It was the time of the world’s first Industrial Revolution, political reform and social change, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, a railway boom and the first telephone and telegraph. But the Victorian Era—the 63-year period from 1837-1901 that marked the reign of England’s Queen Victoria—also saw a demise of rural life as cities rapidly grew and expanded, long and regimented factory hours, the start of the Crimean War and Jack the Ripper.
Victoria, who ascended the throne at age 18 following the death of her uncle, William IV, is Britain’s second-longest reigning monarch (surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II). At just 4-feet-11-inches tall, her rule during one of Britain’s greatest eras saw the country serving as the world’s biggest empire, with one-fourth of the global population owing allegiance to the queen.
Here is a timeline of innovations and events that helped define the Victorian Era.
June 20, 1837: Queen Victoria takes the crown at the age of 18. The granddaughter of King George III, her father died when she was just 8 months old, and her three uncles also died, putting her first in line as heir to the throne.
July 25, 1837: The first electric telegraph is sent between English inventor William Fothergill Cooke and scientist Charles Wheatstone, who went on to found The Electric Telegraph Company.
Aug. 1, 1834: The British empire abolishes slavery, and more than 800,000 slaves in the British Caribbean are freed. The government provides damages to slave owners, but nothing to slaves.
May 8, 1838: The People’s Charter, the result of a political and social reform protest movement, calls for a more democratic system including six points: the right to vote for men age 21 and older; no property qualification to run for Parliament; annual elections; equal representation; payment for members of Parliament; and vote by secret ballot.
Sept. 17, 1838: The first modern railroad line, the London-Birmingham Railway, opens, starting the steam-powered railway boom and revolutionizing travel.
May 1, 1840: The Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp sold for one penny, is released in Britain, featuring a profile portrait of Queen Victoria. More than 70 millions letters are sent within the next year, a number tripled in two years. It’s soon copied in other countries, and the stamp is used for 40 years.
Feb. 10, 1840: Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, her first cousin. As queen, she was the one to propose. During their 17 years of marriage (until Albert died of typhoid in 1861) the couple had nine children.
Dec. 19, 1843: Charles Dickens, one of the era’s greatest writers, publishes A Christmas Carol. Other works from the author during this period: Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby, among others.
September 1845: Ireland’s potato crop begins to rot, causing the four-year Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, that lead to 1 million deaths and caused 1 million people to emigrate from the country, landing in various cities throughout North America and Great Britain.
May 1, 1851: The brainchild of Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition opens in London’s Crystal Palace, with 10,000-plus exhibitors displaying the world’s technological wonders—from false teeth to farm machinery to telescopes. Six million visitors attend what would become the first World’s Fair, before it closes in October.
Dec. 24, 1853: The Vaccination Act makes it mandatory for children born after Aug. 1, 1853, to be vaccinated against smallpox. Parents failing to comply are fined or imprisoned.
March 28, 1854: France and Britain declare war on Russia, launching the Crimean War, which largely surrounds the protection of the rights of minority Christians in the Ottoman Empire. History’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, helps reduce the death count by two-thirds by improving unsanitary conditions.
Nov. 24, 1859: The controversial On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, is published, presenting his theory of natural selection and questioning the theory of creation.
Dec. 9, 1868: Liberal William Gladstone defeats Conservative Benjamin Disraeli to become prime minister, a position he held for four terms. His legacy includes reform for Ireland, establishing an elementary education program and instituting secret ballot voting.
March 7, 1876: Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell is awarded a patent on his invention of the telephone, and, three days later, famously makes the first phone call to Thomas Watson, his assistant.
May 1, 1876: India, which has been under British rule since 1858, declares Queen Victoria empress, under direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.
Aug.-Nov. 1888: An unknown killer, named Jack the Ripper, murders and mutilates five prostitutes in London.
Jan. 22, 1901: Queen Victoria dies on the Isle of Wight at age 81, ending the Victorian Era. She is succeeded by Edward VII, her eldest son, who reigned until his death in 1910.