The 19th century was a time of significant change in the world. Following the end of the American Civil War, the United States industrialized rapidly, with new technologies like the steam engine and internal combustion engine helping transform agriculture and transportation. As a result, global trade increased steadily throughout the century, as did nationalism.
The Victorian era in Britain saw technological innovations, especially as railways were built all over the country and telephones became more widespread. At the beginning of the century, humans had explored only about 1% of Earth’s surface. By its end, we had mapped nearly half of it. Here are the most important events from the 19th century that had a lasting impact on world history.
The British Empire Becomes a Superpower.
The British Empire was the first but by no means the longest-lasting global empire. The empire spanned nearly a century, from 1765 to 1908, and was the result of the worldwide dominance of the British Empire and its associated global ideologies. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, which I’ll cover later, Britain was the most powerful nation in the world.
It was the leader of the Industrial Revolution, the creator of modern capitalism, and the author of the liberal political, economic, and social systems that have dominated the world ever since. However, the empire also had its problems, especially the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the Boer War in South Africa in 1899.
Nevertheless, Britain’s superpower reach was worldwide, and the effect of this reach was felt across the globe. During the 19th Century, it was still in its growing stages, well on its way to its peak, covering over a quarter of all the land on Earth’s surface and was home to over 458 million people.
Even today, the United Kingdom is one of the most influential countries in the world. It is also still a major player in the world’s economy and has a powerful military. This is why it now features on this list, even though it has been less successful at maintaining its empire than other countries.
The first modern Olympic Games were held in Greece.
The modern Olympic Games are also known as the Athens Games because the first games were held in the city-state of Athens, Greece, in 1896. The Olympics had been held since ancient times, but they were held very limitedly. In ancient times, athletes were only allowed to compete in certain sports, and the games were only for athletes from very few cities.
In the early 19th century, the movement toward national Olympic games began, and the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896. As a result, the Olympics have become one of the most important sporting events in the world, with more than 200 million people tuning in to watch the Olympics each year.
During these first modern-day Olympic games, such events as the marathon, weightlifting, and boxing were born. In addition, other popular events were hosted, including fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, cycling, wrestling, and many more. The event was deemed very successful and had the largest participation numbers of any event to date.
However, despite being the first and Athens being the home of the Olympic Games, the following Olympic games were set to take place in Paris and didn’t return to Greece until 2004, 108 years after they were originally hosted there.
However, even back in the day, the Greek Olympic Games still had their own Opening and Closing ceremony, which consisted of several traditional Greek events, such as the Olympic Hymn. Additionally, the event was presided over by the President of Greece and members of the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC), which is responsible for organizing the games and overseeing all their rules.
While other smaller sporting events had been popular throughout Europe during the 19th Century, this was the first to bring everyone together. The Panathenaic Stadium had been refurbished back in 1870 for the purpose. It could fit a massive audience of over 30,000 people, which was truly a spectacle of its time, and certainly paved the way for modern-day sporting events worldwide.
Karl Marx publishes his many works
Karl Marx was one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century. In 1867, he published “Das Kapital”—an analysis of capitalism that is still widely read today. His book attempted to explain the inherent contradictions of capitalism, which Marx saw as one of the biggest problems in society. Furthermore, he believed that a revolt of the working class, who were denied their fair share of the wealth created through their labor, was essential for the improvement of humanity.
He lived when capitalism was transforming the world, and he studied how it would affect future generations. He has been called the “father of communism,” and his ideas continue to shape the modern world. Even today, his ideas are not universally accepted by all, but they are still influential in political science and economics.
The Suez Canal is completed.
The Suez Canal was built between 1859 and 1869, and it connected the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, linking the British Empire with India and the Far East. The canal was an innovation in engineering. It was the first major sea-level canal, allowing large ships to travel through the canal much faster than had previously been possible. It also greatly reduced the time to travel between Europe and Asia, opening up trade between the two continents.
The canal was a great success, but it was not built to last. In the 1950s, it was replaced by a much wider canal that could handle modern shipping and is still one of the essential shipping routes today. In 2021 alone, the canal was responsible for over $3.8 billion in logistical transport, and in 2020 saw the passage of over 18,829 ships (around 40-50 ships per day), carrying over 1.17 billion tons of cargo.
Telephone networks are installed in the US and Europe.
Telephone networks were first installed in the United States in 1876, more than a decade before they were common in Europe. The telephone was a revolutionary invention that had tremendous implications for society. It allowed citizens to communicate quickly and easily over great distances. It also allowed businesses to communicate with one another, allowing for better coordination of work and increased productivity. It was an important tool for communication between governments and businesses.
Telephone technology all started with the invention of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in 1876. Bell had invented a device that allowed two people to talk to each other simultaneously. He called this invention the “speaking-tube”, and it was presented to the public on March 10th, 1876.
It was a success, and many people were interested in buying this device. In 1877, Bell made another improvement to his device: he added an earpiece for the person who was speaking into it. This device would be called “the telephone,” and it became very popular after Bell’s demonstration of his device in 1877. However, it wasn’t until 1878, when Bell demonstrated his device to Queen Victoria, one of the first publicly witnessed long phone calls ever, that popularity really started to take off.
In 1877, The Bell Telephone Company was founded, and by 1886, over 150,000 people in the US had a telephone. Of course, as the money came in, the technology was developed faster and faster, eventually becoming known as one of the most successful products of all time.
Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone caused a great deal of controversy. Some people feared this new invention and said it would bring about several problems. The most common of these was the privacy issue. Bell’s telephone was a device that could be listened to by anyone in the same room as the speaker, including people who weren’t even in the room. However, it was still a long way from being the main phone in your home and was still very expensive, meaning it wasn’t yet accessible for everyday people, nor did anybody really know how it all works.
The Napoleonic Wars Raged
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts between 1803 and 1815 between France and Britain, which was at the time a part of the vast British Empire. These wars were fought in North America, the Caribbean, Spain, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Austria. The Napoleonic Wars were a time of great change in Europe and the world.
There was a shift from the less formal and less centralized political systems of the 18th and 17th centuries to the more formalized and centralized systems of the 19th century. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French and British built large armies, navies, and fortifications.
The war didn’t end until 1815, when the French emperor Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. From here, the country was torn apart. France was forced to give up its large empire, and Britain kept its vast territories, only contributing to the expansion of the British Empire that was already ruling at the time.
The European Revolutions Continue
The revolutions of 1848 in Europe were an essential part of the 19th century. They were a series of revolutions that brought many European countries under the control of liberal governments. Liberals wanted to create a more democratic society where the ordinary people would have a more extraordinary voice in politics. So there were many revolutions, and many people tried to change the established governments.
The French Revolution was one of these revolutions. It began in 1789 when a group of people who were unhappy with the way the French government was run decided to revolt. They wanted to create a new system that would give more power to the people and give them more rights.
The French Revolution lasted for over a decade, but it ended in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte came into power. Napoleon was from a wealthy family and had become an army officer. He fought in many battles during his time as an army officer and eventually rose up through the ranks until he became emperor of France.
When Napoleon became emperor, he began changing France’s government system. He eliminated some of the privileges that only nobility had been allowed to have and changed the voting system so that everyone could vote for representatives in government who would vote on laws that affected everyone equally. This was called voting equality.
Another revolution took place in Belgium in 1830, mainly due to the population differences when it came to religion between Catholic and Protestant groups. These disagreements were mostly about who would be a leader for the country. The two groups could not agree on who would lead them, so the country split into two countries, Belgium and Holland, and the Netherlands was ruled by a member of the Dutch royal family.
Slavery is Abolished Throughout the West
Slavery was a common practice in many parts of the world in the 19th century, but it became illegal in many parts of the world by the end of the century. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1807, and it was abolished in all of the territories of the United States in 1865. By 1900, slavery had been abolished throughout Europe and Latin America. The West had made a major moral, political and economic statement by ending slavery.
This was a tough journey for all those involved, but the West had made a major achievement that other nations would follow. The West had not only created a new philosophy, but it also created new ways of life that would become the basis of Western civilization. For the first time in history, after literal centuries of conquest, oppression, and enslavement of native populations worldwide, the West had created a peaceful, stable, and highly productive society where all considered human rights.
Of course, there was still a long way to go to break years of conditioned thinking, but it all started here in the 19th Century.
Japan Opens Its Borders for the First Time in 200 Years
The Tokugawa shogunate was a government that controlled Japan from 1603 to 1868. The shogunate enforced strict laws that kept out foreigners, but in 1854, it began to allow foreigners to enter Japan. This was the first time in 200 years that Japan had opened its borders to the outside world. When the Tokugawa government began letting more Western countries into Japan, it officially conceded that Japan was open to trading with the rest of the world.
The American Civil War Occurs
The American Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 between two opposing military factions: the Union and the Confederacy. The Civil War began when President Abraham Lincoln issued a decree that allowed for soldiers’ conscription, allowing the Union to prevail in the war. The war was fought over the issue of slavery, which had been introduced to the territories of the United States by people migrating from Africa.
In 1861, the Confederate States of America, with its capital in Richmond, Virginia, was formed, representing the states where slavery was legal. The Confederate States hoped to win support from the South, where many people were supportive of slavery. The Confederacy hoped to use slavery as a way to unite the South against the North. The Union hoped to put an end to slavery and bring an end to the conflict.
The First Opium War Ends in China
In the early 1800s, Britain sought to expand its trade in China. Foreigners, who had been allowed in China since the 1600s, were allowed to trade only in ports, but they were not allowed to trade inland. In 1834, a treaty was signed between Britain and China that opened up several inland cities. Britain signed the treaty hoping to get access to more Chinese goods and deescalate growing tensions between the two countries.
In 1839, the British government sent an expedition to Shanghai to enforce its rights to trade in the city.
The Chinese government sent a fleet to stop the British ships and block their entrance to the city. When the British fleet tried to return to port, it was attacked by the Chinese fleet in what was later called the First Opium War. The war ended after two years with the Chinese still blocking British trade in the cities and the British still demanding that the Chinese open their ports to trade with all nations.