1971: The Year That Gave Us Starbucks, Disney World — And A Lower Voting Age

Jun 21, 2021
Originally published on June 19, 2021 8:04 am

1971. What a year.

We at NPR have a special soft spot for it because it's the year we were founded. We've been celebrating our 50th anniversary, and you can come join the party here, here, and here.

But 1971 was noteworthy for several other standouts as well. It gave rise to new nations, brought legislation that changed the way we live, and created some shrines to consumerism that are intertwined with our cultural existence even today.

Here are some of the high points from that year half a century ago.

There are now nearly 33,000 Starbucks locations around the world. Here, a Starbucks logo hangs in the window in Homestead, Pa.
Gene J. Puskar / AP

1971 introduced us to the caffeine addiction of our lives

It started with an appreciation of Moby Dick and good coffee. Founded by Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker and Zev Siegl, Starbucks opened its very first store in Seattle. Its name comes from Starbuck, the first mate character in Herman Melville's most famous novel. It wouldn't be until the store was taken over by Howard Schultz in 1987 that it resembled the café-style chain we know today and start on its path to becoming the largest coffee chain in the world. As of April, the company had at least 32,938 retail locations worldwide.

President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act at the White House on Dec. 23, 1971.
Anonymous / AP

It launched big initiatives to promote a healthy lifestyle

In 1971, Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, which and declared the "war on cancer." Cancer had become the second leading cause of death in the U.S. a year earlier, and the act expanded research programs, created databases, and established a National Cancer Advisory Board.

Nixon also declared a war on drugs that year and banned cigarette ads from TV. The last ad promoting cigarettes ran during the Johnny Carson's Tonight Show on Jan. 1, 1971.

Bangladesh gained its independence from Pakistan in 1971. Here, Pakistani students rally in support of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League's bid for greater autonomy for East Pakistan during a rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in March 1971.
Michel Laurent / AP

Nations were born and others were freed

Originally part of the Bengal region of India, Bangladesh became a nation in 1971, when it declared its independence from Pakistan. Sierra Leone also became a republic that year, having gained its independence from the U.K. 10 years earlier. The United Arab Emirates gained independence from the U.K. and the Trucial States on Dec. 2, 1971.

Walt Disney World has its grand opening dedication ceremony with a parade down Main Street in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 25, 1971.

It was the year Disney World opened

Disney World opened in October 1971, in a move to appeal to fans of Disneyland who lived east of the Mississippi River. Tickets were $3.50 for adults and $1 for children under 12. While Walt Disney died before he could see the park open, his brother Roy completed the project and dedicated it to Disney.

Nasdaq became the first electronic stock market in 1971. Here, Nasdaq's iconic curved, seven-story video billboard is seen.

The Nasdaq became the world's first electronic stock market

The Nasdaq Stock Market's beginnings as a quotation system made it the first stock market of its kind. It began operations on Feb. 8, 1971, and helped lower the price difference between sellers and buyers, known as the bid-ask spread. Nasdaq began as an acronym, standing for the "National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations."

President Richard Nixon signed the Constitution's 26th amendment, which guaranteed 18-year-olds the right to vote in all elections,, on July 4, 1971.
Charles Tasnadi / AP

The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age

July 1 will mark the anniversary of the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the national voting age from 21 to 18. Citizens had argued that those old enough to be drafted to war should be able to vote, too. Given the upcoming 1972 elections, the amendment was quickly ratified and certified by the Nixon administration.

Singer Marvin Gaye released his song, "What's Going On?" in 1971. Here, Gaye performs at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 1983.
Nancy Kaye / AP

It was a year of groovy beats

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?," David Bowie's "Changes," John Denver's "Take me Home, Country Roads," all marked the music of 1971. It was a stellar year for rock and inspired a documentary titled "The Year That Music Changed Everything." NPR created a playlist of picks that represent 1971 through its music.

Josie Fischels is an intern on NPR's News Desk.

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