Timeline of Modern South Korea (1945-present)

A Visual Timeline of South Korea (1945 – present)

(Aug 6) US drops first atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima (by B-29 Superfortress)
(Aug 8) Soviet Union declares war on Japan; invades Manchuria and Korea
(Aug 9) US drops second atomic bomb ‘Fat Man’ on Nagasaki
(Aug 10-15) Korea divided at 38th parallel; US-controlled South, Soviet-controlled North
(Aug 14) Japanese unconditional surrender; WW2 end
(Sep 2) Victory over Japan day; Japan formally surrenders onboard USS Missouri
(Sep 6) Lyuh Woon-Hyung declares (united) People’s Republic of Korea
(Dec 12) US military government abolishes People’s Republic of Korea; sets up provisional government with Japanese collaborators

– (Feb) Meanwhile in North Korea, Soviet Union works with Korean socialist leaders; after Cho Man Sik is outsted, committes rally towards communist Kim Il Sung.

(Aug 15) Republic of Korea established, ending 3 years of US military government
(Sep 9) Demoratic People’s Republic of Korea est with Kim Il Sung as Premier

Kim Gu (center) prepares to cross the 38th parallel before attending a joint South-North conference in Pyongyang. Apr1948. Source

– (Oct) Mao unifies China and establishes PRC
– Last president of Provisional Govt of Republic of Korea, and independence leader, Kim Gu (aka Beakbeom) assassinated by Korean lieutenant

(Jun 25) Korean War (1950-1953) commences with invasion from Soviet-supported North
(Sep 15-19) MacArthur-led US troops land in Incheon, cuts North Korean supply line, turns tide of war

Inchoen landing Sep 15th 1950. Source

(Nov) China enters the war and drive Allies back to 38th parallel. Fighting continues with more casualties and no major territorial gain on either side for next 2.5 years.

Korean refugees flee advancing Chinese at Hungnam harbor, North Korea, Dec 21st 1950. Source

(Jul 27) Armistice ends Korean War (1950-1953)


early 1950s: Korea comes out of war as one of the poorest nations in the world

South Korea in early 1950s. Source
Busan, 1952. Source

(Apr) April 19 Revolution: President Lee Seungman steps down after student protests

(May 16) General Park Chung Hee coup

May 16 coup, 1961

1960s: Major industrial reforms under president Park sets up South Korea for rapid economic growth


1968: POSCO (Pohang Iron and Steel Company) est in Korea; production starts in 1973, would go on to become largest steel producer in world in 2010

Gyeongju, 1968. Source
Jongro-3, Seoul, 1968. Source

South Korea declares martial law

mid 1970s: Korea earns FX by partaking in construction projects in and soldiers to Vietnam

30mins of box of shame if caught jaywalking in South Korea in the 70s. 1975. Source

(Oct 26) President Park Jung Hee assassinated by by KCIA director Kim Jae Kyu

Reenactment of dinner party where assassination took place. Source

(Dec 12) General Chun Doo Hwan becomes de facto leader (official term Aug80-Feb88)

President Chun Doo Hwan. Source

(May) Gwangju massacre

Constitution change allows direct presidential elections

(Jun 29) President Chun Doo Hwan gives into pressure and announces next presidential election

(Feb) Roh Tae Woo democratically elected president of South Korea, ending decades of dictatorship (although he is also an ex-general)

Inauguration, 25th Feb. Source

(Sep-Oct) Seoul hosts 1988 Summer Olympics


1st Hallyu wave (international export of Korean pop culture)

President Kim Young Sam (r. 1993-1997) leads first civilian govt in Korea since 1961

North Korea’s Kim Il Sung dies; longest dictatorship in history 49 years since 1945

Sampoong department store collapse

South Korea admitted into OECD

(Dec) Asian Financial Crisis hits South Korea. Koreans remember it as IMF Crisis, and protest the austerity measures imposed by the IMF for its bailout.

South Koreans protest the IMF bailout in Dec97. Source

Newly elected president Kim Dae Jung (formerly kidnapped in Japan) advocates “sunshine policy” aid to North Korea

(Jun) North and South Korea summit in Pyongyang
(Aug) Border office Panmunjon reopens; relatives meet; president Kim Dae Jung receives Nobel Peace prize

Incheon international airport opens

(Jun) South Korea’s historic run to 2002 World Cup semifinals ignites national pride (but attracts plenty of controversy over rigged referees).


2004: High-speed rail KTX launches, cutting Seoul-Busan journey down to just 2 hours

mid 2000s: Samsung (representing ~20% Korea’s GDP) surpasses as world’s leading consumer electronics company

2007: Conservative Lee Myung Bak wins landslide presidential election

2009: Former president Roh Moo Hyun (r.2003-2008) commits suicide

2009 – 2018: North-South tensions worsen after naval skirmishes and missile tests

(Dec) First female president Park Geun-hye elected (daughter of former president Park Chung Hee)
Psy’s Gangnam Style becomes #1 most viewed on YouTube with 1b views

2014: Sewol ferry disaster highlights corporate corruption (~250 high school students die)

(Feb) North Korea assasinates Kim Jong Un brother in Malaysia
(Mar) President Park Geun-Hye impeached over corruption; later sentenced to 20 years for abuse of power


(May) Liberal candidate Moon Jae In elected president in landslide

Kpop boy band BTS hits #1 on US Billboard.
(Apr) Kim Jong-un becomes first North Korean leader to enter South Korea
(Jun) Trump and North Korean Kim Jong-un meet in Singapore

Revenue contribution to 2018 GDP. Source

(Feb) US-North Korea talks break down over pace of nuclear disarmament

More reference:

Yoon Suk Yeol 2022-present. Moon Jae In 2017-2022. South Korean presidents. Source

See also:

South Korea (1945 – present): Miracle on Han River
Korea (1392 – 1945): Joseon to Japanese Occupation
Ancient Korea (to 1392): Three Kingdoms, Silla, Goryeo

Visual Timeline Series