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American Cultural History

1990 - 1999

1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990


The 1990s was truly the electronic age.  We would not have been able to publish this decades web site if it weren't for the Internet.   The World Wide Web was born in 1992, changing the way we communicate (email), spend our money (online gambling, stores),  and do business (e-commerce).  In 1989, 15% of American households had a computer.  And by 2000, this figure increased to 51%, with 41.5% online.  Internet lingo Jason and his cell phonelike plug-ins,  BTW (by the way), GOK (God only knows), IMHO (in my humble opinion), FAQS, SPAM, FTP, ISP, and  phrases like "See you online" or  "The server's down" or "Bill Gates" became part of our everyday vocabulary.  We signed our mail with a  :-)  smile, a   ;-)  wink, or a :-* kiss.  And - everyone has a cell phone (even Jason at right!)


Population:  281,421,906 (2000 Census) | Unemployment:  5.8 million, or 4.2% (Sept 99)  | National Debt:  $3.830 Trillion (1997)  | Average Salary:  $13.37/hr (1999)  | Teacher's Salary: $39,347 (1998)  | Minimum Wage:  $5.15/hr (1997)  | Life Expectancy: Male 73.1 Female 79.1(1997) | Auto Deaths:  49,772 (1997)

Penn & Lori get married... The worried groom. The purpose of  this web and library guide is to help the user gain a broad understanding and appreciation for the culture and history of the 1990s.  In a very small way, this is a bibliographic essay.  While we cannot link to everything, we have attempted to find areas of special interest and to select information that we will hold dear tomorrow - movies we still watch, songs we sing, food we enjoy, events that move us, people we admire.
To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through this page and then visit the suggested links for more information on the decade. Barry, Cathy, Meagan & Cory Gregory We believe the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library.  Maybe the most valuable information is best read in books, or viewed on video, or heard on audio cassettes.  More photographs, more information, more depth.   But then, there is information that will be found only on the Internet; a journal, a diary, or photographs like those on our pages.  We invite you to write.  It is hard to get a perspective at this early date for the nineties.  Historians in future decades will judge.   Thanks for the many, many visits and letters we have already received.  Writing these decade pages has been an enjoyable experience for us. Enjoy!


Legends by Donna Howell-Sickles  see at http://www.artline.vaxxine.com/studio/western.htmImportant architects and their work of this decade include Robert Venturi (winner of the coveted Pritzker Award),  and Richard Meyer (Getty Museum). A roller coaster atop New York New York in Las Vegas During these ten years, theme restaurants (Planet Hollywood) and casinos (New York-New York in Vegas) proliferated.  Casinos covered the coastline along Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Universal design made homes and offices user friendly.  Health care and elder care homes were big business for builders and architects during this decade. Green design products included bamboo flooring, a resurgence of linoleum and other environmentally friendly products.

The internet has had a huge influence on products with almost every design company having a presence on the web. "Mid-century modern" (old 50s and 60s style)  made a big furnishings comeback.  Feng Shui was in. Television's Martha Stewart, became the guru of home crafts and design.

Museums around the country have had long lines at major exhibits.  Here are a few favorite1990s artists: 

Memoirs of a Geisha by Author Golden

John GrishamReading entire books online became available through such sites as  Project Gutenberg. Audio books became the rage. Taking a trip?   Listen to a book in the car. The biggest trend in book selling during the 1990s included online bookstores and publishers like amazon.com. Mega-bookstores like Borders or Barnes and Noble drove the small specialized bookstores out of business.  The price of books sky-rocketed and half-priced books (used books) became popular.  Specialty book stores (Mysteries, Science Fiction, etc.) featured specialists, unique collections, and author visits. Oprah Winfrey's picks encouraged a new readership and culminated in Oprah's Book Club.


Reading Calvin & Hobbs.  The comic strip ceased production December 31, 1995.

Big money authors rushed to the web with reviews, bios, etc. and  included Sue Grafton (A - O of her mystery series published by 1999.) John Grisham (five of the top ten spots selling over 40,000,000 copies), and Michael Crichton (3 top ten spots). Other best selling authors include Tony Morrison, Amy Tan, Sara Paretsky, Tony Hillerman, Danielle Steele, and Tom Clancy.   Top selling books included The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, Memoirs of a Geisha by Authur S. Golden, and Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells.  Non-fiction self help books continued to sell (Chicken Soup for the Soul - and all its antecedents and websites and on and on and on!).  Sugar Busters and The Zone diet books were top sellers.

