1879 (MDCCCLXXIX) was a common year starting on Wednesday (dominical letter E) of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Monday (dominical letter G) of the Julian calendar, the 1879th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 879th year of the 2nd millennium, the 79th year of the 19th century, and the 10th and last year of the 1870s decade. As of the start of 1879, the Gregorian calendar was 12 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.
- January – The current constitution of the State of California in the United States is ratified.
- January 1 – The Specie Resumption Act takes effect. The United States Note is valued the same as gold for the first time since the American Civil War.
- January 11 – Anglo-Zulu War begins.
- January 22 – Battle of Isandlwana: the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. A force of 1,200 British soldiers was wiped out by the 20,000+ Zulu warriors.
- January 23 – Battle of Rorke's Drift – following the previous day's defeat, a smaller British force of 140, successfully repels an attack by 4000 Zulus.
- February 8 – At a meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute, engineer and inventor Sandford Fleming first proposes the global adoption of standard time.
- March 11 – The Ryukyu Domain is incorporated into the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan and the last ruler, Shō Tai, is exiled to Tokyo.
- March 28 – Anglo-Zulu War – Battle of Hlobane: British forces suffer a defeat.
- March 29 – Anglo-Zulu War – Battle of Kambula: British forces defeat 20,000 Zulus.
- April – Postman Ferdinand Cheval begins to build his Palais Idéal at Hauterives in France.
- April 5 – War of the Pacific: Chile formally declares war on Bolivia and Peru.
- April 26 – The National Park, later renamed the Royal National Park, is declared in New South Wales, Australia, the world's second oldest purposed national park.
- May 2 – The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) is founded clandestinely at the Casa Labra pub in Madrid by printer Pablo Iglesias.
- May 10 – The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is formed.
- May 12 – The English Catholic convert John Henry Newman is elevated to Cardinal.
- May 14 – The first group of 463 Indian indentured labourers arrive in Fiji aboard the Leonidas.
- May 26 – Russia and the United Kingdom sign the Treaty of Gandamak, establishing an Afghan state.
- May 30 – New York City's Gilmore's Garden is renamed Madison Square Garden by William Henry Vanderbilt, and is opened to the public at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.
- June 1 – Napoléon, Prince Imperial (Napoléon IV), great-nephew of Napoléon Bonaparte, Bonapartist pretender to the French throne, is killed in Africa while attached to the British Army during the Anglo-Zulu War.
- June 4 – Yasukuni Shrine, officially renamed from Tokyo Shokonsha Shrine in Japan.
- June 6 – William Denny and Brothers launch the world's first ocean-going steamer to be built of mild steel, the SS Rotomahana, on the River Clyde in Scotland. On October 2 they launch the first transatlantic steamer of the same material, the SS Buenos Ayrean; on December 1 she makes her maiden voyage out of Glasgow for South America.
- June 14 – Sidney Faithorn Green, a priest in the Church of England, is tried and convicted for using Ritualist practices.
- June 21 – German company Linde is founded by Carl von Linde.
- July 1 – American Christian Restorationist Charles Taze Russell publishes the first issue of the monthly Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence which, as The Watchtower, will become the most widely circulated magazine in the world.
- July 4 – Anglo-Zulu War: The Anglo-Zulu War effectively ends with British victory at the Battle of Ulundi.
- August 16 – Fulham F.C. is founded in London as a church soccer team.
- August 21 – Claimed apparition to local people at Knock, County Mayo, Ireland of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist and Jesus Christ (as the Lamb of God).
- September – Henry George self-publishes his major work Progress and Poverty.
- September 8 – A fire in The Octagon, Dunedin (New Zealand) claims 12 victims.
- September 25 – Fire in Deadwood, South Dakota: Two thousand people left homeless; three hundred buildings destroyed. Total loss of property is estimated at $3 million.
- September 29 – Meeker Massacre: Nathan Meeker and others are killed in an uprising at the White River Ute Indian reservation in Colorado.
