There are important, shocking, and just plain strange events that happen every year but the year 1999 was in a league of its own. Leading up to 1999 we saw the end of the Cold War, the invention of the internet, and while we should have been “Livin’ La Vida Loca” we were all worried about Y2K.
Whether you were just a teenager in 1999 or you were a parent dealing with your child’s boy band obsession, you’ll be sure to remember these iconic moments from 1999.
Power Grid Workers Prepare For Y2K
Workers at a power control company in Buffalo, New York overlook worked around the clock in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, 1999. Across America, many prepared for the mysterious Y2K bug. It grew out of the belief that computer systems would glitch and possibly all shut down when they tried to create a date stamp without the number “19” at the start.
With this worry in mind, governments and businesses around the world began making contingency plans.
Serena Williams Wins Her First US Open
On September 11, 1999, tennis player Serena Williams becomes the second African American woman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. Williams dominated against Martina Hingis of Switzerland. The two players were early rivals as they had both turned pro within a year of each other.
The win at the U.S. Open came only months after her first professional singles win ever. She went from being ranked number 20 to finishing the year ranked number 6 in the world.
Blackberry Releases Their First Smartphone
Research In Motion (RIM) released their first electronic device to carry the BlackBerry name—BlackBerry 850. It was a two-way-pager that could access the Internet and send integrate e-mails. RIM chose the now-iconic name because they believed the buttons on the keyboard looked similar to the outside of the blackberry fruit.
After the release of the BlackBerry 850, other companies like Samsung, LG, and Nokia began working with smartphones. Eight years later, the first iPhone would be released.
The Blair Witch Project Enters Theatres
After a successful premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January, The Blair Witch Project hit theaters worldwide in July 1999. The film popularized the “found footage” technique and was one of the first to be marketed primarily on the Internet.
The movie’s website had fake “Missing Persons” posters, fake police reports, and fake interviews. They even credited the actors as “missing” in the end credits. All of this led to a massive viral campaign of people debating if the film was real or fake.
Woodstock ’99 Erupts In Chaos
Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst is shown here while performing at Woodstock ’99 musical festival. While they were one of 45 bands who played at the festival, the Limp Bizkit set is said to have turned the crowd violent. The violence didn’t end and Woodstock ’99 erupted into chaos when an audio tower caught fire during the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s set.
New York State Troopers had to arrive at the scene in crowd control gear, and police later had to investigate four allegations of rape.
Bill Clinton Is Acquitted
In December 1998, the United States House of Representatives found Bill Clinton guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges came to light after the sexual misconduct scandal with Monica Lewinsky.
Two months later, in February 1999, Clinton was acquitted of all charges by the United States Senate. His term as president would end within a year anyway. To this day, Clinton is one of two presidents to ever be successfully impeached, the other being Andrew Johnson.
NASA Loses Contact With The Mars Polar Lander
NASA employees are shown here gathering around a television at the lab to watch live Mars Polar Lander updates. The Polar Lander was expected to touch down on Mars for the first time on December 3, 1999. It was the most exciting moment in space travel since the moon landing.
Much to everyone’s disappointment, the Polar Lander lost communications with NASA. A probe wouldn’t land on Mars for nearly another decade.
Tony Hawk Completes The First Ever 900
Skateboarder Tony Hawk lands first ever 900 at the X-Games in San Francisco, California. The trick consists of going a 900-degree aerial spin which means the skateboarders turn two and a half times in the air. It’s considered one of the most technically difficult tricks.
It took Hawk ten failed attempts before he finally landed it. He had actually run out of time but one announcer said “we make up rules as we go along. Let’s give him another try.”
Rare Tornados Ravage Kansas And Oklahoma
The first week of May in 1999 spelled disasters for residents in Kansas and Oklahoma. While the area might be part of “Tornado Alley” they had never experienced anything like the tornado outbreak. Within a week, 154 tornados touched down along the Central and Eastern parts of the United States.
The strongest tornado was ruled an F5 and killed 36 people. The damage in Oklahoma alone was more than $1.5 billion.
The New York Yankees Win Their 25th World Series
On October 27, 1999, the New York Yankees clinched their 25th World Series after beating out the Atlanta Braves. Derek Jeter is seen here in mid-celebration as Jim Leyritz hits the series-winning home run.
