It’s hard to believe the 1810s were two full centuries ago now. This decade was far farther into the past than it seems. Yet, it was not a primitive time by any means. There was a lot going on around the world. The War of 1812 in the United States, the efforts of Napoleon to build a French empire that resulted in the Napoleonic Wars, European Imperialism in Asia and Africa, and the start in earnest of westward migration to the American frontier all shaped this tumultuous decade.
These are some of the highlights of the 1810s that your ancestors probably knew about, may have experienced, and even enjoyed.
Science and Inventions
The invention of gas lighting reaches a level of practical application and becomes commonly used in Europe and the United States, particularly on street lights. The miner’s safety lamp for use in coal mining was invented. The stethoscope was also invented in this decade. Plus, the Great Comet of 1811 was discovered by Honore Flaugergues.
Travel and trade in North America was dominated by steamboats in this decade. The first continuously operating commercial line of steamboats left Pittsburgh in 1811 to travel down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River, and then to New Orleans. Other steamboat lines going to different places, carrying both cargo and passengers, soon followed.
It wasn’t only river steamboats that were making a splash in the news. Steamships were also coming into vogue. The first steamship to gain recognition for crossing the Atlantic between Europe and North America sailed in this decade, though she was actually a steamship/sailboat hybrid. Her name was the SS Savannah.
The Year Without a Summer
The time period from April 1815 to April 1816 saw what was called The Year Without a Summer. It began when Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies erupted. The initial explosion killed about 92,000 people, and put tons of gas compounds and ash into the Earth’s atmosphere. Because the high level of these gasses reflected sunlight back into space, it caused a general cooling all over the planet, which saw heavy rain and even snow in June and July in the northern hemisphere. This resulted in crop failures that affected everyone on the planet, but especially in places above the equator.
There was a veritable cornucopia of wonderful literature published in this decade. The first volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales made its public debut. Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice. Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverley. Jane Austen was on the scene once more with the publication of Emma. Mary Shelley published Frankenstein. Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Biographia Literaria.
In addition to these literary feats, the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania was established and is still operating today as the oldest continuously existing literary society in the USA. Also, missionaries made the first attempt to put the Maori language into writing.