Timeline from 1880 to 1890

Significant Events in the 1880s

Photograph showing construction of the Brooklyn Bridge roadway.
Construction of the roadway on the Brooklyn Bridge. Getty Images



  • The word boycott entered the English language when tenant farmers in Ireland organized and refused to pay a landlord's agent whose name was Capt. Charles Boycott. The term quickly spread to America, appearing in newspapers, and its usage became widespread.
  • Spring 1880: British troops under Gen. Frederick Roberts marched from Kabul to Kandahar during the Second Anglo-Afghan War, relieving a threatened British garrison and securing a victory over Afghan fighters.
  • April 18, 1880: William Ewart Gladstone defeated Benjamin Disraeli in a British election and Gladstone became prime minister for the second time.
  • July 1880: The French-American Union announced that enough money had been raised to complete the construction of the Statue of Liberty, though money would still have to be raised to construct its pedestal in New York.
  • November 2, 1880: James Garfield defeated Winfield Hancock in the U.S. presidential election.
  • November 11, 1880: Notorious Australian outlaw Ned Kelly was hanged in Melbourne, Australia.
  • December 1880: Inventor Thomas A. Edison used electric Christmas lights for the first time, hanging them outside his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey.


  • January 19, 1881: John Sutter, who owned the sawmill where a gold discovery began the California Gold Rush, died in Washington, D.C.
  • March 4, 1881: James Garfield was inaugurated as president of the United States.
  • March 13, 1881: Alexander II, son of Nicholas I, was assassinated.
  • April 1881: Pogroms began in Russia after Jews were blamed for the assassination of Czar Nicholas II. Refugees from the Russian pogroms would arrive in New York City and inspire poet Emma Lazarus to write her poem, "The New Colossus."
  • April 19, 1881: Benjamin Disraeli, British novelist and politician, died at the age of 76.
  • May 21, 1883: The American Red Cross was incorporated by Clara Barton.
  • July 2, 1881: President James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau at a Washington, D.C. train station.
  • July 14, 1881: Outlaw Billy the Kid was shot and killed by lawman Pat Garrett in New Mexico territory.
  • September 19, 1881: President James Garfield died after being wounded in a shooting 11 weeks earlier. The vice president, Chester A. Arthur, became president.
  • October 13, 1881: Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell was arrested and imprisoned by British authorities.
  • October 26, 1881: The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in Tombstone, Arizona.


Photograph of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Stock Montage/Getty Images
  • April 27, 1882: Ralph Waldo Emerson, influential American writer and Transcendentalist, died at the age of 78.
  • May 2, 1882: Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell was released from prison.
  • June 2, 1882: Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian revolutionary hero, died at the age of 74.
  • September 5, 1882: The first commemoration of Labor Day was held in New York City when 10,000 workers held a march.
  • December 1882: The first Christmas tree with electric lights was created by Edward Johnson, an employee of Thomas Edison. The tree was notable enough to be written about in newspapers, but within decades electric Christmas tree lights were commonplace in America.
  • December 10, 1882: Photographer Alexander Gardner, who took notable photographs of the Civil War, died at the age of 61. His photographs of Antietam, when displayed for the public in late 1862, changed the way the public thought of warfare.


  • March 14, 1883: Philosopher Karl Marx died at the age of 64.
  • May 24, 1883: The Brooklyn Bridge was opened with an enormous celebration after more than a decade of construction.
  • July 15, 1883: General Tom Thumb, famous entertainer discovered and promoted by the great showman Phineas T. Barnum, died at the age of 45. The diminutive man, born as Charles Stratton, was a show business phenomenon. He performed for President Lincoln and Queen Victoria, and was Barnum's greatest attraction.
  • August 27, 1883: The enormous volcano at Krakatoa erupted, blowing itself apart and throwing enormous amounts of volcanic dust into the atmosphere.



Photograph of President Grant's coffin outside New York's City Hall.
President Grant's coffin on the funeral car outside New York's City Hall. Getty Images
  • July 23, 1885: Ulysses S. Grant, former president and hero of the Civil War, died at the age of 63. An enormous funeral procession for Grant in New York City seemed to signal the end of an era.
  • September 7, 1885: Labor Day celebrations were held in cities across America, with tens of thousands of workers participating in marches and other commemorations.
  • October 29, 1885: George B. McClellan, who had been the Union commander at the Battle of Antietam and challenged President Lincoln in the election of 1864, died at the age of 58.


  • May 4, 1886: The Haymarket Riot in Chicago took place when a bomb was thrown into a mass meeting called to show support for striking workers.
  • May 15, 1886: American poet Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55.
  • June 2, 1886: President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in the White House, thus becoming the only president to be married in the executive mansion.
  • October 28, 1886: The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor.
  • November 18, 1886: Chester A. Arthur, former president, died in New York City at the age of 57.


  • March 8, 1887: Henry Ward Beecher, American clergyman and reformer, died in Brooklyn, New York at the age of 73.
  • June 21, 1887: Britain celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which marked the 50th year of her reign.
  • November 2, 1887: Jenny Lind, Swedish opera singer, whose tour promoted by Phineas T. Barnum had been a sensation in America in 1850, died at the age of 67.
Engraved portrait of poet Emma Lazarus
Poet Emma Lazarus. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • November 19, 1887: Poet Emma Lazarus, whose poem "The New Colossus" would help make the Statue of Liberty a symbol of immigration, died in New York City at the age of 38.
  • December 1887: The character of Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in a story Arthur Conan Doyle published in a magazine, Beeton's Christmas Annual.


  • March 11, 1888: The Great Blizzard of 1888 struck the East Coast of the United States.
  • August 31, 1888: The first victim of the murderer called "Jack the Ripper" was discovered in London.
  • November 6, 1888: President Grover Cleveland lost his bid for reelection to Benjamin Harrison.


  • March 4, 1889: Benjamin Harrison took the oath of office as president and gave an uplifting inaugural address.
  • May 31, 1889: The Johnstown Flood occurred in Pennsylvania when a poorly constructed dam burst.
Photographic portrait of Elizabeth Cochrane, who used the newspaper byline Nellie Bly
Elizabeth Cochrane, who known by the byline Nellie Bly. Interim Archive/Getty Images
  • November 14, 1889: Nellie Bly, star reporter for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, left on her 72-day race around the world. She had set out to cross the entire globe in less than 80 days, beating the fictional record of a character of novelist Jules Verne. She succeeded, finishing her trip with a cross-country train trip from San Francisco to New York City.
  • December 1889: Pierre de Coubertin, who would eventually organize the modern Olympic games, visited the campus of Yale University to study its athletic programs.
  • December 6, 1889: Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederate States of America, died at the age of 81.
  • December 25, 1889: President Benjamin Harrison held a festive Christmas celebration for his family at the White House. Newspaper stories regaled the public with accounts of the lavish gifts and decorations, including a Christmas tree.