Notes from the mid-1880s

Chronicle of American History    1885-1890


1885 – President Grant dies in New York at the age of 63. Suffered from inoperable throat cancer. Newspaper account of his final moments:


1886 – Anti-Chinese riots breaks out in Seattle. A mob systematically rounded up Chinese residents and ushered them to the waterfront, where they were loaded onto steamers headed to San Francisco. Details in a Harper’s Weekly magazine article:


1886 - Bomb explodes in the middle of a labor rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Policeman Mathias J. Degan died almost instantly and seven other officers died later. This terrorist act severely damaged the public’s perception of organized labor. For more info:


1886 – John Pemberton concocts new fountain drink at a pharmacy on Peach Street in Atlanta. Calls the new drink Coca-Cola. The name was suggested by Pemberton’s bookkeeper. Carbonation was added to make the drink more refreshing. More info at:


1886 – 49 year-old President Grover Cleveland weds 25 year-old Frances Folsom, the daughter of his former law partner. People became deeply interested in the new first lady. Mrs. Cleveland tried to avoid publicity, but newspapers closely followed her every word and action. Cleveland was the only President to have been married at the White House.


1886 – August Bartholdi’s statue is unveiled in New York Harbor. Dedicated on October 28th. Emma Lazarus pens the famous words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…  I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” It took several years before money was raised to build a pedestal for Liberty to stand on. More info available at:


1886 – Former U.S. President Chester A. Arthur dies in New York City. While President he was diagnosed with Bright's Disease, a fatal kidney ailment. He died in the year following his term of office.


1886 – Steve Brodie (allegedly) leaps from the Brooklyn Bridge – and lives to tell about it. It was claimed that Brodie had not, in fact, jumped from the bridge but that a dummy was used as he hid under a pier.


1887 – Annie Oakley becomes the main attraction as a sharpshooter with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Born Phoebe Ann Moses, she could shoot the head off a running quail at the age of 12.  Her ability to shoot small objects at a distance drew audiences hoping to witness the skills of the 5-foot-tall star. More info on Annie:


1887 – Huge iron ore reserve, called the Mesabi Range discovered in northern Minnesota. Its proximity to the Great Lakes makes it easier to transport the raw material to eastern factories.


1888 – Nation suffers through the worst blizzard in its history. Snow accumulations immobilize most of the east coast. 15 foot drifts common in New York City, where 200 lives are lost in the storm.


1889 – Indian Territory (Oklahoma) opened to white settlement. 200,000 people show up to make land claims in the territory. The signal to begin was the boom of a cannon. Those who started at the designated time were called “Boomers” and those who started off ahead of time (jumping the gun) were called “Sooners”.


1889 – May – Huge flood, which occurred when a man-made dam broke, wipes out the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. 2,000+ killed and many more left homeless by the disaster. More info at:


1889 – North Dakota (39th), South Dakota (40th), Montana (41st), and Washington (42nd) all admitted to the Union as states, raising the number of states to 42.


1889 – Fire devastates the downtown area of Seattle. Most of the buildings are made of cedar and the fire spreads quickly. The fire was caused by the overturning of a boiling glue pot in a paint shop. More info:


1889 – Muckraking photojournalist Jacob Riis publishes book about the sordid conditions of America’s urban poor, titled How The Other Half Lives.


1889 – Social reformer Jane Addams opens settlement house in Chicago called Hull House. The settlement houses were established to assist newly arrived immigrants with their adjustment to life in America.


1889 – Coin operated telephones patented. The first public coin telephone was installed by inventor William Gray at a bank in Hartford, Connecticut.


1890 – Official census shows the United States population to be just over 63,000,000. The 1890 census records were destroyed by fire.


1890 – Idaho admitted as the 43rd state, and Wyoming admitted as the 44th.


1890 – Electric chair introduced as form of capital punishment in New York State. More info: