Postwar United States
The United States of America became the world's leading superpower as World War II ended in 1945. The following decades brought economic and social prosperity, remembered for counterculture, rock'n'roll, the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, the rise of suburban communities, and the development of nuclear technology.
The late 1940s had record high birth rates, creating a generation called the Baby Boomers. The Baby Boom was a phenomenon throughout the Western world and ended elsewhere — as in the U.S. — with the widespread availability of the contraception pill as well as an economic downturn in the 1960s. As these people are retiring during the 2010s, there is much nostalgia for the post-war decades.
This article focuses on locations important for American history from 1945 to the present day.
|United States historical travel topics:|
Indigenous nations → Pre-Civil War → Civil War → Old West → Industrialization → Postwar
African-American history • Mexican American history • Presidents
|“||I would turn to the Almighty, and say, 'If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.'||”|
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
While World War II in Europe ended in May 1945 and in Japan in August the same year, much of Europe and East Asia was devastated, with the United States and the Soviet Union remaining as major rivals. The Cold War lasted until the Soviet Union was dissolved at the end of 1991, with "proxy wars" such as the Korean War and the Vietnam War or the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, subsequent U.S. aid to the Mujahedin, and ongoing tension in Europe.
Perhaps one of the most substantial changes in the Postwar period was that most white Americans discarded their historical ethnic identities (e.g. Irish-American, Italian-American, or Polish-American), and now largely identify as simply "American".
Rise of the automobile and suburbanization
From the 1950s and onwards, America became the promised land of the automobile. Motorcars were primitive in the Roaring Twenties (Henry Ford and his "Tin Lizzie" Model T might have gotten up to 25 mph (40 km/h) on a good day, if any decent roads were to be found); the Great Depression brought much road building as a make-work project for unemployed workers, but few could afford new vehicles. World War II halted civilian vehicle manufacturing as the "arsenal of democracy" turned to making the implements of war, leaving a massive pent-up demand for mass-produced autos once the conflict ended. As the middle classes soon had a car in every driveway, population in the post-war era began to shift from the cities to suburbs. Political programs implemented on the federal level but also state and local policies encouraged this move to the suburbs, and the mass motorization of society. Drive-in cinemas and drive-in restaurants began to appear at roadside, along with inexpensive motels with bright neon signage competing for travelers increasingly taking to the open road. As network radio stars migrated to television in the 1950s, motorists began to expect lodgings with a television in every room. US Route 66 in particular has become symbolic of this era, in which the principal highways were surface streets which led right downtown, often as Main Street in every tiny village. Anyone could easily start an independent business at roadside to vie for travelers' dollars. As car traffic increased to unmanageable levels, President Dwight Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System - in part modeled after the German Autobahn Eisenhower had seen as a World War II general - began to gradually bypass many of these old roads with motorways through the 1950s and 1960s. The last piece of US Route 66 was bypassed in Williams (Arizona) in 1984; in some locations, towns died overnight. Attempts to revive the "historic route" for marketing as nostalgia tourism began soon after, with some properties restored to their original appearance in this era.
