Travel on an amazing journey to discover key events in the history of Massachusetts, from earliest times to the present day.
An Ancient Land
Massachusetts is an ancient land. People move into North America’s northeast after an ice age, which shapes its distinctive coastline. They hunt caribou and small animals. Adapting to their environments, humans hunt in the forests and fish the abundant waterways. Later, people will live in villages and start growing crops.
Native people live in Quonehassit harbor, site of modern-day Boston, building huge weirs to trap fish. Massachusett, Nipmuc, and Wampanoag people are among Native groups, whose complex societies often include female elders. “Massachusetts” is a Native word thought to mean “near the great hills,” from which the state gets its name.
John Smith, an early leader of an English settlement in Virginia, sails from Maine to Cape Cod, exploring the coastline. He names the region “New England,” reporting that it is blessed with an “excellent climate” and promotes it as an ideal location for colonization. European fishermen had visited the region for decades, but did not settle.
Native villages along the New England coast are virtually wiped out at the height of a plague. A combination of diseases hits local populations. The epidemic started in 1616 and is said to have been spread by European traders and fishermen. Later it will be called the “great dying.”
Deadly Disease from Ships Kills Entire Villages
The Mayflower Compact
Sick and weary after weeks at sea, the Mayflower Pilgrims land in New England, north of their intended destination. Off modern-day Provincetown, they sign a compact, agreeing to a self-governing body to create “just and equal” laws. The Mayflower Compact is an early example of democracy in America.
Epic Journey to a New Life
A group of English Separatists—including some who earlier migrated to Holland—set sail from Plymouth, England, for North America in the Mayflower. The “Pilgrims” are making this grueling journey to establish a colony with the freedom to practice religion as they want.
Mystery Ship Arrives
The Pilgrims establish Plymouth Colony on the site where a Patuxet village ravaged by disease once stood. The harbor is shallow and there is a plentiful supply of clean spring water. In the midst of winter, they rapidly build homes for shelter. Samoset, a Native man who speaks some English, will visit the settlement and bid them welcome.
English Plant Colony…Clearly Mean to Stay
The first winter in Plymouth Colony claims the lives of many Pilgrims. Tisquantum, or “Squanto,” a Native man, shows survivors where to fish and how to plant corn using fish as a fertilizer. He spent several years in England after being kidnapped, and becomes the translator between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people.
Massasoit, whose Wampanoag people are depleted by disease and threatened by rival Native groups, makes an alliance with the Pilgrims. He has reason to be suspicious of them at first: before their arrival, Europeans kidnapped Native Americans and sold them into slavery.
Massasoit Makes Historic Alliance
The First Thanksgiving
Despite many hardships, Plymouth Colony survives, led by Governor William Bradford. About 50 Pilgrims celebrate with a feast and about 90 Native people join them. The Pilgrims hunt “fowl”—including turkeys; Native people bring deer. The event inspires today’s annual national Thanksgiving.
Colony Says Thanks For Healthy Harvest
Trial by Jury
Plymouth Colony is credited as the first place in America to establish trial by jury. Its legislature, the General Court, rules that all criminal cases, as well as matters of trespass and debt, should be tried by 12 “honest men” in the form of a jury. It is a milestone in American legal history.
John Winthrop and the Puritans
A large group of Puritans leave England for New England. John Winthrop says the Massachusetts Bay Colony will be like a “City upon a Hill” with “the eyes of all people” upon them. The Puritans believe they are heading for a “Promised Land,” and Winthrop will be the colony’s most influential governor.
Boston is established
The Puritans arrive in Massachusetts Bay and search for a place to settle. They select the Shawmut Peninsula. The name “Boston” is said to have been chosen by Isaac Johnson, a colonist who once lived in the English town of Boston.
Birth of Boston
America's First Public School
Boston Latin School is the first public school in America, with a subscription raised for a schoolmaster. Later, Native people will be taught free of charge. Early students are John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, William Hooper, and Robert Treat Paine, all signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Harvard is Founded
A college is founded by the Massachusetts Bay Colony across the Charles River from Boston. It will be named for John Harvard, a minister who donates his library and much of his fortune. Harvard is located in “Cambridge” after the English university, and will become a world center of learning.
