Gregory DeVictor is a trivia enthusiast who loves to write articles on American nostalgia.
A Quick Look Back at the 1800s
What are some fun facts, trivia, and history events from the 1800s? What were some of the top news stories in the U.S. and around the world, and what major events took place in the business and financial sectors? What was popular in everyday life, and what happened in science, technology, sports, and in the entertainment industry? From world leaders to pioneers to innovators, who were the most influential people in the 1800s? What about famous birthdays, marriages, and deaths during the era, as well as the cost of living?
Here is a summary of what took place in the 1800s:
- During the 1800s, the United States fought in three wars: The War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War.
- Two sitting U.S. presidents—Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield—were assassinated.
- Twenty-nine states joined the Union.
- During the early 1800s, the Louisiana Purchase took place between the United States and France. In return for 15 million dollars, the U.S. government acquired 828,000 square miles of land from France that were located west of the Mississippi River.
- President Lincoln signed the First Legal Tender Act into law, which authorized the U.S. Treasury to issue United States Notes as a legal tender.
- Industrial growth transformed American society during the 1800s. Many new industries—including petroleum refining, steel manufacturing, and electrical power—emerged. Railroads also expanded significantly, “bringing even remote parts of the country into a national market economy.”
- A gold rush began in central California, and “thousands of Forty-Niners moved west to seek their fortunes.”
- In the U.S., the Long Depression took place from October 1873 to March 1879. The stock market crashed, and thousands of businesses failed.
- The first successful oil well in the U.S. was drilled on Oil Creek near Titusville, PA.
- John Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company. By the late 1800s, Rockefeller’s empire controlled about 90 percent of U.S. oil refineries and pipelines.
- The New York Stock Exchange opened, and the first publicly-traded companies were the Bank of North America, the First Bank of the United States, and the Bank of New York.
- Until the late 1800s, the word “unemployment” didn’t exist in the United States. The Wall Street Journal reminds us that “For America's early settlers—and its native population—not to work was to starve.” Then came the Industrial Revolution—and unemployment.
- Inflation was 2.44% in 1800, 1.77% in 1830, 3.82% in 1865, 2.00% in 1880, and -1.09% in 1890.
- Between 1833-71, the price of gold in the U.S. was unchanged at $18.93 per troy ounce, but peaked at $18.98 per t oz during 1896-98.
- The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) were both established.
- America’s first subway system opened in Boston.
- During the 1800s, the postage stamp, bicycle, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, telephone, sewing machine, safety pin, stapler, microphone, toy balloon, and tin can were invented.
- The American retailers Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Carter’s, Foot Locker, Barnes & Noble, the Kroger Company, Target, Sears, and Kmart all opened for business.
- Other U.S. companies founded in the 1800s were Mobil, Sherwin-Williams, Exxon (Standard Oil), AT&T, Chevron, and Shell.
- During the 1800s, the most common American surnames were Smith, Brown, Miller, Johnson, Jones, Davis, Williams, Wilson, Clark, and Taylor.
- The United States Military Academy, New York University, and Amherst College began holding classes.
- The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor.
- The Great Chicago Fire destroyed over 17,000 buildings and left almost 100,000 people homeless.
- During the 1800s, Coca-Cola, Jell-O, Postum, Good & Plenty candy, shredded wheat, cream of wheat, peanut butter, fig bars, Philadelphia cream cheese, and chewing gum were all created.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second best-selling book of the 1800s, surpassed only the Bible.
- Gennaro Lombardi opened America's first pizzeria in New York City.
- In 1882, rye flour was five cents a pound, beans were 13 cents a quart, and New Orleans molasses was 67 cents a gallon. Butter was 35 cents a pound, potatoes were $1.26 a bushel, and eggs were 40 cents a dozen. Rump steak was 21 cents a pound, milk was six cents a quart, and coal was $7.84 per ton.
- Britain's Parliament passed the "Ten Hours Bill," London opened its subway system, and construction of the Big Ben in London was completed.
- Over 10,000 mourners attended the funeral of Beethoven in Vienna, and much of Tokyo was destroyed by an earthquake, tsunami, and fire.
- In Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted for the axe murders of her father and stepmother.
Famous people back in the 1800s included Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, William Gladstone, Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Victor Hugo, Emily Dickinson, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mark Twain, Beethoven, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison.
Whether you’re a millennial, a 50-something, or a baby boomer, this article teaches you fun facts, trivia, and historical events from the 1800s. Find out about movies, music, famous authors and novels, heads of state, cultural figures, inventions and medical advances, famous birthdays, and other cool pop culture trends to get the right mix of questions and answers for your 1800s-themed trivia quiz.
