In the summer of 1830, King William I of the Netherlands scheduled a multi-day birthday bash in Brussels, and he expected everybody in the city to join in the fun. The celebration, however, would not go as planned: Political turmoil, which had been brewing in the city for months, would cause two public events—a fireworks display and a procession—to be canceled. One of the few public events to remain on the schedule would be an August 25 performance of the operaThe Mute Girl of Portici, by the French composer Daniel Auber.
Like the other events planned that week, the show would experience a few hiccups.
In the mid 1830s, tensions in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands were at a boil. In the north, most citizens (King William I among them) were Dutch Protestants. In the south, most people were French-speaking Roman Catholics—and they were demanding independence.
Considering this growing atmosphere of discontent, King William I's choice of opera was a questionable one. The plot of Portici's fiery libretto revolves around the Neapolitan revolts of 1647, telling the tale of Masaniello, the real-life Italian fisherman who led an uprising against the rulers of Naples. (The opera itself was revolutionary, too: Among the first of its kind in the genre, this "French grand opera"—called La Muette de Portici in its native language—was a lavish and large-scale spectacle that, most notably, had integrated ballet and mime into the performance.)
One could say the opera's place in history was preordained: It was one of the final public events for King William I's celebration and, after the cancellation of the fireworks and the procession, one of the few events locals could openly protest. Days before the show, the newspaper Courrier des Pays-Bas suggested that concertgoers should leave the performance at the fifth act. Many of the attendees, however, were so moved by the opera's nationalistic music that they left much earlier. During a second act duet, called Amour Sacré de la Patrie—or "Sacred Love of the Fatherland"—the crowd began to cheer so wildly that the performers reportedly had to stop singing and start over.
Eventually, the performers reached the peak of the piece's lyrics—singing Aux Armes, that is: "Call to Arms"—and dozens of spectators stood from their seats and ran to the streets. When the fifth act arrived, audience members began to loudly boo in an attempt to stop the show and incite a riot. "The delirious crowd [hurled itself] out of the hall—and into history," wrote 20th-century French composer Lionel Renieu. "Welcomed by the other crowd which waited outside, it joined in the demonstrations which loosed the revolution of 1830."
Indeed, the musical performance had invigorated the crowd. The audience passionately chanted patriotic slogans, stormed into government buildings, and began destroying factory machinery. Within days, they were flying the flag of Independent Belgium, which was tied to a standard with shoelaces.
The dissent in Brussels was powerful enough to attract the attention of other disaffected working class people in the south, and soon thousands more would join the cause. According to the History Channel, just one month later, "the city fell into bloody street battles between the military and the rebels, who were eventually victorious. They drafted a Declaration of Independence on 4 October, and on 20 December the London Conference declared the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was dissolved." Soon, Belgium was its own independent country.
Years later, in 1871, the German composer Richard Wagner—who had met the elder Auber numerous times and had conducted a production of Portici himself—wrote in his book Reminiscences of Auber, "[S]eldom has an artistic product stood in closer connection to a world event."
Celebrating the big 5-0 this year? You’re in excellent company. From the first manned Moon landing to Monty Python, here are 50 things marking a half-century on this planet (and beyond) in 2019.
1. First Manned Moon Landing
Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon on July 16, 1969. It reached its destination on July 20 and on July 21, Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface, with Buzz Aldrin following him about 20 minutes later. The mission marked the beginning of the U.S. putting a dozen men on the moon.
2. Sesame Street
On November 10, 1969, television audiences were introduced to Sesame Street (including an orange version of Oscar the Grouch). In the nearly 50 years since, the series has become one of television's most iconic programs—and not just for kids.
3. Stonewall Riots
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, The Stonewall Inn—a popular gay bar in New York City’s West Village—was raided by police. The incident sparked a series of riots in protest, and became the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. In 2016, the bar was named a National Monument.
There’s been a long-running debate about when “The Internet” was born, with many tech-heads citing April 7, 1969 as the web’s official birthdate. That’s the day the first official Request for Comments, or RFC, was published—which included research, proposals, and ideas for the creation of true internet technology.
On August 15, 1969, a 600-acre dairy farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains became the site of one of the most defining music events in rock ‘n’ roll history. Though Woodstock’s organizers assured town officials that no more than 50,000 music lovers would show up, word spread fast and the final tally ended up being closer to 400,000—almost 100 times the town of Bethel’s year-round population of about 4200.