Puritan leaders in Massachusetts become intolerant of other religious groups and banish those whose beliefs are different from their own. Anne Hutchinson defends her right, as a Christian woman, to preach in Boston. She is expelled and will settle in what is today Rhode Island, whose principal founder, Roger Williams, is also expelled.
The First Printer
London-born Stephen Daye is credited as the first printer in colonial North America after moving to Massachusetts. He prints the Oath of a Freeman, a pledge made by members of the Massachusetts Bay Company. His Whole Booke of Psalmes (the “Bay Psalm Book”) is said to be the first book published in the North American colonies.
Puritan Praying Towns
Puritans establish “Praying Towns” to convert Native peoples in Massachusetts to Christianity and controversially, replace their ancient way of life. With the help of Native people, John Eliot translates the Bible into the Wampanoag language, the first complete Bible printed in America.
English Intensify Efforts to Convert
Members of the Quaker religion are hanged after refusing to be banished by Boston’s Puritans. Mary Dyer goes to her death for repeatedly re-entering Massachusetts. After the Quaker victims are hailed martyrs, Puritans slowly begin to tolerate other religious groups.
Martyr's Fights for Religious Freedom
King Philip's War
Conflict erupts in King Philip’s War. Metacom (King Philip), son of Massasoit, fights to protect his Native people and ancestral lands from further colonization. Native and colonial towns are destroyed. Metacom is killed—his head displayed on a pike in Plymouth for 25 years. Many Native families are enslaved.
Terrible Cost of King Philip's War
Borders take shape
The borders of Massachusetts begin to take shape. The Province of Massachusetts Bay is declared a colony of the English Crown, and will join up with Plymouth Colony. Maine is part of Massachusetts, but will later become a U.S. state. A royal charter allows voting based on property rather than religious qualifications.
Salem Witch Trials
Despite professing their innocence, 20 men and women are executed for witchcraft in Salem. Those who confess are spared. Their accusers include an enslaved woman and children gripped by fits. “Spectral evidence” sends the accused to the gallows, till the witch hunts are stopped.
Witch-Hunt in Full Swing
The Slave Trade
With a population of 12,000, Boston is boosted by the slave trade. Merchants load ships with rum and other goods in Boston, which are then sold in Europe. Profits are used to buy enslaved people in Africa, who are transported to plantations in the Caribbean—a tragic chapter in history.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers, spends his early life in Massachusetts. Born in Boston, he attends the Latin School, though he does not graduate. The future statesman and inventor flees to Philadelphia in a controversy over free speech. He will later discover electricity in lightning.
The Great Awakening
Preacher Jonathan Edwards helps to lead the Great Awakening from his church in Northampton. As part of the religious movement, evangelical preachers actively seek to convert others to Christianity, regardless of race or gender. Edwards reports that young people are waking up to God.
In Britain's global empire are 13 English-speaking colonies in North America. With the support of American colonists who serve as militias, Britain defeats France in the French and Indian War (or Seven Years’ War), and gains Canadian territories in 1763. Britain angers American colonists by imposing taxes to pay for the war, a major cause of the American Revolution.
No Taxation without Representation
The British government taxes its American colonies to help pay for the costly French and Indian War. Lawyer James Otis Jr. criticizes taxation without representation, fueling opposition to British rule. Later he will attack the Stamp Act which imposes a tax on printed materials.
No Taxation Without Representation
Massachusetts plays a vital role in the American Revolution. Boston-born Samuel Adams is said to be a founder of the Sons of Liberty patriot group. Rejecting Britain’s authority to tax the American colonies without their consent, he calls on them to unite in opposition.
Redcoats in Boston
As Boston edges toward open revolt against Britain’s colonial rule and its tax measures, British troops—known as redcoats—parade through the city streets, angering many citizens who say their liberties are being ignored. Many colonists see the soldiers’ presence as an act of hostility.