- October 7 – The Dual Alliance is formed by Germany and Austria-Hungary.
- October 8 – The Naval Battle of Angamos is fought during the naval stage of the War of the Pacific.
- October 13 – First female students admitted to study for degrees of Oxford University in England, at the new Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville Hall and with the Society of Oxford Home-Students.
- October 17 – Sunderland Association Football Club is formed by a group of schoolteachers in the North East of England.
- October 22 – Using a filament of carbonized thread, Thomas Edison tests the first practical electric light bulb (it lasts 13½ hours before burning out).
- November – Land is acquired for Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black school, established as a Baptist institution.
- November – Age of Michael begins, according to French occultist Eliphas Levi, and Johannes Trithemius.
- November 4 — Thomas Edison applies for the patent for his invention, the incandescent light bulb. U.S. Patent 223,898 will be granted on January 27, 1880.
- November 10 — The Bell Telephone Company and Western Union reach an agreement in the United States, in which the former assents to staying out of telegraphy, and the latter to keep out of the telephone business.
- December 21 – Henrik Ibsen's controversial drama A Doll's House premières at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen (having been first published on December 4 in the city).
- December 28 – The Tay Bridge disaster: The central part of the Tay Rail Bridge at Dundee, Scotland, collapses in a storm as a train passes over it, killing 75.
- December 31
- Thomas Edison demonstrates incandescent lighting to the public for the first time in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
- Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance opens at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City (following a token performance the day before for U.K. copyright reasons in Paignton, Devon).
- Colonel Ahmed ‘Urabi forms the Egyptian Nationalist Party.
- The Hall effect is discovered by Dr. Edwin Hall.
- The Stefan–Boltzmann law is discovered by Jozef Stefan.
- Wilhelm Wundt establishes the first psychology research laboratory at the University of Leipzig.
- Tetteh Quarshie first brings cocoa beans to Ghana from Equatorial Guinea.
- Gottlob Frege publishes Begriffsschrift, eine der arithmetischen nachgebildete Formelsprache des reinen Denkens in Halle, a significant text in the development of mathematical logic.
- January 1 – E. M. Forster, English writer (d. 1970)
- January 3 – Grace Coolidge, First Lady of the United States (d. 1957)
- January 10 – Bobby Walker, Scottish footballer (d. 1930)
- January 12
- January 13 – Melvin Jones, American founder of Lions Clubs International (d. 1961)
- January 20 – Ruth St. Denis, American dancer (d. 1968)
- January 28
- February 22
- February 26 – Frank Bridge, English composer (d. 1941)
- March 3 – József Klekl, Slovene writer and journalist (d. 1936)
- March 6 – William P. Cronan, 19th Naval Governor of Guam (d. 1929)
- March 8 – Otto Hahn, German chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1968)
- March 14 – Albert Einstein, German-born physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1955)
- March 18 – Emma Carus, American opera singer, (d. 1927)
- March 26 – Othmar Ammann, Swiss-born engineer (d. 1965)
- March 27 – Edward Steichen, Luxembourgeois-born painter/photographer (d. 1973)
- March 30 – Coen de Koning, Dutch speed skater (d. 1954)
- April 9 – Thomas Meighan, American actor (d. 1936)
- April 11 – Bernhard Schmidt, German-Estonian optician and inventor (d. 1935)
