39 Ultimate Facts about the 1990s

Every decade has its ups and downs, its treasure chest of serious but also wacky moments. The 1990s are no different! They’re often remembered as being (relatively) peaceful.
The quality of television radically improved. “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” reached their popularity in the 90s along with “Friends,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “NYPD Blue.” In feature films, it was the decade of “Pulp Fiction” and the indie movement. So many historical moments! Serious or wacky, these facts about the 1990s are here to take you back in time. Enjoy!

1. Germany reunified at last.

In 1990, East and West Germany were reunited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country’s remained united ever since – and long may it stay that way!
The fall of the wall finally allowed people to cross between East and West freely – and in many cases, families were reunited!

2. Hogwarts made its debut.

The first three Harry Potter novels appeared in the ’90s, though JK Rowling’s stories about the boy wizard wouldn’t take on lives of their own until the 00s, when a series of popular movies cemented her characters in pop culture forever.

3. We launched the Hubble Telescope.

The Hubble space telescope launched in April 1990 and remains operating among the stars to this day. It’s thought to be one of the most versatile space exploration devices ever built and launched – it’s helped NASA make amazing discoveries over the years.

The Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope

4. Clothing fads came and went in the 1990s.

Tight choker necklaces were among some of the most fashionable things to wear – and, as fashion historians tell us, there’s every chance these styles could come back around again!

Perhaps one of the most identifiable clothing fads of the 1990s was the slap bracelet created by a high school shop teacher Stuart Anders.

5. Digital pets were all the rage.

More than 76 million Tamagotchis (handheld digital pets) were sold around the world during the ’90s. These pocket-sized toys swept across the West for several years in the 90s and 00s – and, believe it or not, there are still millions of people buying the latest iterations to this day!

In fact, Bandai, manufacturers of the Tamagotchi, relaunched its classic 90s lines in the 2010s to appeal to adults looking to dive deep into nostalgia!

6. A certain plumber became a global icon.

According to a national survey conducted in the 1990s, children readily identified Mario, Nintendo’s leading man, while most struggled to point out Mickey Mouse.

Big Mario games during the 1990s, such as Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, and – of course – the Mario Kart games – helped to cement the characters as a permanent staple of video game history.

facts about the 1990s

7. The Taurus was the leading car.

The four-door Ford Taurus was the best-selling car in the ’90s, and chances are that you, or at least someone you knew, owned one of these dependable and affordable cars.

8. The internet used to be a chore to connect to.

Before the days of lightning-speed internet, users had to endure the painful process of connecting to the web through dial-up, a process that seemed to take forever.

You used to have to plug your computer into a phone line and listen to it make strange noises while it connected!

9. Hasselhoff and Anderson dominated the airwaves.

Baywatch’s famous slow-motion footage of scantily clad lifeguards running towards danger has become a trademark of the ‘90s.

The series has been reinvented in several ways since, notably with a movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in the 2010s. Hasselhoff and Anderson, meanwhile, are still regarded as US icons.

The Floppy Disk
The Floppy Disk

10. VHS was a huge deal.

During the VHS tapes’ final days of popularity, Aladdin, undoubtedly one of the most popular films of the decade, sold a staggering $1,058,376,296 worth of tapes.

By the 00s, the DVD started to emerge as the successor to the VHS, eventually making VCRs obsolete by the time the 2010s rolled around.

11. Jordan was the name in basketball.

In the world of US sport, the 90s was all about Michael Jordan, inarguably one of basketball’s most talented athletes of all time. Jordan won 6 NBA titles in 8 years (1991-1993, 1996-1998).

And, in the mid-90s, he even starred alongside the Looney Tunes in the cult classic movie “Space Jam!”

12. Floppy disks paved the way for removable media.

Floppy disks, the colorful plastic squares were how you loaded your favorite game in computer class or how you saved your essay.

They were soon overtaken by writable CD-ROMs at the end of the decade, and of course, the tiny but mighty USB usurped them both by the 2010s. That goes without mentioning cloud storage, either!

The Floppy Disk
The Floppy Disk

13. Freddie Mercury passed away.

In 1991, the lead singer of the band Queen, Freddie Mercury, died from AIDS. His shock death not only resonated with the music world, but also with those concerned about the rise of AIDS.