British soldiers kill five colonists and injure others in the Boston Massacre. Earlier, a mob dares the soldiers to shoot. Crispus Attucks, a man of color, is among the dead. Support for the American Revolution grows. To uphold law and order, John Adams, second cousin of Samuel Adams, will defend the British soldiers in court.
A Bloody Massacre
Boston Tea Party
In a daring protest against British rule, patriots—some disguised as Native American warriors—dump hundreds of chests full of British tea into Boston Harbor. The “Boston Tea Party” is a direct challenge to Britain and its unpopular “tea tax” on the colonies, which has become a symbol of Britain’s right to govern.
Boston Harbor Holds Protesters "Tea Party"
Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved woman, is the first African-American female poet to be published in Britain and the U.S. colonies. Purchased as a servant, she was educated by the Wheatley family. She eventually conquers the literary scene and also gains her freedom.
Paul Revere's Midnight Ride
At 10 P.M. on April 18, craftsman-turned-patriot Paul Revere races from Boston to Lexington to warn patriots that the redcoats are coming. British troops detain him before he reaches nearby Concord, but he is eventually let go. With the help of fellow patriots, his famous “midnight ride” spreads the word.
Lexington and Concord
The first shots of the Revolutionary War are fired at Lexington and Concord. The conflict at Lexington claims eight colonists’ lives. At Concord, patriots battle redcoats at North Bridge and gain the upper hand. As they retreat, the British are ambushed: 73 redcoats and 49 patriots are killed.
The Shot Heard Around the World
The British declare Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. They regard armed colonists as “traitors” and order General Thomas Gage to use force to stop them from stockpiling weapons. Patriots, meanwhile, set up Minutemen companies of about 50 men each. Conflict appears unavoidable.
The British win the Revolutionary War’s first major conflict, but the Battle of Bunker Hill, at Charlestown, is costly. Earlier, colonial forces had dug in on nearby Breed’s Hill, but retreat to Bunker Hill after several British assaults. The conflict confirms the need for the Continental Army.
British Victory at Bunker Hill Proves Costly
Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress, John Adams, nominates George Washington to command the newly created Continental Army. Arriving in Cambridge, Washington calls his troops “an exceedingly nasty and dirty people.” His challenge is to turn the men into a formidable force.
The 13 colonies eventually unite against Britain, declaring independence in 1776. Lacking representation in British government, the colonists reject Britain’s right to tax them. With French and Spanish help, the American colonies defeat the British. The Revolutionary War ends in 1783, and the United States of America is established. A new constitution creates a federal system of national government.
Washington's First Victory
A British fleet leaves Boston Harbor with thousands of troops aboard. The siege of British-occupied Boston is over, and George Washington’s Continental Army has its first victory. His men had taken the hills overlooking the city, and the British had evacuated rather than risk a bloody battle like the one at Bunker Hill.
The Declaration of Independence
Delegates to the Continental Congress sign the Declaration of Independence—an act of treason in British eyes. Massachusetts signers include John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Congress president. To this day, the expression, “Put your John Hancock on it,” is a way of asking for a person’s signature.
Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, and their children are inoculated against smallpox. The treatment follows experiments by Boston’s Zabdiel Boylston, who inoculates his son and others, though some die. Later, Harvard Medical School cofounder Benjamin Waterhouse will test a safer cowpox vaccine.
Brave Bid to Beat Smallpox
Free and Equal
Massachusetts creates a constitution, declaring that all men are born “free and equal.” Many believe the new “Commonwealth” abolishes slavery, making it illegal. But voting rights do not extend to women. Drafted by John Adams, it is now the world’s oldest functioning written constitution.
All Men are Born Free and Equal
Slavery is Abolished
Using the state constitution, slavery is effectively abolished in Massachusetts after a series of court cases. In two legal challenges, Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker win their freedom. In time, the Commonwealth will play a key role in the abolition movement to end slavery throughout the U.S.
The March on Springfield Armory
An uprising is led by Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays. Struggling to cope with tax and debt levels, farmers will march on a Springfield armory. Shays’ Rebellion exposes weaknesses in national government, influencing a convention that creates the U.S. Constitution.