Table of Contents
For easier reading and referencing, I have divided this article into the following categories:
- Retail Prices During the 1800s
- History Facts From the USA
- States Added to the Union During the 1800s
- Most Populated U.S. Cities in 1850
- Differences Between the North and South That Lead to the Civil War
- Interesting Facts About the Old West
- International News Events
- Miscellaneous Fun Facts, Trivia, and Pop Culture Trends
- Entertainment Trivia From the 1800s
- Popular Authors and Novels
- The 10 Best Films of the Era
- Favorite Songs From the 1800s
- Songs Written by Stephen Foster—the Father of American Music
- Colleges and Universities That Were Founded
- Famous Inventions and Medical Discoveries
- Most Popular Surnames and Baby Names
- Fun Facts About Christmas Gifts
- Famous People From the 1800s
- Biggest American Corporations in 1812
- Retail Chains That Were Launched
1. Retail Prices During the 1800s
Super-fine wheat flour
Family wheat flour
Rio green coffee
New Orleans molasses
Puerto Rico molasses
Rump beef steak
Shirting, 4-4 brown
Shirting, 4-4 bleached
Sheeting, 9-8 brown
Sheeting, 9-8 bleached
Men’s heavy boots
2. History Facts From the USA
- In 1807, Congress passed an act to “prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States . . . from any foreign kingdom, place, or country.” (This law would be largely ignored by the southern states.)
- The War of 1812 (1812-15) was a conflict between the United States and Great Britain “over British violations of U.S. maritime rights." It ended with the Treaty of Ghent.
- In 1820, the U.S. became the world's biggest producer of raw cotton.
- In 1830, the first railway station in the United States opened in Baltimore.
- In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, “authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. A few tribes went peacefully, but many resisted the relocation policy.”
- In 1830, Joseph Smith Jr. of New York founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.
- Fsmitha.com tells us that between 1930 and 1940, the population of the U.S. had increased 36% from 13 to 18 million. During the same period, the amount of railway track grew from 100 to 3,500 miles. There were also 1,200 cotton factories in the country, two-thirds of which were in New England.
- In 1845, the U.S. Congress approved the annexation of Texas. Consequently, Mexico severed diplomatic ties with the United States, and the Mexican-American War began.
- In 1848, the war between the United States and Mexico ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
- In 1848, a gold rush began in central California when James Marshall “struck it rich at Sutter’s Mill.” As a result, “thousands of Forty-Niners moved west to seek their fortunes.”
- In 1855, Chicago became the first major American city to build a comprehensive sewer system.
- In 1856, the first railway bridge across the Mississippi River was completed. It spanned three miles from Rock Island, Illinois to Davenport, Iowa.
- In 1857, in the Dred Scott case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “African Americans, free or slave, are not citizens and have no recourse in federal courts.”
- In 1859, the first successful oil well in the U.S. was drilled on Oil Creek near Titusville, Pennsylvania.
- The political, economic, and social differences between the North and South lead to the American Civil War. The Civil War was “a four-year war (1861–65) between the United States and [the] 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.” In the end, the Union was victorious over the Confederacy, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. A total of 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, which is more than the number of Americans who died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined.
- In 1862, the U.S. issued the first paper money.
- In 1863, President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became law.
- In 1865, President Lincoln was assassinated.
- In 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established.
- In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which overturned the Dred Scott case. AmericasLibrary.org tells us that “The amendment grants citizenship to ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States’ which included former slaves who had just been freed after the Civil War.”
- In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed.
- In 1870, John Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company. By the early 1880s, Rockefeller’s empire controlled about 90 percent of U.S. oil refineries and pipelines.
- In 1872, Charles Taze Russell founded the Jehovah's Witnesses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- By 1872, all of the eleven former Confederate States had returned to the Union (that is, the United States).
- In 1877, the U.S. economy entered a depression. About three million workers—roughly 27 percent of the labor force—were unemployed.
- In 1879, a yellow-fever epidemic began in New Orleans.
- In 1881, Tennessee passed the first of the “Jim Crow” laws, which segregated state railroads.
- In 1881, President James Garfield was assassinated.
- In 1886, American troops captured the Apache chief Geronimo.
- In 1889, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington all became states.
- In 1890, the United States Congress established Yosemite National Park.
- By 1890, about forty-five percent of the American workforce lived in cities.
- In 1893, Colorado became the first state to allow women to vote in state elections.
- By 1893, the Reading Railroad had collapsed, and hundreds of banks and businesses that were dependent upon the Reading and other railroads had failed.
- In 1894, unemployment in the United States climbed to about 18 percent.
- In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "’separate but equal’ public facilities for whites and blacks are legal."
- In 1897, the first subway system in the United States opened in Boston.
- In 1898, Congress passed a resolution that annexed Hawaii.
- In 1899, President McKinley established trade with China.
- By the end of the century, unemployment in the United States had fallen to around five percent.
3. States Added to the Union During the 1800s
By 1800, 16 states had already joined the Union, including the original 13 colonies. Here is a list of the states that were added during the 1800s:
- Ohio: March 1, 1803
- Louisiana: April 30, 1812
- Indiana: December 11, 1816
- Mississippi: December 10, 1817
- Illinois: December 3, 1818
- Alabama: December 14, 1819
- Maine: March 15, 1820
- Missouri: August 10, 1821
- Arkansas: June 15, 1836
- Michigan: January 26, 1837
- Florida: March 3, 1845
- Texas: December 29, 1845
- Iowa: December 28, 1846
- Wisconsin: May 29, 1848
- California: September 9, 1850
- Minnesota: May 11, 1858
- Oregon: February 14, 1859
- Kansas: January 29, 1861
- West Virginia: June 20, 1863
- Nevada: October 31, 1864
- Nebraska: March 1, 1867
- Colorado: August 1, 1876
- North Dakota: November 2, 1889
- South Dakota: November 2, 1889
- Montana: November 8, 1889
- Washington: November 11, 1889
- Idaho: July 3, 1890
- Wyoming: July 10, 1890
- Utah: January 4, 1896
4. Most Populated U.S. Cities in 1850
Based on United States Census data, here were the 10 most populated U.S. cities in 1850:
- New York City: 515,547
- Baltimore: 169,054
- Boston: 136,881
- Philadelphia: 121,376
- New Orleans: 116,375
- Cincinnati: 115,435
- Brooklyn: 96,838
- St. Louis: 77,860
- Spring Garden District, PA: 58,894 (now part of Philadelphia)
- Albany, NY: 50,763
5. Differences Between the North and South That Lead to the Civil War
These history facts from the 1800s have been made available courtesy of USCIS.gov.
- About 21 million people lived in the North.
- The North was primarily industrial, and had factories that produced paper, textiles, glass, and metal products.
- Between 1840-60, four million immigrants settled in the North to work in the factories and on the railroads.
- Many Northerners were against slavery and also wanted the country to stay together. USCIS.gov explains that Ulysses S. Grant was the military leader of the North, and Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States.
- A total of 23 states remained in the Union.
- About nine million people lived in the South.
- The South was primarily agricultural, and had both small farms and big plantations. Crops that were grown included cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar, and corn.
- In 1860, there were four million slaves living in the United States, and most of them lived in the South on big plantations. The slaves had no freedom, no formal schools, and no voting rights.
- Many Southerners favored slavery as well as “strong states’ rights.” “States’ rights” meant that the individual states “would decide their own government.”
- More so, the South wanted to separate from the United States, and even formed a new nation—”The Confederate States of America.” USCIS.gov tells us that Robert E. Lee was the military leader of the South, and Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States.
- Which southern states seceded from the Union? Wikipedia.org teaches us that “The eleven states of the CSA, in order of their secession dates (listed in parentheses), were: South Carolina (December 20, 1860), Mississippi (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10, 1861), Alabama (January 11, 1861), Georgia (January 19, 1861), Louisiana (January 26, 1861), Texas (February 1, 1861), Virginia (April 17, 1861), Arkansas (May 6, 1861), North Carolina (May 20, 1861), and Tennessee (June 8, 1861).”
All of these political, economic, and social differences lead to the American Civil War. The Civil War was “a four-year war (1861–65) between the United States and [the] 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America.” In the end, the Union was victorious over the Confederacy, but it was a Pyrrhic victory—a victory that was offset by staggering losses.
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, with more than 51,000 casualties. On the other hand, North Carolina lost more soldiers than any other Southern state.
A total of 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, which is more than the number of Americans who died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. So why were there so many deaths during the Civil War when battle deaths only totaled 215,000? Battlefields.org confirms that “Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease.”
6. Interesting Facts About the Old West
- In 1840, San Jose had a population of about 750. On July 1, 2019, “The Capital of the Silicon Valley” had 1.058 million residents.
- In July 1849, San Francisco’s population was 5,000. By July 2019, “The City by the Bay” had 889,360 inhabitants.
- By the end of the 1800s, Phoenix’s population was 5,554. According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Phoenix will reach 2.2 million by 2030.
- In 1880, Denver had a population of 35,629. Today, the City and County of Denver has an estimated 716,492 residents.
- In 1890, Seattle’s population was 42,837. In 2019, Seattle had 3,406,000 inhabitants, an 0.8% increase from 2018.
- The California Gold Rush of 1849 wasn’t America’s first gold rush, nor was it even the second. In 1799, the first gold rush began in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, and Congress built the Charlotte Mint in 1836-37 to cope with the sheer volume of gold that was being dug up in the state. In 1828, the nation’s second gold rush began in Georgia. Finally, in 1848, James Marshall “struck it rich at Sutter’s Mill in California, and thousands of Forty-Niners moved west to seek their fortunes.”
- Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon of Gunsmoke fame really did exist in Dodge City. (Wikipedia.org explains that “Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s.”)
- The oldest settlement in the U.S. was Acoma Pueblo, which is west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The village has been continuously occupied since the 12th century.
- One of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War was fought in New Mexico.
- Broncho Billy Anderson—star of the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery—was the first cowboy matinee idol.
7. International News Events
- In 1801, Great Britain was rising as an industrial power.
- In 1801, Britain made Ireland part of the British kingdom. The Irish Parliament in Dublin was abolished, the Anglican Church became the official church in Ireland, and Roman Catholics were not allowed to hold public office.
- In 1809, British exports reached an all-time high.
- In 1814-15, the Congress of Vienna took place. Britain, Spain, Portugal, “a politically new France,” and the Netherlands met “to discuss the world without Napoleon.”
- In 1816, France’s economy began a four-decade decline.
- In 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte died from stomach cancer at the age of fifty-one on the island of St. Helena.
- In 1823, steam-powered shipping began between France and Switzerland on Lake Geneva.
- In 1824, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was established in Britain. It was the first animal protection organization in the world.
- In 1827, over 10,000 mourners attended the funeral of Beethoven in Vienna.
- In 1829, the British Parliament passed the Catholic Emancipation Bill, which allowed Catholics to hold public office.
- In 1833, prosperity came to a temporary end in Japan because of too much rain and consequent crop failures.
- In 1835, vaccinations were first made mandatory in Britain.
- In 1839, France became the first European power to recognize Texas as independent from Mexico.
- In 1843, Britain and France recognized the Hawaiian Islands as an independent state.
- In 1843, England outlawed gibbeting.
- On July 1, 1847, Britain's parliament passed the "Ten Hours Bill," which “restricted the working hours of women and young persons (13-18) in textile mills to 10 hours per day.”
- In 1848, economic recovery began across Europe.
- In 1850, the Public Libraries Act was passed in Britain.
- In 1850, five percent of British ships were powered by steam.
- In 1854, construction of the Big Ben in London was completed.
- In 1855, much of Tokyo was destroyed by an earthquake, tsunami, and fire.
- In 1857, Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary was partially published in France, and created a scandal.
- In 1860, Jews in Britain were allowed to vote for the first time.
- In 1863, London opened its subway system.
- In 1867, the Blue Danube Waltz, by Johann Strauss, was performed for the first time in Vienna.
- In 1870, Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia acknowledged that trade had substantially increased in each country over what it had been in 1830.
- In 1875, South Africa became the largest diamond mining region in the world.
- In 1883, Karl Marx died, and Benito Mussolini was born.
- In 1884, France incorporated Vietnam into its empire.
- In 1887, the Yellow River in China overflowed its banks, killing 900,000 people.
- In 1890, Europe’s economy began to decline, and British investors sold their U.S. stocks to raise cash.
- In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in national elections.
- In 1895, the average male in Russia died at 31.4 years, and the average female at 33.3 years.
- On June 9, 1898, under Queen Victoria, the British “brokered a 99-year lease agreement for the use of Hong Kong after China lost a series of wars fought over the British trade in tea and opium.”
- In 1898, the bubonic plague began in China and India, and three million people would eventually die from the outbreak.
8. Miscellaneous Fun Facts, Trivia, and Pop Culture Trends
PBS.org explains that pop culture is that loose blend of books, music, fashion and other daily ephemera that contributes to the identity of a society at a particular point in time. In the 1800s, music and books defined the essence of American pop culture.
- What did people eat during the 1800s? Blogs.Ancestry.com explains that “Corn and beans were common, along with pork. In the north, cows provided milk, butter, and beef, while in the south, where cattle were less common, venison and other game provided meat. Preserving food in 1815, before the era of refrigeration, required smoking, drying, or salting meat. Vegetables were kept in a root cellar or pickled.”
- A cowboy’s diet generally consisted of beans, hard biscuits, dried meat and fruit, and coffee.
- In 1818, shoes were $2.50 a pair, and the annual clothing expenses for a family of six averaged $148.
- A white family typically had seven or eight children.
- In the early 1800s, the life expectancy for a white male was 39 years, and 38.8 years for a white female. (Ancestry.com tells us that “The main causes of death for adults during this period were malaria and tuberculosis, while children most commonly died from measles, mumps, and whooping cough.)
- For slaves, about one in three children died, and only half lived to adulthood.
- During the War of 1812, more soldiers died from disease than from fighting.
- During the early 1800s, over 80% of Americans lived on farms. By 1890, about 45% of the American workforce lived in cities.
- How much did farm laborers, servants, teachers, and skilled workers earn during the 1800s? According to Ancestry.com, “Farm laborers after the end of the War of 1812 earned $12 to $15 dollars a month. A male school teacher earned $10 to $12 a month; a female teacher earned $4 to $10. In Massachusetts, a tailor and printer could both expect to earn $6 a week, while a servant might earn only 50 cents a week.”
- In the early 1800s, long-distance travel was done either by horseback or uncomfortable stagecoach.
- The National Road, the first federally-funded road, “was built between 1811 and 1834 to reach the western settlements. The road . . . became Main Street in these early settlements, earning it the nickname ‘The Main Street of America.’ In the 1800s, it was a key transport path to the West for thousands of settlers.”
- In 1800, the first soup kitchens in the world were opened in London to feed the poor.
- In 1807, London's Pall Mall became the first street to be lit by gaslight.
- In 1810, the first state fair was held in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
- In 1815, the world's first commercial cheese factory opened in Switzerland.
- In 1816, the first cranberry crop was harvested in Massachusetts.
- In 1817, the New York Stock Exchange opened for business.
- In 1822, Charles Graham received the first patent for dentures.
- In 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad became the first American railroad to carry passengers and freight.
- In 1827, the first Mardi Gras celebration was held in New Orleans.
- In 1828, the first edition of Noah Webster's Dictionary was published.
- In 1838, Tennessee passed the first state temperance law.
- In 1840, Luther Crowell was born. He later invented a machine that made square-bottomed grocery bags.
- In 1847, the American Medical Association was founded in Philadelphia.
- In 1847, Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco.
- Here is a help-wanted ad from the mid 1800s for the Pony Express: ”Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be excellent riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. Wages are $25.00 a week.”
- In 1850, there were about 1,449,000 farms in the U.S. that averaged 203 acres.
- In 1851, the first edition of the New York Times was published.
- In 1853, the first World's Fair took place in New York City.
- On April 7, 1857, snow fell in every state of the U.S.
- In 1861, Congress passed the first income tax to aid the Union war effort.
- In 1863, Thanksgiving was first celebrated as an American holiday.
- In 1866, the metric system was established to standardize weights and measures in the U.S.
- In 1869, beer was sold in bottles for the first time in England.
- In 1870, Christmas became a federal holiday in the United States.
- In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed over 17,000 buildings and left almost 100,000 people homeless.
- In 1877, Thomas Edison made the first recording of the human voice when he recited the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb.
- In 1878, the U.S. stopped making the 20 cent coin.
- In 1879, Frank Winfield Woolworth opened his first “Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York.
- In the 1880s, “pants” was considered to be a dirty word in England.
- In 1880, the wholesale price of lobster was 10 cents a pound.
- In 1881, Clara Barton founded The American Red Cross in Washington D.C.
- In 1884, standard time was established in the United States.
- In 1886, Griswold Lorillard of Tuxedo Park, N.Y. designed the first men’s tuxedo.
- In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor.
- In 1887, the first Groundhog Day was observed in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
- In 1892, macadamia nuts were planted for the first time in Hawaii.
- In 1892, the first long distance telephone line between New York City and Chicago went into service.
- In 1894, Coca-Cola was sold in bottles for the first time. Before that, you could only order Coke at the soda fountain.
- In 1895, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in the U.S. in New York City.
- In 1896, Rural Free Delivery (RFD) began.
9. Entertainment Trivia From the 1800s
In the 1800s, there were no laptops, mobile phones, or tablets. There were no video games, multiplexes, or DVDs. Likewise, there were no radios, smart TVs, or ebook readers.
Back in the 1800s, there was no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or Reddit. There were no Google Maps, Google Books, or Google Goggles. Likewise, iPhones, Gmail, and iTunes did not exist yet.
So what did people do for entertainment in the 1800s? BigUniverse.com reminds us that “With a six day workweek, long hours on the job, and the hard labor required to keep house, leisure time was precious.” Most entertainment originated at home—especially during the early and middle 1800s—since most Americans lived on farms.
So how did Americans spend their leisure time?
- For openers, they played games, such as guessing games, word games, card games, table games, and teetotum. They also played parlor games such as charades, blind man's buff, and twenty questions.
- During the 1800s, people played chess, checkers, backgammon, dominoes, tiddlywinks, and pick up sticks. They also played outdoor games such as “Annie-Annie Over,” football, baseball, cricket, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, rugby, and tennis. People also enjoyed rowing, horse racing, and ice hockey.
- To pass the time agreeably, children often walked on stilts, jumped rope, tossed bean bags, played hopscotch, and threw rope rings around a stake. They would also go to the circus or ride on animals, such as ponies.
- Reading books and newspapers
- Men would go hunting, for entertainment but also for food.
- Singing around the family piano
- Visiting with neighbors
- Picnicking in the woods
- Sewing (for the ladies) and whittling (for the guys)
- In the bigger towns and cities, people could attend live, professional entertainment such as concerts, plays, and minstrel shows.
- Taking walks around the neighborhood
- Attending a magic-lantern or “stereopticon” show. YourDictionary.com defines a magic-lantern show as “An old name for a slideshow, often using an early form of slide projector that could achieve simple animation by moving and merging images.”
At a magic-lantern show, a speaker would talk on a popular subject and use the magic-lantern technique to accentuate his presentation. In the 1800s, he might have spoken about ancient sites (for example, the Egyptian pyramids), notable buildings (for example, Windsor Castle), or famous people (for example, Queen Victoria).
Victoriana.com remarks that “In 1895 there were between 30,000 and 60,000 lantern showmen in the United States, giving between 75,000 and 150,000 performances a year. That means there would have been several shows a week in your county.”
10. Popular Authors and Novels
- Louisa May Alcott: Little Women
- Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma
- Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
- Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
- Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
- James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mochicans
- Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage
- Honore de Balzac: Pere Goriot and Cousin Bette
- Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations
- Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment
- Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo
- Henry Fielding: Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews
- Thomas Hardy: Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native, and Tess of the d’Urbervilles
- Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables
- Victor Hugo: Les Miserables
- Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady and The Turn of the Screw
- Mary Johnston: To Have and to Hold
- Rudyard Kipling: Captains Courageous
- Herman Melville: Moby-Dick
- Frank Norris: McTeague
- Walter Scott: Ivanhoe
- H. Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis? and The Deluge
- Bram Stoker: Dracula
- Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair and The Luck of Barry Lyndon
- Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and The Death of Ivan Ilych
- Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Jules Verne: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
- H. G. Wells: The Time Machine
11. The 10 Best Films of the Era
The first motion pictures arrived in the 1890s. Faculty.Washington.edu explains that “In their first phase, motion pictures emphasized just movement. There was no sound, usually no plot and no story. Just movement. One of the earliest movie shorts was a collection of 15-30 second scenarios created by the Lumiere Brothers, in France. The first movie ‘shows,’ which lasted 5-8 minutes, were a collection of these short scenes: a train arriving at a station, a man watering his garden, men playing cards, people getting off of a ferry boat and a street vendor selling his wares. The early Lumiere presentations in Paris delighted people, drawing huge crowds.”
