Milestones, Events, And Inventions Turning 50 This Year

The year 1971 was a time of innovation and change. In 2021, let’s acknowledge those inventions, events, people, and places that helped shape present-day life. From Walt Disney World’s grand opening to the floppy disk being invented and Malibu Barbie making her beach debut, there is more than one important 50th anniversary happening this year.

Walt Disney World’s Grand Opening

Walt Disney World
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 1971, The Happiest Place on Earth opened its gates in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, the theme park’s second location. Then, entrance fees for teens were $2.50, adults $1.50, and kids under 12 years of age could enter the park for a mere $1!

Those prices are pennies compared to what people have to pay to ride Space Mountain, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and see the fireworks display over Cinderella’s castle 50 years later.

Mariner 9 Became The First Spacecraft To Orbit Another Planet

Mariner 9
NASA/Wikimedia Commons
NASA/Wikimedia Commons

On May 30, 1971, the NASA Mariner program launched Mariner 9, a robotic space probe that contributed to the exploration of an otherwise unknown planet, Mars. It took 14 days from the probe’s initial launch to make it to the red giant.

But once Mariner 9 made it there, it became the first spacecraft to actually orbit around another planet. This was a huge feat for science and space travel! Over the course of its mission, the probe sent back 7,329 images of Mar’s surface.

The Eagles Were Formed In Los Angeles

The Classic Rock Band, The Eagles Formed
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

The six-time Grammy Award-winning classic rock band, the Eagles, formed in Los Angeles 50 years ago, in 1971. After breaking off as “those guys in the background” for Linda Ronstadt, Glenn Frey and Don Henley decided it was time to form their own group, bringing Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner into the mix.

Eventually, the Eagles would go on to be one of the most popular rock bands in the United States during the ’70s.

Malibu Barbie Made Her Beach Debut

Malibu Barbie Made Her Beach Debut
Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images
Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images

The Barbie doll was first introduced in 1959, but it took a few more years for her spin-off alter-egos to make their way to store shelves. In 1971, Malibu Barbie hit shelves wearing a cute blue swimsuit, sunglasses, and sporting a yellow beach towel as an accessory.

With that “long, long hair you can comb,” Malibu Barbie and her “California girl look” were an instant hit and remained immensely popular during the ’70s.

The Very First E-Mail Was Sent

Ray Tomlinson Sent The Very First E-Mail
MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images
MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine a world without something as simple as an e-mail, considering many people all over the world send at least one per day. The thing is, the concept of electronically sending mail is pretty young, only 50 years old.

And who do the people of the world have to thank for putting the phrase “per my last email” into their professional lives? Ray Tomlinson, an MIT graduate who only wanted to see if a message could be transferred from one computer to another.

Mount Etna Erupted In Italy

Mount Etna Erupted In Italy
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

As of 2021, it’s been 50 years since the eruption of Italy’s 10,902-foot-tall volcano, Mount Etna. While it was an amazing display of nature, the volcano wound up all but destroying the local observatory.

Today, Mount Etna is still the most active volcano in the world. Thankfully, some new safety measures have been put into effect, and people aren’t able to get as close to the destructive mountain as this photo shows!

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory Was Released In Theaters

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory Released In Theaters
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Roald Dahl released the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964. In 1971, the film adaptation Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in theaters.

The film might have been disowned by Dahl and never made it to the award stage, but at least it got a star in Gene Wilder. Seriously, who else would have been able to make an innocent boat scene absolutely horrifying like he did?

Computer Enthusiasts Were Saved By Floppy Disks

Computer Enthusiasts Were Saved By The Floppy Disks
Volkmar Heinz/picture alliance via Getty Images
Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Fifty years ago, the floppy disk was invented, saving computer-users from using annoying and outdated technology to save any of their work. IBM’s innovative new disk had a ton of storage capacity, was flexible, and, best of all, it was 100% portable.

These bad boys were revolutionary when they came onto the market. And while they might look like ancient pieces of technology now, they were one of the first steps in giving us the modern-day flash drive and cloud.

The Quarter Pounder Was Added to McDonald’s Menu

The Quarter Pounder Was Added to McDonald's Menu
Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images
WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images

It was 50 years ago when McDonald’scame up with a now-famous new item to add to the Mickey D’s menu. While the chain pretty much changed the landscape of the modern-day fast-food market, nothing prepared the world for the epic Quarter Pounder.

Made of one four-ounce burger and toppings including a startling piece of yellow cheese, the Quarter Pounder was added to the McDonald’s menu on a national scale two years laster.

College Students Invented The Hit Computer Game Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail
MECC
MECC

Do you remember playing this? Believe it or not, the wildly popular computer game is 50 years old this year! Coded by three college students, Oregon Trail was actually made for a middle school history class, which one of its inventors was student-teaching.

The game became so popular with the young students that the district and then the state asked the three coders if they would use it in the curriculum.

