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Christopher Columbus made his first landing in the New World in the Bahamas on October 12th 1492.

By the seventeenth century the Spanish Empire had colonised parts of North America including Florida. Other Europeans followed.

America was already the home of numerous Native American Indian tribes such as Apache, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chinook, Comanche, Dakota, Hopi, Lakota, Iroquoi, Navajo, Pawnee, Seminole, Shawnee and Sioux.

Religious unrest in England led to a group of Protestants (Puritans), sailing to America in 1620. Known as the Pilgrim Fathers they established a successful colony.

The American Colonies were ruled from England, represented by a Governor.

British taxes and duties on American trade, and regulation of the Colonies' trading partners, were a source of discontent. Colonists were incensed by "taxation without representation" and in 1773 made a gesture of defiance known as the Boston Tea Party: Americans threw a tea cargo - awaiting the payment of import tax - into the sea.

The outbreak of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) was followed by the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. The Colonies became the United States: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts Bay, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Providence Colony, Georgia, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Virginia and New Jersey. The American Constitution was ratified in 1789.

Over the years, more land was acquired by the US: the Jefferson Louisiana Purchase of French American territory, Spain's sale of Florida to the United States, the USA annexation of Texas (Mexico), and the purchase of California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Americans had been moving westward, early settlers taking the long and dangerous journey in wagon-trains. The invention of the steamboat and the development of railways and telecommunications were important factors in opening up the country.

The discovery of gold in California led to the movement of thousands of people during the American Gold Rush in 1849.

The southern States had used slave labour since the beginning of the seventeenth century, particularly in the cotton fields. Many Americans, especially in the north, began to oppose slavery. This led to the Civil War (1861-65) between the Confederate States of the South and the "Yankee" States of the North. The North won the war and the emancipation of the slaves.

After the Civil War the US underwent a period of reconstruction, industrialisation and, in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, a period of expansionism.

In the mid nineteenth century Commodore Perry from the USA had opened up trade with Japan, which had been following a policy of isolation since the seventeenth century. Business interests in Hawaii and the strategic importance of Pearl Harbour led to the US annexation of Hawaii in 1898 - although it did not become a State until 1959. In 1898, an American ship, the Maine, was sent to Cuba to protect US citizens during the Cuban fight for independence from Spain. The ship exploded in Havana Harbour killing over two hundred and fifty people. As a result of this incident the US declared war and defeated the Spanish. Following victory, the US maintained a degree of control in Cuba although the country became a republic; the Spanish colonies of Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico were ceded to the USA.

Towards the end of the century the US expanded its interests in Central America. The US-owned United Fruit Company developed plantations in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. At the turn of the century the US purchased the rights to build the Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The US also gained sovereignty of the Panama Canal Zone, the land either side of the Canal.

A treaty dividing up islands in the Pacific allocated American Samoa to the US at the end of the twentieth century.

During the First World War the US government bought the Caribbean islands of Saint Croix, St Thomas, and Saint John (the US Virgin Islands). Water Island was added to the US group in 1944.

In the US immigrants arrived from all over Europe. Many came from Germany and it was not until 1917 that the US, led by Woodrow Wilson, entered the First World War (1914-18) after German war ships had sunk US ships.

In 1929 share prices on the New York Stock Exchange fell dramatically. The Wall Street Crash led to the Great Depression causing much hardship among the American people and countries around the world. Franklin D. Roosevelt's government carried out economic and social measures, known as the New Deal, designed to help recovery.

During the Second World War (1939-45) the Lend-Lease Act was passed which allowed the USA to supply equipment to countries participating in the War. It was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (1941), the US Pacific Fleet base in Hawaii, which brought the Americans into World War Two. In 1945 atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan bringing the war in the Pacific to a rapid end.

After the War, the USA played an important part in setting up the United Nations whose aim is to maintain peace and security around the world. The UN gave the US responsibility for the administration of UN Trust Territory of the Pacific (Ponape, Truk, and Yap Districts - later the FSM, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Marianas and Palau). The USA is also a key member of NATO; the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington on 4 April 1949 and guarantees the security of member countries.

