Historical Timeline of the Animal Rights Movement

Animal Activism's Major Milestones, Setbacks, and Accomplishments

Animal rights activists protesting

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Concern for animal suffering is not new or modern. The ancient Hindu and Buddhist scriptures advocate a vegetarian diet for ethical reasons. The ideology behind the animal rights movement has evolved over millennia, but many animal activists point to the 1975 publication of Australian philosopher Peter Singer's “Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals” as the catalyst for the modern American animal rights initiative. This timeline highlights some of the major events in modern animal rights.

Early Events and Legislation

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

1641: The Massachusetts colony's Body of Liberties includes regulations against "Tirranny or Crueltie" toward 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 Act 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

1906: Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle," an excoriating look into the cruelty and appalling conditions of the Chicago meatpacking industry, is published.

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

1975: “Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals” by philosopher Peter Singer is published.

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

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

1981: The Farm Animal Reform Movement is officially founded.

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

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

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

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

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

1990: Revlon stops testing its products on animals.

1992: Animal Enterprise Protection Act is passed.

1993: General Motors stops using live animals in crash tests; 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: Erica Meier founded Compassion Over Killing.

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; An investigation by The Humane Society of the U.S. 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; 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 U.S. 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 U.S. reveals that items labeled as “faux” fur at Burlington Coat Factory are made of real fur.

2007: Horse slaughter for human consumption 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 Barack Obama and Congress legalize horse slaughter for human consumption in the U.S.

2012: Iowa passes the nation's fourth ag-gag law, which prohibits the undercover filming of farm conditions without the owner's consent; 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 -25 in favor of re-opening horse slaughter plants in the U.S.

2018: Nabisco changes its 116-year-old package design for Animal Crackers. The new box is cage-free; Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Catherine Cortez, D-Nev., introduces the Welfare of Our Furry Friends Act (WOOFF) to prohibit airlines from storing animals in overhead compartments after the death of Kokito, a French bulldog during a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York.

2019: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announces plans to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mammals to test the toxicity of chemicals; California becomes the first U.S. state to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur items; Cat declawing is banned in New York State.