Great speeches leave a mark on society for generations

Human history has always been shaped by catastrophes, revolutions, migrations, discoveries and wars. But the intensity of these events made some people stand up and deliver epochal speeches that give hope and create determination to stand the trials of great social change. 

The power of a great speech lies not so much in what is said but more in how it is said and how well that resonates with the sign of its time. But a great speech goes even further. It transcends time and place, offering wisdom that stirs souls long after the original speakers have been silenced.

DocsOnline has rounded the most powerful televised speeches of the 20th and 21st centuries. These selected speeches rise above the rest because of the passion with which they were delivered, the importance of the moment at which they were held, and their impact on history. Below we have conveniently placed these speeches on a timeline to visualize their historic significance. 


Post World War I
The End Of World War I
WWi Deaths U.S._soldier_in_barbed_wire

In 1918 the war itself was over, but the implications were not. The melancholy of the era was intensified by the inconceivable death toll of the Spanish Flu. Countries imposed restrictions on trade, capital flow, and immigration. People became suspicious of foreigners, causing protectionism. Russia installed communism, which alienated the largest country in the world from the flow of free-market capitalism. Germany, France, and England had lost 80% of its male (working) population between 18 and 46. Countries suspended the gold standard to pay for the war but suffered from hyperinflation. These circumstances set the stage for the Great Depression.

Watch  Topic Page World War I 6 excellent documentaries to cover World War I

Watch The Spanish Flu a warning from history

Post World War I
Laissez-Faire of the Roaring 20s
Roaring 20s party

The 1920s were characterized by dynamic economic and socio-cultural growth around the world. The world was recovering from the devastating consequences of World War I, and the population was spending more on consumer goods and boosting economic growth. It was a time of rebuilding, trying to enjoy life in a frantic effort to forget the horrors of the past.

The United States, which suffered significantly less than major European countries during World War I, became the largest economy in the world.  In accordance with the sign of the time, Americans consistently voted for conservative republican Presidents that were all typically in favor of free market and bussiness  This attitude towards business was typified by Calvin Coolidge’s statement that “the man who builds a factory builds a temple.”  This sort of attitude on the part of the Republican presidents created a situation in which businesses were relatively free to operate as they pleased.


October 29
Black Tuesday
News Paper black tuesday

During the “Roaring Twenties”, the U.S. economy and the stock market experienced rapid expansion, and stocks hit record highs, year after year. It was a time of irrational exuberance. Therefore many ordinary working-class citizens had became interested in stock investments, and many purchased stocks “on margin,” meaning they paid only a small percentage of the value and borrowed the rest from a bank or broker. This together with an argrigultural crisis, cheap loans, let to a bubble that exploded on tuesday morning, 29 october.


1929 - 1940
The Great Depression
stories of the great depression

The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from the stock market crash of 1929 to 1939. It began as an American crisis, specifically a huge stock market crash, but had knock-on effects around the world. The Great Depression was severely felt in Germany, where it caused widespread unemployment, starvation and misery. These conditions were instrumental in the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. 

Watch Stormy Weather, an in-depth historical documentary about the Great Depression 

Franklin D. Rooselvelt's first inauguration address

One of the first recorded speeches in history is Franklin D. Roosevelts inauguration address to the nation, 90 years ago on March 4th. 


March 4

The great depression

We have nothing to fear but fear itself...

When Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated as president 80 years ago on March 4th 1933 the Unided States was in the grips of the Great Depression. Several million Americans heard Roosevelt’s address which was broadcast on radio nationwide. He had won a landslide victory over the incumbent Herbert Hoover and in his speech he began laying the groundwork for his New Deal policies and economic policies.