President Truman outlined his proposals to give American military and economic support to countries that were threatened by communism. Following the Truman Doctrine, as it was known, the Marshall Plan (1947) or European Recovery Plan was outlined. This was a programme for economic recovery to combat hunger and poverty in underdeveloped countries. The USSR opposed the USA's initiatives and the differences in political ideology between the USA and the USSR led to many years of the Cold War.

The Korean War began in 1950 when Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations intervened and thirty-three thousand Americans were killed during the fighting. A truce was signed between North Korea and South Korea in 1953.

At home, fear of communism led to the establishment of the Subversive Activities Control Board. In the early 1950s Senator McCarthy persecuted various people he suspected of having communist sympathies including a number of people in the entertainment sector.

In 1959 the neighbouring island of Cuba was taken over by Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. The US, opposed to the new regime, broke off diplomatic relations and imposed a trade embargo; Castro turned to the USSR for support. In 1961 the invasion at the Bay of Pigs made by Cuban exiles and organised by the US CIA failed as Cubans supported Castro.

By October 1962 the problems with Cuba had escalated. America insisted that Russian missiles stationed in Cuba should be withdrawn and the island was blockaded. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world close to nuclear war. (The Cold War continued until Gorbachev came to power in the USSR in 1985. Gorbachev introduced extensive political and economic reforms and called for a greater openness between nations).

In America the Civil Rights movement was growing. On 28 August 1963 Martin Luther King made his famous speech "I have a dream ..."; following this momentous occasion President Kennedy supported new Civil Rights legislation.

On 22 November 1963 the whole world was stunned when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. His brother, Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in June 1968 in Los Angeles after winning the California primary for the Presidential election. Shortly after Robert Kennedy's death Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

After President Kennedy's death President Lyndon Johnson stepped in to lead the nation. In 1969 President Nixon was elected President of the United States - he resigned in August 1974 for his administration's association with spying activities in the Democrat Watergate building.

In the early Sixties America became involved in the guerrilla war in Vietnam. By 1965 the US was sending troops to support South Vietnam against the communist North and the Viet Cong guerrillas. The war dragged on, despite protests in the US; American troops did not start to withdraw until 1973, after fifty-five thousand Americans had been killed. Eventually Vietnam became united but difficulties continued in the region.

During George Bush's presidency (1989-1993) the Gulf War was fought - the UN campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Norman Schwartzkopf commanded the operation in the Middle East.

In 1993 Bill Clinton was elected the forty-second President of the United States of America. Clinton served his maximum two terms in office and was succeeded by George Bush's son, George W. Bush, in 2001.

Following terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September 2001, the US waged war on Afghanistan where the country's leaders refused to extradite Osama Bin Laden wanted in connection with the attacks. Continuing his policy of "war on terrorism" George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On 4 November 2008 Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States of America. Barack Obama is the first African-American to be elected President of the USA.

The United States is a leading industrial power with a highly diverse and technologically advanced economy.

The US has benefited from a wealth of resources. It has enormous tracts of fertile land suitable for supporting livestock and growing timber and crops (barley, maize, oats, wheat, potatoes, groundnuts, fruit, cotton and tobacco) and possesses huge resources of coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron, gold, silver, copper, lead, phosphates, zinc, magnesium and uranium. A large labour force runs its industries: iron and steel, paper, chemicals, motor vehicles, aerospace, electronics, computer hardware, telecommunications, computer software, clothes and food processing.

Entrepreneurial skills combined with scientific knowledge and technological advances have put the US at the fore of world industry and commerce. An early example of American know-how combined with commercial success was the production of the Model T Ford and Henry Ford's factory in Detroit.

The US has led the world in research and development, for example, in the space industry. In 1958 NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, began operating at Cape Canaveral. The facilities at the Cape grew to become the John F Kennedy Space Centre. The Centre has led to aircraft and electronics manufacturing becoming an important sector of the economy.

The services sector is by far the largest earner of the country's Gross Domestic Product. Tourism is an important industry within services. Tourists from abroad are attracted to the US by theme parks and National Parks. With its long coastline the US has some good beaches. In the winter, skiing is available in a number of States, for example, Colorado and Utah.

In October 2008 US financial institutions experienced one of the worst disasters since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The US Treasury was forced to initiate a huge billion dollar financial bail-out plan. However, economists stated that the country had learned how to avoid a situation similar to the Depression but others pointed out the future uncertainty. (2011)

A number of American painters of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, such as Childe Hassam and Frank Weston Benson, were influenced by French Impressionism. The American artist, Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), actively supported and promoted Impressionism in the USA although she spent much of her life living in Paris. James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) also left the United States, working in Europe and settling in England. Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American who largely ignored impressionist values concentrating on a more tangible form of representation.

Two American abstract expressionist painters were Franz Kline (1910-62) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Edward Hopper (1882-1967), a realist painter, lived and worked in Greenwich Village.

Andy Warhol (1928-87) was an influential artist who was particularly famous for his pictures showing the same face or item repeatedly. Late twentieth century American artists include Jennifer Bartlett, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

America has many outstanding writers: Longfellow (Hiawatha), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin), Henry James (Portrait of a Lady), Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn), Sinclair Lewis (the first US writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature - 1930) and Ernest Hemingway (winner of the Nobel Prize in 1954 for The Old Man and the Sea). Twentieth century writers include Pulitzer Prize winners, Norman Mailer and John Updike.

The concept of the American Dream, which portrays the USA as a country of opportunity for success and material rewards, is the theme of a number of novels. These include Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Arthur Miller's Death of A Salesman and Salinger's cult novel, Catcher in the Rye.

Popular Tennessee Williams' plays performed on Broadway were A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

A number of successful novels have been translated to the medium of film. The American film industry has been making movies for over a hundred years. Popular films include Gone with the Wind (Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh - 1939), The Wizard of Oz (Judy Garland - 1939), Citizen Kane (Orson Welles - 1941), Casablanca (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman - 1942), Singin' in the Rain (Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds - 1952), Rebel Without a Cause (James Dean - 1955), Some Like it Hot (Marilyn Monroe - 1959), West Side Story (Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer - 1961), The Graduate (Dustin Hoffman - 1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman, Robert Redford - 1969) and The Godfather (Marlon Brando, Al Pacino - 1972).

The success of the animated film, particularly due to the characters created by Walt Disney, has given pleasure to countless children over the years. Much-loved Disney films include Bambi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella.

The USA has exerted tremendous influence on western music including jazz, country music, rock and roll and popular music.

Blues music began in Mississippi, the result of the fusion of African and white music. It derived from songs full of suffering, sung by the slaves in the cotton fields. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Chicago blues musicians added electric guitars and drums to their music - this music was very influential on 60s bands such as the Rolling Stones.

Country and Western music grew in popularity in the late 1920s. The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville was perhaps one of the most important venues promoting country music at the time. The influence of country music is widespread and for a brief period in the late 1970s British artist Eric Clapton turned to country music and recorded We Are All the Way by Don Williams.

Rock and Roll music began in the 1950s, popularised by many artists such as Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. American Bandstand became a popular TV show, highlighting some of the more popular artists and bands. In 1955 Bill Haley and the Comets took the US by storm with Rock Around the Clock.

In 1953 Elvis Presley made a record as a present for his mother and within a year he signed a recording deal with Sun. Elvis launched into a highly successful career and recorded seventeen No 1 records.

Popular music has seen the early death of too many artists: one such tragedy happened on 3rd February 1959 when a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) crashed in snow leaving the three stars dead. This day became known as the Day the Music Died. Don McLean wrote the song American Pie about that day.

The Woodstock Festival in 1969 was one of the most significant events in popular music. The legendary guitar player Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) made one of his most memorable performances at Woodstock. Other performers at the event included Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.

Well known American composers include Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and George Gershwin.

Sport is important in the US and is part of American school and college life. Team sports include baseball, basketball, American football, hockey and lacrosse.

American sportsmen and sportswomen take part in international events in tennis, golf and boxing and are consistently successful in the Olympic Games. There are opportunities for swimming, ice-skating and skiing. Rodeos and car racing are both very American activities. Fishing and hunting are traditional outdoor pursuits.

Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. It is a time when the American people give thanks to God. Independence Day (4 July) is an internationally known American holiday.

The Christian celebration of Christmas is observed throughout the country. The Jewish people celebrate the Festival of Hanukkah and some of the African-American communities celebrate Kwanzaa, a harvest festival.

Other holidays include New Year's Day, Inauguration Day, Martin Luther King Jr Day, George Washington's Birthday/President's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans' Day.

National news is available from Newslink.

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