What Were Your Ancestors Doing?

What Were Your Ancestors Doing in the 1880s?

The 1880s were a decade of change and innovation. A lot of exciting and interesting things were happening around the world. Your ancestors probably knew about most of them and may even have had the chance to enjoy some of them. Here is what was happening in this beguiling and inventive decade.

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The 1880s are known as the primary period of the Second Industrial Revolution. The foundations of what we would today call the modern city were first laid and skyscrapers began to dominate city skylines for the first time. The decade was one of economic prosperity in the United States and was part of an overall period of such prosperity known as the Gilded Age, which lasted from 1874 to 1907. There were plenty of interesting things going on in this decade. These are some of the things your 1880s ancestors may have enjoyed, participated in, or celebrated with their friends, family, and neighbors.

Commercial Production of Electricity

This is the decade when indoor electric lighting, and other commercial electrical uses, began to be used on a regular basis among the public. The first to capitalize on this trend was the Edison Illuminating Company, owned by Thomas Edison, and founded in December of 1880. The company was based in New York City, and it created a central power plant that was equipped with electric generators. The company used copper wires to connect other buildings to the generators, which allowed these buildings to use electrical power inside and around them. Lamps were the most commonly used indoor electrical item in the beginning, and the Edison company served four hundred lamps and eighty-five customers at the start. By 1884, it was serving 10,164 lamps and five hundred eight customers. Electricity was definitely the wave of the future, and it was taking off with a large amount of popularity.

Recorded Sound
The very first production and sale of phonographs and phonograph records for the commercial buying public began in this decade. The phonograph had been invented in the previous decade, but the 1880s was when recorded sound first found a commercial audience with the public, so they could listen to music in their homes whenever they wanted to. From phonograph cylinders to vinyl records, to eight-track cassettes to cassette tapes, and from CDs to downloaded music, the recorded music industry has come a long way, and it all began in the 1880s.

The temperance movement was going strong in the 1880s, discouraging people from drinking alcohol. To give people an incentive to not drink it, a suitable but safer replacement had to be found. This came about in 1887 with the invention of Coca-Cola, the first “liquor-free” drink in the world. Your ancestors may have sampled some of these first bottles of what we fondly refer to today as Coke.

Cultural achievements in the 1880s include the publication of novels we still love today like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Brothers Karamazov, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Looking Backward, The Necklace, Ghosts, and Treasure Island.

The first skyscraper in the history of the world was built and officially opened in 1885. It was called the Home Insurance Building, and was the tallest man-made structure in history at the time, pushing the Pyramids of Giza out of the top spot for the first time in thousands of years. Later, in March of 1889, the Eiffel Tower opened in Paris, France, and became the tallest building in the world (at the time) at three hundred meters tall.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.