In fact, Mercury’s high-profile passing from AIDS-related illness helped to raise further awareness of the condition and helped to take some stigma away from the “dark ages” of demonizing people with the illness.

14. US TV made huge societal strides.

There were no openly gay teen characters on TV until 1992 when Ryan Phillippe played the first one on the ABC soap opera, “One Life to Live.”

15. “The Alchemist” made big strides in the West.

“The Alchemist” by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho was translated into English and published again in the United States in 1993, when it became an instant success, appearing on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 300 weeks.

Harry Potter Platform 9 3/4

16. We were all doing the “Macarena.”

“Macarena,” perhaps the greatest one-hit wonder of all, was released by Los Del Río in the early to mid-90s. The dance was complex but catchy – and it was hard not to play along when the song came on the radio.

17. Grunge became big music news.

Nirvana MTV Unplugged happened on the 18th of November, 1993. Kurt Cobain’s death in April 1994, too, helped to cement his legacy as one of the most tragic talents of the decade.

Without Nirvana, alternative music could’ve traveled in a very different direction. You might also know Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl as the lead singer of Foo Fighters.

18. “Jurassic Park” took to the big screen – but making dinosaurs roar was all down to training dogs!

The sounds of the super scary t-rex from Jurassic Park (1993) that had everyone on the edge of their seats, was voiced by… a Jack Russell Terrier!

Jack Russell Dog

19. The pager became the hottest piece of must-have tech.

In 1994, pagers were the precursor to today’s smartphones. An estimated 61 million people were using the devices at one point.

However, they’ve since faded away in public use – apart from in hospital environments, where they’re still used as quick, easy ways for nurses, doctors, and surgeons to communicate emergencies to each other.

20. Mandela went from prison to the presidency.

In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa after being elected in the country’s first multi-racial elections.

It was a pivotal moment in the country’s history and helped to finally put an end to apartheid, where black people were horrifically marginalized for decades. Mandela, as a political prisoner, spent decades behind bars for standing up for his rights.

21. Sony’s PlayStation debuted in the mid-90s.

The Sony PlayStation (or PS1) was released in 1995 and quickly became an international obsession. It was originally meant as a joint venture with Nintendo – but it competed against the Super NES and Nintendo 64.

Without the PlayStation, it’s unlikely we’d have video games consoles running CDs – or, would we, if the partnership with Nintendo worked out?

Playstation game controller
Playstation game controller

22. DOOM remains one of the most important video games of all time.

DOOM, released in 1993, beat out Windows 95 to become the most installed piece of software on computers in 1995. It was also one of the first FPS (first-person shooter) games to become popular.

The game is also well-known in the world of memes – there’s an ongoing effort to see if all modern technology can run DOOM! And, surprisingly, everything from high-tech lawnmowers to ultrasound scanners can play the game.

23. There was more than one search engine!

Established in 1995, just a few years after the first website was created, AltaVista was the most popular search engine, with more than 83 million hits a day.

Of course, Google would only be a few years away – and now, to “Google” something, means to search online.

24. Toy Story changed animation forever.

One of the best children’s movies (and the first feature film produced by Pixar), Toy Story (1995) was originally supposed to have Billy Crystal as the voice of Buzz Lightyear.

Regardless, the movie’s gone on to spawn several sequels and spinoff animated shorts, and is regarded as the forerunner of CG animation, ending decades of 2D-animated movies (for the most part).

Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story
Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story

25. OJ’s trial dominated the mid-decade TV.

When the OJ Simpson trial was hot and heavy in 1995, a ginormous number of Americans tuned in to watch the final verdict on the 3rd of October, 1995, about 95 million of them!

Simpson wasn’t imprisoned for murder, but he would eventually do time behind bars for armed robbery. He even wrote a book, “If I Did It,” which some interpret as damning evidence.

26. eBay changed Christmas shopping for everyone.

eBay was founded in 1995 and was originally known as AuctionWeb. The first-ever item to sell on the auction site was a laser pointer, which fetched a humble $14.83. Not only that – it was broken!

27. Princess Diana divorced Prince Charles, and would die shortly after.

In 1996, Princess Diana and Prince Charles got divorced. The Princess would die tragically a year later, in late 1997.