The 6th State
Massachusetts approves the U.S. Constitution—the body of laws that will govern the newly independent United States—and becomes the 6th U.S. state. Its politicians play a key role in shaping the national constitution, though Elbridge Gerry refuses to sign as it does not then include a Bill of Rights.
US Constitution Inspired by Adams' State Model
The Columbia sailing ship is built in Massachusetts—the first U.S. vessel to travel around the world. It is said to give its name to British Columbia, a Canadian province. Later, the Command-Service Module of Apollo 11—which achieved the first manned Moon landing—and a NASA space shuttle will also take the ship’s name.
Springfield Armory makes the first musket in the U.S. Springfield was chosen by George Washington as the site of the patriots’ armory during the Revolutionary War, and later, was a target of Shays’ Rebellion. Springfield muskets and rifles will become world famous.
The Constitution, a 44-gun warship, is launched in Boston. U.S. Congress orders the ship and several others to be part of a new national navy, which will protect American vessels from French privateers and pirate raids. In the War of 1812, it will earn the nickname “Old Ironsides” after defeating a British warship.
President John Adams
John Adams, a Founding Father, first ambassador to Britain, and first U.S. Vice President—succeeds first U.S. President George Washington, defeating Thomas Jefferson to be elected second U.S. President. The Massachusetts lawyer will eventually move into the newly built White House in Washington, D.C.
John Adams Wins Presidential Race
The State House
The Massachusetts State House is completed in Boston. Designed by Charles Bulfinch, the elegant state capitol building is constructed on land once owned by John Hancock, the Commonwealth’s first elected governor. A time capsule by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere is buried in the building.
US Constitution Inspired by Adams' State Model
The U.S. expands in 1803 after buying the Louisiana Territory from France. The War of 1812 settles its northeastern border with British- controlled Canada. Later, the U.S. will acquire Florida from Spain, and take over Texas. It will defeat Mexico in a war and gain vast lands, including California—the climax of the belief in “Manifest Destiny” that U.S. expansion across the continent is certain to happen, and desirable, even at the expense of Native peoples.
Massachusetts is a pioneer of America’s Industrial Revolution. The Middlesex Canal connects the Merrimack River to Boston—one of the first engineering projects of its kind—and other canals follow, as well as early railroads. The Chain Bridge at Newburyport will be the first suspension bridge in the U.S.
The War of 1812
War breaks out between the U.S. and Britain over maritime rights, a conflict strongly opposed by Massachusetts. Coastal towns including Boston suffer a British naval blockade and forts are strengthened. The War of 1812 actually lasts until 1815, ending in stalemate.
Factories are springing up across Massachusetts, producing tools and paper, wool, and cotton textiles. Francis Cabot Lowell’s mill in Waltham is the first in the U.S. to turn raw cotton into finished cloth, all under one roof. The city of Lowell will be a center of the new age, named for this pioneer of industry.
New Dawn of Industry
Henry Hall, of Dennis, begins commercial cultivation of cranberries after discovering they grow better when sand is spread over them. Others adopt his technique, and “Cranberry Fever” grips Cape Cod as the industry booms. Long before European settlers, Wampanoag people enjoyed wild cranberries.
President John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams, a diplomat, and son of Founding Father John Adams, becomes the sixth U.S. President. He was chosen by the U.S. House of Representatives after all four candidates failed to win an electoral majority. He is named after John Quincy, a great-grandfather, for whom the city of Quincy is also named.
Son Follows Father to Presidency
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe’s first book of poetry is published without his name on it. The book is credited only to a “Bostonian.” Poe was orphaned as a child and served for a time in the U.S. Army at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor. The poet and master storyteller will become world famous.
Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison publishes The Liberator, a Boston newspaper that calls for the emancipation of all slaves in the U.S. Garrison, a white man born in Newburyport, is a founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society, inspiring many African-Americans to make their voices heard.
