Sunday, May 10, 2015

American Life in the 1880s

By the 1880s, the Gilded Age is in full swing, ringing in an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the North and West. Thanks to the mass production of railroads, creating traveling and shipping conveniences, most western states experienced an economic boon. Thanks to Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, the nation was beginning to see light and sound transmitted across the nation. The era of cowboys, outlaws, and Indians began to move in a different direction, toward civility and unfortunately, reservation. 

Abundant rainfall in the 1880s and the promise of free land under the Homestead Act drew easterners to the plain. Farmers began to organize into groups called Granges and Farmers' Alliances to address the problems faced by farmers. Though new farming machines were invented in this decade, horses, oxen, and people still provided most of the power that operated the machinery. Severe winters in the late 1880s wrecked havoc for many ranchers. Like in the decades before and after, the hearty survived and continued to make America the greatest country in the world.

President Grover Cleveland

U.S. Presidents:

3/04/1877 - 3/04/81 - Rutherford B. Hayes

3/04/81 - 9/19/81     - James A. Garfield

9/20/81 - 3/04/85     - Chester A. Aurther

3/04/85 - 3/04/89     - Grover Cleveland

3/04/89 - 3/04/93     - Benjamin Harrison

New U.S. States:

11/02/89 - North and South Dakota

11/08/89 - Montana

11/11/89 - Washington

Clara Barton

Important Dates:

May 21, 1881 - The American Red Cross names Clara Barton president, a post she would hold until 1904 through nineteen relief missions.

July 2, 1881 - The 20th President of the United States, James A. Garfield, is shot by lawyer Charles J. Guiteau in the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station in Washington, D.C.

July 4, 1881 - The Tuskegee Institute for black students training to be teachers opens under the tutelage of Booker T. Washington as instructor in Tuskegee, Alabama.

July 14, 1881 - Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Pat Garrett.

July 20, 1881 - Sioux chief Sitting Bull leads the final group of his tribe, still fugitive from the reservation, and surrenders to United States troops at Fort Buford, Montana.

September 19, 1881 - President Garfield dies from an infection

September 20, 1881 - Vice President Chester Arthur takes office as President.

October 26, 1881 - The gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurs in Tombstone, Arizona.

March 22, 1882 - The practice of polygamy is outlawed by legislation in the United States Congress.

April 3, 1882 - Western outlaw Jesse James is shot to death by Robert Ford, a member of his own band, for a $5,000 reward.

June 17, 1885 - The Statue of Liberty arrives for the first time in New York harbor.

May 4, 1886 - The Haymarket riot and bombing occurs in Chicago, Illinois, three days after the start of a general strike in the United States that pushed for an eight hour workday. This act would be followed by additional labor battles for that worker right favored by unions. Later this year, on December 8, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was formed by twenty-five craft unions.

June 2, 1886 - President Grover Cleveland marries Francis Folsom in the White House Blue Room, the sole marriage of a president within the District of Columbia mansion during the history of the United States.

September 4, 1886 - At Fort Bowie in southeastern Arizona, Geronimo and his band of Apaches surrender to Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles. This signaled the end of warfare between the United States Army and Indian tribes.

February 2, 1887 - The first Groundhog Day is observed in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and the tradition of checking the shadow of a groundhog to predict the coming spring began.

January 20, 1887 - Pearl Harbor naval base is leased by the United States Navy, upon approval of the U.S. Senate.

October 22, 1887 - The statue of Abraham Lincoln, "Standing Lincoln," by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is unveiled in Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois.

October 9, 1888 - The Washington Monument officially opens to the general public.

April 22, 1889 - The first of five land runs in the Oklahoma land rush takes place. More than 50,000 people waited at the starting line to race for one hundred and sixty acre parcels.

May 31, 1889 - The deadliest flood in American history occurs in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when 2,200 people perish from the water of the South Fork Dam after heavy rains cause its destruction.

June 3, 1889 - Running between the Willamette Falls and Portland, Oregon, a distance of fourteen miles, the first long distance electric power transmission line in the United States is completed.

July 8, 1889 - The first issue of the Wall Street Journal is published.

Science & Technology:

January 1, 1880 - The construction of the Panama Canal begins

January 25, 1881 - Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company.

May 24, 1883 - The Brooklyn Bridge is opened. It was constructed under a design by German-American Johann A. Roebling and required fourteen years to build.

November 18, 1883 - Five standard time zones are established by the United States and Canadian railroad companies to end the confusion over thousands of local time zones.

December 6, 1884 - The capstone of three thousand three hundred pounds is positioned atop the Washington Monument by the Corps of Engineers.

