While writing about the moon landing I remembered how struck I was last year by the number of 40th anniversaries that occurred during the year. What was it with 1969, that so many momentous things happened? I suppose you could say that the planets were in alignment (though I don’t believe in any of that astrology rubbish), but there were certainly societal factors and technological advances coming together. The world was changing. I also can’t say that 1969 was necessarily any more momentous than any other given year, but to me it seems that there were a lot of firsts, and unprecedented or important events with long-lasting effects.
Of course there was the moon landing, described by some as the most important event of the century, and the culmination of a century’s worth of steady advances in flight and space travel. Apollo flights 9 through 12 occurred during 1969, with 11 being the first to put men on the moon. This was only 66 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight by a heavier-than-air craft in 1903, and 43 after Goddard’s first liquid-fueled rocket flight in 1926.
The Vietnam war was still going, but there was the start of troop withdrawals, and the ugly incident at My Lai.
It was a great year for technology, with the first artificial heart, the first ATM, invention of the CCD which is the basis for all of our digital cameras, the first message sent over ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, the invention of the Unix operating system for computers, and the first colour TV broadcasts in the UK. That year we also saw the maiden flight of the 747, an iconic jet airliner still in use today in updated form, and the first test flight of the supersonic Concorde.
In music, we saw Led Zepplin’s first album, the last Beatles concert, which was an impromptu event on the rooftop of their record studio, the release of their Abbey Road album, Elton John’s first album, the Woodstock festival, and the Altamont concert.
Two events that year led to greater attention being given to the conservation movement: the Santa Barbara oil rig blow-out, which has been in the news again because the BP oil rig catastrophe this month and which in 1969 led to the creation of Earth Day a year later, and the Cuyahoga River fire which led to the creation of the EPA.
The Stonewall riots led to the start of the gay rights movement. American Indians took over Alcatraz Island to get attention for their grievances. Charlie Manson and his “family” committed the Tate/LaBianca murders. Edward Kennedy had a little incident at Chappaquiddick. The AIDS virus was first detected in the U.S.
On TV, we had the premiers of the Brady Bunch, Sesame Street, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The New York Mets won the World Series.
In commerce, Wal-Mart stores was incorporated, and the first Wendy’s restaurant opened, as did the first GAP store. It was the end of the Saturday Evening Post.
I’m sure that we could put together a similar list of events for most years; just look for any year on Wikipedia. But how many other single years include such a momentous firsts in technology or popular culture? Something was definitely in alignment that year.