Notes from the 1880s

Chronicle of American History    1878-1885


1878 – Yellow fever epidemic claims 14,000 lives in American south. It’s called “yellow” because of the jaundice that affects some of the victims. Transmitted by mosquitoes. More info:


1868 – 1878   120,000 Chinese immigrate to the United States. Many on the west coast fear the large numbers will be bad for the economy. Racism against the Chinese in California was wide spread.


1878 – Proctor and Gamble (of Cincinnati, Ohio) introduces “white soap”. It floats. They claim it is 99 & 44/100 percent pure. It was popular because it floated. This was an accidental invention, which occurred when workers left the mixing machine running too long. The airy mixture hardened in the molds and subsequently floated.


1879 – Yellowstone National Park is created. It becomes America’s first national park. Located primarily in Wyoming, the park is visited yearly by millions. More info available at:


1879 – Frank W. Woolworth opens first of many 5¢ stores. The first Woolworth's opened in Utica, New York. The store offered a variety of products at discount prices.


1879 – Edison patents a successful incandescent lamp. The light bulb would soon replace kerosene lamps in homes throughout America. He tested thousands and thousands of materials before trying a more successful thin platinum filament.


1880 – Official census showed the population of the United States to be just under 50,000,000.


1880 – James Garfield narrowly defeats Winfield Scott Hancock in the presidential election.


1881 – Tuskegee institute founded in Alabama. Booker T. Washington is named its first principle/dean. Modeling Tuskegee after the Hampton Institute in Virginia, his intent was to create a school to develop craft and occupational skills for African-Americans. More info:


1881 – John Wesley Powell and his team of surveyors explore and map the Grand Canyon. This canyon was first viewed by Europeans back in the 1540s. Don Lopez de Cardenez was the Spanish explorer who discovered the huge gorge.


1881 - President James Garfield is shot outside a Washington D.C. train station by disgruntled office seeker Charles Guiteau. Garfield dies from his wounds 2-1/2 months later.


1882 – Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, beginning a ten year moratorium on immigration from China to the United States.


1883 – Brooklyn Bridge, designed by John A. Roebling and engineered by his son Washington Roebling, was completed after 14 years of construction.

Length of river span (between the towers): 1595.5 feet

Total length of bridge: 5989 feet
Width of bridge floor: 85 feet
Suspension cables: four, each 15.75 inches in diameter and 3578.5 feet long, containing 5434 wires each.
Foundation depth below water, Brooklyn side: 44 feet 6 inches
Foundation depth below water, Manhattan side: 78 feet 6 inches
Tower height above water: 276 feet 6 inches
Roadway height above water: 119 feet (at towers)
Total weight, not including masonry: 14,680 tons


1883 - The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act is passed by Congress in 1883. It stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit and not patronage.


1884 – Hiram Maxim demonstrates new “machine” gun. It was capable of firing 600 rounds per minute. This will change the way warfare is waged. Machine guns would first be used extensively in WWI.


1884 – George Eastman created a roll film camera that was easy for anyone to use. He located his company, Kodak, in Rochester, New York. To see more of the history of the Kodak company:


1884 – Architects combine steel and masonry to design and construct buildings that “scrape the sky”. The Home Life Insurance Company in Chicago is the first. To see a photograph of this “tall” building, see:


1885 – After 36 years of construction the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia is finally completed.  It stands 585 feet tall and contains 81,120 tons of materials. More info:


1885 – Pharmacist in Waco, Texas, Charles Aderton, concocts new fountain drink. Owner of the pharmacy, Wade Morrison, dubs the new drink “Dr. Pepper.” Visit the museum website: