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1874 (MDCCCLXXIV) was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Tuesday of the Julian calendar, the 1874th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 874th year of the 2nd millennium, the 74th year of the 19th century, and the 5th year of the 1870s decade. As of the start of 1874, the Gregorian calendar was 12 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.
- January – The Pangkor Treaty (also known as the Pangkor Engagement), by which the British extended their control over first the Sultanate of Perak, and later the other independent Malay States, is signed.
- January 1 – New York City annexes The Bronx.
- January 2 – Ignacio María González becomes head of state of the Dominican Republic for the first time.
- January 3 – Third Carlist War – Battle of Caspe: Campaigning on the Ebro in Aragon for the Spanish Republican Government, Colonel Eulogio Despujol surprises a Carlist force under Manuel Marco de Bello at Caspe, northeast of Alcañiz. In a brilliant action the Carlists are routed, losing 200 prisoners and 80 horses, while Despujol is promoted to Brigadier and becomes Conde de Caspe.
- January 23
- February 21 – The Oakland Daily Tribune publishes its first issue.
- February 23 – Walter Clopton Wingfield patents a game called "sphairistike", which is more commonly called lawn tennis.
- February 24–25 – Third Carlist War – First Battle of Somorrostro: Determined to raise the siege of Bilbao by the Pretender Don Carlos VII, Republican commander Marshal Francisco Serrano sends General Domingo Moriones with a relief force of 14,000 men. Carlists, under General Nicolás Ollo, entrenched at Somorrostro outside Bilbao, drive back a courageous assault by General Fernando Primo de Rivera and then the entire Republican army. The republicans lose 1,200 men, and Moriones loses his nerve, demanding reinforcements and a replacement for himself. Moriones, men entrench and wait.
- March 14 – Third Carlist War – Battle of Castellfollit de la Roca: Appointed to command the Spanish Republican army in the north, General Ramón Nouvilas attempts to relieve the Carlist siege of Olot in Girona. But at Castellfollit de la Roca, in one of the Government's worst defeats, Nouvilas is routed by Carlist General Francesc Savalls, and captured along with about 2,000 of his men. Olot capitulates two days later.
- March 15 – France and Viet Nam sign the Second Treaty of Saigon, further recognizing the full sovereignty of France over Cochinchina.
- March 18
- Hawaii signs a treaty with the United States, granting exclusive trading rights.
- The Dresden English Football Club is founded, the first soccer club on the European mainland.
- March 25–27 – Third Carlist War – Second Battle of Somorrostro: In a renewed attempt to raise the siege of Bilbao by Don Carlos VII, Republican commander Marshal Francisco Serrano himself arrives with 27,000 men and 70 cannon. However, in three days of fierce fighting, the Carlist General Joaquín Elío, with just 17,000 men, once again drives off the attack at nearby Somorrostro, and it is another six weeks before Serrano manages to relieve Bilbao.
- March – The Young Men's Hebrew Association in Manhattan (which still operates today as the 92nd Street Y) is founded.
- April 15–May 15 – A group of young painters, Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, gives their first exhibition, at the studio of the photographer Nadar in Paris. Louis Leroy's critical review of it published on 25 April gives rise to the term Impressionism for the movement, with reference to Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise.
- May 2 – Third Carlist War – Siege of Bilbao: The siege is lifted.
- May 9 – The first commercial horse-drawn carriage debuts in the city of Bombay, plying two routes.
- May 20 – Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis receive a U.S. patent for blue jeans, with copper rivets. The price is $13.50 per dozen.
- May 27 – The first group of Dorsland Trekkers, a series of expions by Trekboere in search of political independence and better farming conditions, departs South Africa to settle in Angola, led by Gert Alberts.
- June 14 – Michel Domingue becomes head of state of Haiti.
- June 22 – Andrew Taylor Still starts the movement for osteopathic medicine in the United States at Kirksville, Missouri.
- June 25–June 27 – Third Carlist War – Battle of Monte Muro: Carlist forces entrenched around Abárzuza, on the approach to Estella in Navarre, repel an attack by Isabelino/Liberal (supporters of Queen Isabella II) troops led by General Manuel Gutiérrez de la Concha, Marqués del Duero, who is killed on the third day of fighting.
- July 1
- July 14 – The Chicago Fire of 1874 burns down 47 acres of the city, destroying 812 buildings, killing 20, and resulting in the fire insurance industry demanding municipal reforms from Chicago's city council.
- July 23 – Aires de Ornelas e Vasconcelos is appointed Archbishop of the Portuguese colonial enclave of Goa.
- July 24
- Mathew Evans and Henry Woodward patent the first incandescent lamp, with an electric light bulb.
- Third Carlist War – Sack of Cuenca: After Carlist forces successfully defend Estella, Don Alfonso de Bourbon, brother of the Don Carlos VII, leads 14,000 Catalan Carlists south to attack Cuenca (136 km from Madrid), held by Republicans under Don Hilario Lozano. After two days the outnumbered garrison capitulates, but Don Alfonso permits a terrible slaughter. The city is sacked. Subsequently, another republican force defeats the disorderly Catalans, who flee back to the Ebro.
- July 31 – Patrick Francis Healy, S.J., the first Black man to receive a PhD, is inaugurated as president of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic University in America, and becomes the first Black person to head a predominantly White university.
- August 11 – Third Carlist War – Battle of Oteiza: Two months after Government forces were repulsed from Carlist-held Estella, in Navarre, Republican General Domingo Moriones makes a fresh diversionary attack a few miles to the southeast at Oteiza. In heavy fighting Moriones secures a costly tactical victory over Carlist General Torcuato Mendíri, but the war continues another 18 months, before Estella finally falls.
- September 9 – Captain Lyman's wagon train besieged by Indians in Hemphill County, Texas.
- September 14 – Battle of Liberty Place: In New Orleans, former Confederate Army members of the White League temporarily drive Republican Governor William P. Kellogg from office, replacing him with former Democratic Governor John McEnery. U.S. Army troops restore Kellogg to office five days later.
- September 28 – Texas–Indian wars: U.S. Army Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie leads his force of 600 men on the successful raid of the last sanctuary of the Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne Indian tribes, a village inside the Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, and carries out their removal to the designated Indian reservations in Oklahoma.
- October 9 – The Treaty of Bern establishes the General Postal Union, to coordinate the exchange of international mail.
- October 19 – The modern University of Zagreb is founded in Zagreb.
- November 2 – The first issue of Japanese language newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun is published in Tokyo, Japan.
- November 4 – Democrats gain control of the United States House of Representatives for the first time since 1860.
- November 6 – The University of Adelaide is founded in Adelaide, Australia.
- November 7 – Harper's Weekly publishes a cartoon by Thomas Nast which is the first use of an elephant as a symbol for the Republican Party in the United States.
- November 9 – The New York Zoo hoax, a supposed breakout of animals from the Central Park Zoo, is perpetrated on the public.
- November 10 – John Ernst Worrell Keely demonstrates his "induction resonance motion motor", a perpetual motion machine, which eventually turns out to be a fraud.
- November 11 – The Gamma Phi Beta sorority is founded at Syracuse University. This is the first women's Greek letter organization to be called a sorority.
- November 16 – Premiere of Alfred Cellier's comic opera The Sultan of Mocha at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester
- November 18 – Sailing ship Cospatrick carrying emigrants from England bound for New Zealand, catches fire and sinks in the south Atlantic with the loss of all but three of the 472 persons on board.
- November 25 – The United States Greenback Party is established as a political party, made primarily of farmers financially hurt by the Panic of 1873.
- December 1 – Iceland is granted a constitution, and limited home rule from Denmark.
- December 29 – General Martínez and Brigadier General Luís Daban stage a pronunciamento at Sagunto, and proclaim Isabel's son Alfonso as King of Spain. Subsequently, the Madrid garrison follows suit, and the First Spanish Republic comes to an end.
- The Agra Canal opens in India.
- St. Nicholas' Church, Hamburg, designed by English architect George Gilbert Scott, is completed. Its 147 metres (482 ft)-tall spire makes it (briefly, and by 5m) the world's tallest building (a title held since 1647 by Strasbourg Cathedral).
- The House of Keys, lower house of the Tynwald, the legislature of the Isle of Man, moves from Castletown to Douglas.
- Charles Taze Russell and the Bible Student movement claim this year marks the invisible return of Jesus Christ to earth.
- Gold is discovered in the Black Hills.
- DDT is first synthesized.
- The San Diego Natural History Museum is founded.
- The following Association football clubs are founded in Great Britain:
- English chemist C. R. Alder Wright synthetizes heroin for the first time.
- The Supreme Council 33° Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of Canada is founded.
- The medieval Frankish Tower on the Acropolis of Athens is demolished.
- Schindler, as well known for elevator, escalator, moving walkway brand in worldwide, founded in Switzerland.
- January 1 – Gustav Albin Weißkopf, German-born aviation pioneer (d. 1927)
- January 4 – Josef Suk, Czech composer, violinist (d. 1935)
- January 5 – Joseph Erlanger, American physiologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1965)
- January 10 – Ștefan Burileanu, Romanian general, engineer, inventor, and academic (d. 1951)
- January 12 – Marta Anna Wiecka, Polish Roman Catholic religious professed and blessed (d. 1904)
- January 13 – Alexandros Hatzikyriakos, Greek admiral, politician (d. 1958)
- January 16 – Robert W. Service, American poet (d. 1958)
- January 20 – Steve Bloomer, English footballer, cricketer and baseball player (d. 1938)
- January 21 – Frederick Madison Smith, American religious leader, author (d. 1946)
- January 25 – William Somerset Maugham, English author (d. 1965)
- January 28
- January 29 – John D. Rockefeller Jr., American entrepreneur (d. 1960)
- February 1 – Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Austrian writer (d. 1929)
- February 2 – William T. Innes, American writer, ichthyologist, publisher (d. 1969)
- February 3 – Gertrude Stein, American writer, patron of the arts (d. 1946)
- February 6 – Henry C. Mustin, American naval aviation pioneer (d. 1923)
- February 7 – Nikifor Begichev, Soviet seaman and explorer (d. 1927)
- February 9 – Amy Lowell, American poet (d. 1925)
- February 11
- February 15 – Sir Ernest Shackleton, Irish explorer (d. 1922)
- February 17 – Thomas J. Watson, American computer pioneer (d. 1956)
- February 19
- February 20 – Mary Garden, American opera soprano of Scots descent (some sources state her birth year as 1877) (d. 1967)
- February 23 – Konstantin Päts, Estonian president (d. 1956)
- February 24 – Honus Wagner, American baseball player (d. 1955)
- February 26 – Nikolai Korotkov, Russian surgeon (d. 1920)
- April 8 – Stanisław Taczak, Polish general, commander-in-chief of the Greater Poland Uprising (d. 1960)
- April 15 – Johannes Stark, German physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1957)
- April 19 – Ernst Rüdin, Swiss psychiatrist, geneticist (d. 1952)
- April 25 – Guglielmo Marconi, Italian inventor, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics (d. 1937)
- April 28 – Sidney Toler, American actor, playwright and theatre director (d. 1947)
- May 3 – François Coty, French perfume manufacturer (d. 1934)
- May 7 – Ilmari Kianto, Finnish poet (d. 1970)
- May 9 – Howard Carter, British archaeologist (d. 1939)
- May 14 – Polaire, French actress, singer (d. 1939)
- May 17 – Mikhail Diterikhs, Russian general (d. 1937)
- May 18 – Anna Boschek, Austrian politician (d. 1957)
- May 19 – Gilbert Jessop, English cricketer (d. 1955)
- May 22 – Daniel François Malan, 4th Prime Minister of South Africa (d. 1959)
- May 26 – Henri Farman, pioneer French pilot, aircraft designer (d. 1958)
- May 27 – Dustin Farnum, American actor (d. 1929)
- May 29 – G. K. Chesterton, English author (d. 1936)
- July 3 – Richard B. Bennett, 11th Prime Minister of Canada (d. 1947)
- July 4 – Moloko Temo, South African supercentenarian (d. 2009)
- July 5 – Eugen Fischer, German professor of medicine, anthropology, and eugenics (d. 1967)
- July 6 – Isaías de Noronha, 13th President of Brazil (d. 1963)
- July 14 – Abbas II, last khedive of Egypt (d. 1944)
- July 25 – Alfred Walton Hinds, 17th Naval Governor of Guam (d. 1957)
- July 26
- July 27 – Frank Shannon, American actor (d. 1959)
- July 29 – J. S. Woodsworth, Canadian politician (d. 1942)
August 27 – Carl Bosch, German chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1940)
- October 3 – Charles B. Middleton, American actor (d. 1949)
- October 8 – István Bethlen, 28th Prime Minister of Hungary (d. 1946)
- October 10 – Jadwiga Dziubińska, Polish politician (d. 1937)
- October 8 – Nance O'Neil, stage & film actress, friend of Lizzie Borden (d. 1965)
- October 9 – Nicholas Roerich, Russian painter (d. 1947)
- October 13 – József Klekl, Slovene politician in Hungary (d. 1948)
- October 15 – Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (d. 1899)
- October 17 – Lumsden Hare, Irish-born actor, theatre director and producer (d. 1964)
- October 18 – Christine Murrell, English medical doctor, first female member of the British Medical Association's Central Council (d. 1933)
- October 20 – Charles Ives, American composer (d. 1954)
- October 26 – Martin Lowry, English chemist (d. 1936)
- December 7 – James L. Kraft, Canadian-American entrepreneur, inventor (d. 1953)
- December 11 – Paul Wegener, German actor, film director, and screenwriter; one of the pioneers of German Expressionism (d. 1948)
- December 13 – Josef Lhévinne, Russian pianist (d. 1944)
- December 17 – William Lyon Mackenzie King, 10th Prime Minister of Canada (d. 1950)
- December 22 – Franz Schmidt, Austrian composer (d. 1939)
- December 26 – Khan Bahadur Ahsanullah, Indian educationist, philosopher, philanthropist, social reformer, Sufi thinker, scientist and spiritual person (d. 1965)
- December 29
- January 8 – Abbé Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, French writer, historian (b. 1814)
- January 14 – Johann Philipp Reis, German scientist, inventor (b. 1834)
- January 17 – Chang and Eng Bunker, Siamese twins, sideshow performers (b. 1811)
- January 19 – August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, German poet (b. 1798)
- January 28 – Ludwig von Gablenz, Austrian general (b. 1814)
- February 3 – William Charles Lunalilo, last monarch of the House of Kamehameha (b. 1835)
- February 8 – David Friedrich Strauss, German theologian (b. 1808)
- February 24 – John Bachman, American Lutheran minister, social activist and naturalist (b. 1790)
- February 27 – Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Cuban revolutionary hero (b. 1819)
- March 8 – Millard Fillmore, 74, 13th President of the United States (b. 1800)
- March 10 – Moritz von Jacobi, German engineer, physicist (b. 1801)
- March 11 – Charles Sumner, American senator, civil rights activist (b. 1811)
- March 20 – Hans Christian Lumbye, Danish composer (b. 1810)
- April 13 – Etō Shimpei, Japanese statesman (executed) (b. 1834)
- April 20 – Alexander H. Bailey, American politician (b. 1807)
- June 17 – Sir Stephen Glynne, British antiquary and politician (b. 1817)
- June 20 – John Ruggles, American politician (b. 1789)
- June 21 – Anders Jonas Ångström, Swedish physicist (b. 1814)
- July 8 – Agnes Strickland, English popular historian (b. 1796)
- July 12 – Fritz Reuter, German novelist (b. 1810)
- July 24 – Gijsbert Haan, Dutch-American religious leader (b. 1801)
- August 14 – Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, African-American minister, politician (b. 1821)
- August 26 – Julie-Victoire Daubié, French journalist (b. 1824)
- August 27 – Ștefan Golescu, 8th Prime Minister of Romania (b. 1809)
- September 12 – François Guizot, Prime Minister of France (b. 1787)
- October 5 – Charles-Mathias Simons, Prime Minister of Luxembourg (b. 1802)
- October 6 – Samuel M. Kier, American oil magnate (b. 1813)
- October 23 – Abraham Geiger, German rabbi, a founder of European Reform Judaism (b. 1810)
- October 28 – William Henry Rinehart, American sculptor (b. 1825)
- November 17 – Francisco de Lersundi y Hormaechea, Spanish noble and politician, Prime Minister of Spain (b. 1817)
- November 18 – Sir Henry Prescott, British admiral and colonial administrator (b. 1783)
- November 29 – Ioan Manu, Russian politician (b. 1803)
- December 7 – Constantin von Tischendorf, German Biblical scholar (b. 1815)
- December 22 – Johann Peter Pixis, German pianist, composer (b. 1788)