosperity that for the first time, many wives in (white) working and middle-class families were expected to be absent from the workplace en masse. Many of them found solace when Friedan's book told them they were not the only ones who were unhappy with this arrangement.

Seventeen sub-Saharan countries did what exciting thing in 1960?

Fourteen of the countries to gain independence that year were French colonies, alongside Italian and German colonies. The newly freed nations have had varied experiences since then, with some achieving democratic governance, peace and rapidly rising growth, while others have had a much rockier road.

Which scientific field was introduced in 1960 by a paper written by physicist Richard Feynman?

Nanotechnology hasn't done as much yet as people initially hoped or feared. The planet has not been reduced to "gray goo" and we don't all have tiny doctor nanobots running through our veins. However, it's clear that we may soon risk the former and enjoy the latter! Feynman is the father of this field, starting in 1960.

Do you know the name of the tiny technology that absolutely rewrote the shape of society, launched in 1960?

The contraceptive pill was the first truly reliable way for a woman to decide when and if she would become a mother. This was very important in enabling women to get out of abusive situations and maintain economic independence. Early pills gave way to much lower-dose varieties with fewer side effects.

Who died Dallas in 1963, altering world history notably?

There are plenty of conspiracies around the death of JFK, and they will probably never be put to rest. What we do know is that LBJ became president as a result of it, and this was transformative in US history, especially in the areas of Civil Rights and the Vietnam War.

Something was constructed in the early '60s that then shaped world politics for 27 years. What was it?

The Berlin Wall was designed to separate democratic and free West Berlin from the communist East Berlin. Families were separated and the east began to get more and more impoverished. The wall came down in 1989, and has now been down longer than it was up.

What happened not far from Florida in 1962 that came very close to ending the world?

The Cuban Missile Crisis almost resulted in World War III when the Russians decided to point nuclear missiles at the US from Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. After 13 tense days, things ended without violence thanks to backchannel communication and the threat of mutually assured destruction.

In 1964, something was created that began to address historical racist injustices in the US in a legal way. Do you know its name?

The Civil Rights Act was a key law that began to undo the legal segregation practiced in many states, part of the legacy of slavery. The law ended legal discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, and thus required integration of schools and other public spaces.

Which overseas event occurred in 1968 that cost many American lives, far from American soil?

The Vietnam War was considered winnable until the Tet Offensive, when the Vietcong attacked simultaneously all over South Vietnam. The Vietnam War resulted in 50,000 American dead and an estimated 2.25 million Vietnamese dead, all without achieving its intended goal.

A seemingly minor crime occured in 1972 that altered the presidency forever. By what name is it known?

Watergate was seen as a very minor event without a connection to the presidency, but it escalated hugely in due course, as the criminal coverup did involve the president. By the end, Nixon had to leave office. Former Nixon aide Roger Ailes made it his life's work to try to prevent such an investigation from ever occurring again.

Which Liverpudlians reshaped music and wider culture in the 1960s?

The Beatles began in 1960 and continued working together until 1970, after which they each went on to tremendous solo success. Their music changed cultural history, and their message of pacificism was widely adopted by their fans.

Which group that disagreed with Martin Luther King's primarily pacifist approach helped the Civil Rights movement make headway in the 1960s and '70s?

While Dr. Martin Luther King was considered to be a great man in part because of his message of peaceful protest (among many other reasons), not everyone agreed. The Black Panther movement, led by Malcolm X, took a more muscular approach to protest and civil disobedience. Both approaches had a great influence on how the Civil Rights battle was fought.

The course of the LGBTQ+ rights movement changed in 1969 thanks to what event in Lower Manhattan?

The Stonewall riots were sparked by police brutality toward gay men who met at the Stonewall Inn, which they considered a safe haven. The LGBTQ+ community fought back and many were arrested. It was a turning point in the struggle for gay rights.

Who won a landslide re-election campaign in 1971?

Indira Gandhi won several elections, though it's not clear how many more she could have won as her own bodyguards murdered her in 1984. Gandhi served a total of 15 years as India's Prime Minister, in two separate terms of 11 and four years respectively.

What unfortunate series of events lasting 30 years in Ireland began in 1968?

The massacre that came to be known as "Bloody Sunday" was an act of police brutality by authorities against Irish civilians that resulted in 13 dead. The next 30 years were marred by sectarian violence and terrorist attacks against civilians in Britain and Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement put an end to this in 1998.

Do you know what happened in China in 1972, transforming the global map and setting the stage for today's geopolitical landscape?

Nixon's criminality is the part of his presidency with which people tend to be familiar, but his legacy is more complex. By opening up trade with China, he changed the course of world history and helped to break the stranglehold of the Soviet Union on the eastern hemisphere.

Do you remember what event at the Munich Olympics caused a major international incident in 1972?

The secular nationalist Black September group took Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Games, killing them along with a German police officer. Israeli security forces later tracked down the responsible parties and killed them in revenge.

In the late '70s, the map of the Middle East and Central Asia changed in a way that reverberates today. What happened?

The Iranian Revolution ushered in the current theocratic dictatorship under the Ayatollah, deposing the Shahs who headed Iran's monarchy from 1953 to 1979. However, before this period it was a democracy whose elected leader was ousted by British and American security services in favor of a more amenable ruler. Thus, the current situation is considered by many to have a certain irony to it.

Can you name the building complex, a symbol of international trade and cooperation, that opened in New York in 1973?

The World Trade Center was built to symbolize international trade and cooperation (and, depending on who you ask, capitalism). Its most iconic buildings, the Twin Towers, only stood for a few decades before terrorists destroyed them in 2001, murdering nearly 3,000 people.

Who was publicly forced to retract his statement that no woman could defeat him at his chosen sport?