Children's Book Awards for the nineties:

Newbery Award Winners - Begun in 1922 (most distinguished children's book of the previous year)

1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry
1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
1999: Holes by Louis Sachar 

Caldecott Award Winners - Begun in 1938 (most distinguished children's picture book of the previous year)

1990: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
1991: Black and White by David Macaulay
1992: Tuesday by David Wiesner
1993: Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully
1994: Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say; text: edited by Walter Lorraine
1995: Smoky Night, illustrated by David Diaz; text: Eve Bunting
1996: Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
1997: Golem by David Wisniewski
1998: Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky
1999: Snowflake Bentley, Illustrated by Mary Azarian; text by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 


Sgt. Jim Sutton     In the 1990's the United States played the role of world policeman, sometimes alone but more often in alliances. The decade began with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the resultant Gulf War. In 1993, war was in the African country of Somalia, as television images of starving children led to an attempt to oust the warlord, General Mohamed Farrah Aidid. By September, 1994, the U.S. was once again sending troops to a foreign country to overthrow a military dictatorship, this time in Haiti.  In 1996 about 20,000 American troops were deployed to Bosnia as part of a NATO peace keeping force. In late March 1999, the U.S.Sgt. Jim Sutton receives a promotion joined NATO in air strikes against Yugoslavia in an effort to halt the Yugoslavian government's policy of ethnic cleansing in its province of Kosovo. The decade was to end much as it began with U.S. forces deployed in many countries, and the U.S. playing arbitrator, enforcer, and peace keeper throughout the world.

The 90s have been called the Merger Decade. On the domestic front some big issues were health care, social security reform, and gun control - debated and unresolved throughout the whole decade. Violence and sex scandals dominated the media starting with the Tailhook affair in which Navy and Marine Corps fliers were accused of sexually abusing 26 women.  President Clinton kept the gossip flowing as several women accused him of sexual misconduct.  The ten years ended with this president  narrowly surviving a trial to remove him from office for perjury and obstruction of justice.  President Clinton's escapades were proving to be a hindrance to his Vice President Al Gore's campaign for the oval office and polls were reporting that 70% of the American people were saying that they were "tired of the Clintons".
Clinton and Monica in famous hug... Violence seemed a part of life.  In 1992 South-Central Los Angeles rioted after four white policemen were acquitted of video-taped assault charges for beating a black motorist, Rodney King. 1993 brought terrorism to the American shores as a bomb was detonated in the garage beneath the World Trade Center. That same month of February saw four agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms killed during an unsuccessful raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas led by David Koresh.  Americans were glued to their TV sets in 1995 as the football hero, O.J. Simpson, was tried for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole, and her male friend, Ron Goldman.  This trial pointed out the continued racial division in the country as most blacks applauded the not guilty verdict while most whites thought an obviously guilty man had gotten away with murder. Fireman - Okla. Bombing The shock of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19,1995, was compounded by the revelation that the perpetrators were not foreign terrorists but were U.S. citizens led by a U.S. Army veteran, Timothy McVeigh.  In the months between February 1996 and April 1999 there were at least fourteen incidents of school shootings with the most lethal being on April 20, 1999 when 14 students and 1 teacher were killed and  23 wounded at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

There was good news, too.  The booming economy led to record low unemployment.  Minimum wage was increased to $5.15 an hour.  The stock market reached an all time high as individuals learned to buy and trade via the internet.  Americans enjoyed the country's affluence by  traveling more (up 40% since 1986), by reveling in sporting events such as the Atlanta Summer Olympics -1996, and by "consuming" as never before.   America faced the new millennium with an open, diversified society, a functioning democracy, a healthy economy, and the means and will, hopefully, to face and overcome its problems.