- April 16 – Gala Galaction, Romanian writer (d. 1961)
- April 20
- April 21 – Kartini, Indonesian national heroine and women's rights activist (d. 1904)
- April 26 – Owen Willans Richardson, British physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1959)
- April 29 – Sir Thomas Beecham, English conductor (d. 1961)
- May 6 – Bedřich Hrozný, Czech orientalist and linguist (d. 1952)
- May 12 – George Landenberger, United States Navy Captain and the 23rd Governor of American Samoa (d. 1936)
- May 16 – Gustaf Aulén, Bishop of Strängnäs in the Church of Sweden (d. 1977)
- May 19
- May 22 – Alla Nazimova, Ukrainian-born American stage and film actress (d. 1945)
- May 23 – Dezső Lauber, Hungarian sportsman (d. 1966)
- May 25
- May 27 – Lucile Watson, Canadian-born film and stage actress (d. 1962)
- May 28 – Milutin Milanković, Serbian scientist (d. 1958)
- June 3 – Raymond Pearl, American biologist (d. 1940)
- June 7
- June 10 – Rafael Erich, Prime Minister of Finland (d. 1946)
- June 13 – Charalambos Tseroulis, Greek general (d. 1929)
- July 1 – Léon Jouhaux, French labour leader, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (d. 1954)
- July 5 – Wanda Landowska, Polish harpsichordist and musicologist (d. 1959)
- July 9 – Ottorino Respighi, Italian composer, musicologist, and conductor (d. 1936)
- July 10 – Charles P. Snyder, American admiral (d. 1964)
- July 15 – Joseph Campbell, Irish poet and lyricist (d. 1944)
- July 20 – Habib Miyan, Indian supercentenarian (d. 2008)
- July 22 – Janusz Korczak (pen-name of Henryk Goldszmit), Polish-Jewish children's author, pediatrician, and child pedagogist (born 1878 or 1879) (d. 1942)
- August 8 – Emiliano Zapata, Mexican revolutionary (d. 1919)
- August 13 – John Ireland, English composer and organist (d. 1962)
- August 15 – Ethel Barrymore, American actress of film and stage (d. 1959)
- August 21 – Claude Grahame-White, British aviation pioneer (d. 1959)
- August 28 – Sydney Ayres, American silent film actor (d. 1916)
- August 30 – Fritzi Scheff, Viennese-born American actress and singer (d. 1954)
- August 31
- September 6
- September 13 – Tsutomu Sakuma, Japanese naval officer (d. 1910)
- September 14 – Margaret Sanger, American birth control advocate (d. 1966)
- September 15 – Joseph Lyons, Premier of Tasmania and Prime Minister of Australia (d. 1939)
- September 20 – Victor Sjöström, Swedish film actor and director (d. 1960)
- September 25
- September 27 – Hans Hahn, Austrian mathematician (d. 1934)
- October 2 – Wallace Stevens, American poet (d. 1955)
- October 3 – Warner Oland, Swedish-born actor (d. 1938)
- October 5 – Francis Peyton Rous, American pathologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 1970)
- October 9 – Max von Laue, German physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1960)
- October 18 – Giovanni Marinelli, Italian Fascist political leader (d. 1944)
- October 21
- October 28 – Sydney Jacob, Indian born British male tennis player (d. 1977)
- October 29 – Franz von Papen, German diplomat; served as Chancellor (1932) and as Vice-Chancellor (1933–34; under Adolf Hitler) (d. 1969)
- October 31 – Sara Allgood, Irish-American film and stage actress (d. 1950)
- November 4 – Will Rogers, American humorist (d. 1935)
- November 7 – Leon Trotsky, Russian revolutionary (d. 1940)
- November 9 – S. O. Davies, oldest post-war British MP (d. 1972)
- November 10
- November 15 – Lewis Stone, American stage and film actor, known for playing Judge Hardy (d. 1953)
- November 26 – Charles W. Goddard, playwright and screenwriter (d. 1951)
- December 4 – Nagai Kafu, Japanese writer (d. 1959)
- December 10