The rise of the automobile and of aviation — both enabled by billions and trillions of dollars in state and federal funding, loans and tax- and land-grants for the construction and maintenance of airports and highways — pushed other modes of transport to the side. The US has become one of the most car-dependent nations on Earth. The streetcars that had been installed in almost all major cities in prior decades were replaced by buses or discontinued altogether and passenger rail companies were on the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps nowhere was this development as striking and as visible as in Los Angeles, that went from having one of the longest streetcar networks in the world to having hardly any at all in the span of two decades. The creation of Amtrak is a direct result of President Richard Nixon freeing the railroads from their obligation to provide passenger service at huge losses by creating a federal entity to do that. Many entire city neighborhoods, particularly those dominated by non-white residents, were summarily demolished to make way for freeways, changing the faces of many U.S. cities forever. While almost all Western countries (and to a degree even the Eastern bloc) and some Asian ones underwent a similar development and the idea of the automotive city originated in Europe, nowhere but in the U.S. (and perhaps Canada, Australia and New Zealand) was the development so rapid and the consequences so visible to this day. American cities are still - with very few exceptions - less dense than their European counterparts and - arguably - designed to better accommodate cars with more space devoted to parking and four-, six- or even eight-lane thoroughfares right through downtown. While some of the most extreme developments have been turned back and even the streetcar is making a tenuous comeback in the 21st century, the average person will have to rely more on cars than on public transport, bikes or walking for getting around most American streets; see United States without a car. Freeway removal has also gained traction in downtown areas since the late 1980s, resulting in the revitalization of some blighted downtown neighborhoods into popular tourist attractions, some of the most notable and successful examples being those of San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway and New York City's West Side Elevated Highway. The Embarcadero Freeway was the first to go as it had been damaged during an 1989 earthquake, which incidentally hit when two Bay Area teams were playing the World Series. The mayor responsible for tearing down instead of replacing the damaged freeway lost reelection, but even those opposed at the time today largely agree that he made the right call, and other cities worldwide have followed his lead, or are in the 2010s having similar debates over freeways at or near the end of their useful designed lifespan.
Another side effect of the rise of the automobile was the increased racial segregation of American cities. In the years before the Civil Rights movement, this segregation was often legally mandated, particularly in the South. However, even in nominally integrated areas, efforts by non-white people to buy suburban homes were routinely stifled by banks refusing to loan money to them, or real estate agents refusing to sell to them. Meanwhile, in the inner cities, these same real estate agents would urge existing white homeowners to sell at deflated prices by stoking racist fears (known as "blockbusting"), while discouraging whites from buying (known as "redlining", as on city maps in many real estate offices, neighborhoods where whites were discouraged from buying were often outlined in red pencil). As inner city neighborhoods gradually filled up with more and more people who were chronically poor and denied access to good jobs and schools, crime and blight became rampant. City governments responded to this problem through a tactic dubbed urban renewal, whereby dilapidated homes were summarily demolished - sometimes dozens of blocks at a time - and replaced with public housing projects, the reasoning being that offering low-income communities new buildings to live in would cause them to take more pride in their homes and neighborhoods. Of course, this did nothing to solve the underlying problems of chronic poverty, unemployment, and discrimination, and in short order the public housing units became slums themselves. While redlining and similar practices became de jure illegal in 1968, they continued informally for some time thereafter, and for the rest of the century the perception of suburbs as white-dominated, safe, and well-maintained, and of inner-city neighborhoods as minority-dominated, poor, and crime-ridden, held fast. As the 21st century dawned, however, this paradigm slowly began to reverse itself: upwardly-mobile millennials nationwide are rediscovering the joys of city life, buying old houses in dilapidated neighborhoods on the cheap and restoring them to their former glory in a process called gentrification, while in many older suburbs the original white residents are aging and dying out, often replaced by middle-class black or Hispanic families seeking an escape from the inner city.
At the same time, some rural and even some suburban communities are "dying out" with all even remotely young and upwardly mobile people leaving in search for better opportunities elsewhere and only elderly people remaining. Some counties in the interior West of the country have less inhabitants today than in the 1890 census when the frontier was declared "closed". While some politicians are riding the resentment of many of those people into high office, nobody seems to have yet found a sustainable remedy for this issue.
Civil Rights movement and counterculture
The 1950s were idealized in nostalgia as having been an era of prosperity after the hardships of the war and depression, but this view is simplistic. People of color often encountered discrimination in lodging and food service when traveling; by the 1960s, African-Americans were stepping away from the back of the bus and demanding equal treatment in interstate commerce as part of the Civil Rights movement. Women who had occupied manufacturing jobs "for the duration" of the war, "Rosie the Riveter" style, were sidelined from the workforce in the baby-boom 1950s. By the 1970s they were returning to the workforce in great numbers; a second income meant a second car in the driveway for many households, but less time to cook led to an explosion in the number and variety of chains promoting fast food in North America. It has been said and can be argued that the 1960s were the most violent decade in American politics since the 1860s with the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, a new incarnation of feminism, the embryonic beginning of the gay liberation movement, and all types of political radicalism deeply dividing the country. Several high profile political assassinations took place in this decade, including civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, politicians Bobby and John F Kennedy (the latter while president) and even the presumptive Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Politically speaking this era was tremendously important with leaders on the left and on right either being influenced by or even part of the movements of this time or defining their career in opposition to them like Nixon, Reagan, Goldwater and to a certain extent the modern day Tea Party movement. In fact, Barack Obama was the first president since the 1960s who is not defined in public perception by the things he said or did in relation to 1960s phenomena like Vietnam or the counter-culture. Even the candidates in the 2016 election were sometimes attacked during the campaign for their stances on 1960s phenomena — Hillary Clinton for her support of Barry Goldwater and Donald Trump for his medical and college deferments during the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War was one of the first conflicts to be widely reported through television, and is held to be a turning point to the American perception of war. It became the last American war to date with active conscription; depiction of war in popular culture also turned from heroic to nihilistic.
Since the 1940s, the United States has dominated international popular culture, and the homeland of popular music genres such as rock and roll, hip-hop, and electronic music. Hollywood has become a metonym for mainstream American cinema and TV series, often set in the United States; see fiction tourism. The country also became a world leader in stand-up comedy and modern and contemporary art.
Up to World War II, Europe dominated academic research, with Germany being a forerunner in physics, chemistry and engineering. Before and just after the war many scientists migrated to the United States. In particular, the United States was one of the main beneficiaries of the exodus of Jewish scientists (such as Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr) from Nazi-occupied Europe. The United States launched many "big science" projects such as the nuclear and space programs and quickly came to dominate the new field of computer science, ultimately coming to boast more Nobel Prizes and top university rankings than any other country; see Touring prestigious and notable universities in the U.S. and Science tourism. Still, while other high-income developed nations have become increasingly secular over the past decades, many parts of the United States stand out as bastions of Evangelical Christianity, in particular the deep South and the Great Plains. The larger cities in the Northeast, West Coast and Hawaii, as well as Chicagoland are largely secular and liberal, and strongholds of the Africa-American rights, feminist and LGBT rights movements. Another striking trend since the 1980s has been one of increasing political polarization on a geographic and personal level. More and more Americans live in cities or counties usually dominated by one party at 20% margins or more. The divide is often simplified into Republican "red states" and Democratic "blue states", but even within "red states" strongly liberal urban centers and college towns exist, and many "blue states" have rural counties dominated by the Republican party. Today, Americans are less likely to associate with people of opposing political views if they can avoid it and according to polls, people are more at ease with a romantic relationship across religious or racial lines than one across party lines.
The Space Race
The Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik ("fellow traveler"), the first artificial satellite, into orbit in 1957 launched a race for Space which ended with NASA putting American boots on the Moon in 1969. Americans began to ask "if we can put a person on the Moon, why can't we do X?" and many predicted widespread space colonization by the end of the millennium. Cold War tensions continued, with the space race merely one more attempt to "get there before the Russians". Both sides knew the same technology which manufactured space exploration rockets could make intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry the weapons of a growing MAD arms race; this fueled a rivalry which ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Since the last Apollo mission in 1972, manned spaceflight has been restricted to low-orbit missions, now focused on the International Space Station. NASA remains world leading in unmanned probe exploration and observational astronomy, though it is increasingly being challenged by the Chinese in this regard. Despite perceptions, NASA funding never reached 5% of the federal budget even during the height of the Apollo program and today NASA gets a fraction of one percent of the federal tax revenue.