Maggie with dog Peggy, extraordinaire!
For youth, the fashion of the decade began with Grunge on one hand and preppie on the other. Hip Hop style was popular.  Boys' jeans grew bigger and bigger, worn low on the hips, and girls wore bellbottoms and poor boy tops reminiscent of the 70's.  Over $6 billion was spent by fast food places on uniforms.   Designers included Liz Claiborne, DKNY, and Tommy HilfingerDress down Fridays became commonplace and  gradually developed into a more casual work dress code altogether, with 53% of companies allowing casual dress in 1998, up from 7% in 1992.  Khaki pants and polo shirts or denim shirts were the work-place norm.  New fabrics such as microfiber and tencel competed with the ever-popular cotton and linen.  Consumer spending on clothing dropped from 4.6% in 1990 to 1% in 1995. While interest in health and nutrition increased, obesity was at a record high. Fads included Tae-bo, in-line skates, beanie babies, Furby, Tickle Me Elmo, WWJD, Yo-yos, tattoos and body piercing, and the ubiquitous video games.


á á    Preschool graudation ceremony About eighty-three and one-half percent of the population in 1999 completed four years of high school as opposed to only forty-one percent in 1960, (see Statistical Abstract of the United States, 119th ed., chart 249 online p. 9).  Education subject guides sprang up on the web.   The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) provided assistance to disadvantaged students or pupils with limited proficiency in English and was intended to improve instruction in areas like drug use prevention, math, and science.  ERIC (Educational Resources database) went online.   Ritalin became the drug of choice for schools and parents alike as more students were labeled ADD or ADHD.  The BIG change was that students could complete their education without coming on campus, through Distance Education Programs. In the classroom, many schools required uniforms.    Hot issues in education included:
Book:  Running on Ritalin by Lawrence H. Diller, M.D.



J&P The Americans With Disabilities Act, effective in July, 1990, began the decade on a positive note by protecting the rights of all Americans with physical or mental disabilities.  Introduced first as a policy for the military, in September, 1993, a law called " don't ask, don't tell,"  directed people to keep their sexuality hidden if they intended to stay in military careers.  An important gun control bill (now expired) aimed at protecting all Americans became law in 1994.  The Brady Bill provides a five day waiting period when purchasing a gun.  In January, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement was intended to eliminate barriers to trade between neighboring countries, particularly Mexico and Canada.

In 1994, Republicans won a majority in Congress for the first time in forty years.  Part of the reason for the party's success was a ten point plan called the Contract with America which outlined  a promise to reshape government by decentralizing federal authority, giving states and local government more control over taxes, and social programs, and by improving the way government did business. Welfare reform, began in 1988 with the federal Family Support Act which initiated changes such as directing all states to phase in comprehensive welfare-to-work programs by 1990, and giving states more control over welfare expenses.  This program continued in 1996, when the controversial Aid to Families with Dependent Children Act was abolished as part of the new block grant called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF converts state funding to a fixed level,  directs that minor parents of dependent children can only receive TANF funds if they were living at home or in another adult supervised setting, and limits federal aid in a lifetime to five years for families receiving welfare.
President Carter in Panama In March, 1996, a bill was passed giving the president line item veto authority allowing the president to veto specific parts of a spending bill while approving the rest, thus increasing presidential power. The bill was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June 1998.

On December 31, 1999, at noon, the United State returned  management and control of the Panama Canal and the Canal Zone to Panama.  This ends a remarkable period of 85 years in which the United States' control over the waterway served as a powerful reminder of the strength of the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere. The handover has not been without


AY 67 .N5 W7 World Almanac and Book of Facts 
Provides a yearly summary of world events.
E169.1 .A471872 America in the Twentieth Century  1990-1999
A look at the first part of the decade. 
E839.5 .H57 Historic Documents of ...
Introduction provides background information, and an account of following developments.


Little Rock, Arkansas is proud to be the birthplace of President Bill Clinton

A development in the nineties which made politics more interesting to the average person was the cross over from the business world and the entertainment world to politics.  Beginning with President Ronald Reagan, the stage was set for performers like  Jesse VenturaWarren Beatty and Jane Alexander to become more publicly involved in government.  Businessmen Ross Perot and Donald Trump felt they had abilities which made them natural leaders and viable candidates for public office.  Politicians have always had an audience, but during the nineties colorful personalities like  Newt GingrichPat Buchanan,  Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rush Limbaugh have made politics a "born again" entertainment forum for the average American. 