Those plastic tubes of frozen, flavored sugar water seem to be a part of everyone’s childhood—and with good reason: Fla-Vor-Ice made its grocery store debut in 1969.
8. The Gap
On August 21, 1969, Donald and Doris Fisher opened the very first Gap store on San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue. While jeans were a main attraction, the retailer looked a lot different back then: It sold Levi’s only (plus records, in an attempt to attract that coveted teenage demographic).
9. The Beatles’s Rooftop Concert
On January 30, 1969, right around lunchtime, The Beatles made their way to the rooftop of the Apple Corps building, their record label’s headquarters, for an unannounced performance. It was the first time in more than two years that the band had performed live, and they didn’t miss a beat. The Fab Four spent 42 minutes testing new material out on a crowd of onlookers. Eventually, a bank manager called the police to lodge a noise complaint—and the plug was pulled.
On November 3, 1969, PBS was founded as a successor to National Educational Television (NET) and quickly became the country’s preeminent broadcaster of educational, cultured television. Among its most popular series in those early days were Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Nova, The French Chef with Julia Child, and Masterpiece Theatre (some of which are still going strong).
Wendy’s—the fast food burger giant that also makes a mean baked potato—was founded by Dave Thomas in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1969. The restaurant differentiated itself from the competition with its square burger patties, which were inspired by Kewpee’s, a burger joint in Thomas’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
On June 3, 1969, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar came into the world and made the tale of, well, a very hungry caterpillar that eats his way through the story and emerges as a butterfly a staple of bedtime stories around the world. More than 30 million copies of the children’s book have been sold since its original publication.
13. David Bowie's "Space Oddity"
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired David Bowie to write “Space Oddity,” the opening song on his second studio album that would become one of the artist’s defining hits. It was released on July 11, 1969—less than a week before Apollo 11 began its historic voyage to the Moon.
14. Peter Dinklage
On June 11, 1969, Peter Dinklage came bouncing into this world in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1991, he made his onscreen debut in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog. Today, of course, he’s best known as Tyrion Lannister—everyone’s favorite character Game of Thrones’s character and the series’ real star (according to math).
Looks like an onion ring, tastes like an onion-flavored chip. Funyuns have been offering the best of both worlds since 1969.
16. The Brady Bunch
Here's the story of a lovely lady, her architect husband, three daughters, three stepsons, one housekeeper, a dog named Tiger, and one jinx of a cousin—all of whom came together to create one memorable blended family sitcom. The Brady Bunch made its premiere on September 26, 1969.
On March 31, 1969, Kurt Vonnegut published what is arguably his most popular work, Slaughterhouse-Five—a semi-autobiographical novel based on his experiences as a POW during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.
18. John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
On March 20, 1969, one of the world’s most famous couples—John Lennon and Yoko Ono—officially got hitched. Knowing that all eyes would be on them in the days following their wedding, they decided to book the presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and stage a week-long “Bed-In” to protest the Vietnam War and promote global peace.
19. Automatic Teller Machine
On September 2, 1969, the country’s first ATM started shelling out cash to Chemical Bank customers in Rockville Center, New York.
20. Cracker Barrel
On September 19, 1969, Dan W. Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lebanon, Tennessee, where made-from-scratch fare was always on the menu. Today, the restaurant chain operates more than 650 locations across 45 states.
21. Chappaquiddick Incident
In the late-night hours of July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car off a one-lane bridge and into the water on Chappaquidick Island, Massachusetts. While Kennedy was able to escape the vehicle, his passenger—28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a former staffer for Ted’s late brother Bobby—was not. Instead of calling for help, Kennedy fled the scene and didn’t report the incident for another 10 hours. Kennedy eventually pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month jail sentence, which was suspended. Though he remained an active politician for the rest of his life, the “Chappaquidick Incident,” as it came to be known, is often cited as a reason why Kennedy was never elected president (he ran unsuccessfully in 1980).
22. Tic Tacs
Introduced in 1969 as “Refreshing Mints,” Tic Tacs have cornered the market on teeny-tiny breath mints that make a fun shaking noise while resting in your pocket. Though orange and mint were the original (and still popular) flavors, dozens of new flavors have been added since then and the mints now sell in more than 100 countries.