Rise of Fascism
1919 -1933
End of the Weimar Republic
weimar republic

The Weimar Republic was Germany’s government from 1919 to 1933, the period after World War I until the rise of Nazi Germany. It was named after the town of Weimar where Germany’s new government was formed by a national assembly after Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. From its uncertain beginnings to a brief season of success and then a devastating depression, the Weimar Republic experienced enough chaos to position Germany for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Watch In-depth Interview with historian Patrick Dassen about the Weimar Republic 

1920 -1940
Rise of Fascism in Europe

The years leading up to World War II were tumultuous times for people across the globe. The Great Depression had started a decade before, leaving much of the world unemployed and desperate. Fascism was sweeping through Japan, Germany and many other countries in Europe.

Watch Triumph of the Will, the infamous 1935 1935 Nazi propaganda film directed, produced, edited and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl.

infamy speech

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Declares War on Japan

december 8, 1941

A day that will live in infamy...

The Infamy Speech,  also commonly known as the Pearl Harbor Speech, was a speech delivered by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress on December 8, 1941, one day after the Empire of Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the Japanese declaration of war on the United States and the British Empire. The name derives from the first line of the speech: Roosevelt describing the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy“. 

Within an hour of the speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan and officially brought the U.S. into World War II. The address is one of the most famous of all American political speeches

World War II
1939 -1945
The War Conferences of the Allies
Conference at Teheran, 1943: Stalin Roosevelt, Churchill

Following Pearl Harbor and the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Brittain and the Soviet Union formed a common alliance against Germany, called the allied forces. At several conferences, the "Big Three" decided upon the essential outline of a postwar European order. In the Atlantic Charter of August 14, 1941, they announced "the end of Nazi tyranny" to the suppressed countries of Europe, proclaimed the right of free self-determination of nations, and declared the rejection of political and economic imperialism.

It wasn't an easy alliance, however. Tensions developed because Stalin was worried that the territories in Poland and the Baltic region he had gained under the Nazi-soviet pact would not be recognized and was aggravated by the postponement of a second front in the West that would relieve pressure on the Red Army. Moreover, Stalin, the ruthless dictator he was, was not very anxious to truly embrace the idea of self-determination of nations.

May 8, 1945
Field Marshal Keitel signs unconditional surrender.
Total War
Soviet flag flying over the German Reichstag

After the defeat in the battle of Stalingrad in 1943, the German army was forced to retreat on all fronts by the Allied advance. The successful Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944 finally brought the decisive turning point in favor of the Allies. Despite the hopeless military situation, the Nazi's refused to admit defeat and mobilized the entire population into total war. Finally, on April 30, 1945 the  Soviet flag flew over the Berlin Reichstag; Hitler and Goebbels had committed suicide. On May 8, Field Marshall Keitel signs the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.

1945 -1949
Allied occupied Germany
Berlin 1945 allied occupied germany

After the Nazi capitulation, the Allied victors laid out the political and economic framework for the reorganization of Germany at the Potsdam Conference. The goals of the conference also included establishing the postwar order, solving issues on the peace treaty, and countering the effects of the war. But it was a very uneasy settlement defined by distrust of Stalin and vice versa.


The Beginning of the Cold War

truman doctrine news paper speech

The Cold War began with the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, shortly followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

It was termed the Cold War because it never involved direct military action between the warring parties, due to the nuclear threat of mutually assured destruction.

Great speech a fate full hour by Truman
march 12, 1947

A Fateful Hour...

When the Allied powers met at Yalta and Potsdam to shape post-war Europe, Stalin’s insistence that Soviet Borders be extended to cover Eastern Poland and the Baltic States raised anxieties about his expansionist ambitions. Between 1945 – 1947, the Soviets gained in influence as communist governments were founded in Eastern European states (jointly known as the Eastern Bloc). With Britain’s status as a world power damaged by six years of war, it became clear Western power with comparable strength to the Soviet Union was the United States. In 1947 the British prime minister Winston Churchill had to request US support in Greece where a civil war was raging between the royalist government and communist partisans. The request prompted US president Truman to pledge assistance to all states trying to defend democracy against external threats. This pledge was announced in his famous speech “A Fateful Hour” and it became known as the Truman Doctrine.