1863: the year that changed the world

January 9, 2013, 2 Comments

Thomas Cook on ice

Thomas Cook in the ice at Jungfraujoch

What do the London Underground, the Red Cross, and roller skates have in common?They all started life in 1863, along with Thomas Cook’s conducted tours of Switzerland and the Football Association. Oh, and the one-piece flushing toilet, invented by a certain Thomas Crapper. It was a year that changed the world, and 150 years later we are still reaping the benefits. Here are six of the year’s memorable events:

10 January: The Tube opened for business, with the first train running on the Metropolitan line between Paddington and Farringdon. It was an instant hit despite the steam engines belching out smoke into the tunnels and stations.

26 June: Thomas Cook started his First Conducted Tour of Switzerland, a three-week trip from London to Lucerne and back. It was so successful that Cook came back and became a household name across the world. Modern mass tourism had begun.

1-3 July: Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. With 50,000 casualties it was one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War and a crucial victory for the North. President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg address on 19 November at the dedication of the National Cemetery on the battlefield.

26 October: The Football Association met for the first time in London. Protracted arguments over codifying the new game led to some schools and clubs breaking away in December to follow the Rugby rules.

29 October: An international conference adopted Henry Dunant’s proposals to create an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded. Article 8 of the resolution stated that voluntary medical personnel shall wear “a white armlet with a red cross”.

15 November: Christian IX became king of Denmark. His children would inherit or marry into Europe’s royal houses and so affect 20th century history. One son was king of Greece, another king of Denmark. One daughter, Alexandra, married Edward VII of Britain and another, Dagmar, married Tsar Alexander III of Russia.

In addition to the flushing toilet and four-wheel roller skate (courtesy of American inventor James Plimpton), other new-fangled creations were the fire extinguisher, the process for making colour photos, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. West Virginia was also created, becoming the 35th state of the USA.

Notable births included carmakers Henry Royce and Henry Ford, politician David Lloyd George, artist Edvard Munch, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand. As heir to the Austrian throne, it was his assassination in 1914 that would spark the First World War. Storytellers Jakob Grimm and William Makepeace Thackeray both died.

In 1863 the world may have looked much the same to its inhabitants. Victoria had been Queen for 27 years and France was still a monarchy (again). Italy was well on its way to becoming one state but Germany still was fragmented. And in the not-so United States Lincoln had emancipated the slaves but his countrymen were still slaughtering each other.

But it was definitely a year that changed the world.


2 Comments on "1863: the year that changed the world"

  1. Rogue93 Thursday July 3rd, 2014 at 01:08 PM · Reply

    Diccon, thank you! I have learnt more about this beautiful country from reading through this blog over the last few days than I have in my 11 years of living here! I can’t wait to buy your books and learn even more about my adopted home country 😀

    Just a piece of interesting info; apparently Thomas Crapper was not the inventor of the one-piece flushing toilet (see and for a more valid source:

    Keep up the great work on helping people learn more about the beautiful landlocked island!

  2. AMLAN LAHIRI Sunday April 5th, 2020 at 07:54 AM · Reply

    In notable birth name of Swami Vivekananda must be added. He was born in Calcutta on 12 Jan 1963.

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