Prominent in other government positions were Justice Clarence Thomas, of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, also on the Supreme Court. Dr. Jocelyn Elders , a plain spoken and somewhat controversial Surgeon General, made headlines with her position on sex education for teens.  Attorney General Janet Reno represented the government position on many hotly debated legal issues. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright provided an American presence abroad.  Military leader, Colin Powell  was popular enough that he was considered a strong candidate for the presidency, though he chose not to run for office.
Multiple birth rates increase.  Here are quads  Royce, Hal, Zoe, & Bruce Women achieved firsts. Sally Ride and Shannon Lucid explored space

Multiple births  gave Bobbi McCaughey the title of mom to the  first set of surviving septuplets, and Nkem Chukwu a close second when she gave birth to octuplets in Houston, of whom seven babies survived. The number of multiple births increased five fold from 1980 to 2000.

Dominating the world of technology were
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Successful women included  Oprah Winfrey and Martha StewartMichael Jordon  and Tiger Woods were heroes for all young athletes.
Two important losses were Jackie Kennedy  to cancer and later her son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., in a plane crash.  


CT100 .C8  Current Biography Yearbook
Biographical sketches on people from many fields.
CT120 .C663. Newsmakers
Informative profiles of interesting people
E176 .W642. Who's Who in America
Yearly publication of noteworthy people
E169.12 .A419 v. 10  American Decades 1990-1999
Overview of all aspects of the decade.



A street musician in New Orleans entertains with more than music There were more music choices available than ever, although radio stations tended to find a niche and stick to it rather than playing a mix.  Latino music grew in popularity.  Country became more mainstream, and Grunge and Gansta appeared.  R&B and hip-hop remained popular, as did movie soundtracks.  Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men led the charts with "One Sweet Day."  Selena was the top Latin singer until her untimely death in 1995.  Other popular artists included Hootie & the Blowfish, Alanis Morisette, Janet Jackson, Garth Brooks, Celine Dion and Madonna.  The Spice Girls were a group created by the music industry for their diversity and sex appeal.

The recording industry faced severe tribulation as CD burners became commonplace.  It was easy to make a high quality copy of a CD.  Napster, Morpheus and Kazaa offered online file sharing, in effect offering free downloads of music to anyone wanting to copy it.  The recording industry, seeing falling sales, fought back with lawsuits. In 1993, Gordon Shaw published a study on the Mozart Effect, a correlation between classical music and mathematical aptitude  He discovered that college students and rats improve test scores by as much as 30% after listening to the music.  

Here below (thanks to Lori Whitley and Maggie Whitley are the more important music genres of the '90s and a sampling of musicians that define the decade.  You may have your favorites who are not listed. 

Son Volt
Uncle Tupelo
Willie Nelson
The Gourds
Kelly Willis
Austin SXSW
Beaver Nelson
Junior Brown 
Bottle Rockets
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Rolling Stones
Jethro Tull
Grateful Dead
Garth Brooks
Dwight Yoakum
Lyle Lovett
Shania Twain
Dixie Chicks
George Strait
Billy Ray Cyrus
Pearl Jam
Guns 'n Roses
Mariah Carey
Spice Girls
Julio Iglesias
Gloria Estefan
Ricky Martin
Buena Vista Social Club
Nine Inch Nails
Beastie Boys
Will Smith

Boston Symphony
Yo-Yo Ma
Itzhak Perlman
Edgar Meyer


tv ratings logo Television  graced 98% of the households in the U.S. in 1998 (according to the Statistical Abstract chart 910, online p. 5) with the average viewer spending seven hours a day watching 'the tube'.  In 1996, the television industry announced a TV Parental Guideline rating system.  News or news magazine shows like 60 Minutes20/20, and Dateline NBC  were popular.  As cable expanded to include 74% of U.S. households, it gave rise to networks dedicated to a  particular theme such as sportsnature,  golf, cooking womenhistory, and science fiction.   CNN had live coverage of the Gulf War in 1991.  And, did you, too, stay up to hear Dave Letterman's List?     The industry continued to push the envelop with hot topics like:

Sexual orientation (Ellen and Will and Grace) | Nudity  (NYPD Blue) | Sexual themes and innuendoes (Friends) | Foul Language and violence (NYPD Blue) | Crude behavior (Men Behaving Badly and South Park) | Political Incorrectness (Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher)