The two continents of North and South America were named, by Martin Waldseemuller, a German clergyman-scholar, in 1507 for the Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci traveled to the New World on three occasions and wrote lengthy, but believable, reports of his observations. Waldseemuller printed a wood block map called “Carta Mariana” on which he portrayed America as a two continent new world. This map is now referred to as America’s Birth Certificate.
French, Spanish, and European colonization, or invasion, of this new world began in the mid-1500’s, but were unsuccessful until 1607. The English are credited for the first surviving colony built that year in Jamestown. The colony almost failed due to poor leadership and unforeseen perils. By the winter of 1607, there were only 38 survivors of the original 104 men whom had arrived in search of wealth. John Smith came to their rescue with lucrative trade ventures with the Algonkin Indians. Securing corn, beans , and other foods; ensuring their continued existence throughout the coming winter.
The English flourished in the area now known as Virginia and in 1608 the French began their first thriving settlement of Quebec. The Dutch began a prosperous venture in what is now New York, and by 1621 were sending thousands of colonists, including women and children, to the New World.
The Europeans nearly didn’t make it in the New World due in part to their aversion to work. They were there for money and expected the labor to come from somewhere else. This way of thinking led to slavery in this harsh environment. They captured Indians and used indentured workers in the beginning, but as the colonization grew, so did the need for more laborers. Thus began the importation of slave labor from Africa.
1773 to 1776 was a confused time for America. Many colonists wanted to remain subjects to Great Britain. Others knew that they had to separate themselves to gain freedom and independence. The richness of the New World should have been theirs. It was their work, their sweat, their hopes and dreams that were forging a life in this rough country. It was harsh, at times terrifying, and they loved it. On July 4, 1776, America declared Her freedom and became an independent country. It had a long way to go, but the men and women who bought us freedom set a good stage for us to act upon.
Westward expansion was inevitable. As more immigrants came to the new country and conditions improved to the point of more surviving births, the brave began looking for new and better places to build. This led, in part, to what has become know as “the greatest real estate deal in history”, the Louisiana Purchase. President Jefferson originally set out to purchase the city of New Orleans. He sent two of his top men, James Madison and Robert Livingston to France to negotiate with Napoleon for the port town and free navigation of the Mississippi River. What they returned with was an almost unbelievable deal offered by Napoleon. 800,000 square miles of land for the price of 60 million Francs, about 15 million dollars. The French owed a debt to the United States, so the finale payment was $11,250,00. The purchase doubled the size of the fledgling country.
President Jefferson selected Meriwether Lewis to lead an exploration expedition into the newly acquired wilderness. He in turn chose William Clark to help with the intimidating project. On May 14, 1804, the two men along with 38 others began their historic journey. Leaving St. Charles, Missouri, they headed west on the Missouri River. They met with their first Indian encounter on August 3 of that year. Presenting them with gifts and trinkets, the explorers ensured their abundance in the future, as long as they did not attack the white settlers that would be following.
The only death that befell the expedition was on August 20 when Charles Floyd died of a burst appendix. October 24 found the explorers near what is now know as Bismarck, North Dakota. It was the land of the Mandan Indians. Their villages were immense and contained more people than most large American cities. The expedition, known as the Corps of Discovery, built Fort Mandan across the river from the villages. They also hired a French-Canadian fur-trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and his Indian wife, Sacagawea, as interpreters to aid in the communication between them and the different tribes they would meet throughout their journey.
They spent the hard winter of 1804-1805 with the Mandans and on April 7, 1805, they headed out again westward down the Missouri River. They were astonished by the new and breathtaking wildlife they saw. Buffalo herds with upwards of 10,000 animals, deer, and elk. Lewis was even chased by a gigantic Grizzly Bear that they were forced to kill. They never found what they were originally looking for, the Northwest Passage, but what they did find turned out to be much more land than they believed was there, abundant wildlife that could sustain life for years, and mountains.
The Continental Divide was almost their undoing. Steep cliffs, virtually no animal life for food, and the end of their rations almost ended the expedition. September 10, 1805 found them at Traveler’s Rest, in the valley of the Bitterroot Mountains. On September 17, amidst rain, hail, and 8 inches of snow, the men resorted to eating their horses to stay alive. Soon they were gone, as well, and Clark, along with several hunters went ahead in hopes of finding food. They found the Nez Perce Indians who supplied them with fish, dried roots, and the knowledge to build stronger canoes. They spent a wet, miserable winter with the Clatsop Indians along an estuary of the Columbia River. The men built a fort, Lewis documented the areas wildlife, and Clark worked on mapping their excursion west. On March 23, 1806, with the disheartening knowledge that there truly was no water route to the Pacific, they began their journey home. September 23, 1806, they were welcomed into St. Louis as heroes. They had opened the door to the west.
The Civil War, fought from April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865 is still known as the bloodiest war America has seen. Stemming from disagreements over slavery, seven states seceded from the Union in an attempt to form their own government and allow slavery to continue to be the way for noblemen to amass their fortunes without having to actually work for it themselves. The remaining states worked hard and fought hard for slavery to be abolished. Abe Lincoln believed that the Constitution, in saying all men are created equal, meant that all men should be allowed their freedom, as well as, all men should work for their own fortunes. He was right and the north won the war, slavery was abolished, and the Union was reunited.
The end of the Civil War brought the beginning of the Industrial rise of America. Railroads lessened the gap between the East and West borders allowing for the country to work together on a national market economy. New industry arose and expanded, such as; electrical power, steel manufacturing, and petroleum refining. The vast diversity of wealth versus the labor force led to the formation of labor unions.