To this day, Diana’s funeral remains one of the most-watched TV events in history.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana

28. Tony Blair refused to appear with the Spice Girls.

The Spice Girls asked Tony Blair (just before becoming Prime Minister of the UK the following year) to be in the music video for their 1996 debut smash hit “Wannabe.” He declined the offer.

The Spice Girls have attempted to reunite many, many times over the years – but the stars don’t always seem to align!

29. Elmo ventured away from Sesame Street onto store shelves.

In October 1996, in a time before the Internet and Ellen Degeneres, Tyco owed the overnight success of their wildly popular Tickle Me, Elmo, to Rosie O’Donnell. O’Donnell’s show helped to spark what was known as “Tickle Me, Elmo Mania” for at least a year!

30. The Clinton scandal didn’t affect his popularity.

Bill Clinton’s approval ratings skyrocketed in 1998 during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and they remained high even during his impeachment processing.

However, despite the media furore, Clinton would survive impeachment and would remain US President until beyond the end of the 90s.

Bill Clinton. US President 1993 to 2001
Bill Clinton. US President 1993 to 2001

31. US government history was made with the appointment of Madeleine Albright.

Madeleine Albright was appointed as the first female Secretary of State in the United States in 1997.

32. Chat rooms were the big thing of 1997.

AOL Instant Messenger was launched in 1997 and gained 53 million users in less than 10 years.

Chat rooms would eventually fall by the wayside with the launch of more refined instant messaging services such as MSN Messenger, and later Skype. Beyond that, of course, there’s WhatsApp!

33. Google’s been around for over 20 years.

The search engine Google was founded in 1998 – and yes, at the time, it was purely a search engine. However, the company would eventually dominate the search market, allowing them to grow into a technological innovator.

Google Logo

34. US music was dominated by the Backstreet Boys.

Specifically, the Backstreet Boys were the best-selling artists in 1999. The age of boy bands might not be the same as it once was, but big hits such as “Larger Than Life” and “I Want It That Way” remain memorable to this day.

35. Bill Gates was on the fast track to incredible wealth.

In 1999, Bill Gates was already worth $90 billion – as a result of ongoing domination of the PC market, with Microsoft’s Windows 98 having successfully followed up the highly successful 95.

Gates, however, is something of a philanthropist, having given money to worthy causes such as research into malaria vaccines.

36. Barbie was still riding high in the toy sales charts.

Barbie had been a staple of toy stores everywhere by the end of the 90s, but the Barbie Dream House remained the best-selling toy in 1999. Very little has changed since – and the success of 2023’s Barbie movie has helped to elevate her name even further in the public consciousness.

Barbie doll
Barbie doll

37. The cellphone revolution just debuted in the 90s.

Though it wasn’t on the market until 1999, the Nokia 3210, just within the first few years of sales, sold more than 150 million units, an impressive feat for a new form of technology.

Soon, most people you knew had a cellphone – and this was before you could take photos, stream music, and watch videos on them!

38. The MP3 revolution got underway.

Napster changed the way we listen to music today. From its start 1999 to 2001, it gathered 26.4 million users!

MP3s took away tons of interest from physical music media, particularly as it was now more convenient than ever to just take an MP3 player with you to listen to music than a clunky CD Walkman!

39. Furbys were big with kids, and infuriating for everyone else.

In 1999, when more than 2 million children in America owned at least one of these talking toys, the NSA declared the Furby an international threat and banned people from carrying them.

They’re still something of a cult toy to this day – like Tamagotchis, nostalgia-craving adults love to collect them!

A Furby

FAQs about the 1990s

What were the 90s known for?

The 90s was a decade of big technological innovation and fun - the internet, home computers, 16-bit game consoles, Nokia 3210s, and digital pets all made their debuts in this decade.

What was living in the 90s really like?

The 1990s was a decade of ‘going to the extreme’ - in terms of excess, and in terms of marketing, too - there were lots of Xs and Zs, and bright, garish colors!

What did people wear in the 1990s?

The 90s was the decade of double denim, platform shoes, flannel shirts, and torn jeans.

Do you know any fun facts about the 1990s? Share them in the comments below!

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This page was last modified on March 4, 2024. Suggest an edit

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