23. "Sweet Caroline"
Jim Rogash, Getty Images
In June 1969, Neil Diamond released “Sweet Caroline,” which he later explained had been inspired by Caroline Kennedy. (He even performed the tune at her 50th birthday.) Whether you love the song or hate it, it endures—particularly as a theme at sporting events. For more than 20 years, it’s been played at Boston’s Fenway Park during every Red Sox home game. So good, so good, so good.
24. Jennifer Aniston
On February 11, 1969, Jennifer Aniston was born in Sherman Oaks, California to actors John Aniston and Nancy Dow. Though she rose to super-stardom playing Rachel Green on Friends, her roles weren’t always so glamorous: Her first gig was an uncredited role in 1987’s Mac and Me and she had a starring role in the awesomely terrible 1993 “horror” film Leprechaun. Aniston share’s her birthday with a host of other talented actresses turning 50 this year, including Cate Blanchett, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
25. Easy Rider
A seminal film of the late 1960s counter-culture—and one of the film’s that kicked off the New Hollywood era of filmmaking—Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s trippy road movie made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1969. Hopper, who directed Easy Rider and co-wrote it with Fonda and Terry Southern, left France with the festival’s Best First Work award (and a soon-to-be-iconic film on his hands).
26. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Originally published in 1969, the first in Maya Angelou’s series of autobiographies delves into her earliest years, beginning at age 3, when she and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas. It culminates with a teenaged Angelou giving birth to her son, Guy, at the age of 16. The book confirmed Angelou’s status as one of America’s most original and important voices, and was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970.
27. “A Boy Named Sue”
On February 24, 1969—while famously performing live at California's San Quentin State Prison—legendary singer Johnny Cash debuted “A Boy Named Sue.” If the title and lyrics seem oddly whimsical for the Man in Black, that’s because the tune was written by children’s author/poet Shel Silverstein.
28. Firebird Trans Am
The first generation of Pontiac’s legendary muscle car began rolling off the assembly line in 1969 and continued being manufactured—with tiny tweaks over the years—until 2002. The vehicle earned an important place in pop culture, thanks to starring roles inSmokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider.
29. The Star Trek Finale
Given its pop culture dominance and impact on the science fiction genre, it’s hard to believe that the original version of Star Trek only spent three seasons on the air. But on June 3, 1969, early Trekkies watched as an evil scientist swapped bodies with Captain Kirk and attempted to take control of the Enterprise in the series finale, “Turnabout Intruder."
30. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
The bestselling novel that led to Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning movie—and one of the only sequels in cinema history to be as good as, if not better than, its predecessor—was published on March 10, 1969.
31. The Concorde
While the origins of the supersonic jet that came to be known as the Concorde began back in the 1950s, it wasn’t until March 2, 1969, that the vessel—a.k.a. Concorde 001—made its maiden voyage. It would take another seven years for the plane to become a regular sight in the skies.
32. Paul Rudd
Hollywood’s most likeable actor was born in Passaic, New Jersey on April 6, 1969. Fifty years later, he’s stirring up all sorts of confusion and excitement amongst fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe following his unexpected cameo in the first trailer for this year’s Avengers: Endgame. Rudd shares a birthday with Matthew McConaughey and Dave Bautista.
33. Human Eye Transplant
On April 22, 1969, doctors at Houston’s Methodist Hospital made history when they performed the first human eye transplant on 55-year-old John Madden. While the transplant itself was technically a success, the donated eye had not been properly preserved, so Madden’s eyesight remained unchanged. "I don't know what they expected,’’ Madden’s wife said at the time. “They tell us that being able to transplant an eye and have movement in it is really something.”
34. Midnight Cowboy
John Schlesinger’s buddy dramedy about a goofy Texan (Jon Voight) and a sickly—albeit crafty—con man (Dustin Hoffman) teaming up to turn the 6-gallon-hat-wearing galoot into one of New York City’s most in-demand gigolos is the first and only X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
35. Quartz Watches
On December 25, 1969—following 10 years of extensive research—Seiko debuted the Quartz-Astron 35SQ, the world’s first quartz watch. Even today, it's still logged as one of the great milestones in electric engineering.
Abbey Road—The Beatles’s eleventh studio album, and the final one on which all four original members recorded together—was released on September 26, 1969. (Let It Be came out on May 8, 1970, but was recorded before Abbey Road.)