America since the Cold War
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States became the world's sole superpower. The years from 1898-1991 are often dubbed America's Century of Triumph due to its victories in the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Cold War, which led to the United States becoming the undisputed dominant power in the world. In 2001, the September 11 attacks left physical marks in New York City and Washington D.C., and started the War on Terror, which has defined the country's role in the world since then. Though the United States remains the undisputed most powerful nation on Earth, the resurgence of Russia and China has begun to erode American hegemony since the turn of the millennium.
While the 1980s saw the rise of alternative cultures such as hip hop and electronic music, they marked a peak in urban decay and street crime. As federal and state governments have escalated law enforcement since the 1980s in initiatives such as the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, crime peaked around 1990 and has dropped since then. With a strong tradition of gun ownership, and death by gunshot remaining higher than in other high-income countries, gun control is one of the country's most divisive issues. In the 2000s, the United States prison population reached record levels; while both federal and state governments have taken steps for drug legalization, community policing and reduction of the death penalty, many Americans remain concerned about government surveillance, police brutality and racial discrimination, expressed by protest movements such as Black Lives Matter.
Since the 1990s, stricter law enforcement, together with reduced air pollution and the rise of the service-sector economy, allowed many downtown areas to revitalize and gentrify. Public transportation and cycling see a renaissance in some American cities. While high-tech industries have flourished, especially in the "Sun Belt" of the South, the Southwest and California, the "rust belt" in the Midwest and upland mid-Atlantic has fallen behind, though its impressive heritage can be seen in the American Industry Tour. Cities like Detroit have been particularly hard hit by the "Great Recession" as the economic downturn starting in 2008 came to be known. While there are some signs of cities reinventing themselves it remains to be seen if they can bounce back.
Another landmark in the history of US civil rights would occur in 2008, when Barack Obama won the presidential election and became the first black person to be elected President of the United States. This era also saw two presidential elections with a split between the "popular vote" and the "electoral vote": Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 lost despite getting half a million and almost three million votes more, respectively. This had last happened before that in the 19th century, and it induced another serious attempt at reforming the electoral system mostly led by state governments and legislatures.
Decline of American manufacturing and rise of the tech sector
Ever since a peak in the decades after World War II, American manufacturing has undergone a steady, sometimes rapid decline. Reasons for this are manyfold, among them the rising cost of labor, especially compared to global competitors like China, automation making less workers necessary to produce the same amount of goods and arguably trade that made it easier to import cheaper goods from farther away. Some industries declined mostly due to other historical trends: when the days of the streetcar and expanding profitable passenger rail were over, there was much less need for anybody manufacturing rails, locomotives or trains. Others were made unprofitable by the local scarcity and rising price of once cheap and plentiful resources like coal or iron ore. "Union busting" may also have played a role as companies closed factories in the heavily organized Midwest and Northeast and moved them South where the Labor movement had either never gained a foothold or lost it by the time the industrial jobs arrived. This led to the decline of many Midwestern and Northeastern cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, which continue to suffer from urban decay, high unemployment and high violent crime rates. Still, this was the best of times as much as it was the worst of times as Silicon Valley and the Sun Belt gained more in tech and service jobs than the old industrial cities lost in manufacturing. Similarly, the U.S. has now more jobs in clean energies than there were in coal even during better times for the mining sector. The U.S. is among the global leaders in IT and the words of some entrepreneurs from the tech sector are revered as gospel in some corners far away from the U.S. Like other industries before it, the tech sector also grew through immigrants and their immediate descendants with people drawn to the creative environment that gave rise to Apple, Tesla Motors, Google or Amazon, all companies that were founded by immigrants or their sons as well.
