50th anniversary of 1969 – The greatest year of the century

If you were to choose the most eventful year ever – which would it be? Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 bestseller  “Outliers: The Story of Success” talks about the impact that people born in 1955 have made. Yes Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Whoopi Gooldberg and many more born in 1955 transformed the world. I dug in and after some research came up with a clear winner by a mile. A year that transformed the world in multiple areas – Technology, Politics, Music, Civil Rights…. and that year would be 1969. ( Well, some of the transformation started in 1968 and accelerated through 1969)

First the facts that we all know of.

History was made and one small step for man became a huge leap for mankind. Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module pilot Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin landed in the Sea of Tranquility, on The Moon on July 20, 1969. Remember this was a time when the largest computers had computing power lesser than your smartphone of today.

March 2nd, 1969 was also when the Anglo-French supersonic airliner Concorde made its maiden flight. During the test flight, Concorde’s speed never rose above 300mph and its altitude reached a lowly maximum of 10,000 feet. During commercial journeys it would reach speeds of up to 1,350mph – more than twice as fast as conventional aircraft – and fly as high as 60,000 feet. This was also the year when Boeing 747 made its 1st passenger flight.

A lot more happened on the technology side

  • The 1st ATM was installed in New York
  • ARPANET (later to become a little thing called the Internet) was commissioned by DoD for research into networking. First set up with 4 nodes – Stanford, UCLA, UCSB, and Univ of Utah. First attempt at sending packets was from UCLA to Stanford on October 29. The first 2 characters were successfully transferred, but the third keystroke crashed the system. (hmmmm…maybe Bill Gates was involved! – he was already 14 by then)
  • UNIX then called as UNICS was invented at Bell Labs led by Thompson & Ritchie working on a PDP7. Dec 28th, 1969 was also the year when Linus Torvalds was born – he would go on to become the creator and principal developer of the Linux Kernel.
  • Seiko rolled out the worlds 1st Quartz watch
  • May 1st 1969 AMD – Advanced Micro Devices was founded by Jerry Sanders and seven others from Fairchild Semiconductor. (Less than a year back on July 18th 1968 – Intel was started by the legendary Andy Grove)
  • It was in 1969 that David Paul Gregg patented the optical or laser disc, although he came up with the idea in 1958.
  • Doctors at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, made medical history on April 22, 1969, when they performed the first human eye transplant on 54-year-old John Madden. Because the donor eye had not been preserved enough to keep it viable, the procedure failed to restore Madden’s sight. The procedure itself, however, went down in history as a medical miracle.

A lot of changes were happening on the people front. Revolution and change was in the air. The Hippie’s movement – a countercultural movement that rejected  mainstream American life had engulfed the youth. The movement originated on college campuses in the United States, although it spread to other countries, including Canada and Britain. This was the era of Pop, Rock & Roll, Jazz & the Blues. Blend the Hippes lifestyle with music and you have the greatest music festival of the century – The Woodstock. 

  • The famous Woodstock music festival took place in upstate New York between August 15–18, 1969, which attracted an audience of more than 400,000. The festival featured legends like Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone. The event would help define an era.
  • Apart from being one of the only Indian musicians to perform at Woodstock, renowned Sitar player Ravi Shankar did not share his contemporaries’ excitement about the festival. He once said it was a terrifying experience, where the large crowds lounging in the mud reminded him of water buffaloes in India.
  • Also that summer, the Beatles, then arguably still the western world’s most popular band, released one of their final albums: Abbey Road. And the Beatles performed their last concert in 1969. This was also the year when John Lennon & Yoko Ono were married on March 20th.
  • 1969 is also quoted in the Hotel California song. It is assumed to refer to  the year when the Satanic bible was released.
  • June 1969 is famous for the Stonewall Riots. (Also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States

