We Didn't Start the Fire historical Events of the 19th century

Political Events, International Relations, and Military Events

Harry Truman

Who: Harry Truman became president of the United States in 1945 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.

Historical Significance: During his presidency, one of his most famous demands was his choice to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan to end World War II with Japan.

Contemporary Connection: Today, there are still people that suffer from radiation from the bomb.

Date: The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Nagasaki was attacked on August 9, 1945.

Fun Fact: The atomic bomb of Nagasaki was nicknamed “Fat Man”after Winston Churchill.

Billy Joel most likely chose to mention Truman in his song because presidential elections are very important to American political history. Our leaders determine our future, as seen by our previous leader President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, forever impacting history.

North Korea, South Korea

Korean War monument in Washington D.C.

What: After World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union entered the Cold War. This growing tension between the two world powers led to the Korean War where the Soviets aided North Korea in their takeover of American-occupied South Korea.

Historical Significance: The U.S. sent troops to defend South Korea. Like every war, lives were lost and the Americans were impacted by the losses and events that happened in the war.

Contemporary Connection: Today, North and South Korea are still divided at the 38th Parallel, the border established by the end of the war.

Date: The war lasted from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953.

Fun Fact: General MacArthur was fired due to a disagreement between him and the president over the war.

Billy Joel most likely included this event in his song because, like every war, lives were lost and people’s lives were impacted.

England's Got a New Queen

Who and When: After her father died, Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952.

Historical Significance: The Royal Family of England is very important to the leadership and government of England, so a change in power is very important to British politics.

Contemporary Connection: Queen Elizabeth II still reigns today, 65 years later.

Fun Fact: Although she assumed royal duties directly following her father’s death, the Queen’s official coronation was not until over a year later on June 2, 1953.

British politics are important aspects of their international affairs, including their relationship with the U.S. The change in rulers was therefore a largely popularized event in the U.S. as recognized by Billy Joel.

Joseph Stalin

Who: Joseph Stalin was the brutal dictator of the Soviet Union.

Historical Significance: Stalin was involved with many historical events such as World War II. He was friends with Hitler before Hitler turned on him. He was also responsible for the deaths of millions of his own citizens.

Contemporary Connection: Today, Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad as it was named after Stalin, is one of Russia’s largest cities.

Date: Stalin ruled from 1929 to his death in 1953.

Fun Fact: Joseph Stalin’s last name is not his birth name; he changed his last name to “Stalin”, which means “man of steel”.

Billy Joel included Stalin in his song most likely because Stalin was the leader of a World Power at the time and was very widely known as a result.

Economic, Scientific, and Technological Advancements


Who: Albert Einstein was considered to be one of the most intelligent scientists alive. He was famous for his Theory of Relativity and mathematical breakthroughs.

Historical Significance: Einstein made history with his ground-breaking discoveries and gained much fame for his intelligence. He also made contributions to the atom bomb developed in the Manhattan Project.

Contemporary Connection: Today, the name Einstein is strongly associated with intelligence.

Date: Einstein died on April 18, 1955.

Fun Fact: Einstein never wore socks because he found it annoying that they constantly developed holes.

Billy Joel most likely included Einstein in his song because Einstein died during Joel’s lifetime and it made a large impact on the world and society.


What: Sputnik was the first artificial satellite in history to be sent into orbit around Earth in space.

Historical Significance: The launch of Sputnik from the USSR resulted in the Soviet victory in the Space Race, having been the first country to successfully launch a satellite into space.

Contemporary Connection: The aerospace technological advancements made in the development of Sputnik led to many other space exploration projects and organizations, many still being made today.

Date: Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957. It remained in orbit until 3 months later when it burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Fun Fact: Sputnik had a 23 inch diameter and weighed 184 pounds.

Billy Jean probably included this event because it was a major historical advancement that the whole world got to witness.

Space Monkey

The most famous "space monkey" was Ham, who was sent up in an American space satellite for a suborbital flight, as a prelude to sending a man in space. The actual year he went into space was 1961.

Rock and Roller Cola Wars

Each hired musicians to promote their drink. Coke hired Paula Abdul, while Pepsi had Michael Jackson. This happened in 1984.

Social and Cultural Developments


Disneyland opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California. It was a theme park, developed by Walt Disney and based around his cartoon characters. It was designated as a place for family entertainment.

Little Rock

President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to insure the safety of the students. The crisis gained world-wide attention. It happened September 2, 1957.


Psycho was a thriller movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The most memorable scene is when the character Marion is stabbed to death while taking a shower. It came out on September 8, 1960.

Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune TV show became a favorite. Wheel of Fortune first aired on January 6, 1975.


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