Germany and America in the 20th Century
A Hypertext Timeline

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Updated December 22. 2021.

1900: The United States enters the 20th century as a world power after its victory in the Spanish American War (1898). However, President William McKinley and the American nation are more preoccupied with expansion in the Pacific and Caribbean regions than European affairs. German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had come to power in 1888, orders the strengthening of the Imperial Navy (then a small, coastal fleet) into a fleet with global capabilities. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz is put in charge of this project; thus, it is known as the Tirpitz Plan. Adolf Hitler's father enrolls him in a technical high school in the city of Linz, hoping he can eventually become a civil servant, but Adolf disappoints his father and earns poor grades.

1901: President McKinley is assassinated in September by a crazed anarchist, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, hero of the Spanish-American War, becomes president.

1908: A young Adolf Hitler moves to Vienna to study art at the Vienna Academy of Fine arts, but he is not admitted to the school and ends up living in a homeless shelter the next year.

1914: There are many factors that led to the start of World War I. Among these was the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Serbian nationalist. In response, Germany pledges its full support to Austria-Hungary, which declares war on Serbia on July 28. Russia then mobilizes in support of Serbia. On August 1, Germany declares war on Russia, then two days later on Russia's ally, France, as World War I begins. Adolf Hitler enters the German Army and ultimately attains the rank of corporal. US President Woodrow Wilson proclaims America's neutrality.

1915: The ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine causing many deaths, including those of 128 Americans. This act results in much anti-German sentiment in the US.

1916: After the sinking of the passenger liner Sussex, Germany agrees to end unlimited submarine warfare in the "Sussex Pledge,"

1917: Germany abandons the "Sussex Pledge," and once again begins sinking US merchant ships. German Foreign Secretary Zimmerman proposes an alliance between Germany and Mexico, attempting to induce Mexican cooperation by offering them US territory. This "Zimmerman note" is intercepted and published in the US on March 1, angering Americans and furthering anti-German sentiments. Wilson asks congress for a declaration of War on April 2, and on April 6, the US enters W.W. I on the side of England and France. General John J. Pershing is appointed Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force, which helps turn the tide of battle against Germany.

1918: President Wilson presents his 14 Points for World Peace. W.W. I ends on November 11 with the defeat of Germany. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates the Imperial Throne on November 28.

1919: The Treaty of Versailles is signed, dooming Germany to a bleak future. The Weimar Republic is founded in Germany.

1920: The League of Nations is formed in the hopes of ensuring a lasting peace. Though Woodrow Wilson had listed the establishment of such an organization among his 14 Points, to his disappointment the US does not join.

1921: Adolf Hitler becomes leader of the Nationalist Socialist Party (Nazis).

1923: France occupies the Ruhr Valley in order to collect war reparations, triggering outrage among Germans, who respond with a massive, state-sponsored strike in occupied areas. This act fuels hyperinflation and devastates an already weak German economy.

1925: Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, is published.

1928: Herbert Hoover becomes the first US president of German descent.

1929: The US stock market crashes resulting in the Great Depression.

1930: As Germany faces economic hardships due to war reparations, high unemployment, and runaway inflation, many Nazis are elected to national offices, and they become Germany's second largest political party.

1932: Franklin Roosevelt is elected president of the United States. His "New Deal" gives the American people hope and eventually helps bring the US back to economic prosperity.

1933: Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany, and the first concentration camp opens outside of Berlin. Many Germans, including noted physicist Albert Einstein. flee to America. On July 14, the Nazi party is declared the only political party in Germany.

1934: German President Paul Von Hindenburg dies, and Hitler becomes Fuehrer of Germany.

1935: German Jews are stripped of their rights by the Nuremberg Race Laws as the Holocaust begins.

1936: German troops occupy the Rhineland; Mussolini's Italian forces take Ethiopia, and the Olympic Games are held in Berlin. African American Jesse Owens stars in the Olympics, embarrassing Hitler.

1938: German troops occupy the Sudetenland, and the Czech government resigns.

1939: Germany takes the rest of Czechoslovakia, then signs a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. Germany invades Poland as W.W. II begins. Britain and France declare war on Germany. The Nazis and Soviets divide up Poland.

