How Well Do You Know Historic Events From the Last Century?

Patrick Hyde

Image: Wiki Commons by Alberto Korda

About This Quiz

The 20th century opened with a series of wars in the Balkans that led to the massive catastrophe of World War I, an all-consuming conflict that changed the dynamic of world power. This conflagration happened amidst a series of major political upheavals including the ascendancy of communism, continued colonialism, and growing antisemitism.

War would continue to dominate the century, with horrible loss of life occurring during World War II in the form of the Holocaust and war crimes in Asia. Peace was not to last, as the victorious United States and the Soviet Union divided the world into competing spheres of hegemony, each offering different and incompatible world orders.

As the geopolitical stage shifted, so too did advancements in technology, science, culture, race relations and gender relations. Massive anti-colonial and civil rights movements led to the creation of many new countries and advancement in the quality of life for people around the globe. Humans explored outer space and communication revolutions delivered telephones, the internet and mass media. The growing population also led to environmental challenges with increased competition over dwindling resources. There is so much to cover over the eventful century, but can you name these important events that helped define the world we live in now?

Oh, the humanity! In 1937 a zeppelin airship exploded in flames over New Jersey. What was its name?

The future of air travel moved distinctly in the direction of airplanes after the explosion of the German airship LZ 129 Hindenburg in New Jersey. Newsreel caught the tragedy, which led to 36 fatalities and played all over the world. The zeppelin was soon retired from the air.

At the outset of WWII, the mighty USSR suffered staggering setbacks in the Winter War. Who did they fight?

While Nazi Germany was busy fighting in Poland and planning an invasion of Western Europe, USSR invaded neighboring Finland with the intention of setting up a puppet government. Finnish guerrilla tactics, temperatures reaching 45 degrees below zero, and an unprepared Soviet force led to a massive amount of Soviet casualties in the opening months of the conflict.

The Mexican-American labor movement protested low wages, worker exploitation and poor living conditions. Who is one of the movement's most iconic leaders?

Cesar Chavez experienced the worst challenges of being a migratory Mexican-American farm worker firsthand. Taking a cue from other labor movements across the world, he started the United Farm Workers union. He organized peaceful strikes and boycotts, earning him a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War escalated in 1964. Which event did the United States use as a justification for increased military action?

A clash between North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonking led to the passing of a resolution by the same name that would eventually justify full-fledged warfare by the United States against North Vietnam. No damage was done, and no U.S. lives were lost in the incident. The declassified Pentagon Papers later revealed that the U.S. misrepresented events to justify war with Vietnam.

After the carnage of WWI, which disease infected a third of the world's population, resulting in 50-100 million deaths?

The Spanish Flu of 1918 spread like wildfire following the end of WWI, claiming the lives of anywhere between 3-6% of the world's entire population. The estimated death toll tragically even managed to exceed the 37 million lives lost during WWI. Unlike most diseases that claim the elderly and sick, the Spanish Flu took the lives of many who were otherwise young and healthy.

The Space Race dominated headlines during the second half of the 20th century. What was the first probe in space named?

The Soviet Union scored the first win in the technological race between East and West to transcend Earth's stratosphere and reach space. Their Sputnik 1 satellite began circling Earth's orbit on October 4th, 1957.

What amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States?

After decades of lobbying in an effort that began at the Seneca Falls Convention, white women achieved full suffrage in 1919 after many failed attempts to move the legislation through Congress. Participation in the war effort helped sway favor in their direction, and white women were allowed full suffrage in the 1920 presidential election.

The French were down but not out after the German invasion in 1940. Who commanded the Free French Forces for the rest of the war?

Charles de Gaulle developed bold new strategies of tank warfare that were largely ignored by the French army, but used by German Panzercorps, during the invasion of France in 1940. Following the fall of France, de Gaulle formed the Free French and continued the fight in other theaters of war. He later became president.

Writers who had fought in WWI, like Ernest Hemingway and Scott F. Fitzgerald, belonged to what generation?

Gertrude Stein coined the term "Lost Generation" to describe the young men and women who endured the hardships and trials of World War I, in which over 37 million people lost their life. The typical attitude of the generation includes self-exile and spiritual suffering.

What revolution is Che Guevara most associated with?

