The Year Was 1879

The year was 1879 and in Hungary it brought disaster, particularly in Szeged. Melting snows and rain had filled the Tisza and the Maros rivers beyond capacity and a little after midnight, 12 March 1879, a dyke burst and the city of Szeged was washed away in the deluge. 5,458 houses were destroyed leaving only 265, and the flood claimed 151 lives. Europe responded with benefits and other fundraisers to help rebuild the lost city.

In Africa, the Anglo-Zulu War began as the British tried to unite their colonies, the Boer republics, and other independent groups in Africa. Seeking to retain their independence, the Zulu kingdom, led by Cetshwayo kaMpande, was a threat to that goal and by late 1878 tensions were already rising. The war officially began 11 January 1878 and would last into July of 1879, ending with the Zulu defeat at Ulundi.

In America, recently freed African Americans living in the South were facing violence following the withdrawal of federal troops. Oppression and poverty eventually spurred a spontaneous mass migration of African Americans to Kansas. Known as “Exodusters,” some remained in Kansas, while others moved on further west. Although poverty remained a problem, for the most part they were better off than those who had remained in the South.

Back in New Jersey, Thomas Edison was working on plans to perfect the light bulb. Electric lights had been pioneered by several inventors, but in 1879 Edison hit on a combination that would stay lit for forty hours. He demonstrated that bulb on 31 December in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

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