What have a giant leap, three nights of rioting, and a supersonic jet got in common?

They are all marking their 50th anniversaries this year. The final year of the Swinging Sixties saw the emergence of innovations and breakthroughs that still have resonance and relevance today.

Here are seven of our top picks from 1969, all celebrating their 50th birthdays this year.

1. Sesame Street

It’s the children’s TV show that made literacy and numeracy fun. Airing for the first time in November 1969 on PBS, it set out to break conventions by mixing live action with colourful puppets and animation, to give educational content more appeal to a young audience.

But it’s more than just a TV show. Research suggests a link between watching Sesame Street and school readiness - particularly among boys and for those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Our analysis suggests that Sesame Street may be the biggest and most affordable early childhood intervention out there, at a cost of a just few dollars per child per year, with benefits that can last several years,” explains the study’s lead author Philip Levine.

Over five decades, Sesame Street has won 193 Emmy Awards and helped create a foundation that brings vital early-childhood education to kids in more than 150 countries worldwide.

2. Apollo 11 Moon landing

In July 1969, the Apollo 11 mission blasted off into space. The crew of three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins returned safely some eight days, three hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds later, during which time they had changed human history.

 Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, moon-walking
Image: NASA

Two of the three, Armstrong and Aldrin spent around 21 hours on the surface of the Moon, while Collins remained on board the command module, orbiting above them.

While there, they took rock and soil samples and left behind commemorative medallions bearing the names of the three astronauts from the Apollo 1 mission, who died in a fire on the rocket’s launch pad, and for two Soviet Union cosmonauts who also died in accidents.

3. The gay rights movement

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, members of the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village. It was, at that time, the only gay bar in New York City where dancing was permitted.

The raid was met with resistance from the Stonewall clientele, which quickly escalated into three nights of rioting and civil unrest.

The 50th anniversary was marked in New York by Stonewall Day
Image: REUTERS/Brian McDermid

The Stonewall riots led to the creation of the Gay Liberation Front, one of the organizations that held the first Pride event. Known as Christopher Street Day Parade, it took place in June 1970 and is now part of a series of global Pride events.

4. Going supersonic

Travelling by air from Paris or London to New York was once far quicker than it is today. For some people, at least.

Developed jointly by the British and French aerospace industries, Concorde, the plane that could fly at 2,180 km/h, took its first flight in April 1969. That maiden flight lasted just 27 minutes but was the start of a brief period of supersonic travel.

Ready for take-off
Image: REUTERS/Ferran Paredes

Cruising at twice the speed of sound, Concorde could hold around 100 passengers and cross the Atlantic in three and a half hours. Its fastest recorded New York to London flight took just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. It was withdrawn from commercial operations in October 2003.

5. The internet

It’s opened up a world of possibilities for people all over world, ushering in an era of ecommerce, social media, entertainment-on-demand, and so much more.

But the internet’s origins were far from the rich-media, immersive experience we have grown accustomed to. The first demonstration of what we today think of as the internet took place in 1969, thanks to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The computer network it developed was known as ARPANET. In 1969 it was merely intended to make it possible to exchange files between computers separated by geography.

Its first four connections, or nodes, were the University of California in Los Angeles, the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, the University of California in Santa Barbara and the University of Utah.

6. Fab Four final farewell

When they broke onto the scene in the early 1960s, The Beatles changed the face of popular music. What made them different was that they wrote, recorded and performed all their own material.

By the end of the decade, they had all but gone their separate ways and in 1969 they recorded their final studio album, Abbey Road.

 Abbey Road pedestrian crossing – just add Beatles.
Image: Pixabay

Named in honour of the studio where they had recorded all their famous songs, the album cover featured John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison walking across a pedestrian crossing near the studio.

Abbey Road may have been the last album they recorded, but not the last one released. That was Let It Be, which went on sale in 1970.

7. The World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum also has something to celebrate; its 50th annual meeting takes place in around nine weeks.

Referred to colloquially as Davos by some, the annual meeting hasn’t always been held in the Swiss town. In 2002 it moved to New York, in a demonstration of solidarity with the city which was still coming to terms with the 9/11 terror attacks.

The anniversary meeting in January 2020 will take place under the theme Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman at the World Economic Forum, writes: “With the world at such a critical crossroads, this year we must develop a ‘Davos Manifesto 2020’ to reimagine the purpose and scorecards for companies and governments.

“It is what the World Economic Forum was founded for 50 years ago, and it is what we want to contribute to for the next 50 years.”