In sports, this era saw the rise of professional American football as the dominant sport, replacing Major League Baseball. This was mostly a result of the decade-long rivalry between the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL) in the 1960s that resulted in their merger, and television exposure of every game on any given Sunday (though most games receive only regional exposure). Since the merger in 1970, one game every week has been played and nationally televised on Monday night, and now late-season games are televised nationally on Thursday night as well. The championship game of the NFL, known as the Super Bowl, is now the biggest event on the American sporting calendar, with the largest television audience of any American sporting game. Baseball, on the other hand, somewhat missed out on the TV trend (relying more on radio and personal attendance at the games) and, while still hugely popular, has been losing ground against football ever since. Both sports also saw the end of overt racial discrimination during this era. Starting with an AAFC (a short-lived rival of the NFL in the late 1940s, some of whose teams were later merged, including the San Francisco 49ers) team being forced to sign black players by the owners of LA Memorial Coliseum and the breaking of the color barrier in baseball by Jackie Robinson who made his debut for the (then) Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. To this day Major League Baseball celebrates the anniversary of the breaking of the color barrier by every player wearing Robinson's number 42, a number that is otherwise retired league-wide. While racism played a significant role in sport well after that, every major team had signed black players by the end of the 1960s, the last being the Washington NFL team that was forced in 1962 to sign black players in exchange for the use of federal property (their DC stadium).
Ice hockey in North America, particularly the NHL, began its growth from the era of the "Original Six" (those six teams that had survived the turbulent early phase of the NHL and the Great Depression and have managed to avoid bankruptcy and relocation) to an ever bigger league, ultimately spreading even to warm-weather cities with little prior tradition for the sport.
The fourth major team sport in North America, basketball, did not truly establish itself as a national phenomenon until the 1980s. Prior to World War II, professional basketball had been limited to either barnstorming (traveling) teams or industrial leagues that were mostly regional in nature. The National Basketball Association (NBA), founded in 1946, grew steadily through the 1950s and 1960s, and survived a significant challenge from the rival American Basketball Association (ABA) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The NBA partially absorbed the ABA in 1976, but the end of the decade saw declining TV ratings, low attendance, and perceptions of drug problems among its players. The rise of the NBA truly began with the arrival of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in 1979, and was further aided by the 1984 arrival of Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in the sport's history, and commissioner David Stern, whose 30 years in office coincided with enormous increases in league revenue and interest. This culminated in the formation of the "Dream Team" for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, when professional players were permitted to play for the first time. This team featured many all-time legends including the aforementioned trio of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, as well as Jordan's Chicago Bulls partner Scottie Pippen, and won all its games by huge margins on its way to the gold medal. The women's counterpart to the NBA, the WNBA, is one of the world's richest and most popular women's professional team sports leagues. Like its men's counterpart, the women's national team is also the dominant force in the world, having won every Olympic gold medal save for one (in 1992, when the countries of the former Soviet Union competed together for the final time as the Unified Team and won gold) since professional players were allowed to compete.
Soccer (association football) has risen to become a significant player on the national sports scene, though not yet at the level of the traditional "big four" sports. Major League Soccer, the latest major professional league, began play in 1996 as a FIFA-imposed precondition for holding the 1994 World Cup; after a slow start, it has expanded to 26 teams throughout the U.S. and Canada, with plans to expand to 30 teams by 2021. Fan experiences that would not be out of place in major European or Latin American leagues can be found in a few U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, and Washington. While not at the same level as the top European and South American teams, the men's national team has grown substantially in strength, due in part to immigration from European, African and Latin American countries where soccer is popular, and is today considered competitive with some of the mid-tier European teams, occasionally even pulling off upset victories over the top teams. They have also developed a rivalry with their southern neighbours Mexico, with the teams often vying for supremacy in North American competitions. However the 2018 World Cup was one of the first in the modern era without American involvement because the team was defeated by Mexico and other regional soccer powers like Costa Rica. The women's team, on the other hand, is widely considered to be the best in the world, having won more World Cups and Olympic gold medals than any other team.
