Communication, Transportation, and Exploration: Chronology

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1750-1914: Communication, Transportation, and Exploration: Chronology




  • England and its colonies adopt the Gregorian or New Style Calendar, which adds ten days to the Julian or Old Style Calendar. Sweden follows suit the next year.


  • Louis-Antoine de Bougainville commands the first French expedition around the world, visiting Tuamotu, Tahiti, Samoa, New Hebrides, and the Louisiade and New Britain Archipelagoes before returning home in 1769.


  • 26 August James Cook leaves Plymouth in the Endeavour in order to explore the southern Pacific Ocean. He discovers and charts the coasts of New Zealand, Australia, and New Guinea before returning to England in 1771. This expedition initiates an age of European exploration, commerce, and conquest in the region.


  • Scotsman James Bruce searches for the source of the Nile River but instead finds the headwaters of one of its tributaries, the Blue Nile. His Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile appears in print in 1790 and sparks much interest in the Dark Continent.


  • Cook embarks on his second voyage of discovery to the Pacific with two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure. He conducts a three-year expedition in search of the great southern continent then believed to exist. Cook encounters the Antarctica ice fields, stops at Tahiti and New Hebrides, and discovers New Caledonia.
  • French navigator Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Tremarec discovers the subantarctic Kerguelen, or Desolation Island, in the southern Indian Ocean.


  • British naval captain Constantine John Phipps attempts to sail across the North Pole; he reaches Spitsbergen before turning back.


  • Cook begins his third and final voyage to the Pacific. With the Resolution and the Discovery, he attempts to find the Northwest Passage, an Arctic waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He charts the North American Pacific coast as far as the Bering Strait before being killed in Hawaii in 1779.



August Claude Chappe presides over the first optical telegraph line (semaphore visual telegraph), a series of signal posts runing 180 miles from Paris to Lille.


  • In Munich, Aloys Senefelder invents lithography, a process of printing from a plane surface (such as smooth stone or metal) on which the image is ink-receptive and the blank area ink-repellent.


  • Friedrich Hornemann joins a caravan and becomes the first European in modern times to cross the Sahara Desert.


  • Matthew Flinders, an English mariner and hydrographer, begins to survey the Australian coast; he completes the first circumnavigation of the continent in 1803.


  • Russian, English, and American ship captains all claim the first sighting of Antarctica.


  • The Russian explorer Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel maps the northeastern coast of Siberia.


  • 18 August Alexander Gordon Laing becomes the first European to reach Timbuktu.
  • The Menai Strait Bridge, the longest suspension bridge to date, is constructed in Wales; it is rebuilt in 1940.


  • British engineer George Stephenson builds the steam locomotive Rocket. With a top speed of thirty-six miles per hour, the Rocket marks the birth of the railway era.


  • 15 September The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first commercial railway that uses only steam locomotives, opens.


  • Richard and John Lander finish tracing the course of the Lower Niger River to its delta.


  • The Sirius and the Great Western become the first ships to cross the Atlantic Ocean entirely under steam power.


  • January French navigator Jules-Sebastien-Cesar Dumount D’Urville leads an expedition that comes close to the South Magnetic Pole.
  • Britain adopts a new system of simplified and standardized postal charges, triggering a massive boom in the public’s use of postal communication.


  • The first European overland journey across Australia is completed by Edward John Eyre; the account of his experiences, Discoveries in Central Australia, is published four years later.


  • The first newspaper photograph is printed in the Illustrated London News.


  • Over the course of the next two years, Parliament approves the construction of four hundred new rail lines in Great Britain.


  • The Great Britain, designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunei, becomes the first propeller-driven steamship to cross the Atlantic; propellers soon replace the paddle wheels.
  • English explorer Sir John Franklin sets out on a two-year Arctic expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. His ship is caught in the ice, and the entire crew perishes. Fourteen years later a search mission finds skeletons and a written account of the expedition near Lancaster Sound. It is debatable whether some of the crew ever found the Passage.


  • The first underwater telegraph cable is laid, linking France and England.
  • German geographer and historian Heinrich Barth begins a five-year odyssey through North and Central Africa; he travels a total often thousand miles and later writes a popular account of his experiences.


  • 1 May Queen Victoria opens The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Held in London’s Hyde Park, the exhibition celebrates Britain’s strength as an industrial producer and imperial power.
  • Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone discovers the Zambezi River; four year later he discovers Victoria Falls.


  • W. H. Fox Talbot patents photoengraving, a process for making linecuts and halftone cuts by photographing an image on a metal plate and then etching.


  • 30 January Brunei launches the Great Eastern, the largest steamship to date; it is 689 feet long and can carry 1,500 passengers.
  • John Speke discovers Lake Victoria, but not until 1862 is he able to confirm it as a major source of the Nile.


  • 7 September The clock known as Big Ben is fully functional in the tower of Westminster Palace in London; designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, it has a thirteen-ton bell.


  • International Telegraphic Union is established to supervise and police international telegraphic communication.


  • The first transatlantic telegraph cable becomes operational.
  • Livingstone begins an expedition to explore the watershed of Central Africa and the sources of the Nile.


  • 17 November The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas opens for navigation.


  • Over the course of the next eighteen years, the Russian Nikolay Przhevalsky explores Central Asia, especially eastern Tibet, the Gobi Desert, and the watershed between the Hwang Ho and Yangzi (Yangtze) Rivers.


  • A telegraph code later used in teletypewriters is invented by the Frenchman Jean-Maurice-Emile Baudot.


  • Verney Cameron becomes the first European to cross equatorial Africa from coast to coast.


  • Swedish geologist and explorer Adolf Nordenskjold is the first to locate the Northwest Passage.


  • The Statutes (Definition of Time) Act sets Greenwich Mean Time as the standard for the United Kingdom.


  • The Orient Express, developed by Belgian businessman Georges Nagelmackers, makes its inaugural run. The first European transcontinental express railroad, it is 1,700 miles long and connects Paris to Constantinople.


  • The International Meridian Conference held in Washington, D.C., sets Greenwich in London as the international meridian and creates twenty-four time zones worldwide.


  • 4 March An 8,248-foot-long cantilever railway bridge is completed across the Firth of Forth in Scotland after seven years of construction.


  • Construction begins on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Completed in 1904, it is 5,778 miles long, connecting Moscow with the eastern port of Vladivostok.


  • Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi develops a prototype wireless telegraph; several years later he makes a successful demonstration by sending and receiving signals over a distance of twelve miles.


  • The Sixth International Geophysical Conference in London formally declares a need for further Antarctic exploration.


  • Members of the Italian polar expedition under Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi, reach the northern record of 86 degrees 34 minutes North.


  • December The first successful transatlantic wireless transmission is achieved by Marconi when he sends signals between Cornwall, England, and St. John’s, Newfoundland.
  • Englishman Robert Falcon Scott leads a three-year expedition to Antarctica; he surveys South Victoria Land, takes soundings of the Ross Sea, and discovers King Edward VII Land.


  • The Italian railroad system completes electrification of its main line.


  • An expedition commanded by the Irishman Ernest Henry Shackleton reaches a point approximately ninety-seven miles from the South Pole. Upon his return to Britain, he publishes an account of his adventures titled Heart of the Antarctic.


  • There are approximately 125,000 telephones in use in Great Britain.


  • 14 December Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen successfully reaches the South Pole ahead of rival German, Australian, British, and Japanese expeditions.


  • 17 January Scott and four companions reach the South Pole a month after Amundsen; all of them perish on the return trip.
  • Selandia, a Danish vessel and the first diesel-powered steamship, is launched. It demonstrates its superior fuel conservation by completing a nonstop twenty-six-thousand-mile voyage from Bangkok to London.


  • The first use of diesel-electric railway engines occurs in Sweden.


  • Shackleton undertakes the first trans-Antarctic expedition, but he fails when his ship Endurance is later crushed in pack ice; the crew is eventually rescued.

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Communication, Transportation, and Exploration: Chronology

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Communication, Transportation, and Exploration: Chronology