The Mashpee Revolt
Mashpee Wampanoag leaders protest at the state’s running of their reservation, and are angry at the theft of wood from their forests. The Mashpee Revolt, led by Native American preacher William Apess, will win back some self-rule, but Native property rights are seldom enforced.
Preacher Leads Mashpee Revolt
A Public Education Leader
Massachusetts becomes a leader in public education, championed by its new education secretary Horace Mann. As a result, teacher training colleges are established for the first time, such as Bridgewater Normal School (1840), later becoming Bridgewater State University.
Educational Champion Takes Seat
A Center for Abolitionism
Abolitionist campaigners are drawn to “forward-thinking” Massachusetts. Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery, joins a community in Northampton, while John Brown, a white man, moves to Springfield. Boston’s Beacon Hill becomes a center for free African-Americans and escaped enslaved people.
John Chapman, better known as folk hero “Johnny Appleseed,” dies. Born and raised in Leominster, he left Massachusetts for the Midwest, where settlers were starting farms. He became a legend after planting apple tree nurseries. In keeping with his nickname, he is said to have carried apple seeds on his travels.
Death of a National Folk Hero
Frederick Douglass gains a national reputation after his first autobiography is published, describing his earlier life as an enslaved man. Living for a time in New Bedford and Lynn, he is inspired by The Liberator newspaper of William Lloyd Garrison, and will become a national abolitionist leader.
Douglass Exploses Evils of Slavery
Thousands of starving Irish people begin immigration to America after the failure of their country’s potato crop. Previously the Irish came to Massachusetts to build canals and railroads or work in factories, but not in such great numbers. Many settle in cities such as Boston, but endure anti-Catholic prejudice and a life of poverty.
A demonstration by Dr. William T. G. Morton uses ether gas to make a patient unconscious during surgery. But the Harvard Medical School dentist, born in Charlton, will anger professional colleagues, who regard as selfish his pursuit of a patent that could make him a fortune from his discovery.
First Women's Rights Convention
The first annual National Women’s Rights Convention is held in Worcester. Lucy Stone, of West Brookfield—the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a college degree—is one of the main organizers. At the historic gathering, delegates hear speeches on women’s suffrage, equal wages, and property rights.
The Struggle for Women's Rights
Commercial whaling off Nantucket island dates back to the 17th century. As the industry expands, ports such as New Bedford flourish. The hunt for whales is brilliantly captured in Herman Melville’s classic story Moby Dick; or, The Whale. Commercial whaling is banned in the U.S. in the 1970s.
Earle Report Says Indians Not Suitable As Citizens
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau spends two years living beside Walden Pond, near Concord. The land is owned by fellow transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau describes his simple living in a book titled Walden; or, Life in the Woods, and is an inspiration to the early environmental movement.
American Civil War
One of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history starts in 1861 after 11 Southern states break away from the Union. They fear President Abraham Lincoln will ban slavery, on which their farming economy is built. Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, declaring that slaves in rebel states are free. The war ends two years later, with the Union restored and slavery ended. But Lincoln is assassinated and the southern states are devastated by war.
Union Victory Ends Slavery but Fights Goes On and On
Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe, a Boston resident, writes the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” after meeting President Abraham Lincoln. Earlier, she married the founder of what is now Perkins School for the Blind. Helping to lead the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, she will campaign for a “Mother’s Day” for world peace.
MIT is Established
As America’s industrial power grows, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is established to further scientific advances. It will become one of the world’s top educational institutions, famed for research and world-class experts such as Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
The 54th Regiment
The 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteers are among the first regiments of armed African-Americans to be organized by the northern states to fight in the Civil War. Men of the 54th are praised for their bravery when, with other Union regiments, they storm Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Many are killed or wounded.
Battle for Glory
Louisa May Alcott, daughter of transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott, pens the famous novel Little Women, the story of teenage sisters growing up in rural Massachusetts. She gains instruction from celebrated family friends, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Mashpee and Aquinnah
The Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag communities become citizens of Massachusetts when their reservations are incorporated as towns. They are given the right to own and sell their land without the need for state-appointed guardians. This further threatens the loss of the tribes’ common lands.