The United States has hosted the Olympic Games five times since the World War II intermission: In Squaw Valley in 1960, Lake Placid in 1980, in Los Angeles in 1984, in Atlanta in 1996, and in Salt Lake City in 2002, and for much of the second half of the 20th century vied with the Soviet Union for domination of the medal standings; one notable exception being the 1980 Moscow games, where the United States led a boycott against the games to protest the Afghanistan war. The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led to the U.S. becoming the undisputed dominant force in the Olympic Games; a position now increasingly challenged by China. The U.S. has also hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994, and the FIFA Women's World Cup in 1999 and 2003. Los Angeles is now set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, and the U.S. has joined with Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Unlike Olympic games in 1976 in Montreal or 2004 in Athens that were seen as financial disasters for their host cities or the terrorism plagued 1972 Munich Olympics, the Olympic games held in the US were all seen as qualified successes at the least. In 1984 several existing venues could be used, leading to Los Angeles actually making a profit off the games. In 1996, soft-drink giant Coca-Cola, founded and headquartered in Atlanta, provided extensive sponsorship which was seen as a crass commercialization by some but helped keep costs in check. The 2002 Olympics spurred construction of the popular TRAX light rail system and were less expensive than comparable Winter Olympics. All U.S. Olympics were free of major scandal or controversies except for the 1984 Games, in which the Soviet Union led a boycott in retaliation for the U.S.-led boycott four years earlier.
In the 2010s American major-league sports also gave up a longstanding aversion to Las Vegas with an NHL expansion team being installed there for the 2017–18 season and the Raiders moving out of Oakland for the 2020 season of the NFL.
While Hollywood had been the center of American movie-making since the 1920s and it attracted immigrants from Europe even during the Weimar Republic, the cultural exodus from Europe as well as the post war prosperity gave a major boost to the movie industry, converting it into the unquestioned leader of big budget movies and one of the biggest cultural machines by sheer volume of output. Hollywood first outgrew the rather strict and moralistic "Hayes Code" (essentially a set of censorship rules) and later the "Studio System" where huge vertically integrated conglomerates owned every part of film making distribution and even cinemas. However, in the 21st century, much of the film and television production is also being outsourced to other Anglophone nations like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, albeit still with the financial backing of the large Hollywood companies.
African-American music of various styles (e.g. ragtime, blues, jazz, swing, R&B and rock and roll) had tremendous mass appeal since the end of the 19th century, but black artists often had trouble in their efforts to receive comparable pay and recognition to that of white artists. They were frequently left impoverished by exploitative recording companies and, especially in the 1950s, by white groups releasing covers based on very recently-released recordings that were Top 10 on the rhythm & blues charts (established by the recording industry for music by and for black people) and undercutting their profits. This inequity eased substantially in succeeding decades, paving the way for Michael Jackson to establish himself in the 1980s as the top-selling pop star of all time. African-American musicians would also give rise to rap music in the late 1970s, with the genre reaching its golden age in the mid 1980s to the 1990s, during which many African-American rappers such as Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z became household names around the world.
This period was also a time of increasing influence from musical styles from Latin America, with salsa rising in New York's Spanish Harlem in the 1950s among Puerto Rican and other Latin New Yorkers including Johnny Pacheco, Rubén Blades and Eddie Palmieri at the same time that Latin jazz musician Tito Puente was becoming a household name as the King of the Timbales, and Afro-Cuban mambo was a nationwide craze. In the 1960s, bossa nova, a combination of samba and jazz from Brazil, took the U.S. by storm, and Mexican-American Carlos Santana's band excelled at the Woodstock Festival, making him a rock superstar. The 1990s and 21st century would see even greater acceptance of Hispanic artists into the American mainstream, with songs by Latinos, including Spanish-language ones, scoring hits on the charts with increasing frequency.
Musical theatre is another field that was greatly affected by the U.S. Broadway is perhaps the pre-eminent venue for this art form. To this day the biggest shows are either written by Americans, eventually show up on Broadway or both.
While the U.S. did have a few authors that were noted abroad throughout its existence, literature is to this day often an afterthought and even popular novelists that sell many books are better known as "the author of the book movie x is based on" than for the books in their own right. American authors are still highly successful commercially even if the international literature critic scene tends to scoff their nose at them and the Sweden-based literature Nobel Prize remains the most elusive category of Nobel achievement to U.S. citizens.