1940: Germany invades Norway and Denmark, then France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland. The Nazis quickly conquer these countries, and the British forces withdraw from France at Dunkirk. On June 22, France signs an armistice with Germany. The "Battle of Britain" begins as the British fight on alone.

1941: German air losses mount over Britain, and Germany's planned invasion of England (Operation Sealion) is "indefinitely postponed." On June 22, Germany invades the Soviet Union. Britain and the Soviets sign a mutual assistance agreement. The "final solution" begins on September 3 as the first gas chambers are used to exterminate Jews at Auschwitz. Later that month, more than 33,000 Jews are murdered at Kiev. On December 7, the Japanese attack American forces at Pearl Harbor, bringing America into the war. Four days later, Germany declares war on the US.

1942: Germany begins a U-boat offensive off of the US East Coast. On November 8, US forces arrive in North Africa. The combined British and US forces defeat Erwin Rommel and the German Africa Corps.

1943: The Germans are defeated at Stalingrad, and the tide of the war begins to turn against the Nazis. The Allies invade Italy.

1944: The Allies invade France at Normandy on June 6 (D-Day), and the "battle of the hedgerows" begins. Paris is liberated on August 25.

1945: Soviet troops capture Warsaw on January 17 and liberate Auschwitz nine days later. US troops encircle German forces in the Ruhr Valley on April 1. President Roosevelt dies April 12, and Harry S. Truman becomes President of the United States. The Soviets reach Berlin on April 21. Hitler commits suicide on April 30, and Germany surrenders unconditionally on May 7. As the war ends, 11 million people are classified as displaced persons (DPs), including former slave laborers as well as the survivors of the holocaust. On June 5, the Allies divide up  a devastated Berlin and take over the government of Germany, each establishing sectors of control. Japan surrenders on August 14 after atomic bombs are dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the official Instrument of Surrender is signed September 2nd. The United Nations officially comes into existence on October 24, when the Charter is ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other signatories. The US and the Soviet Union become key players and bitter adversaries in this new international forum. On November 20, the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials begin . . . so does the Cold War.

1948: The US Marshall Plan, in conjunction with currency reform, puts Germany on a path to economic recovery. Cooperation between the Allies and the Soviets breaks down, resulting in the blockade of West Berlin by Soviet forces. The Allies counter with the "Berlin Airlift," supplying Berlin with food and fuel, effectively defeating Soviet attempts to take control of West Berlin.

1949: England, the US, and France relinquish control of their sectors of Germany which become West Germany. The Soviet sector becomes East Germany. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is formed.

1950: More than 128,000 Germans, many from what was then East Germany, immigrate to the US.

1952: German-American and World War II general Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected US President. The border between East and West Germany (except in Berlin) is closed by the Soviets.

1955: West Germany joins NATO on May 6.

1961: The Berlin Wall is built, cutting the city in two and closing off the last open border between East and West Germany. Nevertheless, West Berlin thrives.

1963: US President John F. Kennedy visits Berlin and proclaims, "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner). American-German friendship flourishes.

1972: West Germany and the city of Munich host the Olympic Games. However, the event is marred by tragedy as terrorists kill two members of the Israeli Olympic Team, take nine others hostage, and demand the release of 200 Arab prisoners being held in Israel. All nine hostages as well as five Palestinians are later killed in a failed rescue attempt.

1973: German-American Henry Kissinger becomes Secretary of State and wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

1983: President Ronald Reagan proclaims October 6th as German-American Day.

1989: As the Cold War ends, the Berlin Wall comes down.

1990: Germany is reunited on October 3 and becomes one nation again.

1994: Five years after the demise of the Berlin wall, Germany is making progress toward truly becoming one nation, but not without personal and economic difficulties.

2000: Germany celebrates the 10th anniversary of reunification as those living in the former East Germany slowly change their cultural identity.

Additional Sources:
The Rise of Adolf Hitler
Internet Modern History Sourcebook - World War II
The History Place: World War II in Europe
A German-American Chronology
The Cold War Museum
The Berlin Wall Memorial
German-American Heritage Foundation
German Embassy in the United States

This page was created by Edmund J. Sass, Ed. D., Professor Emeritus of Education at the College of Saint Benedict/St. John's University, for use during Rocori Middles School's German Day. If you have questions or comments about this page, e-mail me at

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