The Great Fire of Boston
A spark from a steam-powered boiler ignites the Great Fire of Boston. Hundreds of buildings are destroyed, including many commercial warehouses. The fire ruins the city’s wool trade and wrecks shoe and paper businesses. At least 20,000 girls are put out of work. The city creates new building regulations.
The First Telephone
A new era in communications begins when Alexander Graham Bell invents the first practical telephone after transmitting the human voice by wire. The Boston University professor, who works with deaf people, is awarded a patent for his invention. A call from Salem to Boston is one of the earliest over a long distance.
New Era of Communications
19th Amendment Proposed
Suffragist Susan B. Anthony, born in Adams, proposes a revision to an amendment of the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. Known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment,” it will not become law until 1920—as the 19th Amendment. She will be the first woman to appear on a U.S. coin.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) gives its first concert. Later, it will become one of America’s “Big Five” symphony orchestras. Lawrence-born Leonard Bernstein, who writes the music for the famous musical West Side Story, will be among many world-class conductors to make recordings with the “BSO.”
American Red Cross
Clara Barton, born in North Oxford, founds the American Red Cross. A nurse in the Civil War, she collected medical supplies for Union soldiers, and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield.” Under her leadership, the movement responds to humanitarian crises. A U.S. commemorative stamp will honor her.
Barton Founds American Red Cross
The AC electrical system
Working with engineer George Westinghouse, physicist William Stanley Jr. demonstrates his Alternating Current (AC) electrical system to light offices and stores in Great Barrington. His AC system allows electrical power to be distributed over wide areas, winning the “War of the Currents” with Thomas Edison.
THE POEMS of Emily Dickinson, a resident of Amherst, are published after her death, revealing her talents as a major U.S. author. She wrote almost entirely in private, preferring to avoid society. Now her secret is out, confirming once again that Massachusetts is a literary powerhouse.
Basketball is Invented
To keep students active in winter, gym teacher James Naismith invents basketball in Springfield. Students throw a large ball into peach baskets suspended from a balcony. The game will become one of the world’s most popular sports. Later, physical education director William G. Morgan invents volleyball in nearby Holyoke.
Take Aim for the Basket
The First World Series
The Boston Americans baseball team—later renamed the “Red Sox”—defeats the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series. The champions of the American and National Leagues meet in a post-season showdown. The Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston are mobbed by fans after the Americans’ victory.
Helen Keller is one of the first deaf-blind people to earn a college degree from Radcliffe women’s college, today part of Harvard University. Her autobiography tells the inspiring story of how, with the help of her teacher and companion Anne Sullivan, she learns to read, write, and speak.
Deaf Blind Student Earns College Degree
W.E.B. Du Bois
As “Jim Crow” laws enforce racial segregation in the South, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois cofounds the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which works for equal rights for people of all races. Born in Great Barrington, he is the first African American to earn a Harvard doctorate degree.
The Bread and Roses Strike
Textile workers in Lawrence strike against pay cuts for women, linked to enforced shorter hours. The plight of strikers’ children sent away to stay with families gains widespread attention. The “Bread and Roses” Strike unites immigrant labor, and mill owners end the dispute by raising workers’ pay.
World War I
The U.S. abandons neutrality in 1917, and declares war on the German Empire after public outrage at American deaths from submarine warfare. The 26th “Yankee” Division is formed largely from the Massachusetts National Guard, and is among the first to be sent to France as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. Germany is defeated, and the U.S. emerges as a world power.
Attack on Orleans
At the Cape Cod seaside town of Orleans, a German submarine carries out the only attack on U.S. soil during World War I. The submarine fires at the tugboat Perth Amboy, sinking several barges it is towing. Aircraft fire back, attempting to bomb the submarine. Enemy shells land in a marsh and on a beach.
Curse of the Bambino
George Herman Ruth Jr.—Babe “The Bambino” Ruth—is a star player for the Boston Red Sox baseball team. After the Sox sell Ruth to the New York Yankees, he leads the Yankees to four World Series victories. Sox fans blame the “Curse of the Bambino” for their team’s failure to win a World Series for 86 years.
The Molasses Flood
A giant tank filled with more than two million gallons of molasses explodes, releasing a “tidal wave” of the syrupy substance 50 feet high and swamping a Boston neighborhood. The Great Molasses Flood is a major industrial accident, claiming 21 lives and injuring dozens more.
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—and the 1920 Volstead Act, which makes the amendment an enforceable law—bans the sale of alcoholic beverages in an attempt to curb crime and poverty. Federal agents try to enforce the law, but organized crime gangs make fortunes from illegal alcohol sales. Prohibition is ended in 1933.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is officially adopted, giving women the right to vote in national elections. It follows their important role on the “Home Front” in World War I, when many women worked in transport or arms factories. Campaigners include the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Alice Paul’s militant party, whose members are arrested for picketing the White House. Massachusetts is the 8th U.S. state to approve the amendment.
A Great Day for Democracy
President Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge—former U.S. Vice President and Governor of Massachusetts—becomes the 30th U.S. President, after President Warren G. Harding dies suddenly. Presiding over the boom years of the “Roaring Twenties,” he will sign an act granting citizenship to all U.S.-born Native Americans.
Worcester-born Robert H. Goddard, a Clark University physicist, develops a liquid-fueled rocket that kicks off the Space Age. Goddard launches the rocket high into the sky in Auburn, and will be recognized as a pioneer of rocketry. He inspires an age of space flight and the development of new weapons of war.
The New Deal
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt launches the “New Deal” in 1933, creating jobs and relief for Americans hardest hit by the Great Depression—the worst financial slump in modern times. The program includes employment projects, experimental social welfare, and insurance programs to get America back on its feet. The Depression hits many Massachusetts industries, including textiles and shoemaking.
World War II
The U.S. enters World War II in 1941 when Japan bombs the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. Some 16 million soldiers serve in the American armed forces, and 400,000 are killed in action. In 1945, the U.S. becomes the world’s first superpower when Nazi Germany is overrun, and Japan surrenders after atom bombs are dropped on two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Yankee Division
The Massachusetts National Guard, which forms a large part of the U.S. Army’s 26th “Yankee” Infantry Division, will fight in Europe during World War II. Twenty-two men connected to Massachusetts will receive the Medal of Honor. The conflict also comes close to home: a Nazi submarine sinks ships off Provincetown, killing 93.
Civil Rights Movement
The struggle for equal rights for people of all races is inspired by Rosa Parks in 1955 after she refuses to give up her bus seat for a white person. Martin Luther King Jr., who received a doctoral degree from Boston University, later makes his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., imagining a world in which all people are treated equally. He is assassinated in 1968.
Springfield-Born Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel publishes The Cat in the Hat, one of more than 60 children’s books that he writes and illustrates. His stories, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, are among the most popular children’s works of all time. A museum in Springfield will honor him.
A Cat Hat-trick for Dr Seuss
John F. Kennedy is elected 35th President, the first Catholic to hold the office and one of the youngest ever Presidents. “JFK” is a World War II hero who represented Massachusetts as a Congressman and then a Senator. The nation reels in horror when he is later assassinated while in office, aged 46.
Robert F. Kennedy
President Kennedy hires his brother Robert F. Kennedy. Appointed U.S. Attorney General, “RFK” challenges organized crime and segregation. In the era of the civil rights movement, he champions laws to halt discrimination. Tragically, in 1968, RFK will also be assassinated like his brother.
JFK Death Shocks the World
Edward M. Kennedy, known as “Ted,” serves for decades as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. The brother of JFK and RFK, Ted continues the family’s political tradition. A personal scandal will harm his chances of becoming President, but he earns a legacy as one of America’s most respected Senators.
Roberta Louise "Bobbi" Gibb defies the authorities to become the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon. The marathon is a men’s division race, and women are not allowed to run in it. Gibb hides in a bush near the start, then quietly joins the race. Later, the rules will be changed to allow women to compete.
Bobbi Gibb Runs into the Record Books
Edward Brooke, a graduate of Boston University School of Law, becomes the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate by popular vote, where he represents Massachusetts. He champions the causes of low-income housing and an increased minimum wage.
Boston Celtics Victory
The Boston Celtics basketball team defeats the Los Angeles Lakers to win their eighth NBA title in a row. The Celtics will go on to win a total of 17 championships, more than any other team in the NBA. Over the years, the team’s greatest stars have included Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, and Paul Pierce.
Bobby Orr and the Bruins
The Boston Bruins hockey team defeats the St. Louis Blues to win their fourth Stanley Cup championship. Bobby Orr becomes a legend after scoring the winning shot with a “flying goal.” The Bruins are one of the “Original Six” hockey teams and will go on to future Stanley Cup victories.
The Wampanoag and Thanksgiving
Frank "Wamsutta" James of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe is asked to speak at the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. His remarks are censored and instead he makes his speech in Plymouth on Thanksgiving Day, sparking a trend for tribes to observe a National Day of Mourning instead of a Thanksgiving holiday.
Frank James Speaks Out
After the Massachusetts legislature ordered public schools to end segregation, a federal judge in Boston orders busing students to enforce integration. Many African-American and white students attend the same schools for the first time, but busing provokes riots in Boston.
The Challenger Disaster
The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes after takeoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including Boston-born Christa McAuliffe, who was to have been the first schoolteacher in space. In total, a dozen or more astronauts have come from Massachusetts. Others studied at MIT, including Buzz Aldrin.
Teacher Dies in Challenger Catastrophe
President George H.W. Bush
George H. W. Bush is elected 41st U.S. President. The World War II Navy pilot was born in Milton, and later moved to Texas. During his presidency, the Soviet Union collapses, he launches the Gulf War, and he negotiates an important North American trade agreement.
The Cold War
The U.S. backs nations threatened by Soviet expansion after World War II. Decades of tense nuclear-armed stand-off follow, with Europe divided by the “Iron Curtain.” The world narrowly escapes nuclear war when Russia plans to base missiles in Cuba. America will fight costly wars in Korea and—amid popular protests— Vietnam. The Cold War ends with the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
Jane Swift, who grew up in North Adams, serves as acting Governor of Massachusetts and is the first woman to hold the office. She is also the first governor to give birth while in office. She leads education reforms and campaigns to create the Department of Homeland Security after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
First Woman to be Made Governor
War on Terror
On September 11, 2001, hijackers use airliners to launch suicide attacks. Thousands are killed or injured, including more than 150 passengers and crew on two planes that take off from Boston’s Logan International Airport. Responding to the slaughter, President George W. Bush declares a “war on terror.”
Same-Sex Marriage Legalized
Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. It follows a landmark legal decision by its Supreme Judicial Court that to bar same-sex couples from marriage violates the Massachusetts Constitution, which declares the equality of all individuals. Thousands of same-sex couples marry.
Native American Census
A census finds 37,000 Native Americans living in Massachusetts. Wampanoag and Nipmuc people are among survivors of European colonization. They continue to maintain their cultural traditions and work to raise awareness of historical injustices.
The Boston Marathon Bombings
On April 15, two homemade bombs claim lives and injure many others at the Boston Marathon. Citizens adopt the slogan “Boston Strong” and an annual “One Boston Day” will be launched for people to donate food, give blood, or perform other acts of kindness for victims, their families, and others in need.
Boston Strong Spirit
The Massachusetts-based New England Patriots football team defeats the Los Angeles Rams, matching the National Football League (NFL) record for the most Super Bowl titles. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady becomes the only player in history to win six Super Bowls. In another historic moment, the first male cheerleaders perform.
Century of Sports Legends
With a diverse population of nearly seven million “Bay Staters,” Massachusetts is a leader in higher education, technology, and health care. A series of anniversaries will commemorate its rich heritage—from Plymouth 400 and Thanksgiving to the founding of Boston and its role in the American Revolution.
State to Mark Unique Heritage with 400 Years History