This is a concise thematic list of cities and places which either were the stage of significant events, or became important for the nation, during the post-war years.
Civil rights movement
- See also: Black Belt
- 1 Birmingham (Alabama). The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute commemorates the Civil Rights Movement.
- 2 Montgomery, Alabama. An important center for the Civil Rights Movement.
- 3 Memphis, Tennessee. Known for racial and musical history. Elvis Presley's Graceland, and the Memphis Rock'n'Soul Museum. Also where Martin Luther King was assassinated, with a memorial and museum at the site dedicated to his memory.
- 4 Washington, D.C.. Most monumental government buildings in D.C. were finished by the early 20th century. The federal government was relatively small until the 1930s, as the New Deal and World War II added jobs and started suburban expansion. Through the Great Migration, D.C. became the first major American city with an African-American majority (African Americans today comprise less than 50% of D.C.'s population but are still the largest single group), and was an important stage for the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was made at the Lincoln memorial.
- 5 San Francisco, California. A center for the post-war counterculture, such as the flower-power, anti-war and LGBT movement.
- 6 Berkeley. A counterculture hotspot in the Bay Area. Also home to the University of California, Berkeley, which is well known nationally for being a bastion of left-wing politics.
- 7 Seattle, Washington (state). Host of the 1962 World's Fair; later a center for high-tech industry and counterculture.
- 8 Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Sullivan County (New York); Hurd Road a half-mile N of NY 17B in the town of Bethel, E of the hamlet of White Lake), toll-free: , [email protected]. In the mid-2000s local entrepreneur Alan Gerry realized a long-held Sullivan County dream of capitalizing on the Woodstock festival site's potential as a tourist draw. The original site, at the southeast corner of the intersection of Hurd and West Shore roads, has been left undisturbed and accessible. On the hill nearby is a modern amphitheatre that has hosted performances by everyone from acts that appeared at the original festival to symphony orchestras. The nearby museum is also a must-see for anyone wanting to better appreciate the cultural significance of the surrounding acres of what was once Yasgur's Farm.
- 9 Greenwich Village, NYC. A stronghold of avant-garde and counterculture since the late 19th century, and a birthplace of an era for the gay liberation movement; the historic drag queen riot against police brutality at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, raged for a few days in June 1969. Also home to New York University (NYU), another well-known bastion of left-wing politics.
- 10 Kent, Ohio. Home to Kent State University, site of a landmark Vietnam War protest that ended with the Kent State Shootings. The site of the shootings is a preserved memorial.
Crime and terror
- 11 Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, 411 Elm Street Suite #120 (Dallas, United States). An unfortunate part of Dallas' history is that it is the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Texas Book Depository is the site where shots were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald, and the museum is on the sixth floor of the same building, with an extra exhibition on the seventh. It is a moving experience with videos, full-wall descriptions and photographs, along with artifacts from the event. The museum's gift shop is in a different building.
- 12 National September 11 Memorial & Museum (World Trade Center site - note that the term 'Ground Zero' is never used by New Yorkers), 180 Greenwich St (between West, Greenwich, Liberty, and Fulton Streets; Subway: to WTC Cortlandt or to Park Pl or or to Fulton St or to Cortlandt St or to Chambers St or to World Trade Center), ☏ , [email protected]. Memorial: daily 7:30AM-9PM; Museum: daily 9AM-9PM (8PM in winter), last museum entry 2 hours before closing. On the site of the former World Trade Center towers, the memorial consists of two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools set within the footprints of the twin towers, lined with bronze panels with the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of that fateful day inscribed. The surrounding plaza holds a grove of trees. The museum, which sits underground right next to the memorial, contains exhibits which explain the events of 9/11 and their aftermath, with remnants of the original towers and artifacts from that day. Memorial: Free; Museum: $24 ($18 senior/veteran/college, $15 youth); free admission Tuesday evenings after 5PM.