37. Home Surveillance Systems
On December 2, 1969, Queens, New York native Marie V.B. Brown and her husband Albert were issued a patent for a home security system that allowed the owner to utilize a television set in order to see and hear whoever was at the front door.
38. Portnoy's Complaint
On January 12, 1969, the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint turned author Philip Roth into both an instant celebrity and a lightning rod for controversy for those who took issue with his frank depictions of sexuality. He maintained an impressive status as both until his passing in 2018.
39. The Saturday Evening Post’s Final Issue
After nearly 150 years of Norman Rockwell covers and iconic Americana, The Saturday Evening Post ceased publication in 1969. Though the print magazine was revived in 1971, its focus was much more on medical articles, so it was never again the same thing that it had been.
40. Wes Anderson
Tullio M. Puglia, Getty Images
The quirky, whimsy-loving director behind Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Grand Budapest Hotel was born in Houston, Texas on May 1, 1969. It’s in that very same city that Anderson attended high school at the St. John’s School, which would later play the titular role in Rushmore.
41. Capri Sun
Though Capri Sun—and its notoriously difficult-to-pierce-in-just-the-right-place juice pouches—didn’t make its way to the U.S. until 1981, the juice concentrate was first introduced in Switzerland in 1969.
42. Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s first studio album made its American debut on January 12, 1969, less than a year after the iconic rock band’s formation.
43. Cory Booker
Cory Booker, the longtime mayor of Newark-turned-New Jersey senator, was born in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 1969.
44. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Director George Roy Hill took the American western to dizzying new heights with the help of Paul Newman and Robert Redford when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in theaters on October 24, 1969. Four Oscars followed.
45. RMS Queen Elizabeth 2
For nearly 40 years, the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2—better known as the QE2—was the grand dame of the Atlantic Ocean. As part of the Cunard family of ships, the luxury ocean liner made her maiden voyage on May 2, 1969 and continued to serve as a transatlantic shuttle between Southampton, England and New York City until 2008. In 2018, she reopened as a floating hotel in Dubai.
46. Altamont Free Concert
Free concerts didn’t work out quite as planned in 1969. Four months after Woodstock attracted an unprecedented number of guests to a dairy farm in upstate New York, the Rolling Stones decided to host a free concert of their own at California’s Altamont Speedway. While it’s often reported that the Hells Angels were officially hired as security for the event, some individuals involved in its planning deny this. But there’s no denying that several members of the infamous motorcycle club were indeed there, surrounding the stage, and reacting to the increasingly agitated crowd. By the end of the night, four people had been killed—three of them accidentally—while many more were injured due to scuffles of varying degrees of severity. Documentarians Albert and David Maysles were on hand to record the events, which they turned into Gimme Shelter, one of the most fascinating rockumentaries of all time.
47. Battery-operated Smoke Detectors
You know that tiny device that wakes you up in the middle of the night making a racket just because its batteries are dying? But could also save your life in the event of a fire? It’s turning 50! Duane D. Pearsall invented the first battery-operated smoke detector on February 5, 1969.
48. The Manson Family
In 1967, following his release from a seven-year prison stint for forging checks and transporting women across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, Charles Manson moved to San Francisco and began assembling a devout group of followers—many of them young women—who were ready to do his bidding, whatever that might be. Though the “family” unit was formed a bit earlier, they rose to global prominence—much to the horror of everyday citizens everywhere—when a group of Manson’s followers murdered five people at Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate’s Los Angeles rental home on the evening of August 8, 1969. Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was among the victims. One week later, police raided Spahn Ranch—where the Manson Family lived—and arrested 26 individuals, Manson among them.
49. Scooby Doo
On September 13, 1969, CBS viewers were introduced to the kind of trippy world of Scooby Doo and his gang of human mystery-solvers—Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Shaggy Rogers—when Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! debuted as part of the Saturday morning cartoon lineup. That most of the “mysteries” ended in the same way—with the gang pulling a mask off the monster that had been stalking them, only to find it was a human they knew—didn’t seem to hinder the classic cartoon’s popularity.
Several months before Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut, another sketch comedy show—one that included Albert Brooks among its writers—made its premiere on February 5, 1969 and disappeared just as quickly. Though two episodes were filmed, only one aired. Leaving the series to be remembered as one of the biggest flops of all time. (Yes, it’s important to commemorate that, too.)