1878-1899: Science and Medicine: Chronology

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1878-1899: Science and Medicine: Chronology




  • The first meeting of the International Union of Geological Sciences is held in Paris.
  • James J. Sylvester founds the American Journal of Mathematics.
  • William Henry Welch of Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City opens the first pathology laboratory in the United States.
  • A yellow-fever epidemic in the Gulf states and Tennessee kills some fourteen thousand people.


  • Thomas A. Edison demonstrates a practical incandescent electric light bulb.
  • Elmer Ambrose Sperry improves the dynamo, increasing the flow of electric current for generators and thus making electric-power plants more efficient.
  • George B. Selden applies for a patent on a road locomotive with an internal-combustion engine. A patent is granted in 1895.
  • Leroy B. Firman invents the multiple-telephone switchboard.


  • The U.S. Coast Survey, which is involved in mapping the United States, is renamed the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
  • Charles Sanders Peirce lectures to the Paris Academy of Sciences on his measurements of the acceleration of gravity.
  • George Eastman receives a patent on roll film for cameras.



  • Edward C. Pickering invents a prism device for photographing simultaneously the spectra of several stars the colors that become visible when light from the stars is separated according to wavelength.
  • Henry Rowland invents a machine to make difraction gratings, another means of separating light beams, for spectroscopy.
  • Johns Hopkins University professor G. Stanley Hall establishes the first experimental psychology laboratory in the United States.
  • 4 Sept. The Edison Electric Light Company is established in the Pearl Street district of lower Manhattan, providing electric light to eighty-five buildings and heralding the beginning of a major new industry.



  • Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau opens a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Saranac, New York, introducing the idea of treating the disease by exposing patients to clear mountain air.
  • Dr. William Halsted, a New York surgeon, discovers the anesthetic properties of cocaine and subsequently becomes addicted to it.
  • Lewis Edson Waterman invents the first practical fountain pen with a capillary feed.
  • At an international conference in Washington, D.C., delegates establish standard, international time zones with the prime meridian passing through Greenwich, England.
  • Physiologist Philip Smith discovers that the pituitary gland exerts a controlling effect on other endocrine glands.


  • Veterinarian Daniel Elmer Salmon, head of the U.S. Bureau of Animal Husbandry, delivers a paper that describes a bacterium that causes food poisoning in humans. Although Salmon is reporting on research conducted by Theobald Smith, the bacterium is later named salmonella in Salmons honor.
  • 4 Jan. Dr. William West Grant of Davenport, Iowa, performs what is believed to be the first successful appendectomy in the United States.


  • Henry Rowland uses diffraction gratings to map the spectrum of sunlight.
  • Johnson & Johnson markets the first ready-to-use sterile surgical dressings.
  • Feb. Charles Martin Hall invents an inexpensive electrolytic process for extracting aluminum from bauxite ore (aluminum oxide).


  • An experiment conducted by Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley fails to establish the existence of the ether, thought to be an invisible substance that fills space and allows light rays to pass from one point to another.
  • A thirty-six-inch telescope is mounted at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in California.
  • Louis J. Girard, Baylor College of Medicine, invents a contact lens. (The first plastic lens is invented in 1938, and the first practical lens, the corneal contact, is introduced in 1950).
  • G. Stanley Hall founds the American Journal of Psychology.
  • 2 Mar. Congress passes the Hatch Act, establishing agricultural experiment stations in states with land-grant colleges.


  • Croatian American Nikola Tesla invents an alternating-current (AC) electric motor, which runs more efficiently than the direct-current (DC) motor favored by Thomas Edison.
  • To measure the intensity of California earthquakes, the first seismograph in the United States is installed at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton.
  • The New York Mathematical Society (later the American Mathematical Society) is founded.
  • Oct. Clinton H. Merriam publishes the first issue National Geographic.


  • A worldwide influenza epidemic infects 40 percent of the worlds population over the next two years.
  • St. Marys Hospital opens in Rochester, Minnesota, with Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his physician sons William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo on the medical staff. The hospital later becomes the Mayo Clinic.


