19th century

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Antoine-Jean Gros, Surrender of Madrid, 1808. Napoleon enters Spain's capital during the Peninsular War, 1810

The 19th century was a century that began on January 1, 1801 and ended on December 31, 1900.

The 19th century was a period of social change. Slavery was largely abolished, and the Second Industrial Revolution led to massive urbanization.

It was marked by the collapse of the Spanish, Napoleonic, Holy Roman and Mughal empires. This paved the way for the growing influence of the British Empire, the Russian Empire, the United States, the German Empire, the French colonial empire and Meiji Japan, with the British boasting unchallenged dominance after 1815. After the defeat of the French Empire and its allies in the Napoleonic Wars, the British and Russian empires expanded greatly, becoming the world's leading powers. The Russian Empire expanded in central and far eastern Asia. The British Empire grew rapidly in the first half of the century, especially with the expansion of vast territories in Canada, Australia, South Africa and heavily populated India, and in the last two decades of the century in Africa. By the end of the century, the British Empire controlled a fifth of the world's land and one quarter of the world's population. During the post-Napoleonic era, it enforced what became known as the Pax Britannica, which had ushered in unprecedented globalization and economic integration on a massive scale.


The first electronics appeared in the 19th century, with the introduction of the electric relay in 1835, the telegraph and its Morse code protocol in 1837, the first telephone call in 1876,[1] and the first functional light bulb in 1878.[2]

The 19th century was an era of rapidly accelerating scientific discovery and invention, with significant developments in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, electricity, and metallurgy that laid the groundwork for the technological advances of the 20th century.[3] The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain and spread to continental Europe, North America and Japan.[4] The Victorian era was notorious for the employment of young children in factories and mines, as well as strict social norms regarding modesty and gender roles.[5] Japan embarked on a program of rapid modernization following the Meiji Restoration, before defeating China, under the Qing Dynasty, in the First Sino-Japanese War. Advances in medicine and the understanding of human anatomy and disease prevention took place in the 19th century, and were partly responsible for rapidly accelerating population growth in the western world. Europe's population doubled during the 19th century, from approximately 200 million to more than 400 million.[6] The introduction of railroads provided the first major advancement in land transportation for centuries, changing the way people lived and obtained goods, and fuelling major urbanization movements in countries across the globe. Numerous cities worldwide surpassed populations of a million or more during this century. London became the world's largest city and capital of the British Empire. Its population increased from 1 million in 1800 to 6.7 million a century later. The last remaining undiscovered landmasses of Earth, including vast expanses of interior Africa and Asia, were explored during this century, and with the exception of the extreme zones of the Arctic and Antarctic, accurate and detailed maps of the globe were available by the 1890s. Liberalism became the pre-eminent reform movement in Europe.[7]

Arab slave traders and their captives along the Ruvuma river (in today's Tanzania and Mozambique), 19th century

Slavery was greatly reduced around the world. Following a successful slave revolt in Haiti, Britain and France stepped up the battle against the Barbary pirates and succeeded in stopping their enslavement of Europeans. The UK's Slavery Abolition Act charged the British Royal Navy with ending the global slave trade.[8] The first colonial empire in the century to abolish slavery was the British, who did so in 1834. America's 13th Amendment following their Civil War abolished slavery there in 1865, and in Brazil slavery was abolished in 1888 (see Abolitionism). Similarly, serfdom was abolished in Russia.

The 19th century was remarkable in the widespread formation of new settlement foundations which were particularly prevalent across North America and Australia, with a significant proportion of the two continents' largest cities being founded at some point in the century. Chicago in the United States and Melbourne in Australia were non-existent in the earliest decades but grew to become the 2nd largest cities in the United States and British Empire respectively by the end of the century. In the 19th century approximately 70 million people left Europe, with most migrating to the United States.[9]

The 19th century also saw the rapid creation, development and codification of many sports, particularly in Britain and the United States. Association football, rugby union, baseball and many other sports were developed during the 19th century, while the British Empire facilitated the rapid spread of sports such as cricket to many different parts of the world. Also, ladywear was a very sensitive topic during this time, where women showing their ankles was viewed to be scandalous.

The boundaries set by the Congress of Vienna, 1815.

It also marks the fall of the Ottoman rule of the Balkans which led to the creation of Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Romania as a result of the second Russo-Turkish War, which in itself followed the great Crimean War.


Map of the world from 1897. The British Empire (marked in pink) was the superpower of the 19th century.


Napoleonic Wars[edit]

Napoleon's retreat from Russia in 1812. The war swings decisively against the French Empire

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of major conflicts from 1803-1815 pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon; the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), Fifth (1809), Sixth (1813), and the Seventh and final (1815).

In 1804, Napoleon crowns himself Emperor of the French. In 1805, Napoleon decisively defeats an Austrian-Russian army at the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1812, the French invasion of Russia is a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1815, Napoleon abdicates and is exiled to Elba. Later that year, he escaped exile and began the Hundred Days before finally being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St Helena.

Latin American independence[edit]

Most countries in Central America and South America obtained independence from colonial overlords during the 19th century. In Mexico, the Mexican War of Independence was a decade-long conflict that ended in Mexican independence in 1821, and in South America, most Spanish-speaking countries obtained independence in that same time frame. Due to the Napoleonic Wars, the royal family of Portugal relocated to Brazil from 1808-1821, leading to Brazil having a separate monarch from Portugal.

In 1830, the post-colonial nation of Greater Colombia dissolved and the nations of Colombia (including modern-day Panama), Ecuador, and Venezuela took its place.

Abolition and the American Civil War[edit]

William Wilberforce (1759–1833), politician and philanthropist who was a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.

The abolitionism movement achieved success in the 19th century. The Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1808, and by the end of the century, almost every government had banned slavery. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 banned slavery throughout the British Empire, and the Lei Áurea abolished slavery in Brazil in 1888.

The American Civil War took place from 1861-1865. Eleven southern states seceded from the United States, largely over concerns related to slavery. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln issued a preliminary [11] on September 22, 1862 warning that in all states still in rebellion (Confederacy) on January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves "then, thenceforward, and forever free."[12] The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution,[13] ratified in 1865, officially abolished slavery in the entire country.

Five days after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, Lincoln was assassinated by actor and Confederate sympathiser John Wilkes Booth.

Decline of the Ottoman Empire[edit]

In 1830, Greece became the first country to break away from the Ottoman Empire after the Greek War of Independence. In 1831, the Great Bosnian uprising against Ottoman rule occurred. In 1817, the Principality of Serbia became suzerain from the Ottoman Empire, and in 1867, it passed a Constitution which defined its independence from the Ottoman Empire. In 1876, Bulgarians instigate the April Uprising against Ottoman rule. Following the Russo-Turkish War, the Treaty of Berlin recognized the formal independence of the Principality of Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. Bulgaria becomes autonomous.

Taiping Rebellion[edit]

The extent of Taiping control in 1854 (in red).

The Taiping Rebellion was the bloodiest conflict of the 19th century, leading to the deaths of 20 million people. Its leader, Hong Xiuquan, declared himself the younger brother of Jesus Christ and developed a new Chinese religion known as the God Worshipping Society. After proclaiming the establishment of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1851, the Taiping army conquered a large part of China, capturing Nanjing in 1853. In 1864, after the death of Hong Xiuquan, Qing forces recaptured Nanjing and ended the rebellion.[14]

Meiji Restoration[edit]

During the Edo period, Japan largely pursued an isolationist foreign policy. In 1853, United States Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry threatened the Japanese capital Edo with gunships, demanding that they agree to open trade. This led to the opening of trade relations between Japan and foreign countries, with the policy of Sakoku formally ended in 1854.

By 1872, the Japanese government under Emperor Meiji had eliminated the daimyo system and established a strong central government. Further reforms included the abolishment of the samurai class and rapid industrialization.