The World Series was the Yankee’s second title in a row and sent the Yankees to dominate in the new millennium. The Atlanta Braves have yet to return to the World Series, while the Yankees have been there four times.
Coast Guards Search For JFK Jr.’s Body
A Coast Guard ship is seen here transporting the bodies of John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn Kennedy, and her sister Lauren G. Bessette. The three were lost in the waters along Massachusettes for several days after JFK Jr. crashed a small plane. Kennedy’s body was still strapped to his seat in the plane when they found him.
The crash shocked the American public and many believe it is part of the ill-fated Kennedy curse that looms over the family.
Lance Armstrong Wins His First Tour De France
A devoted fan is seen here cheering on Lance Armstrong as he does a victory lap in Paris, July 1999. The date marked Armstrong’s first Tour de France victory. The win was even more monumental because Armstrong had undergone surgery for testicular cancer only three years before.
He would go on to win six other Tour de France titles but would later be stripped of them all after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Vladimir Putin Assumes The Russian Presidency
While everyone else around the world was busy worrying about Y2K, President Yeltsin of Russia was quietly resigning and handing over the presidency to Vladimir Putin, who we are now all very familiar with.
At the time, Putin was a nobody on the world stage who had only become Prime Minister of Russia four months earlier. Yeltsin resigned on December 31, 1999, so that Russia could “enter the new century with new political leaders.”
Police Use Tear Gas During The Battle Of Seattle
In a dramatic photo, the Seattle Police are seen in riot gear using tear gas on the peaceful protests in Seattle. Many anarchist, environmentalists, and independent groups arrived in downtown Seattle on November 30, 1999, to protest the World Trade Organization talks.
For protestors, the Battle of Seattle was seen as a huge success. The city of Seattle ended up having to pay out those unlawfully arrested, and the Seattle police chief had to resign as a result of the police brutality.
Napster Is Launched And Changes The Music Industry
On June 1, 1999, the first version of the mp3 music file sharing platform Napster was released. The program was an immediate success and completely changed the music industry. Following the release of Napster, CD sales dropped dramatically and musicians began to speak out against it.
This screen image, taken one year later in July 2000, shows the aftermath of a year-long trial. The U.S. government ended up claiming the site violated artist copyrights.
Ricky Martin Fever Hits America
Even though Peurto Rican pop star Ricky Martin had already released two albums in the United States, his 1999 self-titled album was the first all-English release. The album is one of the best selling of all time and spawned “Rickymania.”
Thanks to singles like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “Shake Your Bon Bon,” Martin had crowds of screaming women following him everywhere. The album was also credited with kicking off the Latin pop craze that musician like Shakira and Jennifer Lopez capitalized from.
The Dow Jones Averages Over 11,000 For The First Time
Here, stock traders are seen cheering on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. March 18, 1999, marked the first time the Dow Jones Industrial Average would hit 10,000 at the closing bell. Not to be outdone, on May 3 the Dow Jones closed with over 11,000.
Even though it was a record year, the success was shortlived. Fear of the new millennium led new investors to pull out and the Dow Jones quickly dropped to record lows.
Pokémon Fever Hits The United States
The first generation of Nintendo’s Pokémon game was released in 1996 but it wasn’t until the second generation was released for the Game Boy color that Americans went crazy. After that, Nintendo released Pokémon games on all of their game consoles.
Pokémon toys, playing cards, and figurines were the hottest toys for the Christmas season of 1999. The popularity even led to Pokémon characters being featured in other Nintendo games like Super Smash Bros.
Wayne Gretzky Retires From Professional Hockey
After a monumental career in hockey, Wayne Gretzky played his final game on April 18, 1999. Gretzky had announced his 1999 season with the New York Rangers would be his last. The year before he had broken the record for the highest number of goals in a professional season.
The massive crowd at Madison Square Gardens gave Gretzky a standing ovation. Even though his final game was held between two American teams on American soil, the stadium played “O Canada” as a final send-off.
The Matrix Revolutionizes Special Effects
When The Matrix hit theatres in March 1999 it was dubbed to be the generation’s Star Wars. Based on a new-age hacker, The Matrix set out a future that might be possible thanks to the up-and-coming internet.
