Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events

Pre-1650 1650 1700 1750 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840
  1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
Literature, Music, and Movies
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s
Political and Social History Literature
  • James A. Garfield wins the presidency.
  • The signing of the Chinese Exclusion Treaty by China and the United States  restricts but does not prohibit the immigration of Chinese laborers.
  • George Eastman takes out a patent on a flexible roll of film for use in cameras.  The first Kodak box cameras are sold in 1888, and the first pocket Kodak camera is sold in 1895. (An archive of Kodak advertising and other materials is available at the Emergence of Advertising America, 1850-1920 at the Duke Scriptorium.)
  • Population: 50,100,100, of whom 6.6 million were foreign born. (Source: Almanac of American History
  • 11 May. Mussel Slough, near Fresno, California. After encouraging farmers to settle and cultivate land in California, the Southern Pacific railway takes legal action when the farmers refuse to pay the high prices it sets for the land they have developed. When threatened with eviction, the settlers band together and fight back; seven men, including five farmers, are killed; eight are wounded; and others are arrested. (See Frank Norris's fictional account in The Octopus).
  • Death of Lydia Maria Child (b. 1802) 
  • George Washington Cable, Old Creole Days 
  • Howells, Lady of the Aroostock
  • Henry Adams, Democracy, An American Novel
  • Albion Tourgee (1838-1905), Bricks Without Straw: A Novel

  • Tuskegee Institute founded by Booker T. Washington.
  • Clara Barton organizes the American Red Cross.
  • 2 July. Garfield is shot in the back on 2 July 1881 by Charles Guiteau, a disappointed office-seeker; after Garfield's death on September 19, Chester A. Arthur becomes president on 20 September 1881.
  • 26 October. A gunfight breaks out near the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona,when city marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, and Doc Holliday try to disarm Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury; in the fight, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury are killed and Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday are wounded. (See an episode of The American Experience on Wyatt Earp.)
  • James, Washington Square; The Portrait of a Lady 
  • Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass 
  • Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus
  • The Critic (1881-1906), edited by Jeannette and Joseph Gilder, is one of the first magazines to welcome Whitman's writing.
  • Helen Hunt Jackson's A Century of Dishonor chronicles the federal government's treatment of Native Americans.
  • 1882
  • Immigration of Chinese labor suspended despite President Chester A. Arthur's veto of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
  • John D. Rockefeller organizes the Standard Oil Trust.
  • In Boston, a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe  is lighted by electric incandescent light bulbs, the first such use of the new technology. In New York, Edison's Pearl Street power company begins to supply electricity for the city.
  • Twain, The Prince and the Pauper 
  • Death of Emerson (b. 1809) 
  • Whitman, Specimen Days and Collect 
  • Howells, A Modern Instance 
  • Frank Stockton, "The Lady or the Tiger?"
  • 1883
  • 24 May. Brooklyn Bridge opened to the public.
  • Pendleton Civil Service Act is passed to reform the corruption in the Civil Service.
  • Twain, Life on the Mississippi 
  • E. W. Howe, The Story of a Country Town 
  • Collier's Magazine(1883-1957)
  • John Hay, The Breadwinners (first published anonymously)
  • 1884
  • A ten-story building in Chicago is the world's first true "skyscraper." 
  • Democrat Grover Cleveland is elected president over James G. Blaine, whose supporters had denounced the Democrats as a party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion."
  • Samuel S. McClure founds the first newspaper syndicate in the U.S., McClure's Syndicate.  Among his writers will be Willa Cather.
  • Linotype machine patented by Ottmar Mergenthaler; among its competitors is the Mark Twain-backed Paige Typesetter.
  • 4 Sept. According to the Telecommunications History Timeline, the first commercially successful long-distance service is established between Boston and New York. 
  • Charles Egbert Craddock (Mary N. Murfree), In the Tennessee Mountains, a collection of local color stories
  • Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona (protesting treatment of Native Americans) 
  • Jewett, A Country Doctor 

  • Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Washington Monument dedicated after 36 years of construction.
  • Ulysses S. Grant dies and is buried in New York after an elaborate funeral and procession.
  • Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham 
  • Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton (1832-1895), The Squatter and the Don
  • Birth of Sinclair Lewis and Ezra Pound
  • Sidney Lanier,Poems 
  • 1886
  • 4 May. Haymarket Riot: 7 officers are killed by a bomb and 8 anarchists are arrested despite their lack of involvement; when several are executed,  Howells protests. The incident is the subject of Frank Harris's novel The Bomb. "The Dramas of the Haymarket" at the Chicago Historical Society includes background information about and images of this event.  See also documents from the Library of Congress site.
  • 28 October. Statue of Liberty dedicated in New York Harbor.
  • The Supreme Court rules that corporations are "persons" under the 14th amendment and cannot be denied profits or the right of due process.
  • American Federation of Labor organized. .
  • James, The Princess Casamassima; The Bostonians 
  • Howells, Indian Summer 
  • Alcott,Jo's Boys 
  • Lucretia P. Hale, The Peterkin Papers
  • Death of Emily Dickinson
  • 1887
  • Dawes Severalty Act provides for 160 acres to be given to each Indian family, breaking up the system of communal land holdings. By declaring as surplus land not owned by individuals, the law ultimately reduced the amount of land owned by Native Americans. (Read the Act.)
  • Nez Perce war.
  • Interstate Commerce Act passed.
  • Thomas Nelson Page, In Ole Virginia (plantation school) 
  • Freeman, A Humble Romance
  • Susan Fenimore Cooper,Rural Hours (revised edition)
  • 1888
  • 12 March. Great Blizzard of 1888 paralyzes the east coast and causes 400 deaths.
  • Secret ballot system introduced into U. S.
  • An act of Congress prevents Chinese laborers who have left the country from returning to the U. S.
  • Death of Bronson and Louisa May Alcott 
  • James, Aspern Papers 
  • Whitman, November Boughs; Complete Poems and Prose 
  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (utopian novel) 
  • Birth of T. S. Eliot, Eugene O'Neill

  • Theodore Roosevelt, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail
  • Benjamin Harrison wins the presidency despite Grover Cleveland's larger share of the popular vote (1889-93).
  • 22 April. In the first  "Oklahoma land rush," the U. S. government bows to pressure and opens for settlement land that it had previously promised would be a permanent refuge for Native Americans moved from their eastern territories.   Native American tribes are paid about $4 million for the parcel of land.  The starting gun sounds at noon, and an estimated 50,000 settlers race across the land; by sunset, all 1.92 million acres have been claimed. (See also the May 18, 1889 account from Harper's Weekly)
  • 13 May. Johnstown (Pennsylvania) flood kills an estimated 5,000 people when a dam bursts 18 miles above Johnstown.
  • First anti-trust law passed (by Kansas).
  • Electrocution replaces hanging as the official method of capital punishment in New York State.
  • In Chicago, Jane Addams opens Hull House.
  • June. Andrew Carnegie, "Wealth"  (North American Review).
  • November. Admitted to statehood: North Dakota and South Dakota (2 November), Montana (8 November), and Washington (11 November).
  • Howells, Annie Kilburn; Howells moves to New York to join editorial staff at Harper's
  • Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West 
  • Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
  • Munsey's Magazine (1889-1929)
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