In America, 1968 was a turbulent year. There were two assassinations, anti-war demonstrators in the street, students taking over college campuses, cities torched and burning, and an increasingly unpopular war in Southeast Asia that was claiming lives daily.
But even in times of historical unrest and upheaval, culture continues. Books are written. Movies are made. TV shows debut. Records are released. New products unveiled.
Here is a timeline of some of that cultural history that was happening 50 years ago this year. For those of you alive then, how many of these events do you remember?
4 — Hot Wheels toy cars are introduced by American toy-making company Mattel.
8 — “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding is released. It becomes the first posthumous record to ever rise to number 1 on the charts.
18 — First major Women’s March in DC since Suffragette Era. 5,000 women take to the streets chanting “Sisterhood Is Power” to protest the war in Vietnam and the social crisis at home.
22 — Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In debuts on TV. From that show, we get Lily Tomlin, Goldie Hawn and Ruth Buzzi.
16 — Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison and their wives head to India to begin study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, opening the way for worldwide interest in meditation and Eastern religions.
19 — Rogers Neighborhood debuts on PBS. Youngsters learn about kindness and empathy for decades.
8 — Rock promoter Bill Graham opens The Fillmore East in New York City as a companion venue to his famed Fillmore West club in San Francisco.
26 — I celebrate my 16th
3 — 2001: A Space Odyssey is released. To this day, still one of the most influential and enigmatic science fiction movies ever made.
Original Planet of the Apes movie starring Charlton Heston released.
14 — The Boys in the Band debuts on Broadway. First major contemporary play to deal with homosexuality.
29 — The hippie musical Hair The play celebrates the dawning of the Age of Aquarius by letting the sunshine in and allowing the cast to take off their clothes.
30 — Simon and Garfunkel’s single “Mrs. Robinson” released. With the single and the movie, The Graduate, Mrs. Robinson becomes the most famous cougar ever.
19 — The Rolling Stones release their single “Jumping Jack Flash,” beginning a Stones resurgence that lasts through the 70s.
7 — Jacuzzi tub debuts for home use. It’s named after its inventor, Roy Jacuzzi.
11 — Polo clothing line by Ralph Lauren first appears; Calvin Klein line, too.
12 — The eerie Rosemary’s Baby is released, detailing the story of a pregnant woman (played by Mia Farrow) who believes a Satanic cult wants to take her baby for their rituals.
14 – Iron Butterfly release their 17-minute psychedelic classic single “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”
17 — Beatles’ animated movie Yellow Submarine debuts in London.
22 — Virginia Slims cigarettes for women introduced. “You’ve come a long way, baby” slogan enters the language.
25 – Pope Paul VI issues order banning Catholic women from using birth control.
Tom Wolfe, one of the originators of what comes to be called New Journalism, releases two books, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Pump House Gang, detailing the emerging counterculture.
26 — Beatles release their single “Hey Jude,” which eventually reaches number one on the charts and stays there for nine weeks. At 7 minutes and 11 seconds, it is the longest number one single ever.
1 — First Big Mac sold in Pittsburgh for 49 cents. Today, it’s estimated that more than 550 million Big Macs are sold annually in America alone, meaning an average of 17 of the sandwiches are sold every second in the U.S.
7 — 150 women’s lib movement supporters stage protest at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. The term “bra burners” enters the protest lexicon.
24 — TV news show 60 Minutes Still airing today, it’s the longest running news show in history.
7 — US institutes movie rating system (G M R X). I rush out to get a fake ID that makes me older than 16.
10 – Jane Fonda stars as sexy space vixen in the campy sci-fi film Barbarella.
17 – Steve McQueen stars as a San Francisco detective in the film Bullitt. The fantastic car chase in the movie sets the standard for all similar chases since.
20 — Jackie Kennedy marries Aristotle Onassis, marking the end of the JFK Camelot myth.
5 — Shirley Chisholm becomes the first black woman elected to the US House of Representatives.
9 — Yale University agrees to admit women for the first time. It had been all-male since it first opened in 1701.
11 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono release their first joint album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins. It sparks immediate controversy since Lennon and Ono appear naked on the cover. It is sold encased in a brown paper bag in both the United States and England.
22 — Star Trek airs America’s first interracial TV kiss on a major show. In the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Capt. William Kirk (William Shatner) kisses communications officer Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).
22 — The Beatles release their classic double-album, which is given the name The White Album for its plain white cover.
26 — University of Southern California running back O.J. Simpson wins the Heisman Trophy.
3 — Elvis Presley comeback TV special airs, revitalizing the King of Rock’s career until his death in 1977.
26 – An unknown-at-the-time British band called Led Zeppelin opens for the American band Vanilla Fudge. And the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.
History is not simply a list of dates and famous people, places and things. It is really a story of how those things affected common people like you and me.
What event in 1968 do you believe had the most impact on you and your life? Please share your significant memories in the comments below.
Dave Price is a retired journalist and educator now establishing a freelance writing/speaking/consulting practice in Atlanta, Georgia. He's specializing in four subjects - issues on aging, grandparenting, the Baby Boom generation, and classic rock music. In between writing articles, touring around with his wife of 4 decades, playing with his grandkids, dining on great regional food, and napping, he's working on a nonfiction book about the Baby Boomers and their relationship with music today. Please visit Dave's author page at https://writeonwithdaveprice.com and follow his classic rock news posts on Facebook and Twitter.