January 21, 1801 The Philadelphia Water Works opens, making Philadelphia the first major city in the U.S. to provide clean drinking water citywide.
1803 Cotton surpasses tobacco as the leading export of the U.S.
August 17, 1807 Robert Fulton takes the steamboat Clermont up the Hudson River from New York to Albany; reliable upriver steam travel revolutionizes intercity trade and transportation.
April 6, 1808 John Jacob Astor founds the American Fur Trading Company and amasses a multimillion-dollar fortune in fur trading in Oregon, opium trading, and New York City real estate.
April 17, 1817 The New York State Legislature passes legislation ensuring sales of all goods put up for auction at the port of New York; as a result, buyers find bargains. On this day, the legislature also approves the construction of the Erie Canal.
January 4, 1818 The Black Ball Line begins monthly trips between Liverpool and New York; increased demand soon leads to weekly departures. By 1836, New York receives 62% of the nation’s imports.
March 26, 1819 New York’s first savings bank, the Bank for Savings, is chartered; deposits made by working people help finance construction of the Erie Canal.
March 2, 1824 The U.S. Supreme Court, in Gibbons vs. Ogden, establishes the federal government’s power over interstate commerce.
November 4, 1825 The Erie Canal connects the port of New York to the Great Lakes via the Hudson River. By 1840, New York moved more freight than the ports of Boston, Baltimore, and New Orleans combined.
1829 Pharmaceutical merchant Seth Low moves his trading business from Salem, Massachusetts to New York City; under the leadership of his son Abiel Abbot Low, the firm came to dominate trade between China and the U.S.
May 24, 1830 America’s first railroad, the Baltimore & Ohio, travels 13 miles from Baltimore to Ellicott City, Maryland; the line extends to Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1853.
July 1832 Cholera strikes New York and cities along the eastern seaboard; New York suffers 3,513 deaths and begins planning to bring clean water to the city from a source upstate.
July 10, 1832 President Andrew Jackson vetoes renewing the charter of the Second Bank of the U.S., labeling the bank elitist and anti-republican.
September 3, 1833 The New York Sun charges one penny when other papers cost six cents and dramatically covers crime news; it becomes the world’s best selling daily newspaper within two years.
November 25, 1833 Representatives of nine craft unions in New York led by John Commerford form the General Trades Union of the City of New York (GTU).
December 16, 1835 The Great Fire of New York destroys 674 buildings as an inadequate water supply hampers firefighting. City advances project for an abundant, clean water supply from Westchester County.
March 4, 1837 Chicago incorporates, spurred by completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal that links the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Chicago becomes the leading transshipment point in the Midwest.
May 10, 1837 Panic of 1837 begins as New York banks suspend specie payments, starting seven-year depression.
1839 The National Road reaches Vandalia, Illinois, opening the Ohio Valley to development.
October 14, 1842 The Croton Aqueduct provides New York with its first clean supply of water needed to combat disease, fight fires, and meet the demands of a rapidly growing city.
May 24, 1844 Samuel F. B. Morse transmits the first telegraph message between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, “What hath God wrought?”
1847 The Irish Potato Famine, caused by potato blight and evictions by British landowners, leads more than 1,187,000 Irish to arrive in the U.S. between 1847 and 1854.
May 7, 1847 The New York State Legislature passes a bill making the Free Academy (forerunner of The City College of New York) a reality. It becomes the first free institution of higher education in the nation.
January 24, 1848 The California gold rush spurs Chinese immigration to the United States. By 1851, more than 25,000 Chinese are living in California.
September 28, 1850 Land grants help pay for construction of the Illinois Central Railroad from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and other railroads in the Midwest. Illinois, Alabama, and Mississippi receive the first land.
February 20, 1852 The first railroad reaches Chicago from Eastern ports.
April 24, 1857 The “Panic of 1857” starts with the failure of the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance Company.
April 12, 1861 The Civil War begins and New York’s economy is so closely tied with that of the slave-holding South that leading Southern publisher James De Bow boasted that “grass would grow in Wall Street.”
August 5, 1861 Congress approves the first federal income tax, a 3 percent levy on incomes over $800.
February 25, 1862 The Legal Tender Act provides for the issue of $150,000,000 in paper money called “greenbacks,” the first national paper money, and for issuance of $500,000,000 in bonds at 6 percent.
May 20, 1862 The Homestead Act provides for free distribution of 160 acres in federal lands to settlers who agree to farm the property for five years.
July 2, 1862 During the Civil War, President Lincoln signs the Morrill Act, which establishes public land grant institutions to teach agriculture and the mechanic arts, as well as scientific and classical studies and military tactics.
