If 2016 marks your quarter-century of life, you're in great company. In 1991 we saw the popular explosion of grunge music, the release of the World Wide Web, the premiere of The Jerry Springer Show, and the very first Kenny Rogers Roasters. Here are 25 things turning 25 in 2016. (And in case you missed it, we also have 30 Things Turning 30 in 2016!)
1. THE WORLD WIDE WEB
On August 6, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web. He created the Web on a NeXT computer at CERN in Switzerland in 1990, and unveiled the first Web page to the public in 1991. You can now browse that original page and experience the ultra-simplicity of the first day of the Web.
2. NIRVANA'S NEVERMIND
Alternative and grunge music had a good year in 1991. On September 24, Nirvana released its seminal album Nevermind, the Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. That's quite a day in music history!
Some other major events in 1991 musical history include the release of Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II, Michael Jackson's Dangerous, Pearl Jam's Ten, Metallica's eponymous album (often called "The Black Album"), REM's Out of Time (featuring the hit single "Losing My Religion"), Smashing Pumpkins' Gish, and U2's Achtung Baby. Oh yeah, and let's not forget the debut of a little music festival called Lollapalooza.
3. THE END OF THE U.S.S.R. (AND THE COLD WAR)
In December, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his presidency of the U.S.S.R. This marked the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the de facto end of the Cold War. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (formerly part of the U.S.S.R.) formed the Commonwealth of Independent States, led by Boris Yeltsin. (The whole story is quite a bit more complex than that. Read up!)
4. PUBLICATION OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Using photographs, scholars published the first publicly available edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, entitled A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The photos came from an unnamed source (whose lawyer provided them). This was just one step in a long and tortuous battle over publication of the scrolls, and quickly resulted in legal action.
Today you can view the Scrolls online; of course, in 1991 the World Wide Web wasn't quite so robust! (See item No. 1 above.)
Twenty-year-old Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds wanted to use a UNIX-style operating system on his home PC, but was frustrated by the lack of a truly free option. So he proceeded to create his own, called it Linux. In the years since, Linux has spread across the world, powering the vast majority of World Wide Web servers, most smartphones and tablets, many embedded systems (smart devices like fridges and TVs), and plenty of PCs.
6. THE END OF APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA
The South African Parliament repealed the racist policy of apartheid ("separateness") on June 5. Under apartheid, the minority white population of South Africa ruled the country, and maintained strict racial segregation. Although the policy was officially repealed in 1991, it wasn't until 1993 that nonwhite citizens were allowed to vote.
7. THE WIGGLES
Australian kids' group The Wiggles formed in 1991 and released "Get Ready to Wiggle" (atrocious video above). For an extraordinarily detailed history of the band, check out Wigglepedia. (Yes, really.)
8. SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (SNES)
On August 23, Nintendo released its 16-bit Super Nintendo console in the North America. (It had already been on sale in Japan since November 1990 as the Super Famicom.) U.S. buyers picked up Super Mario World in a bundle with the console, similar to the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt bundle from the original NES. Despite competition from other 16-bit consoles, the SNES was a hit, remaining popular well into the 32-bit era of home console video games.
9. FIRST PHOTOGRAPH OF AN ASTEROID
On October 29, the Galileo spacecraft zipped by the asteroid 951 Gaspra and snapped photographs. This was the first time a space probe had visited an asteroid, and the resulting photograph was the first time humans saw an asteroid up close.
10. COMEDY CENTRAL
The Comedy Channel launched on April Fools' Day, though it would soon be renamed Comedy Central. It merged two existing channels: The Comedy Channel and Ha!, which previously competed in the cable comedy space. The new combined channel featured original programming as well as reruns (many borrowed from sister channel Nick at Nite), plus cult classics like Mystery Science Theater 3000. On June 1, the channel was renamed Comedy Central, to avoid confusion with a similarly-named Canadian "Comedy Channel." Within the decade, major original shows would include South Park and The Daily Show.
For tons of early Comedy Central videos, check out SplitSider's coverage of the channel's formation.
11. SHAILENE WOODLEY
Born in 1991: Actors Shailene Woodley, Dylan O'Brien, Emma Roberts, Erik Per Sullivan, Bonnie Wright, and Jamie Lynn Spears; plus musicians Ed Sheeran, Tyler the Creator, and Lena Meyer-Landrut.
Above: The Fault in Our Stars star Shailene Woodley explains horseradish (among other things) to Jimmy Fallon. Awesome.
12. THE REN & STIMPY SHOW
On August 11, Nickelodeon premiered The Ren & Stimpy Show, one of its first three "Nicktoons"—original cartoon shows made for the network (the other two were Doug and Rugrats). What made Ren & Stimpy so special was its bizarre, psychedelic, subversive style. Series creator Jon Kricfalusi built the characters around deep neurosis and idiocy, then let it all hang out. My favorite bit (aside from the History Eraser Button) is the commercial for LOG:
Other notable TV premieres in 1991: Blossom, Clarissa Explains it All, Liquid Television (featuring Aeon Flux), Herman's Head, Home Improvement. And then there's....
13. THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW
With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back on 1991 as the year when daytime talk TV started heating up. The Jerry Springer Show premiered, along with The Jenny Jones Show and The Montel Williams Show. Initially, Springer was actually a pretty serious show—one of his early guests was Oliver North, and Springer himself is the former mayor of Cincinnati. After a few seasons, the show devolved into baby-daddy tests and similarly prurient material. But in the earliest Springer shows, the discussion was actually very substantive.
14. THE HONEYCRISP APPLE
Public Domain / Evan-Amos
The Honeycrisp apple was developed at the University of Minnesota, in the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station's Horticultural Research Center. It was originally cultivated in 1960, patented in the late 1980s, and finally released to the public in 1991. Prized for its sweetness, juice content, and long shelf life, the Honeycrisp is now a staple in American grocery stores.