Che Guevara was an Argentinian-born physician who became one of the most important revolutionary figures in the 20th century and remained a powerful counter-cultural signal. While he operated in several countries throughout Latin America and Africa, he is most known for helping the Castro brothers overthrow dictatorship in Cuba.

Nelson Mandela was an important figurehead against racially segregated apartheid in South Africa. What was the name for the white government?

The Dutch established a colony on the Cape of Good Hope way back in the 17th century and remained an important political presence in South Africa even after the fall to the British in the Boer War. They were instrumental in the apartheid regimes which began following WWII and lasted until 1994.

Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and other avant-garde artists shocked the world with what art movement, which portrayed many perspectives at once in unconventional geometric shapes?

A series of technological innovations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries collapsed traditional perspectives of time and space. To capture this new experience of perception, artists like Picasso and Braque portrayed objects in an abstracted form from many different angles simultaneously.

The Japanese empire expanded rapidly to obtain the resources it would need to fight a war in China. Which of the following present-day countries did it not occupy?

Japanese imperial conquest began with incursions into the Korean peninsula and north China in the early 20th century. By 1942, the Japanese had conquered many of their neighbors in Asia and the Pacific, but their control never extended to the islands of Fiji.

Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand caught a bullet in the head to start World War I. What long-ruling dynasty did he belong to?

A shadowy terrorist from the Black Hand group in Serbia brought the world to the brink of war when he assassinated the visiting Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Austria-Hungary had ruled Serbia after wresting the province from the Ottoman Empire.

A violent civil war gripped Spain during the 1930s. Who led the authoritarian Nationalist forces?

The Spanish Civil War was a conflict that lasted between 1936 and 1939 and resulted in the deaths of between 500,000 and 1 million people. The democratically elected Republican government fought with communists and anarchists against the right-wing Nationalist forces, which received endorsement from the Vatican and substantial military support from Nazi Germany and Italy. Francisco Franco emerged as the head of the Nationalists and ruled a dictatorship in Spain following the war until his death.

Israel secured independence in 1949 following a two-year long war, but that was far from the end of the conflict in the region. Which of the following wars did they NOT participate in during the 20th century?

Following WWII and the Holocaust, the Zionist goal of Israel was achieved when Britain agreed to cede the colony of Palestine over to Israelis for a new homeland. This decision caused considerable geopolitical unrest in the Middle East, with the Arab League attempting multiple times to oust the Israeli state. Israel did not participate in the North Yemen Civil War between royalist and republican forces.

Rapid advancements in technology facilitated scientific discover in the 20th century. Which of the following scientific advancements did NOT occur during the century?

The French physicist Henri Becquerel first discovered radioactivity in 1896, just missing the cutoff for this list. Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity in 1915, Georges Lemaitre advanced the Big Bang Theory in 1927, and Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996.

The Falklands War saw the British square off with which country over a group of islands?

The Falklands War saw the British and Falklands square off over a cluster of sparsely inhabited islands off the coast of Argentina. The British wanted to continue using the islands as a naval base, while Argentina claimed the islands belonged to them. A short conflict resulted in a British victory.

The Great Depression affected the whole world, but areas in the center of the United States faced great drought and crop failure. What was the region called?

Things went from bad to worse for the impoverished farmers living in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas when a series of terrible dust storms and drought made life unbearable for those living in the area. Many migrated west to California, as detailed in the novel "Grapes of Wrath."

The Russian Revolution shocked the world when Lenin overthrew Tsar Nicholas II in 1917. In the ensuing civil war, what were the royalist forces called?

Fed up with the autocratic rule, devastating losses during WWI, and terrible poverty, the Russian Bolsheviks upended the Tsar's government in 1917. The conflict didn't end there, though, with the Bolshevik Reds fighting the Whites for control of Russia in a brutal civil war that would last years.

One of the defining features of the Cold War was a nuclear arms race. Which of the following powers built a nuclear arsenal in the 20th century?

The French government under Charles de Gaulle advocated for a policy of self-determination, wanting to make sure that they did not have to rely on the United States for defense. France tested its first nuclear warhead in 1960, becoming the fourth country to become a nuclear power.

The 20th century brought many dramatic changes to the literary arts. Which of the following authors won a Nobel Prize in Literature and refused to accept their prize?

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to an outstanding author since 1901 by the Swedish Academy. All of the authors on this list were awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature during the 20th century, but the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre refused the award for personal reasons, leading to a scandal.

After WWII, the Soviet Union erected the metaphorical Iron Curtain of countries under its influence in Eastern Europe. Which country was not behind the curtain?

The Iron Curtain symbolizes the border between NATO-bloc states and Warsaw Pact states. These seven countries were under Soviet hegemony and operated communist governments. Greece did not belong to the group, opting to join the US-led NATO defense bloc.

Tragedy befell which Olympic games when 11 Israeli athletes were massacred by Palestinian terrorists?

An act of violence overshadowed the athletics at the 1972 Munich Olympic games. The Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes in an attempt to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners. A botched rescue attempt led to the death of all the hostages.

Northern Ireland experienced turbulent conflict throughout the second half of the 20th century. What is the understated name for this conflict?

The Troubles were a clash between the United Kingdom and Catholic Irish separatists in Northern Ireland, with the majority of the violence taking place between the 1970s and 1990s. Warfare included bombings, police massacres and violent street conflict.

Which female pilot disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937?

Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous adventurers from the exciting early days of flying. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a plane and held many other records before her disappearance in 1937. The other women on the list were pilots in the female flight club Earhart founded, the Ninety-Nines.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of oppression and division during the Cold War. When did it fall?

East Germany constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stem the flow of migration into the western portion of the city, where people could then escape communist rule. The 96-mile long wall divided the city until 1989 when the East German government announced people could freely cross.

Nuclear war loomed over the world during the Cold War. What is the closest the world came to destruction?

The Cuban Missile Crisis had the entire world on edge for 13 days in October 1962, when the U.S. and USSR had a major showdown with the use of nuclear missiles on the table. The drama surrounded Soviet plans to install missiles in Cuba just a few miles off the coast. The Soviet response was retaliation for the U.S. installing missiles right on its border in Turkey.

An African-American athlete shocked the world at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. What was his name?

Jesse Owens stunned the racist Western world in 1936 when he won four gold medals in track and field right in the backyard of Adolf Hitler, dealing a major blow to his theories of racial superiority. Owens ran for the United States, a country that was still segregated and dealing with racial animosity.

Can you name the style of warfare that Nazi Germany used to wage "lightning war" in WWII?

Germany was dragged down into a slow, grinding war of attrition in World War I. They wanted to make sure to avoid the same mistake the next time around and developed a fast doctrine of Lightening War called Blitzkrieg.

World War I saw the Allies square off against the Central Powers. Which nation was not a part of the Central Powers?

World War I was called the War to End All Wars, starting with the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Germany, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria represented the rest of what is known as the Central Powers, each with their own military goals.

The dark side of nuclear power was on full display in the meltdown of a power plant in what present-day country?

The Chernobyl Disaster occurred in 1986 when a nuclear reactor melted down near the Ukrainian city of Pripyat. The fallout was caused by an overheated reactor core and led to widespread death, shortened life expectancy and environmental catastrophe.

The 20th century was marked by many terrible genocides. One of the worst was in Rwanda when the Hutu majority killed up to a million of what ethnic group in the country?

The Holocaust, Armenian Genocide and the genocide in East Timor were a few of the horrific atrocities committed in the 20th century. Among the worst was the Rwandan Genocide, when the Hutu majority massacred up to 1 million of their Tutsi countrymen and moderate Hutus who opposed the violence.

This country remained the only independent African nation to escape colonialism until it was conquered by Italy in 1936.

European powers carved up Africa during the late 20th century, with empires including France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands ruling over African people. Italy owned territory in North Africa but failed to conquer Ethiopia in a war. They tried again in 1936, using chemical weapons and aid from Germany to briefly control the nation.

The Nazis committed innumerable atrocities during WWII. What was the name of the criminal trials in which Nazi officials were tried for war crimes?

The most famous trial of the 20th century took place between 1945 and 1946 when an international tribunal tried the senior figures in the Nazi government for their part in orchestrating the Holocaust and other war crimes. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler had already committed suicide, but other senior members were imprisoned or executed.

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