Falling prices on farm products led many young people to leave their homes for the city and dreams of prosperity. Life was rapidly changing across the country. Inventions abounded with the new technologies available. The candle became the kerosene lamp which quickly turned into an electric light bulb. Horses gave way to steam-powered transportation that was replaced with electric trolley cars and gasoline-powered automobiles. People who were born into a society that had been mostly agricultural would see tremendous changes in every aspect of life.
America has been a land of war. She gained her independence through war and war marked almost every year of her existence. Civil war, Indian wars, Mexican wars all formed the fabric of life in this great land. The mid-1800’s saw a reaching out to other lands to lend assistance and to search for new foreign markets. By the end of the 1800’s America was had a wealth of experience at overseas interventions and diplomacy. By 1891 Standard Oil Company accounted for almost 90% of American export of kerosene and controlled approximately 70% of the world market. Second only to cotton as Americas exports.
In the next century expansion of business and progressive reform was everywhere. People were coming to realize that American society needed to be overhauled, to made safer and a better place to live. Regulations, laws, government clean-ups, improvements in working conditions, and conservation of resources were seen nation-wide. Women were allowed to vote! Democracy was expounded upon to the world. War again was inevitable. The first Great War, World War I, democratic nations against autocratic nations, brought a desire for peace to America for the first time.
The “Roaring Twenties” saw continued growth in America’s economy. With the beginning of automobile manufacturing came a new way of life and many reform movements that had been going strong got left behind. Americans were in love. All of their thoughts, that had been so important just a few years before, were forgotten. They were mobile and they loved it. America was high on success. They had won the war and they had automobiles. Prosperity was widespread, even the working man was making money.
Black October, 1929 devastated America’s economy. The stock market crash and the great depression which followed took people’s jobs, savings, homes, and even many lives. Almost one-third of the population was out of work. As the twenties rolled into the thirties, the economic instability of America began to travel abroad. Political uncertainty led to the rise of tyrannical organizations such as Adolf Hitler’s Germany and the military dictatorship in Japan. When the inevitable war broke out in Europe at the end of the 1930’s, America tried to remain neutral. December 7, 1941 and the destruction at Pearl Harbor saw the end of that neutrality. The end of the depression came with the new jobs and women in the military that World War II brought.
America had become a superpower and by 1945 became a member of the United Nations, ensuring further involvement in international affairs. The Soviet Union and America were contending for influence and power on a global scale. Thus began the Cold War with these two countries unable to draft a true peace treaty the first and only Doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction was formed. Wherein both sides agreed that, in case of nuclear attack on one from the other, the result would be total world annihilation.
The Cold War brought the fear of communism to America ands a series of deadly conflicts to the world. Among them were the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Vietnam War. The Cold War also brought the Civil Rights Movement to the United States. Great social reform swept the nation throughout the 60’s and 70’s. The end of legal segregation, equal rights, and a new environmental awareness brought about immense social and political change. Americans began to clean up their act.
The Industrial age was becoming the technology age. NASA came into being on July 29, 1958 and American space exploration began. In just three short years the first American made a flight into space at a distance of 116 miles above ground. By the end of the decade NASA, and America, had sent men to the moon.
The early 1980’s were hard for America. Unemployment was up to 9.7 percent and by 1982 over 17,000 businesses had failed. Debt ran rampant through the working class. In 1983, under Ronald Regan, America began to see a turn-around. Inflation rates dropped, unemployment dropped, and the economic growth soared. The end of the 80’s saw the decline of the Soviet Union and in 1991 it collapsed, finally ending the Cold War for good.
Terrorism was the new threat to the well-being of the American people. In 1993, Kuwaiti nationals bombed the World Trade Center which set off a string of terrorist attacks on United States soil. America was at war with terrorism, not only in the Gulf War of Iraq, but also on their own soil.
For only the second time in America’s history, in 1998 the President was impeached. In February of 1999, the Senate reversed that decision and for the first time ever a formerly impeached president was allowed to continue in office.
The new millennium brought a devastating blow to the people of this great nation when, on Sept. 11, 2000, Islamic terrorists crashed two airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. What had been attempted previously was carried out. The towers fell and thousands of innocent lives were lost. In the same attack, they also crashed another plane into the Pentagon. Thanks to the passengers of the fourth plane, which all lost their lives defending their homeland, it crashed in a field in Somerset County, PA. Never had there been such an outcry for justice. The Iraqi War intensified as did homeland security. There have been numerous threats and attempts, but the American people and the government have come together to protect and preserve this great land.
The new millennium has also brought a new realization of America’s dependence on fossil fuels and a new push to wean this nation from high-priced non-renewable energy sources. New pilot projects are being explored and research is being done to ensure the country will not be shut down or totally devastated in the event of the disappearance of the supply of fossil fuels.
2008 saw the worst economic downturn that America has ever faced. Inflation was soaring while businesses failed and jobs were lost. Even the nations top financial institutions were failing. 2008 was also a presidential election year. The failing economy, the ongoing war in Iraq, and the shaky future of the automotive industry brought about an historic turnout at the voting polls and of even greater consequence, the first Afro-American to be elected president of the United States.
On January 20, 2009, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. With the nation in a tail-spin, the people pulled together like American’s have done since the beginning of this great country, and voted for change. With an 82 percent approval rating, most believe that President Obama can bring about the changes that America needs to regain Her place as the worlds superpower.