Courtesy of AVClub.com, here were the 10 best films of the 1890s:
- Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory In Lyon (1895)
- The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894)
- The Haunted Castle (1896)
- Arrival Of A Train At La Ciotat Station (1896)
- The Four Troublesome Heads (1898)
- Cinderella (1899)
- The Kiss (1896)
- La Fée Aux Choux (1896)
- The Execution Of Mary, Queen Of Scots (1895)
- The X-Ray Fiend (1897)
A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight (1896)
12. Favorite Songs From the 1800s
- A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight (1896)
- Alouette (1879)
- Amazing Grace (1800)
- America (1832)
- Au Clair de la Lune (1811)
- Away In a Manger (1887)
- Baa Baa Black Sheep (1865)
- Beautiful Dreamer (1864)
- Blue Danube Waltz (1867)
- Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! (1861)
- Goodnight Ladies (1853)
- Gypsy Love Song (1898)
- Hail to the Chief (1820)
- Happy Birthday To You (1893)
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing (1855)
- Home, Sweet Home (1823)
- Home on the Range (1873)
- Hush-a-bye Baby (1884)
- (I Dream Of) Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair (1854)
- I've Been Working on the Railroad (1894)
- It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (1850)
- Jingle Bells (1857)
- Joy to the World (1839)
- Liberty Bell March (1893)
- Mary Had a Little Lamb (1830)
- My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean (1881)
- (Oh My Darling) Clementine (1863)
- Oh! Susanna (1848)
- Old MacDonald Had A Farm (1859)
- O Little Town of Bethlehem (1868)
- O Where O Where Has My Little Dog Gone (1864)
- Polly Wolly Doodle (1883)
- Prelude in C# Minor (1893)
- Rock-a-bye Baby (1884)
- Rock of Ages (1832)
- Row Row Row Your Boat (1881)
- Semper Fidelis (1886)
- She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain (1899)
- She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1838)
- Skip To My Lou (1844)
- Sleeping Beauty Waltz (1890)
- Stars and Stripes Forever (1897)
- The Battle Hymn of the Republic (1862)
- The Merry, Merry Month of May (1862)
- The Yellow Rose of Texas (1858)
- Way Down Upon the Swanee River (1851)
- Wedding March (1844)
- When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (1863)
- When The Saints Go Marching In (1896)
- William Tell Overture (1829)
13. Songs Written by Stephen Foster—the Father of American Music
|Song Title||Year Published|
All Day Long
The Angels Are Singing Unto Me
Annie My Own Love
Better Times Are Coming or Better Days Are Coming
Dearer Than Life!
Don't Be Idle
Farewell Mother Dear
Farewell Old Cottage
For the Dear Old Flag, I Die
Gentle Lena Clare
Give This to Mother
The Glendy Burk
Happy Hours At Home
Hard Times Come Again No More or Hard Times
The Holiday Schottisch
I Cannot Sing to Night
I Would Not Die In Spring Time
I Would Not Die In Summer Time
Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
Kissing In the Dark
Lena Our Loved One is Gone
The Little Ballad Girl or 'Tis My Father's Song
Maggie by My Side
Molly! Do You Love Me?
Mr. & Mrs. Brown
My Hopes Have Departed Forever
My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night or My Old Kentucky Home
No Home, No Home
Oh! 'Tis Glorious!
Oh! Susanna or Susanna
Oh! There's No Such Girl As Mine or There's No Such Girl As Mine
Old Black Joe
Old Folks At Home or Swanee River or Way Down Upon de Swanee River
Onward and Upward!
Our Bright Summer Days Are Gone or Our Bright Bright Summer Days Are Gone
A Penny for Your Thoughts
Seek and Ye Shall Find
She Was All the World to Me
Sitting By My Own Cabin Door
The Soldier's Home
The Song of All Songs
Stay Summer Breath
Tell Me Love of Thy Early Dreams
Thou Are the Queen of My Song
A Thousand Miles From Home
The Voices that Are Gone
Way Down South In Alabama
When Dear Friends Are Gone
14. Colleges and Universities That Were Founded
Courtesy of Infoplease.com, here is a partial list of American colleges and universities that were founded during the 1800s:
- Middlebury College (1800)
- United States Military Academy (1802)
- University of Maryland (1807)
- University of Michigan (1817)
- Colgate University (1819)
- University of Virginia (1819)
- Amherst College (1821)
- New York University (1831)
- Haverford College (1833)
- Boston University (1839)
- University of Notre Dame (1842)
- Villanova University (1842)
- Holy Cross College (1843)
- Baylor College (1845)
- United States Naval Academy (1845)
- Pennsylvania State University (1855)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1865)
- University of California (1869)
- Texas A&M (1876)
- University of Texas (1883)
15. Famous Inventions and Medical Discoveries
Count Alessandro Volta
High-speed, steam-powered printing press
Joseph von Fraunhofer
Mackintosh or raincoat
W. A. Burt
Cyrus H. McCormick
Lockstitch sewing machine
Dr. William Morton
Anesthesia for a tooth extraction
Milton Waldo Hanchett
Made improvements in the design of the sewing machine
Sewing machine motor
Pullman sleeping car for train travel
Rotary washing machine
Internal combustion engine
Elevator safety brakes
J. P. Knight
J. S. Risdon
Aaron Montgomery Ward
Alexander Graham Bell
Modern carpet sweeper
Longer-lasting electric light bulb
Alexander Graham Bell
Automatic player piano
Lewis Edson Waterman
Practical fountain pen
Mechanical cash register
Josephine Garis Cochran
F. E. Muller and Adolph Fick
First wearable contact lenses.
Jesse W. Reno
Whitcomb L. Judson
Loop-de-loop roller coaster
J. S. Thurman
Motor-driven vacuum cleaner
16. Most Popular Surnames and Baby Names
These facts have been made available courtesy of Blogs.Ancestry.com.
In 1850, the most common American surnames were Smith, Brown, Miller, Johnson, Jones, Davis, Williams, Wilson, Clark, and Taylor. Blog.Ancestry.com points out that “English and Scottish names constituted nearly the entire population, with the exception of New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Pennsylvania contributed half of all reported surnames, a reflection of the large German population there.”
The most popular baby names for boys included John, William, James, George, Henry, Thomas, Charles, Joseph, Samuel, and David.
The most common baby names for girls were Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth, Martha, Margaret, Nancy, Ann, Jane, Eliza, and Catherine.
17. Fun Facts About Christmas Gifts
LegendsofAmerica.com tells us that “By the mid-1800s the American Christmas tradition included much of the same customs and festivities as is does today, including tree decorating, gift-giving, Santa Claus, greeting cards, stockings by the fire, church activities, and family-oriented days of feasting and fun.” They add: “But, for those in the Old West, far away from the more civilized life of the east, pioneers, cowboys, explorers, and mountain men, usually celebrated Christmas with homemade gifts and humble fare.”
Here are some examples of Christmas gifts from the 1800s:
- Books: Shannon Selin explains that “Books were popular 19th-century Christmas gifts. People especially liked the literary annuals, which were collections of essays, short fiction and poetry. The first English annual–Rudolph Ackermann’s Forget Me Not, A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1823–was published in November 1822.”
- Bread, bullocks, and coal
- Homemade gifts, including corn husk dolls, sachets, pillows, carved wooden toys, footstools, and embroidered hankies.
- Other homemade gifts were knitted scarves, hats, mitts, and socks.
- Cookies, candies, and fruits
- Kitchen furniture and accessories
- Dolls and alphabet blocks
- The Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph describes the variety of Christmas gifts that were available in December 1875 from various merchants in the city:
“Elegant hair brushes, cloth brushes, and hand brushes” from Coleman’s Drug Store
“Beautiful cut-glass toilet bottles” for cologne, camphor, and bay rum, also from Coleman's
“Worsted embroidery and beaded landscapes” at d'Arcambal Millinery Rooms
Fine furs in seal, otter, and mink from M. Israel & Co.
“Alabaster fancy articles, doll handkerchiefs, linen collars and cuffs as well as sleeve buttons and shirt studs,” all from Miller's.
“Two-button kid gloves for 85 cents, fine quality kid gauntlets for $1, and hip gore corsets for 40 cents,” also from Miller’s
Odor cases and whisk broom holders at McDonald's Drug Store
“Handsome coal stoves” from DeVisser & Co.
18. Famous People From the 1800s
These history facts from the 1800s have been made available courtesy of BiographyOnline.net.
Politicians and heads of state:
- Napoleon Bonaparte: French military and political leader
- Thomas Jefferson: Third president of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence
- James Madison: Fourth president of the United States and the father of the U.S. Constitution
- Thomas Malthus: English cleric and influential economist
- Abraham Lincoln: U.S. president from 1861-65 who led the United States during the Civil War
- Queen Victoria: Queen of Great Britain from 1837 to 1901
- Giuseppe Mazzini: Italian political activist
- Simon Bolivar: Known as “El Libertador,” Bolivar led the Latin American countries of Peru, Bolivar, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela to independence.
- Benjamin Disraeli: British Prime Minister
- William Gladstone: British Prime Minister on four different occasions
- Kaiser Wilhelm II: The last German Emperor
- Theodore Roosevelt: The 26th U.S. president and a leading political figure of the Progressive Era
- Charles Dickens: English writer and social critic
- Karl Marx: German philosopher
- Victor Hugo: French author and poet
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: American poet and philosopher
- Harriet Beecher Stowe: American writer who helped to popularize the anti-slavery movement
- Henry David Thoreau: American poet and writer
- Walt Whitman: American poet
- Emily Dickinson: One of America’s greatest female poets
- Lord Alfred Tennyson: Victorian poet
- Oscar Wilde: Irish playwright, poet, and author
- Leo Tolstoy: Russian novelist
- Fyodor Dostoevsky: Russian novelist, journalist, and philosopher
- Mark Twain: American writer who is considered to be the “father of American literature”
- John Stuart Mill: Utilitarian philosopher and supporter of radical/liberal politics
- Beethoven: German composer and pianist
- David Livingstone: Explorer
- Florence Nightingale: Pioneering nurse
- Claude Monet: French impressionist painter
- Vincent Van Gogh: Dutch post-impressionist painter
- Giuseppe Verdi: Italian opera composer
Social activists and religious figures:
- Margaret Fuller: Campaigned for women’s rights
- Susan B Anthony: Campaigned for civil rights and women’s suffrage
- Harriet Tubman: Tubman escaped from slavery but helped to lead slaves to freedom.
Scientists, innovators, and businessmen:
- Charles Darwin: Developed the theory of evolution
- Louis Pasteur: Developed cures for rabies and other infectious diseases
- James Clerk Maxwell: Laid the foundation for quantum physics
- John D. Rockefeller: Businessman who controlled much of the U.S. oil and railroad industries
- Edward Jenner: Pioneer of the smallpox vaccine
- George Stephenson: Mechanical engineer who developed the steam engine.
- Andrew Carnegie: Business magnate who controlled much of the U.S. steel industry.
- Thomas Edison: Inventor who had over 1,000 patents during his lifetime.
19. Biggest American Corporations in 1812
Jacob Goldstein tells us that “Before there were tech giants, there were industrial companies. Before there were industrial companies, there were railroads. Before there were railroads, it was banks, all the way down.” He adds that “The American Fur Company—John Jacob Astor's massive fur business, which spanned the continent—is the only non-bank in the top 20 [sic].”
Courtesy of NPR.org, here were the 10 biggest U.S. corporations in 1812:
- Bank of the United States
- Bank of America
- State Bank
- Bank of Pennsylvania
- City Bank of New York
- Farmers Bank of Virginia
- Philadelphia Bank
- Manhattan Company
- American Fur Company
- Boston Bank
20. Retail Chains That Were Launched
Courtesy of TheBalancesMB.com, here is a list of American retailers that were founded in the 1800s:
- 1818: Brooks Brothers
- 1826: Lord & Taylor
- 1858: Macy’s
- 1859: The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company
- 1861: Bloomingdale's
- 1867: Saks Fifth Avenue
- 1865: Carter's
- 1866: Mobil
- 1866: Sherwin-Williams
- 1867: Stage Stores (Uhlman’s)
- 1870: Exxon (Standard Oil)
- 1872: Montgomery Ward
- 1872: Roundy's Supermarkets
- 1873: Barnes & Noble
- 1876: AT&T
- 1876: Chevron
- 1878: Foot Locker
- 1881: Target
- 1883: The Kroger Co.
- 1888: Belk
- 1888: Sears, Roebuck & Co.
- 1892: Abercrombie & Fitch
- 1892: Shell
- 1898: Bon-Ton Stores
- 1899: Kmart Corp.
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- A Pioneer Christmas – Legends of America
For those in the Old West, far away from the more civilized life of the east, pioneers usually celebrated Christmas with homemade gifts and humble fare.
- Prices for 1860, 1872, 1878 and 1882 — Groceries, Provisions, Dry Goods & More
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- Famous people of the Nineteenth Century | Biography Online
- Christmas Gift Ideas from the 19th Century | Shannon Selin
Christmas gift ideas in the 19th century ranged from "a well-chosen book" to "elegant preparations for the toilet" to bread, bullocks, and coal.
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- States by Order of Entry into Union
Ever wonder when certain states became part of the United States of America? To learn more about when each state joined the union, view this table from Infoplease. Delaware was the first state and Hawaii was the last state to become part of the U.S.
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Find the founding dates of retail and restaurant companies from the 19th, 20th, 21st century in this U.S. retail industry history timeline.
- The 10 best films of the 1890s
Last week, The A.V. Club took a look at the best films of the 1990s (a look that proved unexpectedly controversial). As a lark, we started talking about a companion list covering the best films of the 1890s. But the more we talked about it, the more
- The 10 Biggest U.S. Corporations In 1812 : Planet Money : NPR
Before there were tech companies, there were industrial companies. Before there were industrial companies, there were railroads. Before there were railroads, it was banks, all the way down.
© 2020 Gregory DeVictor
Gregory DeVictor (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on February 12, 2020:
Audrey, thank you for the kind words. Yes, this article was very challenging to write, and I’m still adding more details. I’m also glad that you are enjoying the series. (It’s not over just yet.)
Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on February 12, 2020:
The 1800s were a busy era. You've done an outstanding job of rounding up all this information. I enjoy these trivia articles so much!
I save each one and refer to them often, sharing with family and friends.