Steve Rogers's own personal journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been quite the time-bending trip, but it’s nothing compared to the journey of the mantle he so proudly wore. The Captain America timeline, following the title and the iconic piece of hardware that accompanies it, winds from the earliest days of the MCU well into its future. From Steve Rogers to Isaiah Bradley to Sam Wilson to John Walker, the shield has ricocheted and rebounded throughout the franchise, making an indelible impact wherever it strikes.
Aside from perhaps the saga of the Winter Soldier, no superpowered identity has undergone anywhere near the evolution that Captain America has over the past decade and change. The shield has always been a powerful symbol, but now it's also symbolic of the MCU itself - both where it came from, and where it's going from here.
1941-1943: Steve Rogers Repeatedly Tries To Enlist, Is Repeatedly Rejected
Born in Brooklyn on the Fourth of July in 1918, Steven Rogers was orphaned by the time he was a teenager. He got by on his own steadfast determination and gumption, along with some help from lifelong best friend James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes.
Everything changed on December 7, 1941. Steve and Bucky were in art class when they heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, along with the United States' subsequent declaration of war. The two headed down to the local recruitment center immediately, wishing to enlist. Barnes, a star athlete and student, was accepted with no hesitation, but the frail and sickly Rogers was rejected and classified as "4F."
As Bucky went off to complete basic training and came ever closer to shipping overseas, Steve grew desperate to join him. He spent more than a year traveling around to various recruitment centers and even using slightly modified enlistment cards to cover his tracks, but to no avail.
1943: Steve Is Recruited For Project Rebirth, Gets The Super-Soldier Serum, Becomes Captain America, But Is Forbidden From Combat
In early 1943, Bucky Barnes returned to Brooklyn briefly before being deployed overseas. He took Steve Rogers to the '43 Stark Expo in an attempt to cheer up his pal, but Rogers bailed when he happened upon an ad hoc enlistment station. It was there that he met Dr. Abraham Erskine.
Unbeknownst to Rogers, Erskine had defected from Nazi Germany and brought his Super-Soldier serum with him. He and the US Army were looking for an ideal first test subject. Overhearing and then interviewing Rogers, Erskine came away determined that Rogers was "not a perfect soldier, but a good man," and offered him a spot in the program.
Rogers traveled to Camp Lehigh to complete basic training alongside other would-be super soldiers, and there he met Peggy Carter. Impressing with little more than his big heart and never-quit attitude, Rogers was ultimately selected as the first to receive the combination of Erskine's serum and Howard Stark's vita-rays.
Rogers was transformed in an instant, becoming a muscle-bound specimen of peak humanity. Minutes later, however, tragedy struck when Erskine was assassinated by a Hydra spy. Rogers chased down the assailant, but it was too late to save Erskine - or the secret formula that existed only in his head. As a result, Rogers remained the US Army's one and only super soldier, and was thus banned from active combat in order to preserve him.
1943: Captain America Becomes 'The Star-Spangled Man,' Going On A Musical USO Tour To Sell War Bonds
A US Army rep approached Steve Rogers and asked if he'd be interested in helping with the war effort in a non-combat role, which Rogers eagerly agreed to - without knowing expressly what he was signing up for. The job turned out to be that of "The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan," a brightly costumed entertainer traveling the country with the USO and attempting to musically drum up support for the purchase of war bonds. The gig came with an honorary promotion to "Captain America," an opportunity to punch a fake Adolf Hitler dozens of times, and the adulation of screaming fans, but it still left Rogers feeling hollow.
That feeling was only exacerbated when he accompanied the USO on an overseas trip to Italy in late 1943 and got to see firsthand what real soldiers actually thought of Captain America.
1943: Cap Leads A Liberation Mission On A Hydra Facility
While in Italy, Steve Rogers learned that the entirety of the 107th Infantry Regiment - including Bucky Barnes - had been killed or captured by Hydra, with POWs taken to a camp in Austria. With help from Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, Rogers embarked on a brave solo mission behind enemy lines, ultimately freeing Barnes - who had been medically experimented on by Arnim Zola - and most of the soon-to-be Howling Commandos.
During the escape, Rogers also had his first face-to-face encounter with the Red Skull. Upon their return to Colonel Chester Phillips's camp, Barnes led the soldiers with a rousing chorus of "Let's hear it for Captain America!"
All of a sudden, Rogers had gone from a performer to a genuine war hero - and the name "Captain America" finally meant something.