that would be the most awesome history project ever.

Here’s something I thought up while going through the historical pictures on

You have the opportunity to make a visit to the past.  You get to pick one calendar year in the history of the United States, starting with its first full year of existence after declaring independence, 1777, and ending with the last full calendar year, 2007.

Your visit will start a minute after midnight on the 1st of January of that year, and end a minute before midnight on December 31st.

The ground rules are as follows:

  • This is a trip for education and/or entertainment.  You may not interfere with history in any way.  No assassinations, no “prescient” warning letters with details about the future mailed to world leaders, no procreation.  You will be temporarily sterile for the duration of the trip, so you won’t be able to do silly stuff like being your own grandparent.  Assume that any intentional attempt to influence history will cause the instant termination of your stay in the past.  (No refunds.)
  • You may not set your future self up for financial gain in any way.  No mass purchase of IBM or GE stock during Black Friday of 1929, no Microsoft or Apple stock in the 1980s.  No setting up of savings accounts or any other interest-bearing mechanism.
  • You may not bring anything in, nor take anything out.  You will enter the year with a set of period-appropriate clothing on your body, and another in a suitcase.  You will also carry enough period currency with you to live comfortably and travel around at will for a year.
  • You may not leave the continental United States for the duration of your visit, nor contact any of your ancestors.  No trips to meet the great-grandparents before their kids emigrated to the New World, and no warnings or advice.  Tough rule, I know…but we can’t have you telling your great-grandpa about the coming Depression or WWII, even if it wouldn’t influence history overall.

With these rules in mind, which year do you pick for your visit, and why?  (Feel free to answer the question in Comments, or on your own blog.)


22 thoughts on “that would be the most awesome history project ever.

  1. OrangeneckInNY says:

    I’d go back to 1994 when the Yankees last won the world series and put all the money that I have to spend on me being there for a year, on them winning and then take said winnings (minus the money I used on the bet) and set myself up a high interest CD or Money Market account that I’ll be able to collect on today. No interaction with the me from that year whatesoever and I’ll be able to enjoy that year just wandering around. Then when I get back to this year, I’ll be able to buy all the guns I want and a whole lotta land that I can retire to and hunt on. I’ll tool around in my pickup truck on my property and find myself a good girl to settle down with. I’d even use a bunch of that money to defeat Obama.

  2. OrangeneckInNY says:

    Oops, I just set myself up financially, didn’t I? Oh well. What fun would it be if I can’t break one rule? LOL

  3. Mark Pixler says:

    Marko, I think I’d pick 1941. I’d want to travel around pre-Pearl Harbor America and see what people were thinking and saying about “the war” before we were attacked.
    Yeah, I’d keep my mouth shut, but I’d HAVE to be in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, preferably on board the USCGC Taney – a survivor of the battle.
    When I was a Coastie, rumor had it that the Taney got into the action quickly because the crew had performed poorly at REFTRA the day before and the Old Man had them at GQ all night as punishment. I’d like to know if that’s true.

  4. karrde says:

    Well…I was about to say that I’d love to canoe across Lake Michigan (and portage into the Mighty Mississippi) with Pere Jacques Marquette and his friend Louis Joliet…but 1675 is a little early.

    And helping young Ben Franklen set up his first printing press would also be a little early.

    I think I would like to visit Washington and Jefferson in their estates after they finished their work as President. Except Washington died in 1799, while Jefferson served as Pres. in 1801-1809, living on until 1826.

    Maybe a trip to some year in the early 1820’s, so I’d get a chance to meet Presidents Adams and Jefferson before they died.

  5. you referenced wwll, as did a commenter above, and i think that’s because most of us recognize it as the defining event(s) of the modern world.

    but i would choose 1945; going in the outcome is anything but certain, and going out the optimism and satisfaction would be unequalled…truly an historical personification of the triumph of good over evil.


  6. robnrun says:

    Hard question! I guess the early 1870’s. Partly because I would like to see my family’s farm when they had just bought it; but mostly because the national pyschology would be interesting. That would be just long enough after the Civil War that survival was changing to reconstruction for much of the country. How was the North coping with the increasing speed of urbanization/immigration? The South with Reconstruction? What was the West really like? Was there a demographic imbalance, with a preponderance of veterans, if so what did that do. How would the Mason-Dixon/Mississippi River Valley region deal with the aftermath of civil war? Etc.
    Besides it was the last great era of full rigged ships and fast horses, couldn’t miss those!

  7. I’d pick 1860 and travel all over the North and South until the election. It would be fascinating to see Boston and New York of that period, and compare them to Charleston and Mobile. Then I’d hop a packet ship and go to San Francisco for the New Year’s party.

  8. deadcenter says:

    tough choice, 1st choice 1790-1791 to observe the production of the bill of rights to get a feeling of just what the founders were thinking as they crafted each amendment.

    2nd, 1861-1865 time frame, I don’t know the exact year I’d need to be there, but it’d be interesting to go back and meet the five brothers from my family that died fighting for the union.

  9. Jay G says:

    A bucketload of 1920s-era currency.

    A Sears & Roebuck.

    Buy as many Thompson submachine guns as I could, and as many 50- and 100- round drums to go with them.

    Then carefully seal them in an air-tight container and bury them in the woods behind what will someday become my house…


  10. Jenny says:

    Wow. Choices choices.. Honestly, My first wish would be to spend two-four weeks in every decade 1790 to present, just to get a feel for our nation’s character as it changed over time. Heck, doing it “quantum leap” style where you can *be* a local for that period would be even more interesting. Sometimes more “interesting” than others I’m sure.

