The Year Was 1876

The year was 1876 and England was in the midst of what is known as the Victorian Era (1837-1900), named for Queen Victoria. For a look at home life in England during this period, visit the website, 1876 Victorian England.

In the United States, the country was celebrating its centennial anniversary and in May, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia became the first World’s Fair held in the U.S. and drew over 9 million visitors.

Colorado became the 38th state in 1876 and the country continued to grow. With railways now connecting the east and west, people began to travel more. With the increased travel came the need for good accommodations and in 1876, Fred Harvey entered the business of meeting this need when he took over a restaurant at the Topeka, Kansas train depot of the Santa Fe Railroad. He was soon able to expand and hired a staff of women who became known as the “Harvey Girls”  to serve guests in his restaurants and hotels along the railroad line.

The expanding railroads were among the causes stirring up tensions with Native American tribes. In 1876, the U.S. military had sent forces to Montana Territory and on June 25, one of the most famous conflicts took place when General George Custer and his unit were decimated by Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arapaho Indians led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The New York Times for 06 July 1876 reported, “The Indians poured a murderous fire from all directions. Gen. Custer, his two brothers, his nephew, and brother-in-law were all killed, and not one of his detachment escaped. Two hundred and seven men were buried in one place. The number of killed is estimated at 300, and the wounded at thirty-one.”

December proved to be a disastrous month in New York and Ohio. On 05 December 1876, a fire broke out in the Brooklyn Theater during a production of The Two Orphans. 278 people lost their lives when they were burned or trampled during the fire. [On a personal note, my 2nd great-grandmother’s brother, Hugh Doner, was among those who perished in this fire, and his brother-in-law, my 2nd great-grandfather, Edwin Dyer, a policeman in Brooklyn, was among the first on the scene. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it was for my family that day and during the days that followed.] Detailed accounts of the disaster can be read in the Brooklyn Eagle online at the Brooklyn Public Library website by performing a date search for December 6.

Lives were also lost when the Ashtabula River bridge in northeast Ohio collapsed on December 29 causing all but the lead car in “The Pacific Express” to fall seventy-two feet, killing 92 people and injuring 64. Some survived the fall of the train, only to perish in flames as the cars caught fire. The horrific scene shocked the country and an article in The Elyria Constitution of 04 January 1877 chronicles the disaster with accounts of the accident, a list of victims, and some of the aftermath. The Ashtabula Bridge Disaster website also lists the fatalities and more information on the tragedy.

On a more positive note, Alexander Graham Bell made his first successful telephone call in March of 1876, when he phoned his assistant with the message, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” This success led to the first telephone exchange, which was set up in Connecticut in 1878, and the first long distance connection in 1884, between Boston and New York City. (No doubt followed by a big bill.) ;)

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7 thoughts on “The Year Was 1876

  1. Interesting article, but I’m afraid Gen. Custer’s men were not decimated (every 10th man killed) at Little Big Horn. All 210 men in his unit were, in fact, killed.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this,I am printing and saving it.
    wonderful read. Joy Mayfield

  3. As I understand it, George. A. Custer held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel when he was killed. As the commander of a Cavalry Regiment it would be highly unlikely that he would hold the rank of General – perhaps this honorific is a holdover from the brevet rank of Brigadier General he was awarded during the Civil War.

  4. In 1876, UNION soldiers were removed from the southern states.
    Their absence lead to a reign of terror against the freedpeople
    as white southerners reclaimed political, economic and social
    power. Congressional hearings from this period could provide
    some genealogical data for African-Americans.

  5. In 1876 my ggg-grandmother made my gg-grandfather a quilt for a wedding present, I have that quilt. It is in mint-condition.
    I so enjoyed reading about that year and will use the information in a book I am writing about my father’s ancestors.

  6. Is it true that you, the author of the above article, have ancestors who died in Brooklyn Theater Fire? I am working on that event for my course project, would love to hear more about your family.

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