UFO Phenomenon : A Historical Timeline Overview

UFO Phenomenon : A Historical Timeline Overview

The UFO phenomenon burst onto the world scene in the wake of a sighting made over the Cascade Mountains on June 24, 1947, when private pilot Kenneth Arnold spotted nine shiny discs moving in formation at something over 1200 mph. The following is a timeline of events that led up to the 1998 publication of Omnigraphics’ The UFO Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition by Jerome Clark. In celebration of this titles 20th anniversary, the forthcoming edition, The UFO Encyclopedia, 3th Edition, will be available June of 2018 and will include reviewed and revised information and new material detailing recent sightings and debunked myths.

1896 – 1897

The first great UFO wave occurred in the United States between late 1896 and the spring of 1897. The objects, dubbed “airships,” were generally thought to be somebody’s secret aviation breakthrough. Some speculation, not to mention several spectacular hoaxes, linked the manifestations to extraterrestrial visitors.


The first UFO book published : The Book of the Damned by Charles Fort


During World War II UFOs were called “foo fighters.” The Allies suspected that they were devices built by the Axis powers, and the Axis powers held the opposite view. Secret Soviet missile firings were blamed, falsely as it turned out, for the “ghost rockets” that plagued northern Europe in 1946 and early 1947.


The UFO phenomenon burst onto the world scene in the wake of a sighting made over the Cascade Mountains on June 24, 1947, when private pilot Kenneth Arnold spotted nine shiny discs moving in formation at something over 1200 mph.

Early 1950s

The first UFO organizations were formed.


The soberer Air Force-concocted UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) became popular usage.

Air Force’s Project Blue Book, following recommendations laid down by a CIA-sponsored scientific committee (known as the Robertson panel, after its head, physicist H. P. Robertson), had become no more than a debunking exercise.


The Washington-based National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), led by author, retired Marine Corps major, and prominent UFO proponent Donald E. Keyhoe, pushed vigorously for congressional hearings and challenged the Air Force at every point.

1964 – 1973

UFO waves—periods of intense sighting activity—would erupt with alarming frequency. Daylight discs and radar/visual cases would fade into the background as ufologists turned their attention to experiential claims of staggering strangeness.

Many “new ufologists,” as they first styled themselves, sought to link UFOs with ghosts, poltergeists, monsters, and folkloric phenomena. The abduction phenomenon, essentially unknown to first-generation ufologists, rose to prominence.


Project Blue Book closed down.


A wave of dramatic encounters broke in October.

Hynek co-founded, with Chicago-area businessman-ufologist Sherman J. Larsen, the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), to provide an organizational structure through which scientists and other sober investigators could examine cases, review data, and publish findings.


Rise of an organized debunking movement, intended to counter the growing popular interest in UFOs and other heterodox notions. Within ufology itself neoskeptical approaches—championed, ironically, by individuals who had begun as paranormal theorists —coalesced into the “psychosocial” school; to the psychosociologists, UFO encounters are a modern form of traditional visionary experience.

Late 1970s

Several American ufologists reopened the long-closed question of “crash/retrievals,” once disparaged as tall tales of “little men in pickle jars.” Veteran ufologist Leonard H. Stringfield led the way, collecting and compiling anecdotes from sources of varying or indeterminate credibility. But in the new climate two ufologists, Stanton T. Friedman and William L. Moore, were encouraged to start the long, complicated probe of the now-famous Roswell incident.


A revival of interest, at least among American ufologists, both in the extraterrestrial hypothesis and in the issue of alleged official cover-ups.

Decade hosted an almost unprecedented number of hoaxes, many involving bogus documents which purported to be internal memoranda from official agencies holding extraterrestrial hardware and bodies. The most notorious of these was one allegedly prepared for President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower by a supersecret “Operation Majestic-12,” formed in September 1947 in the wake of the Roswell crash. Speculations about space visitors and government concealment gave birth to the Dark Side movement, a subculture which fused unrestrained paranoia and far-right conspiracy theories into nightmarish visions of a malevolent Washington in collusion with sinister extraterrestrials in a plot to enslave the human race.

Important UFO cases documented such as a flood of sightings over Westchester and other counties around New York City, an encounter by a Japanese Airlines cargo plane off the coast of Alaska, and a well-investigated physical-trace case from Trans-en-Provence, France.


Probe of Roswell incident would stretch all the way into the 1990s and involve other investigators, not the least of them a powerful congressional agency, the General Accounting Office, which would find that nearly all official records of the event are missing. The Air Force would launch its own investigation and attempt to tie the event to secret balloon and crash-test-dummy experiments.

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