Business and the Economy: Chronology

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1850-1877: Business and the Economy: Chronology




  • Isaac Singer, an illiterate machinist, redesigns a sewing machine and, over the next several years, begins manufacturing them.
  • Allan Pinkerton starts a detective agency in Chicago, a business that becomes the largest of its kind and, in the late nineteenth century, a notorious means of breaking strikes.
  • 19 Apr . Great Britain and the United States sign the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, agreeing to joint use of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.
  • 20 Sept . Congress grants public lands to the states of Illinois, Mississippi, and Alabama to help fund railroad constructionthe first federal railroad land grants.


  • 1 Apr . Hiram Sibley incorporates the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing and Telegraph Company (which eventually becomes Western Union).
  • 15 May Trains begin running on the Erie Railroad between Lake Erie and New York City. The 483-mile line is the worlds longest railroad.


  • Massachusetts establishes safety standards for steam engines, the first of their kind.
  • In the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, American manufacturers exhibit various industrial products, including the McCormick reaper, Borden meat biscuits, and the Colt revolver.
  • The Pennsylvania Railroad connects Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
  • Potter Palmer opens a dry-goods store in Chicago.
  • Boston businessmen form the Boston Board of Trade.
  • Henry Heinz begins peddling food to Pittsburgh grocers.
  • Paul Masson, a French immigrant, plants a vineyard near Santa Clara, California.
  • 5 Jan . Delegates from eleven Southern states convene in New Orleans to discuss the regions economic development.
  • 20 Feb . The first train reaches Chicago from the East Coast, on the Michigan Southern.
  • 3 July Congress establishes a San Francisco branch of the U.S. Mint.


  • Prominent New York banks form a clearinghouse to facilitate east-west interbank transfers and loans.
  • Gail Borden invents condensed milk.
  • Samuel Colt builds an armory at Hartford, Connecticut, to make small arms. He trains employees in the American System of interchangeable parts, made by machines.
  • Levi Strauss immigrates to San Francisco from Bavaria with a stock of heavy canvas, to sell to prospectors as tents, wagon covers, and, as need emerges, work pants.
  • 4 Mar . In appropriation legislation for the army, Congress provides funds for surveying routes for transcontinental railroads.


  • Elisha Otis demonstrates his safety elevator, patented the year before, at the New York Worlds Fair, and sets up a company to manufacture them.
  • Dry-goods merchant Junius Spencer Morgan joins the investment banking firm of George Peabody & Co. in London.
  • R. H. Macy, in an effort to cope with the large number of sales clerks working in his dry-goods store in Haverhill, Massachusetts, adopts a one-price policy.
  • Minneapoliss first commercial flour mill opens. In the post-Civil War decades, Minneapolis mills will come to dominate the nations flour industry.
  • 31 Mar . Commodore Matthew C. Perry forces Japanese signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa, opening two Japanese ports to U.S. trade and establishing relations between the two nations.


  • A railroad across the Isthmus of Panama is completed.
  • 1 Jan . The first American oil company, the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, is formed.


  • Fruit of the Loom, a clothing firm founded by Benjamin and Robert Knight in 1851 in Providence, Rhode Island, adopts a red apple label to identify its fabricsthe first clothing trademark.
  • Borden patents condensed milk.
  • A streetcar line begins running in Boston, the first of its kind in the United States.
  • The Eagle Pencil Company starts in New York City.
  • The German Mills American Oatmeal Factory opens in Akron, Ohio, under Ferdinand Schumacher, and begins marketing oatmeal as a foodstuff.
  • Cadwallader C. Washburn forms the Minneapolis Mill Company and begins experimenting with new milling processes.
  • 21 Apr . The first railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi River opens.


  • Massachusetts law grants interstate commerce rights to all manufacturing and mining companies.
  • Augustus Wolle starts the Saucona Iron Company, which will become Bethlehem Iron in 1861 and, later, Bethlehem Steel.
  • 21 Feb . Congress abolishes legal-tender status for foreign coins.
  • 24 Aug . The failure of the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance & Trust Company sets off widespread commercial and financial panic. The national economy settles into a prolonged depression.


  • R. H. Macy opens a fancy dry-goods store in New York Citya retail establishment that grows to become one of the earliest American department stores.
  • Isaac Singer starts selling a lightweight sewing machine for family use.


  • A Philadelphia convention of machinist and blacksmith union workers articulates one of the first organized-labor demands for an eight-hour day.
  • The State of New York creates a state agency to regulate insurance companies.
  • Ebenezer Butterick, a tailor, begins using patterns to manufacture clothing in large batches.
  • Edwin Drake drills the first U.S. oil well, in Pennsylvania.
  • 1 Sept . George Pullman tests a model sleeping car on the railroad line between Chicago and Bloomington, Illinois.


  • Francis A. Pratt and Amos Whitney form a business to make precision machinery.
  • Charles H. Morgan invents the first commercial paper-bag machine.
  • Illinois charters the Chicago Board of Trade as a body politic and corporate, in effect recognizing its quasi-regulatory function in grading grains so that they can be handled en masse by grain elevators and railroads.
  • 16 Mar . Some six thousand shoemakers march in protest in Lynn, Massachusetts, at the high point of the largest strike of the pre-Civil War period. The strike fails to secure union recognition, though it does win higher wages.


  • Elisha Otis patents the steam elevator.
  • Factory production of Bordens condensed milk begins.
  • The American Miners Association forms, becoming one of the first industrywide unions.
  • Jay Cooke & Co. is formed, a banking house that dominates the sale of government bonds during the war, and government securities and railroad finance after the war.
  • 5 August Congress passes the first federal income tax, levying 3 percent on all income over $800.


  • The federal government issues currency called greenbacksthe first national paper money.
  • F. A. O. Schwarz opens a fancy toy store in New York.
  • The invention of the McKay stitcher revolutionizes shoe manufacturing, enabling the industry to move from outwork to centralized, in-factory production.
  • 1 July Congress passes the Pacific Railway Act, chartering the Union Pacific Railroad.


  • Ebenezer Butterick begins selling clothing patterns commercially.
  • Pennsylvania Railroad becomes the first American railroad to use steel rails.
  • John D. Rockefeller starts an oil refinery in Cleveland with Maurice Clark.
  • 25 Feb . Congress passes the National Banking Act, establishing a network of national banks.
  • 3 Dec . At Omaha, Nebraska, ground is broken for the Union Pacific Railroad.


  • The U.S. Mint begins engraving In God We Trust on coins.
  • C. P. Barber, a match salesman, starts the Barber Match Company, forerunner of the Diamond Match Company (which controls 85 percent of the U.S. market by the late 1800s).
  • Milton Bradley, railroad businessman and parlor-game designer, starts a business to manufacture and market board games.
  • 4 July To encourage importation of foreign workers, Congress passes a labor law permitting employers to contract workers abroad to work in the United States.


  • George Westinghouse patents a rotary steam engine.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department creates the Secret Service Agency to battle counterfeiting.
  • John B. Stetson starts a hat-making business in Philadelphia.
  • The North Chicago Rolling Mill is built, where the first steel rails are manufactured.
  • 25 Dec . The Union Stockyards open in Chicago. Within a few years, several million head of livestock would pass through the stockyards every year.


  • Workers in several cities try to coordinate a general strike for an eight-hour workday.
  • Congress passes the Mineral Land Act, the first federal law regulating mining industries.
  • The Pacific Mail Steamship Company opens a regular steamship line between San Francisco and Hong Kong.
  • Massachusetts becomes the first state to pass a factory-inspection law.
  • 1 July Congress enacts a 10 percent tax on state bank notes, in an effort to drive the state banks out of business.
  • 20 Aug. A National Labor Congress convenes at Baltimore.


  • Miners at the Comstock Lode form a union to protest wage cuts.
  • Francis W. Ayer starts an advertising business in Philadelphia, N. W. Ayer & Son, that pioneers modern advertising techniques (including market research) and grows to become the largest advertising firm in the country.
  • George Pullman incorporates the Pullman Palace Car Co. in Chicago to manufacture sleeping cars and, eventually, dining cars.
  • Armour and Company opens its first packing plant in Chicago, with an annual butchering capacity of thirty thousand hogs.
  • 4 Dec . The Patrons of Husbandry, or Grangers, organize at a national convention in Washington, D.C.


  • In the Erie War, Cornelius Vanderbilt squares off against Jay Gould and Jim Fisk for financial control over the Erie Railroad.
  • Massachusetts creates a state labor bureau.
  • Oliver W. Norton begins manufacturing tin cans in a small company in Chicago and promoting their use in preserving foods. Campbell Soup and Heinz become two important early customers.
  • Boston businessmen form a lobbying group, the National Board of Trade.
  • Deere & Company starts, manufacturing farm implements.


  • In San Francisco whites riot against Chinese workers.
  • The Colored National Labor Union forms, the first national black labor organization.
  • The Knights of Labor organizes, initially as a small craft union of garment cutters.
  • Massachusetts establishes a Board of Railroad Commissioners, a pioneer state regulatory agency.
  • Joseph Campbell, a fruit merchant, joins with icebox manufacturer Abram Anderson in a business canning tomatoes, vegetables, and preservesthe beginning of the Campbell Soup Company.
  • Marcus Goldman, a Philadelphia retailer, moves to New York City and starts an investment banking firmthe beginning of Goldman Sachs & Co.
  • In Manhattan retailer R. H. Macy adds toys, silver, and house furnishings to his stock of clothing and dry goods.
  • Henry J. Heinz launches his first business, making and selling horseradish. (The business fails, but Heinz starts again with his brother and cousin, this time making prepared foods.)
  • A schooner carries a cargo of Honduran bananas to New Orleans, inaugurating the tropical fruit trade with Central America.
  • 18 Mar . The Public Credit Act provides for repayment of the governments Civil War obligations in gold.
  • Sept. A refrigerated railroad car makes the first shipment of fresh meat from Chicago to the East Coast.
  • 24 Sept . On Black Friday, an effort by Jay Gould and Jim Fisk to corner the gold market collapses, ruining many investors.


  • Congress passes the first national trademark law. The first trademark granted is to William Underwood & Co., for their Deviled Entrements.
  • Sherwin-Williams begins manufacturing prepared paints.
  • 10 Jan . John D. Rockefeller and associates incorporate the Standard Oil Company, establishing what quickly becomes the worlds largest oil refinery complex.


  • Ebenezer Butterick launches a promotional magazine.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules that greenbacks are legal tender.
  • J. P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel join forces to create Drexel, Morgan & Co. in a bid to cut into Jay Cookes monopoly of U.S. securities finance.
  • Aaron Montgomery Ward starts a small retail business in Chicago. The following year, Wards becomes the official supply house of the National Grange, and issues its first mail-order catalog, a one-page handbill.
  • 7 Apr . Illinois passes the Railroad Actthe first of its kindestablishing a commission to set maximum shipping rates and prohibit railroads from favoring large corporations with low rates.


  • Montgomery Ward and Company opens the nations first mail-order house in Chicago.
  • Enos M. Barton and a partner start up the Western Electric Manufacturing Company in Chicago, making electrical materials and appliances.
  • Andrew Carnegie starts building a steel-rail rolling mill, later named the Edgar Thomson Works.
  • Frederick Weyerhauser starts the Mississippi River Boom & Logging Company.
  • 4 Sept . The New York Sun exposes political corruption in the Crédit Mobilier scandal, in which a construction company organized by the promoters of the Union Pacific Railroad Company had skimmed profits.


  • E. Remington & Sons, a firearms company, begins manufacturing and selling typewriters.
  • Lydia Pinkham begins marketing a remedy for female complaints, made of a vegetable compound laced with 19 percent alcohol.
  • Singer Sewing Machine centralizes its manufacturing in a large new plant in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, that makes standardized machines with interchangeable parts in a continuous-assembly process.
  • Minor C. Keith begins buying up banana plantations in Central Americathe start of a business that grows and merges with competitors to become United Fruit in 1899.
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt builds the New York Union Depot.
  • 18 Sept . The financial collapse of Jay Cookes Northern Pacific Railroad sets off a five-year depression.


  • Montgomery Ward expands its mail-order catalogue to a one-hundred page circular, measuring 3 1/2 by 7 inches. The companys sales pass $100,000 by the end of the year; by 1878 they exceed $400,000.
  • R. H. Macy in New York creates a mail-order department.
  • 13 Jan . In Tompkins Square, New York City, a crowd of seven thousand unemployed workers demonstrates for public works, under the slogan Work or Bread. City police crack down on the gathering, dispersing the crowds and arresting scores of demonstrators.
  • 11 Mar . Wisconsin passes the Potter law, regulating railroad rates.
  • 23 Mar . Iowa passes a law regulating railroad rates.
  • 8 May Massachusetts passes first effective ten-hour workday for women.
  • Nov. The Greenback Party forms on a platform of looser federal currency policy.
  • 24 Nov . Joseph F. Glidden patents barbed wirean invention that transforms western ranching.


  • Fourteen members of the Molly Maguiresa secret organization of Irish mine workersare tried for murdering mine owners. Meanwhile, the long strike shuts down anthracite coal fields in Pennsylvania for several months.
  • The Widows and Orphans Friendly Society reorganizes as the Prudential Friendly Society, which provides the first U.S. industrial insurance.
  • In an effort to curb crippling rate wars, twenty-four Southern railroads found the Southern Railroad and Steamship Association.
  • R. J. Reynolds starts a chewing tobacco factory in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
  • Gustavus Swift, a Massachusetts wholesale butcher, starts a meatpacking business.
  • 14 Jan . Congress passes the Specie Resumption Act, arranging the exchange of legal tender for gold in 1879.
  • 30 Jan . A U.S.-Hawaiian treaty admits duty-free importation of Hawaiian sugar and other produce.


  • Henry J. Heinz starts a new business making pickles, condiments, and prepared foods.
  • Albert G. Spalding, a baseball player and manager, starts a sporting-goods business with his brother.
  • John Wanamaker starts a retail store in Philadelphia, in an old freight depot, that becomes an early, trend-setting department store.


  • Gustavus Swift begins shipping dressed beef east; several years later, he will begin experimenting with refrigerated beef shipments.
  • Quaker Mill trademarks Quaker Oats Cerealthe first breakfast cereal registered.
  • Eastern railroad lines form the Eastern Trunk Line Association, in an effort to stabilize rates.
  • Asa Candler begins a drug business in Atlanta. Ten years later, he will buy a part interest in Coca-Cola, a patent medicine.
  • The Smith Brothers begin selling their cough drops in packages bearing their trademark, in an effort to prevent druggists from substituting cheaper cough drops in open jars.
  • The Colgate Company begins marketing Colgate Dental Cream, which rises on a tide of heavy advertising to become the worlds largest seller.
  • 1 Mar . The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Peik v. Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company that the states have the authority to regulate not only intrastate traffic, but also interstate traffic originating within their boundaries.
  • 1 Mar . The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Munn v. Illinois that the states have the authority to regulate warehouse and intrastate railroad shipping rates.
  • 21 June Ten Molly Maguires are hanged.
  • 16 July The first nationwide strike erupts when railroad workers in six cities refuse to work and try to shut down train traffic. Violent confrontations draw in federal troops and National Guard units.

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Business and the Economy: Chronology

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