Historical Timeline of the Animal Rights Movement

PETA volunteers Ann Cashell, Dana Silvester and Anya Jordanva are unrobed outside during the 'Bare Skin, Don't Wear Skin' PETA protest
PeTA volunteers Ann Cashell, Dana Silvester and Anya Jordanva are unrobed outside during the 'Bare Skin, Don't Wear Skin' PETA protest. [Michael Loccisano]/[Getty Images Entertainment]/Getty Images

This timeline is an overview of some of the major events in the modern animal rights movement.

Concern for animal suffering is not a new or modern idea. The ancient Hindu and Buddhist scriptures advocate a vegetarian diet for ethical reasons. The ideology has evolved continuously over millennia, but many animal activists point to the publication of “Animal Liberation” in 1975 as the catalyst for the modern American animal rights movement.

Early Events and Legislation

1635: First known animal protection legislation passes, in Ireland, "An Act against plowing by the tayle, and pulling the wooll off living sheep." 

1641: The Massachusetts colony's Body of Liberties includes regulations against "Tirranny or Crueltie" towards animals.

1687: Japan reintroduces a ban on eating meat and killing animals. 

1780: English philosopher Jeremy Bentham argues for better treatment of animals.

19th Century

1822: British Parliament passes "Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle."

1824: The first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is founded in England, by Richard Martin, Arthur Broome, and William Wilberforce.

1835: The first Cruelty to Animal Acts is passed in Britain. 

1866: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is founded by New Yorker Henry Bergh.

1875: The National Anti-Vivisection Society is established in Britain by Frances Power Cobbe. 

1892: English social reformer Henry Stephens Salt publishes "Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress."

20th Century

1944: English animal rights advocate Donald Watson founds the Vegan Society in Britain.. 

1975: “Animal Liberation,” by philosopher Peter Singer is published.

1979:  Animal Legal Defense Fund is established, and National Anti-Vivisection Society establishes World Lab Animal Day, on April 24. The day has evolved into World Laboratory Animal Week.

1980: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is founded and “Animal Factories” by attorney Jim Mason and philosopher Peter Singer is published.

1981: Farm Animal Reform Movement is officially founded.

1983: Farm Animal Reform Movement establishes World Farm Animals Day on October 2 and “The Case for Animal Rights,” by philosopher Tom Regan is published.

1985: The first annual Great American Meatout is organized by Farm Animal Reform Movement.

1986:  Fur Free Friday, an annual nation-wide fur protest on the day after Thanksgiving, begins; and Farm Sanctuary is founded.

1987: California high school student Jennifer Graham makes national headlines when she refuses to dissect a frog and "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins is published.

1989:  Avon stops testing their products on animals, and In Defense of Animals launches their campaign against Proctor & Gamble’s animal testing.

1990: Revlon stops testing their products on animals.

1992: Animal Enterprise Protection Act is passed.

1993: General Motors stops using live animals in crash tests and The Great Ape Project is founded by Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri.

1994: Tyke the elephant goes on a rampage, killing her trainer and escaping from the circus before being gunned down by police.

1995: Compassion Over Killing is founded by Erica Meier.

1996: Vegetarian activist and former cattle rancher Howard Lyman appears on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, leading to a defamation lawsuit filed by Texas Cattlemen.

1997: PETA releases an undercover video showing animal abuse by Huntington Life Sciences.

1998: A jury finds in favor of Lyman and Winfrey in the defamation lawsuit filed by Texas Cattlemen; and an investigation by The Humane Society of the US reveals that Burlington Coat Factory is selling products made from dog and cat fur.

21st Century

2001: Compassion Over Killing conducts an open rescue at a battery hen facility, documenting abuses and rescuing eight hens.

2002: "Dominion" by Matthew Scully is published, and McDonald’s settles a class-action lawsuit over their non-vegetarian french fries.

2004: Clothing chain Forever 21 promises to stop selling fur.

2005: The US Congress pulls funding for inspections of horse meat.

2006: The "SHAC 7" are convicted under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act; Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is passed, and an investigation by the Humane Society of the US reveals that items labeled as “faux” fur at Burlington Coat Factory are made of real fur.

2007: Horse slaughter ends in the United States, but live horses continue to be exported for slaughter, Barbaro dies at the Preakness.

2009: The European Union bans cosmetics testing and bans the sale or import of seal products.

2010:  A killer whale at SeaWorld kills his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. SeaWorld is fined $70,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

2011: National Institute of Health stops funding of new experiments on chimpanzees; President Obama and Congress legalize horse slaughter for human consumption in the US. As of spring of 2014, no horse slaughterhouses have opened.

2012: Iowa passes the nation's fourth ag-gag law; An international convention of neuroscientists declares that non-human animals have consciousness. The declaration's main author goes vegan. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness is published in Britain, which states that many nonhuman animals possess the neurological structures to generate consciousness. 

2013: The documentary "Blackfish" reaches a mass audience, causing widespread public criticism of SeaWorld.

2014: India bans cosmetic testing on animals, the first Asian country to do so.

2015-2016: SeaWorld announces it will end its controversial orca shows and breeding program. 

2017: The Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives votes 27 to 25 in favor of re-opening the practice of horse slaughter.

Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.