In 1973, female player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the game known as "the Battle of the Sexes". Riggs was 20 years past his physical prime but still maintained that no woman could defeat him, even a current champion. King won in straight sets, taking home a substantial prize.

Which historical occasion caused cars to have to wait on line for gasoline in the '70s?

The energy crisis occurred when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries put an embargo on oil to try to pressure Israel's allies over the Yom Kippur War. It resulted in higher energy prices but did not get the result OAPEC sought. The group is now called OPEC, having added several non-Arab members.

A political movement in Cambodia in the 1970s killed two million people. What was it called?

The communist movement in Cambodia was known as the Khmer Rouge, and their rule under leader Pol Pot was a particularly bloody period. From 1975 to 1979, they left 1.7m dead in the "Killing Fields," a time marked by horrifying images of thousands of skulls piled up on top of each other.

Which incredible machine broke all aviation records in the mid-'70s?

This exciting airplane flew at 50,000 feet and could cross the Atlantic in three hours. However, it was inefficient, expensive and annoyed everyone who had to listen to it roaring by overhead. It was taken out of service on Oct. 24, 2003, after a horrific crash. Fortunately, technology developed for Concorde is now being redeveloped into similar "scramjets" that throw their sonic boom upward and use far less fuel, meaning that a UK-Australia flight in three hours may be in the cards soon!

Can you name the movie that changed the landscape of cinema, debuting in 1977?

"Star Wars" is absolutely ubiquitous now, but it had many studio executives nervous before it launched. It was an instant smash hit, breaking plenty of records and going on to become the biggest movie franchise of all time. It employed a number of practical, camera and special effects that transformed cinema for good.

What world-altering tech behemoth was created in 1975?

Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 and rapidly came to dominate the home computer market. IBM, the previous Goliath of computing, was caught asleep at the switch, though it recovered later. Microsoft continues to be a giant of the industry, and it can be hard to remember that it was once a scrappy (albeit well-funded) start-up.

Which beloved household item made its 1977 debut and changed homes forever?

While PC gaming took a long time to take off, the Atari was an affordable and fun alternative that took games out of the arcade and brought them into the home. It was initially only seen in more affluent homes, but now just about everyone has a Playstation or similar heir to this very first domestic gaming console.

Do you know whose birth in the late 1970s represented a landmark achievement in the history of fertility science?

Louise Brown was born in 1978, the first baby to result from IVF, or in vitro fertilization. Brown is now in her 40s and a mother herself. Since her birth, five million babies have been born by this amazing scientific method!

Two Middle Eastern nations finally made peace in the '70s after years of being at one another's throats. Who are they?

In 1978, the leaders Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shook hands in a meeting brokered by US president Jimmy Carter. Since then, Egypt and Israel have not always been very friendly, but they haven't had a war or shot at each other (officially).

When Harvey Milk won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, what barrier did this break?

Harvey Milk ran multiple times for office but lost largely because of prejudice against his sexuality. He refused to live in the closet, however, and continued to fight for gay rights and acceptance, winning election eventually.

Which new-fangled device took music portable in the 1970s, paving the way for today's players?

The Walkman was the first alternative to lugging a boom box around if you wanted portable music, and it took the world by storm. Now, everyone's phone contains a music library, but it all began with humble cassettes.

Why did 140,000 Americans have to evacuate an area of Pennsylvania in 1979?

The Three Mile Island disaster not only resulted in 140,000 Americans having to flee their homes, it also set back support for nuclear energy by decades. Indeed, this form of energy is still highly controversial, as some fear further accidents and the issue of waste, while others support it as a carbon-free alternative to oil, natural gas and coal.

The juntas ruling Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay began a combined action in the 1970s, in order to keep power. What is its name?

This sad series of events involved these South American dicators rounding up and killing their enemies en masse. It was a time of cooperation between rival leaders who wanted to get rid of dissidents who stood up to them. Since then, some of these nations have successfully kicked out the juntas and become free democracies.

Who won the first of three electoral victories in the UK, changing its history forever?

A controversial figure, Thatcher made some great and some terrible calls. She is thus loved and loathed in equal measure by British people, such that on one hand, there are quite a few statues of her, and on the other, the musical "Billy Elliot" contains an entire song looking forward to her death.

How did the Soviet Union horribly undermine earlier progress in nuclear disarmament in the late 1970s?

As the US and Britain have learned, the famous saying is correct, "Never get into a land war in Central Asia." However, the USSR also learned this when it tried to pacify Afghanistan, which is famously intractable. The US helped local mujahideen push back, offering funding throughout the 1980s. This went very wrong later when one of these groups became al-Qaeda, in a case of something that sounds so absurd it has to be a conspiracy theory, but isn't.

In 1960, what event forever changed the way US politics occurs, altering the kind of candidate who could win?

If you saw this debate on TV, Kennedy crushed Nixon, but if you heard it on radio, it was the other way around—or so said the polls. This debate was the first time that being very handsome became a debate tactic. Since then, other candidates have been obliged to overcome any opposing good looks through diverse tactics such as being more entertaining, pandering to the lowest common denominator or being a far superior debater.

Do you remember which fiasco took place in the early '60s that did not succeed in removing a communist dictator?

The CIA sponsored a rebel group trying to depose Fidel Castro in 1961. It was a disaster that resulted in a number of lives lost and Castro more entrenched than ever. Multiple failed attempts to kill him had a similar effect, and he lived to a ripe old age.

Now essential in all sorts of computers, medical equipment, weapons, and other places, what device was born in 1960 to much public fanfare?

Professor Theodore Maiman stunned the world in 1960 when he debuted something called Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, or "laser." It is now a very popular technology in civilian and military use, and shows up in many science fiction movies as well.

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