February 25, 1863 The National Banking Act establishes a uniform national currency and helps the Union government finance the Civil War.
July 13 -16, 1863 The New York Draft Riots erupt over federal conscription during the Civil War, racial fury against the city’s blacks, and class hatred of the rich. Whites set fire to black institutions, attack military and government buildings, and loot property belonging to the elite. Rioters burn the Colored Orphan Asylum.
January 1865 General William T. Sherman issues Special Field Orders, No. 15, which sets aside the Sea Islands and land from South Carolina to Florida for African Americans; they will be able to settle on 40 acres of land and receive a mule. President Andrew Johnson nullifies this order later that year.
December 6, 1865 The 13th Amendment abolishes slavery.
July 9, 1868 The 14th Amendment to the Constitution, in addition to providing a broad definition of citizenship, extends certain constitutional protections to corporations. Since the late 19th century, the Supreme Court has defined corporations as legal persons.
September 6, 1868 Bessemer Steel’s first “blow” is made at the Cleveland Rolling Mills, inaugurating an American industrial revolution; the cities of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Chicago would soon anchor the new industrial heartland of the nation.
May 10, 1869 A golden spike is hammered in place, completing the Transcontinental Railroad and opening the western United States to settlement. Trains now connect the eastern United States and California.
December 28, 1869 Philadelphia tailors found the Knights of Labor; the union accepts women and, after 1878, blacks, although southern branches are segregated.
January 10, 1870 John D. Rockefeller and others create the Standard Oil Company of Ohio, which controls 90% of the nation’s refining capacity by 1880.
March 3, 1871 President Ulysses Grant signs the bill creating the first Civil Service Commission.
October 8-10, 1871 The “Great Fire of Chicago” kills hundreds and destroys four square miles of the city. Nonetheless, the city rapidly rebuilds, buoyed by a spirit of unbridled optimism.
March 10, 1876 Alexander Graham Bell gives the first public demonstration of the telephone.
May 10, 1876 The Centennial Exposition opens in Philadelphia, displaying telephones, typewriters, mimeograph machines, bicycles, and the 2500-horsepower Corliss engine, all symbolizing the power of technology.
July 14, 1877 After a third wage cut is announced by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the first nationwide strike is started in six cities by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen. Some two-thirds of rail lines in the nation shut down; Federal troops and National Guard units break the strike.
1878 Remington & Sons introduced the No. 2 typewriter with a QWERTY keyboard and both capital and small letters, increasing office productivity.
May 26, 1880 Railroad car manufacturer George Pullman begins construction of a model town, Pullman, Illinois. When completed in 1884, it houses more than 8,000 people in over 1,000 residences on 4,000 acres of land.
September 4, 1882 Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station in New York begins the first successful commercial production of electricity in America. Edison signs up 203 customers in lower Manhattan in four months; The New York Times building is lit up on this first night.
May 24, 1883 The Brooklyn Bridge opens, connecting the nation’s largest and third largest cities, New York and Brooklyn.
November 18, 1883 Time zones are first used by railroads in the U.S. and Canada to standardize their train schedules.
1884-1885 America’s first skyscraper, Chicago’s 10-story Home Life Insurance Building, utilizes a lightweight fireproof steel structure made possible by the Bessemer process of steel manufacturing.
May 1-4, 1886 The May Day and Haymarket Riot mark Chicago as the focal point for the national movement for an eight-hour work day. During a massive protest at Chicago’s Haymarket, a bomb kills one officer. In retaliation, the police fire on the crowd, killing an unknown number.
December 8, 1886 The American Federation of Labor is established in Columbus, Ohio, comprising 25 labor groups representing 150,000 members.
September 4, 1888 George Eastman receives a patent and begins marketing his first Kodak camera.
September 18, 1889 Hull House opens in Chicago’s near West Side. Under the leadership of Jane Addams, Hull House offers social, educational, and artistic programs for the neighborhood poor.
July 2, 1890 The Sherman Antitrust Act voids contracts and combinations in restraint of interstate commerce.
October 1, 1890 The McKinley Tariff Act raises tariffs on manufactured goods to record levels.
January 1, 1892 Ellis Island in New York harbor opens as the gateway to America for immigrants. Three quarters of all newcomers from 1892 to 1932 are processed here. The immigration center closes in 1954.
April 15, 1893 The issue of gold certificates is suspended by Treasury as gold reserve falls below the $100,000,000 legal minimum. This sets off a national depression that lasts for four years.
May 1, 1893 The World’s Columbian Exposition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World, opens in Chicago. The Fair juxtaposes its Beaux Arts classical design with the commercialized amusements of the Midway Plaisance.
May 18, 1896 In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court defends the constitutionality of segregation, leading to repressive Jim Crow laws.