25 Things Turning 25 This Year
If 2015 marks your quarter-century of life, you're in great company. Humans in 1990 saw their place in the cosmos, along with some of the best cultural moments of a decade that would see the dot-com boom, the rise of Generation X, and so much more. Here are 25 things turning 25 in 2015. (And in case you missed it, we also have 30 Things Turning 30 in 2015!)
1. Pale Blue Dot (Photograph)
Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 to take photos of Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons. By 1980, the spacecraft had completed its initial mission and was on its way to interstellar space. Carl Sagan requested one last photo of Earth that year, but the idea was panned by some at NASA for fear that it might damage Voyager 1's cameras to take a photo facing the Sun. It wasn't for another decade that NASA took the 60 frames that compose the Family Portrait, one of which features Earth as a partial-pixel blue dot. The images were collected on Valentine's Day 1990, and transmitted back to Earth between March and May of the same year. In the same way the Blue Marble photograph gave humanity a new way to think about our planet (as seen from the moon), Pale Blue Dot gave us a sense of the vastness of space.
In 1994, Sagan would use the title for his book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. A passage from his audio narration of the book (read shortly before he died) eventually led to many internet video mashups, like this one from Michael Marantz:
2. Hubble Space Telescope
On April 24, 1990, Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-31 launched the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. The telescope had been planned for a much earlier launch, but the Challenger disaster of 1986 had derailed it (along with many other NASA projects). Shortly after the telescope came online, it became clear that there was a tiny (but serious) flaw in the primary mirror used to collect images. In December 1993, a service mission installed COSTAR, which was sort of like a set of corrective lenses to fix the problem.
Named for astronomer Edwin Hubble, the Hubble Space Telescope has taken huge numbers of photographs (currently downlinking over 120 GB of data each week), much of it available via HubbleSite or the rather more technical Hubble Legacy Archive. There were some remarkable new images released for the 25th anniversary.
3. The Biggest Art Theft in History
A little after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers removed 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The theft included major works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and Manet, as well as an ancient Chinese vessel. In total, the heist was worth more than $500 million (leading some to estimate this as the largest single private property theft in history). The pieces have not been recovered, and the theft appears in lots of TV shows, including an episode of Drunk History. (We also wrote a story about it.)
4. WHO Stops Treating Homosexuality as a Disease
On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization removed "homosexuality" from its International Classification of Diseases. This was a milestone in the slow change toward public acceptance of homosexuality (and ultimately other variants of LGBTQ identifications). The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) later declared May 17 The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
5. Twin Peaks
April 8, 1990 is seared into TV viewers' memories as the day Twin Peaks debuted, with its damn fine coffee, brilliant music, and surreal genre-twisting magic. Simply the fact that a David Lynch/Mark Frost-produced show was broadcast on a major network (ABC) was one thing; the reality that is was so weird and good was enough to generate a cult following. The series is so beloved that it's coming back in 2016, inspired by a line uttered by Laura Palmer during the series: "I'll see you again in 25 years."
6. Nickelodeon Studios and Universal Studios Florida
On the other end of the TV-quality spectrum, Nickelodeon Studios debuted in June 1990 as a combination TV studio-slash-amusement park, all contained within Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Oh yeah, that reminds me—Universal Studios Florida opened the same day. Here's a video from the Back to the Future ride (now closed), showing, among other things, a journey to 2015. (The actual ride experience starts around 2:20.)
Two years after opening, Nickelodeon Studios buried a very-'90s time capsule. Due to the closure of the studio, the time capsule has been relocated to Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando, with plans to open it in 2042. We will bring you live coverage when that happens.
7. The First HDTV Broadcast
In Europe, HDTV became a thing years before it reached the U.S. (and for the record, Japan was way ahead of everybody else—but their early broadcasts tended to be more experimental). Italian broadcaster RAI brought HDTV to Europe with the FIFA World Cup in 1990. Matches were shown in movie theaters due to the technology required, and after a few more years of experimentation, HDTV broadcasting in Europe was dropped until 2004.
Incidentally, West Germany won the World Cup on July 8, 1990. Which leads us to....
8. The Reunification of Germany
Although Germans tend to call the event die Wende (translation: "the turn"), most of the rest of us remember 1990's merger of West Germany and East Germany as "the reunification of Germany." After the Berlin Wall began to fall in 1989, the two Germanys found plenty of reasons to merge (not least the collapse of East Germany's economy). Throughout the year, efforts were made to unify the countries, including their currencies, culminating in a treaty signed on August 31, 1990 and fully enacted on October 3, 1990. One bummer resulting from this process: only one German team could compete in the next FIFA World Cup in 1994. The German team in 1994 was knocked out by Bulgaria in the Quarter-finals.
9. Nelson Mandela Released from Prison
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned by the apartheid government of South Africa; he was released in 1990 and became the first democratically-elected President of South Africa in 1994 after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize (with F.W. de Klerk) in 1993. A lifelong opponent of apartheid, Mandela achieved tremendous success after an incredible period of time as a political prisoner.
10. The First Web Page
Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for what would become the World Wide Web in 1989, but had to build a lot of tools and protocols in order to make it go. By Christmas 1990, all of the initial tools were in place, and he proceeded to write the first Web page, describing the World Wide Web itself.
The original copy is now lost—Web archives weren't really a thing before there was a Web—but in 2013, the earliest known copy of that page (dating to 1992) was discovered on a floppy disk and put back online. You can visit that page, though you should keep in mind that it's not quite the first. But close. Note: it's from a time before the Web had cool stuff like images.
11. Sue, the Best T. rex Fossil
Sue is now a fossil, but quite a while back she was a living, breathing Tyrannosaurus rex. What makes her remarkable is that she's the largest, most complete T. rex fossil we have, and she was unearthed in 1990.
Sue's discovery was the result of an amazing accident. The fossil was discovered (and named for) Sue Hendrickson, who was working with a team of researchers in the badlands of South Dakota. They were leaving their site one day when a flat tire disabled their vehicle. Hendrickson proceeded to explore the area and noticed some interesting bones—which turned out to be Sue.
It took two and a half years to assemble Sue, who stands 13 feet tall and is 41 feet long. Her teeth are as long as human forearms. You can see her at The Field Museum.
12. The Game Genie
Nintendo gamers remember 1990 as the year the Game Genie, a system for "enhancing" (also called "cheating") in home video games, was released. It initially shipped only in Canada due to a legal battle, but quickly came to the United States.
The Game Genie was a weird device; users had to cram it into their Nintendos (and later other systems), then place the game cartridge into a slot within the Genie. Upon startup, the user could then input a series of letters (a "code") that would change gameplay—offering extra lives, invulnerability, special weapons, or other changes. These codes modified the game code at runtime, so they were akin to simply changing some counter (like "How many lives remain") to a new number. Often, codes could be discovered at random, through a laborious process of trial and error, and new codes are still being discovered today.
For more on the Game Genie, see my overly-detailed 2012 article How Did the Game Genie Work?
13. Super Mario Bros. 3
Released in the U.S. on February 12, 1990 (though Japanese fans got it way back in 1988!), Super Mario Bros. 3 was the culmination of what was technically possible on the Nintendo Entertainment System. After the smash hit Super Mario Bros. (bundled with the NES) and the slightly confusing Super Mario Bros. 2, SMB 3 was universally praised as a terrific game, and it sold phenomenally well—about $1.7 billion in today's dollars.
SMB 3 was featured in the movie The Wizard, and it is technically possible to complete the game in three minutes (using serious trickery).
14. The (Amended) Clean Air Act
In 1989, President Bush proposed major changes to the Clean Air Act, which had first been passed way back in 1970. The changes, enacted in 1990, had to do with acid rain, ozone depletion, air quality (smog) in cities, and regulations on gasoline formulations. Some of these changes were spurred by the recent discovery of a hole in the ozone layer and international plans to deal with it.
15. Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man
In 1990, after working on Amazing Spider-Man for dozens of issues, Todd McFarlane was sick of drawing stories written by other people. He told his boss he wanted to quit illustrating Amazing Spider-Man, so he could pursue other projects. In a surprise move, McFarlane's boss offered him a brand new comic book, entitled simply Spider-Man, which McFarlane proceeded to write and illustrate (at least its first 14 issues). The "Torment" story arc was a smash hit, and was part of a revitalization of the comics industry in the '90s.
McFarlane's experience with Spider-Man would lead to the creation of Image Comics, publishing excellent titles like Spawn.
16. Home Alone, and a ton of other awesome movies
Tons of instant classics came out in 1990, including:
Dances with Wolves
The Hunt for Red October
17. The First McDonald's in Moscow
On the morning of January 31, 1990, the first McDonald's in Moscow opened its doors. The line to get in was insane (see video above), with more than 5000 people waiting for Big Macs. That day, the restaurant served over 30,000 patrons, setting a sales record (this was made possible by virtue of the restaurant being positively huge—there were 700 seats available opening day). Throughout 1990, more locations opened in Eastern Europe. The following year, the Soviet Union was dissolved. Coincidence?
18. Jurassic Park
Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park was a standout book of 1990, at least for me. But the same year, James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential came out, along with Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty, and Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Ultimatum. Notice a theme? They were all adapted into movies.
On the nonfiction side, Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine published Last Chance to See. Eleven years after its publication, Adams gave a beautiful lecture about the book, just days before he died.
19. In Living Color
In Living Color was a sketch comedy show on Fox featuring the Wayans family, plus a bunch of comedians who would go on to become famous: Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Tommy Davidson, and David Alan Grier, among others. It also featured "The Fly Girls," a dance troupe choreographed by Rosie Perez and including Jennifer Lopez (!). The show was a huge deal for a few years, then fizzled out in 1994. Here's an example of Jim Carrey in an early role as Fire Marshall Bill:
Bonus: Some other shows debuting in 1990 (aside from the previously mentioned Twin Peaks) included TaleSpin, Wings and Northern Exposure. Some lists include The Simpsons as starting in 1990, but its first episode (a Christmas special) aired in 1989.
20. Jennifer Lawrence, and a bunch of other awesome people
Jennifer Lawrence was just one awesome person who was born in 1990. Here's a list of notables:
Liam Hemsworth, January 13
Kristen Stewart, April 9
Emma Watson, April 15
Dev Patel, April 23
Princess Eugenie of York, March 23
Chris Colfer, May 27
Iggy Azalea, June 7
Margot Robbie, July 2
Rafael and Fabio da Silva, July 9
Damian Lillard, July 15
Soulja Boy, July 28
Jonathan Lipnicki, October 22
Rita Ora, November 26
Chanel Iman, December 1
21. Jamba Juice
Jamba Juice launched in San Luis Obispo, California in April of 1990. From humble beginnings, the franchise now has over 800 locations, which eventually led to my favorite David Letterman gag of all time: "How Many Guys in Spider-Man Suits Can Fit Into Jamba Juice?"
Bonus: Other brands launched in 1990 include The California Wine Club, Lucky Brand Jeans, and Roxy.
22. Martha Stewart Living Magazine
Martha Stewart Living started its print run in 1990 with a winter preview/test issue. The next year it was picked up as a quarterly magazine, which was, followed in 1993 by the TV show of the same name. Focused on Martha Stewart's skill in the "domestic arts," MSL became a hit, and started publishing monthly. The Martha Stewart Omnimedia empire today is a bit more diverse, with various TV shows, home products, books, and more.
Bonus: Entertainment Weekly and Nickelodeon Magazine (the latter initially distributed at Pizza Hut locations) also launched in 1990.
23. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam officially formed in 1990, after the death of Andrew Wood, singer in the band Mother Love Bone. In Pearl Jam's first gigs, the band was known as Mookie Blaylock (yes, after the basketball player), but renamed themselves late in the year when they signed a record contract. The next year they would record Ten, which just happened to be Mookie Blaylock's jersey number.
Bonus: Other bands formed in 1990: Ace of Base, Blessid Union of Souls, Blind Melon, Brooks & Dunn, Kris Kross, The Prodigy, Tool, and The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Extra Bonus: 1990 is when news broke that Milli Vanilli didn't actually sing their hit songs, and lip-synched them when performed live. Their Best New Artist Grammy was taken back when the scandal broke.
24. Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon
The video game Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon was released for DOS in 1990 (you can now download it for free), ushering in an empire of Sid Meier simulation games. In the game, the player acts as (surprise!) a railroad owner who manages railroads and trains, acting as a sort of SimCity for railroads. The game was a huge hit, and led to a series of similar simulation games, the most famous probably being Sid Meier's Civilization.
Bonus: Other notable games released in 1990 include Dr. Mario, Mega Man 3, Super Mario World, King's Quest V, Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons Episode 1, and the first Final Fantasy game for the NES in America.
25. The Chunnel Breakthrough
The Channel Tunnel (or "Chunnel") was a project two centuries in the making. From its first proposal in 1802, the idea was to tunnel under the English Channel, connecting England and France. Work didn't begin until 1987, when the UK began boring of the tunnel (the French started early the next year).
On December 1, 1990, the two ends met as workers broke through a final piece of rock, and British and French tunnelers shook hands through the opening (video, sadly, not embeddable). Although the tunnel wouldn't open formally until 1994, this breakthrough marked the first time the Chunnel was a reality, 188 years after the idea was first floated.