March 3, 1885 - American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT) is incorporated in New York City as a subsidiary of American Bell Telephone Company.

November 8, 1887 - Naturalized as a citizen in 1881, Emile Berliner is granted a patent for the gramophone.

June 16, 1888 - The prototype for the commercial phonograph is completed by Thomas A. Edison and staff at his laboratory near Glenmont, his estate in West Orange, New Jersey.

October 8, 1888 - Work begins on the first motion picture camera at Thomas A. Edison's laboratory.


1880 - The Native America Sun Dance is banned.

1881 - Henry Lee Higginson establishes the Boston Symphony Orchestra

1881 - The Thomas B. Harms music publishing company is established solely to publish popular music, then referring to parlor music.

1882 - The Fisk University Jubilee Singers become the first black choir to perform at the White House, at the invitation of President Chester A. Arthur.

1882 - A chorded zither called the autoharp is patented in the United States

1882 - Rev. Marshall W. Taylor's Plantation Melodies, Book of Negro Folk Songs becomes the first collection of spiritual, put together by an African American.

1883 - New York's Metropolitan Opera House opens

February 28, 1883 - Vaudeville, the entertainment and theatrical phenomena, begins when the first theatre is opened in Boston, Massachusetts.

1883 - Gretsch becomes the first drum manufacturer in the United States

1885 - Scott Joplin arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, and soon becomes a fixture at the Silver Dollar Saloon, beginning his career which is the beginning of ragtime.

1887 - Wax cylinders replace tinfoil as a recording medium

1889 - Harriet Gibbs Marshall is the first African American woman to graduate with a degree in music from Oberlin College. She will go on to found the Washington Conservatory of Music.

1889 - Louis Glass installs a coin-operated phonograph in a saloon in San Francisco, the first predecessor of the jukebox.


1880 - chocolate pie

1883 - salt water taffy

1884 - Angel Cake aka Angel Food Cake

1885 - Milk shakes and Dr. Pepper

1886 - Coca-Cola

1887- Malted Milk and pancake syrup

1889 - pizza and bundt cake


1880 - National Croquet League is organized

1880 - First baseball perfect game-John Richmond of Worcester Ruby Legs beats Cleveland Blues.

1881 - US Nation Lawn Tennis Association is formed

1881 - First US tennis championships held inNewport, Rhode Island

1884 - First World Series - Providence (National League) beats New York Mets

1887 - First minor league baseball association organizes in Pittsburgh, PA

1888 - First indoor baseball game played at fairgrounds in Philadelphia

Gabe Coulter has a successful night gambling, but a drunken cowboy who wants his money back confronts him in a dark alley. Gabe refuses, and a gunfight ensues. The dying man tells Gabe the money was for his wife and son. Though the shooting was self-defense, Gabe wrestles with guilt. The only way he knows to get rid of it is to return the money he fairly won to the man’s wife. Lara Talbot sees Gabe as a derelict like her husband and wants nothing to do with him. But as she struggles to feed her family, she wonders if God might have sent the gambler to help.

Vickie McDonough is the best selling author of 35 books and novellas. Her novels include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series and the 3rd & 6th books in the Texas Trails series. Her novel, Long Trail Home, won the Inspirational category of the 2012 Booksellers’ Best Awards. Song of the Prairie, the final book in her Pioneer Promises series, set in 1870s Kansas, recently released. Vickie had three Christmas novellas in collections releasing this fall: Westward Christmas Brides, The Christmas Brides Collection, and The 12 Brides of Christmas. To learn more about Vickie or to sign-up to receive Vickie's newsletter, visit her website:


  1. Fabulous overview, Vickie. Keep up the good stories.

  2. Well, I could have endured the food in the 1880s, that's for sure!

    1. I know! And just think, Dr. Pepper was made by a pharmacist. The 1880s were a good decade in the creation of food.

  3. Thank you for sharing this fascinating timeline, Vickie!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Britney. I always learn some times when I create one of these.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I was googling 1880s history, because I am in the process of purchasing a home that was built in 1880. I have been fascinated at all the things that my "new" home is older than. Thanks for this post. It was one of the most fun I have seen.

  6. This was so helpful! Thank you!

  7. Vickie, I am publishing a local magazine in Houston and want to write a "Kid's Corner" article.
    I am a fan of the 1800's and want to be able to have some articles written specifically for kids
    in the 10-18 year range that would help them gain an interest in the history of the 1800's. I can't pay for articles but I can write some of them myself. My email is