    But assuming I was restricted to one year… ouch… I think 1876. There’s a little bit of everything. The frontier is still wide open – as I recall Custer was the shocking news of the year. The cities are in high Victorian splendor, all full up with inventiveness and energy, and the Centennial celebrations are bound to be a hoot.

    So yeah – a rail, wagon, flatboat and balloon odyssey in 1876. Start in Yankee country, and talk up some of the old abolitionists and the romantic poets – Thoreau died some time back, but Emerson, Whitman, and so forth are still around. Yeah, so they’re proto-hippies.. it’d still be neat to see ’em. Then come on down the Atlantic seaboard.

    We have to stop in Boston and Philadelphia to look up all the old Revolutionary sites. After that, maybe go see a symphony or something in New York City, just because seeing that in full 1870’s Victorian opulence would be amazing.

    Then we have to make a stop in Jersey – seems there’s this guy building this cool shop in Menlo Park. He’d be a hoot to talk with.

    Have to stop in Washington DC of course – with as much as there is still to do we’ll probably be too early for the July 4 celebrations, but it’ll still be worth exploring. I’ll try not to let my unreconstructed gut shudder too much in the presence of President Grant – but meeting him would be interesting.

    Then we head on south through Virginia – let’s pass through Richmond, and on to Lexington. Ol’ Marse Robert died a few years back, but a stop at Washington and Lee to see if we can look up some of his old students for some stories would definitely be worth it.

    We keep going south to get a a good tour of the TN/NC mountain country. Sorry, that’s my old homeplace – I have to spend some time there. Definitely we’re stopping at every OLD-oldtime jam we hear. Yeehaw! Play that fiddle!

    If there’s time, a quick loop through northern Georgia might not go amiss. Anyone for fresh peach cobbler?

    After that… loop back north and get on up to the Ohio River, then flatboat down to the Mississippi, and take a Mark Twain steamboat up the river. Get across Iowa (any chance of meeting Pa Ingalls?) We’re a mite early for the barnstormers, but there might be someone toying with balloons in all this open country.

    Once we reach Council Bluffs, we see if we can find any old Pony Express kids all growd up willing to tell us stories. Then we board the Transcontinental Railroad route to San Francisco.

    At some point along here we’ll have to hop off the train for a horse ride in the open country… amongst plenty of armed company of course. I imagine the natives won’t be too happy to see us, but if we can wrangle it a word or to with some of the Lakota warchiefs might be interesting before we catch the rails again. Eventually the train will stop in Ogden – gun folks, a quick stop to see Mr. Browning’s shop might be in order.

    Eventually though, back on the train to cross California, bound for San Francisco. The rush of f0rty-nine is long gone, but we might find some oldtimers with stories of their glory days to tell.

    We’ve probably almost spent our year by this point, but let’s head on up as far as Portland or Olympia by sail before we call it in. There we’ll spend our last days of the year watching the sun set over the Pacific, all wrapped up in quilts and bearskins by the fire.

    Adieu to the first American century.

    Yup.. 1876. Good time to visit.

  11. aczarnowski says:

    I’ve always been interested in the mid-war period, as the US built the big stick. Working around (or with) the teams that designed and built the planes, tanks, guns and gear of that era would be amazing.

  12. “Excuse me, Mr. Colt? I see you have an ad for an apprentice position…”

  13. Thad Adams says:

    I’d put the way back dial to the mid 1870’s. Texas to Kansas. The Godnight/Loving trail or the Chisolm trail and huge herds of cattle being moved to the railheads for shipment to the mid west stock yards. A hot dirty job, horrible food, bad horses, snakes, stampedes. All the stuff of my youthful dreams. A time of serious testing of young men and not so young men.

  14. Rick in NY says:

    joemerchant beat me, except that I would be going back to 1910 and applying to work with John Moses Browning on what would become the Colt 1911.

  15. Crucis says:

    The year 1787. No doubt whatsoever. To be there and watch the development of the Constitution. To hear the arguments of Jefferson, Madison and the others.

    That would be my choice.

  16. Chris says:

    I would like to meet Tesla.

  17. I’d much rather hang with Mr. Browning, but for sheer history the transition to reliable repeating firearms is more of a milestone. Plus you’ve got all the contemporaries (Oli Winchester, Eli Remington, etc.)

    JMB is genius in a bottle, whereas Col. Colt was just damn good at sales. So from a gunny standpoint, JMB is totally the way to go. Heck, just having the chance to own an original BAR for a year would rock.

    But I was thinking big picture history. And the era swayed my decision to the mid-1800s.

  18. BlueNight says:

    1929. I’d like to watch the cheap credit sink the market and see the politicians’ reactions.

  19. Jenny says:

    Blue, that is a joke….. right? 🙂

  20. […] the CBS Radio (later TV) series created by the easy Goodman Ace, but a Gedankenexperiment proposed by Marko the Munchkin Wrangler. The premise: You have the opportunity to make a visit to the past. You get to pick one calendar […]

  21. Kevin says:

    Toss up between 1903 for the Wright flier and first Harley Davidson, watch the first stockcar race at the Milwaukee Mile and being able to chat with Mark Twain – and 1945 where I would take in the Trinity Test, visit the Bunker in Berlin, chat with George Orwell about 1984, try to weasel a billet on the USS Missouri for the Surrender Ceremony, verify the first computer bug, and end up the year touring the recent battlefields and cities in Europe to appreciate what it took to rebuild them.

    Leaning towards 1945, since a whole year traveling by train, beast, or Primitive cars on non existent roads does not appeal to me at my advanced age.

  22. drstrangegun says:

    I’d either follow Jimmy Hoffa around for a bit, or hide in a certain book repository just to verify some stories.

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