- 13 Oklahoma City National Memorial, 620 N. Harvey Ave, ☏ . Memorial: daily 24/7; Museum: M–Sa 9AM-6PM, Su noon–6, last museum entry 1 hour before closing. On the site of the former Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, destroyed in a 1995 domestic terrorist bombing that killed 168 people—the country's deadliest terror attack before 9/11. Some of the more notable features of the memorial are a field of 168 empty chairs representing each victim (with 19 smaller chairs representing children killed in the attack); a surviving wall of the Murrah Building now inscribed with names of attack survivors; and the Survivor Tree, an American elm that survived the blast. The museum, which sits just north of the memorial, contains exhibits which explain the bombing and its aftermath, with many artifacts from that day. Memorial: Free; Museum: $15 ($12 senior/veteran/college/youth, 5 and under free).
- 1 Capitol Building, ☏ . The center of the legislative branch of America is home to the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as numerous impressive paintings, statues, historical exhibits, and one magnificent dome. The visitor center features an exhibition of the history of the Capitol and of Congress. On 6 January 2021, the building was stormed by thousands of protestors incited by resigning president Donald Trump over his refusal to accept the electoral votes. Free.
- 14 . The NASA Space Launch facility. The Apollo facilities are on display.
- 15 Space Center Houston, 1601 NASA Road 1, Webster (located 25 miles south of downtown Houston in the NASA/Clear Lake area), ☏ . June 10AM-7PM; July 9AM-7PM; August M-F 10AM-5PM, Sa Su 10AM-7PM; Sep-May: M-F 10AM-5PM, Sa Su 10AM-6PM. Indoor fun space museum with lots of hands-on space-science exhibits and artifacts from the full history of U.S. space exploration. A big hit with kids, but informative for adults. A highlight are the two tram tours of NASA's Johnson Space Center, one of which includes a visit to Mission Control and actual Apollo and Mercury launch vehicles, the other focuses on astronaut training facilities. $17.95 adults, $13.95 children (4-11), discounts for seniors. Parking $5.
- 16 Levittown, New York. A mass-produced planned suburb founded in 1947, which came to inspire similar suburban neighborhoods across the country.
- 17 Las Vegas, Nevada. The youngest of America's major cities. Since Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, this resort city has grown beyond any measure. From the 1950s to the 1980s, it was a legendary hotspot for organized crime. Since then, some of the original buildings have been torn down to make room for even larger hotels and casinos, though some classical venues can still be found.
- 18 Los Angeles. Los Angeles had one of the largest streetcar networks in the world in the 1930s which was dismantled almost overnight following World War II. Los Angeles was also a hub for military contractors, particularly in aviation as early as World War II. Once a city with below average racial tensions, it was also the site of the 1992 Rodney King riots, that broke out after an African American was brutally beaten by police with the incident caught on camera. The riots changed Los Angeles and brought with them police reform. Los Angeles, the site of Hollywood and still globally known for its freeways, used to be infamous for air pollution, but is now the American city where the urban rail renaissance is most visible with more than 100 miles of light rail and subway built since 1990.
- 19 Denver. Denver can be seen as one of many examples of the rise and fall and rise again of rail travel. It grew around the railroad in the 19th century, but by the 1950s more people arrived at Stapleton Airport than Union Station, the somewhat tacky "Travel by Train" logo affixed in that era notwithstanding. Downtown went into a decline, but in the 1990s and 2000s ambitious plans to revitalize the station area were drawn up and a rather popular light rail and commuter rail system was developed. The "Mile High City" is also at the forefront of the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes.
- Easy Rider, a 1969 road movie which featured the clash between bikers and hippies
- Bandit Run, inspired by Smokey and the Bandit, a 1977 road movie in the Deep South
- Route 66 (1926-1985) was among the most important east-west highways, until it began to be bypassed, replaced or simply paved over in some sections by the Interstate highway system in the 1950s onward.
- Forrest Gump tour, a 1994 film where the main character accidentally turns up at several important events of the 1960s and 1970s
- Selma To Montgomery National Historic Trail