  • Edward Pickering and Williamina Fleming introduce the Harvard Classification of stars, a system based on alphabetical arrangement.
  • The Principles of Psychology, by William James, is published.
  • The National Carbon Company markets the first commercial dry-cell battery under the brand name Ever Ready.
  • New York State passes the Howe Law, requiring physicians to put silver nitrate drops in newborn babies eyes to prevent blindness from gonorrheal infection. Most other states later pass similar laws.
  • Despite opposition from some dairy interests, many American communities pass laws requiring that milk be pasteurized.
  • 30 Aug. Congress passes the Morrill Act of 1890, establishing more research programs to help farmers.


  • Astronomer George Ellery Hale invents the spectroheliograph to photograph the surface of the Sun.
  • Edward Goodrich Acheson perfects a method for manufacturing carborundum (silicon carbide), a strong, abrasive compound used to control the flow of current in electrical circuits.
  • The U.S. Weather Bureau, formerly a military bureau, becomes a civilian agency of the federal government.
  • Samuel Pierpont Langley publishes Experiments in Aerodynamics.
  • African American surgeon Daniel Hale Williams establishes Provident Hospital in Chicago. It is the first interracial hospital in the United States.
  • Charles and James Duryea design a gasoline engine that can power a road vehicle.
  • 24 Aug. Thomas Alva Edison applies for a patent on the first American motion-picture camera.
  • 29 Dec. Edison receives a patent for a wireless telegraph.


  • The American Psychology Association is founded.
  • Thomas Corwin Mendenhall directs the Alaska border survey.
  • Albert Abraham Michelson detects the fine spectral lines of hydrogen.
  • Edward Emerson Barnard at the Lick Observatory discovers the fifth moon of Jupiter.
  • Thomas J. Jackson propounds a theory of the origin of the binary star, a system of two stars that revolve around one another.
  • Theobald Smith identifies the tick as the carrier of Texas cattle fever, an important advance in epidemiology.
  • Charles and James Duryea produce what is believed to be the first American motor car.


  • The Johns Hopkins Medical School is founded in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Dr. Daniel Hale Williams of Chicago performs the worlds first open-heart surgery, saving the life of a man with a knife wound to an artery near his heart.
  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz devises a method of calculating alternating current that makes the use of AC motors commercially feasible.


  • Percival Lowell establishes an observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona, to search for a ninth planet.
  • Dr. Hermann Michael Biggs of New York becomes first American physician to inoculate his patients with the diphtheria antitoxin developed by German physician Emil von Behring in 1890.


  • Astronomer James Keeler suggests that Saturns rings are not solid, as is generally believed, but are made of particles.
  • Simon Newcomb publishes his influential Astronomical Constants.


  • Lick Observatory publishes the first photographic atlas of the Moon.
  • The first diagnostic X ray in the United States is taken at Columbia University by Michael Pupin.
  • 6 May At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., astronomer Samuel Pierpont Langley achieves the first flight of a mechanically propelled flying machine by sending a steam-powered model airplane on a three-thousand-foot flight.


  • The Yerkes Observatory at Williams Bay, Wisconsin, installs a forty-inch refracting telescope, the largest of its kind in the world.
  • James T. Morehead produces the first commercial high-carbon ferrochrome for plating steel in the United States.


  • Contaminated meat kills more U.S. troops than do bullets during the Spanish-American War, prompting a public outcry for government regulation of the meatpacking industry.


  • Jacques Loeb conducts experiments on parthenogenesis in sea-urchin eggs, causing unfertilized eggs to develop into new organisms.
  • The American Physical Society is founded.
  • Astronomer William Wallace Campbell demonstrates that Polaris (the North Star) is in fact a cluster of three stars.
  • William Henry Pickering discovers the ninth moon of Saturn.
  • A pure-food bill is defeated in the U.S. Senate.
  • Assistant surgeon Bailey Kelly Ashford of the U.S. Army Medical Corps discovers an effective treatment for hookworm.
  • A cholera epidemic begins, spreading through much of the world and continuing until 1923.

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1878-1899: Science and Medicine: Chronology

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1878-1899: Science and Medicine: Chronology