- December 12 – Laura Hope Crews, American film and stage actress (d. 1942)
- December 18 – Paul Klee, Swiss artist (d. 1940)
- December 20 – Earle Ovington, American aviator, flew first experimental airmail (d. 1936)
- December 25 – Grace George, American stage actress (d. 1961)
- December 27 – Sydney Greenstreet, British-born American film and stage actor (d. 1954)
- December 28 – Billy Mitchell, U.S. general and military aviation pioneer (d. 1936)
- December 29 – Florence Mary Taylor, Australia's first female architect (d. 1969)
- December 30 – Ramana Maharshi, Indian sage and jivanmukta (d. 1950)
- January 8 – Baldomero Espartero, Prince of Vergara (b. 1793)
- January 24 – Heinrich Geißler, German physicist (b. 1814)
- February 11 – Honoré Daumier, French caricaturist and painter (b. 1808)
- February 23 – Albrecht Graf von Roon, Prime Minister of Prussia (b. 1803)
- February 25 – Charles Peace, British criminal (executed) (b. 1832)
- February 28 – Hortense Allart, French writer (b. 1801)
- March 1 – Joachim Heer, Swiss politician (b. 1825)
- March 2 – John Eberhard Faber, pencil manufacturer (b. 1822)
- March 10 – Prince Paul of Thurn and Taxis, German prince (b. 1843)
- March 27
- March 30 – Thomas Couture, French painter and teacher (b. 1815)
- April 16 – Bernadette Soubirous, French saint (b. 1844)
- April 30 – Sarah Josepha Hale, American author (b. 1788)
- May 5 – Félix Charles Douay, French general (b. 1816)
- May 14 – Henry Sewell, 1st Premier of New Zealand (b. 1807)
- May 15 – Gottfried Semper, German architect (b. 1803)
- June 1 – Napoléon, Prince Imperial, son of French Emperor Napoleon III (b. 1856)
- June 7 – William Tilbury Fox, English dermatologist (b. 1836)
- June 11 – William, Prince of Orange, heir to Dutch throne (b. 1840)
- July 17 – Maurycy Gottlieb, Ukrainian painter (b. 1856)
- July 19 – Louis Favre, French engineer (b. 1826)
- August 11 – George Willison Adams, Ohio abolitionist (b. 1799)
- August 14 – Ivan Davidovich Lazarev, Russian general (b. 1820)
- August 30 – John Bell Hood, American Confederate general (b. 1831)
- September 30 – Francis Gillette, politician (b. 1807)
- October 8 – Miguel Grau Seminario, Peruvian Admiral during the War of the Pacific (b. 1834)
- October 25 – Nachum Kaplan, rabbi (b. 1811)
- October 31 – Joseph Hooker, American general (b. 1814)
- November 5 – James Clerk Maxwell, Scottish physicist (b. 1831)
- December 2 – Ferdinand Lindheimer, German-born botanist (b. 1801)
- December 7 – Jón Sigurðsson, campaigner for Icelandic independence (b. 1811)
- Kohn, George C., ed. (2006). "Pacific, War of the". Dictionary of Wars. Infobase Publishing. p. 389.
- "El Partido Socialista se fundó en 1879". PSOE. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
- ja:靖国神社#歴史(Japanese language) Retrieved January 7, 2017
- ja:招魂社(Japanese language) Retrieved January 7, 2017
- "SS Rotomahana". Clydebuilt. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
- "S/S Buenos Ayrean, Allan Line". Norway Heritage. Retrieved 2016-03-11.
- Palmer, Alan; Veronica (1992). The Chronology of British History. London: Century Ltd. pp. 303–304. ISBN 0-7126-5616-2.
- Commercially published in 1880 by D. Appleton & Company, New York.
- Steiner, Rudolf (1994) . Bamford, Christopher, ed. The Archangel Michael. Hudson, New York: Anthroposophic Press. ISBN 0-88010-378-7.
- Usher, Abbott Payson (1954). A History of Mechanical Inventions. Courier Dover Publications. p. 402.
- Schwarzlose, Richard A. (1990). The Nation's Newsbrokers: The Rush to Institution: From 1865 to 1920. Northwestern University Press. p. 84.
- Penguin Pocket On This Day. Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 0-14-102715-0.