In 1862, French gained its first foothold in Southeast Asia, and in 1863 France annexes Cambodia.

The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 signaled the start of the European "scramble for Africa". In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium establishes the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom.

Other Wars[edit]

1816: Shaka rises to power over the Zulu Kingdom. Zulu expansion was a major factor of the Mfecane ("Crushing") that depopulated large areas of southern Africa

Science and technology[edit]

The 19th century saw the birth of science as a profession; the term scientist was coined in 1833 by William Whewell,[16] which soon replaced the older term of (natural) philosopher. Among the most influential ideas of the 19th century were those of Charles Darwin (alongside the independent researches of Alfred Russel Wallace), who in 1859 published the book The Origin of Species, which introduced the idea of evolution by natural selection. Another important landmark in medicine and biology were the successful efforts to prove the germ theory of disease. Following this, Louis Pasteur made the first vaccine against rabies, and also made many discoveries in the field of chemistry, including the asymmetry of crystals. In chemistry, Dmitri Mendeleev, following the atomic theory of John Dalton, created the first periodic table of elements. In physics, the experiments, theories and discoveries of Michael Faraday, Andre-Marie Ampere, James Clerk Maxwell, and their contemporaries led to the creation of electromagnetism as a new branch of science. Thermodynamics led to an understanding of heat and the notion of energy was defined. Other highlights include the discoveries unveiling the nature of atomic structure and matter, simultaneously with chemistry – and of new kinds of radiation. In astronomy, the planet Neptune was discovered. In mathematics, the notion of complex numbers finally matured and led to a subsequent analytical theory; they also began the use of hypercomplex numbers. Karl Weierstrass and others carried out the arithmetization of analysis for functions of real and complex variables. It also saw rise to new progress in geometry beyond those classical theories of Euclid, after a period of nearly two thousand years. The mathematical science of logic likewise had revolutionary breakthroughs after a similarly long period of stagnation. But the most important step in science at this time were the ideas formulated by the creators of electrical science. Their work changed the face of physics and made possible for new technology to come about: Thomas Alva Edison gave the world a practical everyday lightbulb. Nikola Tesla pioneered the induction motor, high frequency transmission of electricity, and remote control. Other new inventions were electrical telegraphy and the telephone.


Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis bacilli. The disease killed an estimated 25 percent of the adult population of Europe during the 19th century.[17]


Thomas Edison was an American inventor, scientist, and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.
First motor bus in history: the Benz Omnibus, built in 1895 for the Netphener bus company



The Great Exhibition in London. Starting during the 18th century, the United Kingdom was the first country in the world to industrialise.


On the literary front the new century opens with romanticism, a movement that spread throughout Europe in reaction to 18th-century rationalism, and it develops more or less along the lines of the Industrial Revolution, with a design to react against the dramatic changes wrought on nature by the steam engine and the railway. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are considered the initiators of the new school in England, while in the continent the German Sturm und Drang spreads its influence as far as Italy and Spain.

French arts had been hampered by the Napoleonic Wars but subsequently developed rapidly. Modernism began.

The Goncourts and Émile Zola in France and Giovanni Verga in Italy produce some of the finest naturalist novels. Italian naturalist novels are especially important in that they give a social map of the new unified Italy to a people that until then had been scarcely aware of its ethnic and cultural diversity. On 21 February 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto.

There was a huge literary output during the 19th century. Some of the most famous writers included the Russians Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; the English Charles Dickens, John Keats, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Jane Austen; the Scottish Sir Walter Scott; the Irish Oscar Wilde; the Americans Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Mark Twain; and the French Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas and Charles Baudelaire.




1819: 29 January, Stamford Raffles arrives in Singapore with William Farquhar to establish a trading post for the British East India Company. 8 February, The treaty is signed between Sultan Hussein of Johor, Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Stamford Raffles. Farquhar is installed as the first Resident of the settlement.
Emigrants leaving Ireland. From 1830 to 1914, almost 5 million Irish people went to the United States alone.
Liberal and nationalist pressure led to the European revolutions of 1848


The first vessels sail through the Suez Canal
A barricade in the Paris Commune, 18 March 1871. Around 30,000 Parisians were killed, and thousands more were later executed.
Black Friday, 9 May 1873, Vienna Stock Exchange. The Panic of 1873 and Long Depression followed.
Studio portrait of Ilustrados in Europe, c. 1890

Significant people[edit]

Abraham Lincoln in 1863, 16th President of the United States, presided during the American Civil War, assassinated in April 1865
Tsar Alexander II, also known as Alexander the Liberator, was the Emperor of the Russian Empire from 3 March 1855 until his assassination in 1881
Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor

Show business and theatre[edit]

P. T. Barnum, c. 1860


Anthropology, archaeology, scholars[edit]

Heinrich Schliemann, Archaeologist
Franz Boas one of the pioneers of modern anthropology

Journalists, missionaries, explorers[edit]


One of the first photographs, produced in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce
Nadar, Self-portrait, c. 1860

Visual artists, painters, sculptors[edit]

Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait, 1889

The Realism and Romanticism of the early 19th century gave way to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in the later half of the century, with Paris being the dominant art capital of the world. In the United States the Hudson River School was prominent. 19th-century painters included:


Sonata form matured during the Classical era to become the primary form of instrumental compositions throughout the 19th century. Much of the music from the 19th century was referred to as being in the Romantic style. Many great composers lived through this era such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Richard Wagner. The list includes:

Philosophy and religion[edit]

The 19th century was host to a variety of religious and philosophical thinkers, including:

Politics and the Military[edit]

The last shōgun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, c. 1867
The allies: Sultan of the Ottoman Empire; Abdulmecid I, Queen of United Kingdom, Victoria and President of France, Napoleon III.

See also[edit]

Supplementary portrait gallery[edit]


  1. ^ "The First Telephone Call". 
  2. ^ "Dec. 18, 1878: Let There Be Light — Electric Light". WIRED. 18 December 2009. 
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica's Great Inventions. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  4. ^ "The United States and the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century". Americanhistory.about.com. 2012-09-18. Retrieved 2012-10-31. 
  5. ^ Laura Del Col, West Virginia University, The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England
  6. ^ "Modernization – Population Change". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on April 6, 2009. 
  7. ^ Liberalism in the 19th century. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  8. ^ Sailing against slavery. By Jo Loosemore. BBC.
  9. ^ The Atlantic: Can the US afford immigration?. Migration News. December 1996.
  10. ^ Frederick Artz, Reaction and Revolution, 1814–1832 (1934)
  11. ^ proclamation
  12. ^ McPherson, J. M. (2014). Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment. In E. Foner, & J. A. Garraty (Eds.), The Reader's companion to American history. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved from http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/rcah/emancipation_proclamation_and_thirteenth_amendment/0
  13. ^ 13th Amendment
  14. ^ Reilly, Thomas H. (2004). The Taiping heavenly kingdom rebellion and the blasphemy of empire (1. ed. ed.). Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295801921. 
  15. ^ "Killing ground: photographs of the Civil War and the changing American landscape". John Huddleston (2002). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6773-8
  16. ^ "William Whewell". Stanford University. Retrieved 2008-03-03. 
  17. ^ "Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Archived from the original on April 21, 2009. 
  18. ^ Oppenheimer, Clive (2003). "Climatic, environmental and human consequences of the largest known historic eruption: Tambora volcano (Indonesia) 1815". Progress in Physical Geography. 27 (2): 230–259. doi:10.1191/0309133303pp379ra. 
  19. ^ a b c Vickers (2005), page xii
  20. ^ Wahyu Ernawati: "Chapter 8: The Lombok Treasure", in Colonial collections Revisited: Pieter ter Keurs (editor) Vol. 152, CNWS publications. Issue 36 of Mededelingen van het Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden. CNWS Publications, 2007. ISBN 978-90-5789-152-6. 296 pages. pp. 186–203

External links[edit]