The film also set new standards for visual effects and cinematography. It was unique in using Japanese animation and anime designs as inspiration. The film won numerous awards and has been voted one of the best science-fiction movies of all time.
The Backstreet Boys Break Sales Records
1999 was the year of boy band fever. It seemed like these perfectly curated groups with melodic voices were cropping up out of nowhere. The biggest one, The Backstreet Boys, had been around since 1996 but it was in 1999 when they broke the record for most albums sold in the first week of a release.
Their album “Millennium” is one of the best-selling albums of all time. Many thought boy bands were going to dominate the next century.
West Nile Virus Comes To America
The West Nile virus outbreak in the United States caused pure panic. The first known case was reported in Queens, New York in August 1999. The virus caused sudden paralysis, high fevers, and even death.
New York City began taking immediate action. Many people carried bug spray around in their bags and there was even a specific hotline set up for you to call if you saw a mosquito breeding ground.
Prince Edward Marries Sophie Rhys-Jones
Before Prince William and Kate Middleton or Prince Harry and Megan Markle, there was Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones. Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II, married Sophie, a public relations executive who actually owned her own PR firm.
Their wedding was a relatively smaller affair than what the royal-loving public was used to seeing. Here, they are seen waving to crowds outside a small chapel near Windsor Castle.
David Beckham And Posh Spice Tie The Knot
Two weeks after Prince Edward and Sophie were married the real British royal wedding happened. Soccer star David Beckham had been dating Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams since 1997 and they were dubbed British celebrity royalty. Victoria was part of the Spice Girls at the time and the two quickly became the most popular couple in Britain.
Their marriage also sparked Spice Girls fans to rightfully worry their the girl group was done. One year late in December 2000, the group went on a hiatus until 2007.
NATO Enters The Yugoslav Wars
It had been nearly ten years since the Soviet Union had fallen apart but the world was still feeling the aftermath. Particularly, Yugoslavia was dealing with ethnic infighting between Serbians, Albanians, Bosnians, and Croatians. In March 1999, NATO officially began a bombing campaign in response to the conflict.
The Republic of Kosovo was a particularly nasty fighting ground. Here, Kosovo soldiers have dressed up one of their sons with a gun to defend himself.
Tiger Woods Wins Eight Championships
Like his later career, Tiger Wood’s early years in golf were filled with ups and downs. He was only 20-years-old in 1996 when he turned professional. The next year, Tiger won three PGA Tours and his first Masters tournament. Things took a turn in 1998 whe Tiger had a seemingly disastrous season.
None of it mattered though in 1999 when Tiger took home eight pro titles. He went on to be the dominant force in golf for more of the 2000s until scandal after scandal cut his career.
George W. Bush Announced His Candidacy For President
Few people were surprised when the Governor of Texas, George W. Bush, announced he was running for President in 1999. What did come as a surprise was allegations that he used cocaine in college. Allegedly he was even arrested for it but a friendly Republican judge expunged his records.
Many believed the allegations would sink his campaign. Bush never flat-out denied the rumor and simply called himself “young and irresponsible.”
Two Students Open Fire At Columbine High School
On April 20, 1999, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on students and teachers before turning the guns on themselves. They killed 13 people that day and injured 21. While mass shootings had occurred in the past, the Columbine shooting is believed to have marked the increase in school shootings.
The Columbine shooting also sparked a debate in America about bullying, gun culture, goth culture, and violence in video games.
The London Eye Debuts Along The Thames
The London Eye Ferris wheel is now one of the most recognizable sights but many non-Brits don’t know it was actually modeled on a previous Ferris wheel. The Great Wheel was opened in London in 1895 and stayed in service until 1906.
Almost 100 years later, the London Eye was constructed along the bank of the Thames and became The Largest Observation Wheel In The World. Since its opening, more than 30 million people have ridden it.
Europe Experiences A Total Solar Eclipse
Back in 1999, people all across Europe got to experience a total solar eclipse on August 11, 1999. It was the first total eclipse visible in Europe and the United Kingdom since 1927. People from Ireland to Hungary were able to witness the eclipse in real time thanks to it being summer vacation.
In 2017, Americans watched the first total solar eclipse since 1918. Another total solar eclipse won’t cross most of America again until 2024.