15. BRET EASTON ELLIS'S AMERICAN PSYCHO
In 1991, author Bret Easton Ellis released his brutal satire, American Psycho. The narrator is Patrick Bateman, a businessman-slash-serial killer. It was later adapted into a fantastic, funny, and violent movie by Mary Herron. Ellis told an interviewer in 2010:
[Patrick Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because of my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself.
Other notable books of 1991: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon; Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock; and Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
16. THE CYBERCAFE
In July, the first Cybercafe opened in San Francisco. (If you're not sure what a Cybercafe is, watch this explainer from 1996.) Wayne Gregori set up the SF Net Coffee House Network, a network of coin-op computers around San Francisco. Users could access chat rooms, message boards, games, and FidoNet—effectively, a coffee house-specific BBS network.
If you're curious where the Cybercafe originated, check out the list of early participating shops in and around San Francisco.
17. APPLE'S POWERBOOK
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported / Danamania (Wikimedia Commons)
The PowerBook 100 was relatively underpowered for the time, but it sported a black-and-white 640x400-pixel screen, built-in hard drive, and external floppy drive. Weighing just over five pounds (down from the Macintosh Portable's 16 pounds—complete with lead-acide battery), the laptop was a hit, despite its $2500 price tag. For a guided tour of the computer, check out this in-depth video.
18. NICOTINE PATCH (BY PRESCRIPTION ONLY)
In 1991, the FDA approved the nicotine patch to help smokers kick the habit. The idea was that tobacco users could apply a stick-on patch to the skin, delivering a low dose of nicotine, and that would reduce the craving for smoking actual cigarettes and using other tobacco products. At the time, "the patch" was available by prescription only, though by 1996 it became an over-the-counter product. On December 9, 1991, The New York Times reported:
Analysts reason that the patch will attract a broader market than [nicotine] gum, which must be chewed several times a day for 20 to 30 minutes and causes irritation of the mouth and stomach. The skin patch costs the same but is much less obtrusive; its main side effect is skin irritation in some people. As a prescription product, analysts estimate the skin patch could soon have a $400 million market, and should it become available without a prescription in a few years, the market would expand considerably.
19. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY
Terminator 2 came out on July 1. It was a rare example of a sequel that was at least as good as (if not better than) the original, and it became the highest-grossing film of the year. It won a pile of Academy Awards for sound, makeup, and special effects. The most visually impressive element of the film was the silvery T-1000 Terminator, a milestone computer-generated effect. The film also spawned the phrase "There is no fate but what we make," commenting on the time travel aspect of the film franchise.
Other notable movies of 1991: Point Break, The Fisher King, Thelma & Louise, Jungle Fever, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Boyz n the Hood, What About Bob?, Beauty and the Beast, Hook, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Silence of the Lambs, JFK, Fried Green Tomatoes, and The Prince of Tides.
20. DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
Grunge and alternative music weren't the only musical trends in 1991. In Charlottesville, Virginia, Dave Matthews recruited local jazz musicians and formed the Dave Matthews Band early that year. They released their first album, Remember Two Things, in 1993, and released their breakthrough album Under The Table and Dreaming in 1994.
Other notable bands formed in 1991: Belly, Bloodhound Gang, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Cake, The Chemical Brothers, Counting Crows, Dogstar, Frente!, Guster, Heatmiser, House of Pain, Incubus, Luscious Jackson, Oasis, Portishead, Rage Against the Machine, Rancid, Sloan, Three 6 Mafia, and Unwound.
21. BLIZZARD (AS SILICON & SYNAPSE), BUNGIE, EPIC GAMES, AND ID SOFTWARE
Four major video game companies formed in 1991: Blizzard (then known as "Silicon & Synapse"), Bungie, Epic Games, and id Software. Of the quartet, Blizzard is likely the best-known today, for its epic franchises Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft. Bungie is best known for the Halo series, and co-developed Destiny. id Software made Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. Epic Games made Unreal.
22. MCDONALD'S MCLEAN DELUXE
On January 22, McDonald's cooked up a special new burger: the McLean Deluxe. To reduce its fat content, the hamburger contained a special mix of carrageenan (seaweed extract) and water. According to reports, the burger was definitely healthier, but was not a big hit with consumers, some of whom reported that it tasted a bit dry. It only lasted a few glorious years.
(The same year, McDonald's introduced its breakfast burrito.)
23. STREET FIGHTER II: THE WORLD WARRIOR
The mega-hit arcade game Street Fighter II launched the fighting game boom of the 1990s. It featured vibrant graphics, player-vs.-player combat, combo attacks, and the ability to play as a variety of different characters. In the years following the arcade release, Street Fighter II was ported to all sorts of computer systems, including the Super Nintendo, PC, Game Boy, PlayStation, Xbox, and many more.
24. EXHUMATION OF PRESIDENT ZACHARY TAYLOR
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
On June 17, the body of President Zachary Taylor was exhumed to test a theory that he might have been poisoned from arsenic. (His cause of death is unclear, but it may have been cholera or gastroenteritis.) The result? No arsenic.
You can watch a C-SPAN video about the exhumation for more information.
25. KENNY ROGERS ROASTERS
In 1991, musician Kenny Rogers and former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown Jr. formed Kenny Rogers Roasters, a fast-food chicken restaurant. The first location was in Coral Springs, Florida. By 1998, the company was bankrupt. After a series of ownership changes and much restructuring, Kenny Rogers Roasters now operates primarily in Malaysia, where it's apparently much-beloved. (The restaurant was also memorably featured on Seinfeld.)