  • The US Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King was in its final phase. King had been assassinated in late 1968 but had laid the foundation for change.
  • The Vietnam war had peaked, more than 34,000 American soldiers died in the strife. President Richard M. Nixon assumed responsibility for the Vietnam War as he swore the oath of office on January 20, 1969. He knew that ending this war honorably was essential to his success in the presidency. He kept his promise and the US withdrew from Vietnam in 1973. Ho Chi Minh the communist leader of North Vietnam died on 2nd Sep 1969. 
  • 1969 was also the year when almost all of the world’s nations come together to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • Two of the worlds largest retailers opened stores in 1969 – The 1st GAP store opened and Walmart was incorporated as Walmart Stores Inc.
  • In late 1968 McDonald launched the Big Mac – A meal disguised as a sandwich – and it became extremely popular in 1969.
  •  The football legend Pele scored his 1000th international goal on Nov 19th, 1969
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo was published in 1969
  • Sesame Street debuts on television and the last episode of the original “Star Trek” airs on NBC. During the episode, titled “Turnabout Intruder,” one of Captain Kirk’s former lovers steals his body.

India in 1969 

  • A lot happened in India also in 1969 which has had its impact till date. India’s grand old party The Congress split into two factions led by Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai.
  • Indira Gandhi made the bold move of nationalising 14 banks that controlled 70% of the country’s deposits

  • The actor we all love Amitabh Bachchan made his debut in 1969 with Saat Hindustani 

  • 1969 was also the turnaround year for superstar Rajesh Khanna. In 1968, Khanna didn’t have a single film. In fact, the vacuum had stretched into the tenth month of 1969, prompting his doting but disturbed father to ask him to rethink his career plans. “To pursue a career that keeps rejecting you persistently is foolishness,” he told him. “In life, one should learn to read the writing on the wall early. Maybe a career in films is not for you. Give it serious thought.”Fortunately for Khanna, a ‘small’ unassuming film saved him from further ignominy. Ittefaq — directed by a man with a Midas touch, Yash Chopra, on a shoe-string budget and shot in 28 days without frills — turned the tide. The film, a thriller, had no songs, no dance, no big stars. It might have had a better initial draw than any other Khanna-starrer based on the reputation of the B.R. Chopra banner, but the movie’s popularity really owed to Khanna — who was about to rewrite the rules of stardom. Ittefaq was followed by Aradhana, another stop-gap venture produced and directed by a stalwart, Shakti Samanta. Released in November 1969, it took off on a whirlwind run
  • It was in 1969 that Goenkaji started teaching Vipassana Meditation in India – making true the prophecy that Buddha has made 2500 years back.
  • Two of India’s greatest cricketers launched themselves in 1969. Gundappa Vishwanath made his test cricket debut Vs Australia at Kanpur in 1969 and scored a century. And Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was selected to play in the 1968 – 69 Ranji season.

  • And on Dec 11th , 1969 India’s greatest Chess player V.Anand was born.

  • 1969 was also the year when many great talents were born. Jennifer Lopez, Steffi Graf , Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Zeta Jones, Mathew Perry (Chandler of Friends), Michael Schumacher, Sheryl Sandberg , Ajay Devgun, Javagal Srinath, Mandakini and Arnab Goswami.

If all of this doesn’t make 1969 the greatest year ever – what will ? No wonder its the topic of a book titled “1969 The year everything changed – By Rob Kirkpatrick





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03 comments on “50th anniversary of 1969 – The greatest year of the century

  • Rajesh Marwaha , Direct link to comment

    Excellent post. Well researched and justifying the title. The section on “India in 1969” made an exciting reading and could be related to so well as these events impacted us personally too. Thank you VAK for choosing such insightful topics and increasing the knowledge of everyone. It is a sheer pleasure to read your blogs and I look forward to the next one.

  • Sanjeev , Direct link to comment

    Very nicely compiled blog. While I were aware of many of the events and people mentioned in the article, I was not aware of the dates. You have very nicely highlited the events along with dates.

    One more thing on 1969 – A 1969 born VAK has compiled this article.

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