Apollo 14’s Mission To The Moon

Apollo 14's Mission To The Moon
Heritage Space/Heritage Images via Getty Images
Heritage Space/Heritage Images via Getty Images

On Sunday, January 31, 1971, the United States sent three astronauts to space in Apollo 14, the third spacecraft to ever land on the moon. Alan B. Shepard Jr., Stuart A. Roosa, and Edgar D. Mitchell became the first people to land in what’s known as the “lunar highlands.”

And Shepard is also the first person to hit some balls on the moon’s surface! Nothing says “one small step for man” quite like working on a golf swing.

All In The Family Debuted, Changing The Landscape Of TV

All In The Family
CBS
CBS

Norman Lear’s series All in My Family made its television debut on January 12, 1971. He might not have known it at the time, but Lear changed the face of television by introducing a series filled with then-taboo issues that people were, otherwise, too afraid to talk about in the light of day.

The series even had a disclaimer pop up before the opening credits began to roll, reminding people of the absurdity of “our frailties, prejudices, and concerns.”

Greenpeace Made Its Mark On The World

Greenpeace
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1971 the environmental conservation group Greenpeace made its first mark on the world. After hearing about a nuclear test that was going to happen off the coast of Alaska, a group of activists jumped to stop what could’ve ultimately caused a tsunami.

So, on September 15, 1971, a group of activists threw themselves in harm’s way to try and stop the detonation. It still happened. But the outrage and attention brought by Greenpeace ensured the government would never launch from that site again.

Pocket Calculators Changed Math

A teacher teaching mathematics in a High School
Unkel/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Unkel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Fifty years ago, Texas Instruments introduced a piece of technology that changed math classes forever. Their pocket-sized calculator was the forerunner of today’s fancy graphing calculators, and it amazed students with its ability to perform four simple math tasks — addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Called the Canon Pocketronic (not pictured), the novel device printed answers onto a slip of thermal paper tape that came out of the left side.

The 26th Amendment Was Adopted Into The Constitution

The 26th Amendment Was Adopted Into The Constitution
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Before the 26th Amendment was adopted into the United States Constitution, 18-year-olds were allowed to do things like joining the military, paying taxes, getting married, and working, but they weren’t able to head to the polls and vote.

Fifty years ago, on July 1, 1971, the voting age in the country changed from 21 to the “legal adult” age of 18 with the introduction of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

George Lucas’ Directorial Debut, THX 1138

George Lucas' Directorial Debut, THX 1138
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Years before Luke Skywalker learned about his family history, George Lucas brought something else to the silver screen in his directorial debut, the horrifying 1971 sci-fi film THX 1138.

In an Orwellian dystopia, free will and love are foreign concepts, and the public is given drugs to ensure their compliance. The movie received critical acclaim even though it underperformed at the box office. Fifty years later and it gained a cult following.

Hamburger Helper Hit Grocery Store Shelves

Hamburger Helper Hit Grocery Store Shelves
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

After realizing that their easy and economically-friendly boxed dinners required multiple dishes to prepare, General Mills went back to the drawing board. In 1971, they introduced American families to something that would change the dinner game forever, Hamburger Helper.

According to General Mills, 25% of households purchased the product within that very first year, filling their bellies with the help of “the Helping Hand,” or “Lefty,” the official glove mascot of Hamburger Helper.

Soft And Flexible Contact Lenses Were Introduced

Soft And Flexible Contact Lenses Were Introduced
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Almost 100 years after the invention of the first contact lens, the softer lenses of today are celebrating their 50th anniversary. It’s amazing that it took that long for people to realize the original contact lens design wasn’t going to be very comfortable.

Well, at least it wasn’t going to work for people who actually enjoyed their eyes and not getting cut by something that closer resembled glass than a lens!

Salyut 1, The World’s First Space Station, Was Launched

Salyut 1, The World's First Space Station, Was Launched
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Humankind took a giant leap forward in 1971 when the Soviet Union launched the first-ever space station into orbit. At 65-feet-long, the Salyut 1 was a way to extend astronauts’ space stays, allowing them to collect more data.

The first space explorers to spend time in the station were Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Vokov. The three men stayed a total of three weeks in the space station; they also became the last people to step foot inside.

Sacha Baron Cohen Turns 50 On October 13

Sacha Baron Cohen Turns 50 On October 13
Leon Bennett/WireImage
Leon Bennett/WireImage

Fictional satirical character actor extraordinaire Sacha Baron Cohen turns 50 in 2021. Born on October 13, 1971, Baron Cohen is known for being a prankster, interviewing people and getting them to reveal some of their darkest thoughts. It’s quite a remarkable superpower.

The Borat actor is considered a method acting genius, adopting various accents and guises to portray his eccentric characters in the most accurate way possible. He is definitely a one of a kind actor.

NPR Launched Its First Program

NPR Launched Its First Program
Joshua Yospyn/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Joshua Yospyn/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

National Public Radio, aka NPR, has been a wildly popular news radio broadcast since its flagship program was broadcast on April 20, 1971, All Things Considered. The program showcased a Senate hearing regarding the Vietnam War.

Since its start, the opinion and news segments broadcast on NPR have been a go-to source of information for millions of Americans, with 14.7 million people tuning in per week.

Frederick W. Smith Invented FedEx

Christmas Mail Rush
Douglas Tesner/Getty Images
Douglas Tesner/Getty Images

Fifty years ago, Frederick W. Smith changed the way packages are delivered. While studying at Yale, Smith began thinking about a way to get things shipped across the country overnight, inventing what would eventually be known as FedEx.

Moving to Memphis and opening personal airports, Smith’s dream finally took off when the first plane set out to deliver the company’s first 186 packages. Thankfully, Tom Hanks was not on a plane, and the packages made it to their respective locations.

Dirty Harry Made Its Way To The Silver Screen

Dirty Harry Made Its Way To The Silver Screen
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Don Siegel’s American neo-noir film Dirty Harry made its way to the silver screen 50 years ago. Starring Clint Eastwood as the title character, the film was inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer murder mystery, as Detective Harry Callahan hunts a similar bad guy in the movie.

Overall, Dirty Harry was wildly praised by both critics and film-goers, all agreeing that Eastwood’s performance was top-notch. One critic even said that it was “his best performance so far.”

The First CT Scan Was Developed

The First CT Scan Was Developed
Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images
Valery SharifulinTASS via Getty Images

In 1972, the first commercially viable CT scanner was co-invented by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield and Dr. Allan Cormack. While the machinery isn’t nearly as advanced as it is today, it was still a remarkable medical breakthrough.

The tomographic images that come from the X-rays of CT scans have helped professionals make accurate medical diagnoses throughout the decades, with over 80 million utilizing the medical-grade apparatus in 2015 alone!

The Attica Prison Riots, The Largest Ever In The United States

The Attica Prison Riots, The Largest Ever In The United States
Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images
Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images

On September 9, 1971, the prisoners of Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York, rallied together to overthrow the guards in what is still the biggest prison riot in United States history.

The prisoners wound up taking guards as hostages and began making demands for things such as more religious freedom and better living conditions. In the end, the guards took back control of the prison, but not without fatalities on both sides.

The National Railroad Passenger Service Act Was Passed

amtrak
STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images
STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

Considering a lot of people utilize Amtrak trains on a daily basis, it’s amazing to think of a time when they were available as public transportation. Alas, it was only 50 years ago that The National Railroad Passenger Service Act was passed, and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was created.

In 2018 alone, Amtrak serviced around 31.7 million passengers, with nearly 87,000 of those passengers utilizing the system in their daily lives.

Charles Manson Was Convicted

Charles Manson Was Convicted
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, California was home to the infamous Manson Family, a cult who believed their leader, Charles Manson, was the manifestation of Jesus Christ. The family wreaked havoc in northern California for years, dealing in petty crimes.

But it was in August of 1969 and the murder of Sharon Tate and six others that finally saw the end to the Family. In January 1971, Manson and three of his followers were convicted and sentenced to the death penalty (later knocked down to life in prison).

Klute Was Released In Theaters

Klute Was Released In Theaters
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Alan J. Pakula American neo-noir crime thriller Klute was released in theaters 50 years ago. Starring a young Jane Fonda, the film was considered revolutionary at the time, breaking genre stereotypes, including how Fonda’s lady of the night character was portrayed.

Klute found itself nominated for two Academy Awards during the 44th ceremony, with Fonda winning Best Actress. According to many critics, the actress is an absolute force of nature in the movie.

Kevlar Was First Used To Replace Steel In Racing Tires

Kevlar Was First Used To Replace Steel In Racing Tires
Ingo Wagner/picture alliance via Getty Images
Ingo Wagner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Today, Kevlar might be thought of as solely used as material for bulletproof armor, but back in 1971, it was introduced as something else altogether. That year, the material was used as a steel replacement in racing tires. It made them lighter without taking away durability.

Fast-forward 50 years to 2021, and Kevlar has been used in many different areas, including drumheads, racing sails, and various underwater apparatus, such as mooring lines.

The 12 Seconds Of The Sylmar Earthquake

Sylmar Earthquake
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Twelve seconds, that’s all it took for the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake, also known as the San Fernando Earthquake, to cause more than $500 million worth of property damage and 60 deaths throughout Los Angeles, California, in the early morning of February 9.

The monumental destruction made it clear that something had to change with the cityscape and future construction of Los Angeles, not to mention overall earthquake safety and preparedness. It might have no been the Big One, but it still woke the city up in the worst way possible.