1859 is a common year starting on Saturday.
1856 1857 1858 - 1859 - 1860 1861 1862
1820s 1830s 1840s - 1850s - 1860s 1870s 1880s
18th century - 19th century - 20th century
- January 2 - Erastus Beadle publishes The Dime Book of Practical Etiquette.
- January 24 - Wallachia and Moldavia are united under Alexander John Cuza under the name Romania (see December 1 1918 for the final unification, Transylvania and other regions were still missing at this time).
- February 14 - Oregon is admitted as the 33rd U.S. state.
- February 27 - US congressman Dan Sickles shoots Philip Barton Key for having an affair with his wife
- March 9 - The army of Piedmont-Sardinia mobilizes against Austria, beginning the crisis which will lead to the Austro-Sardinian War.
- March 26 - French amateur astronomer claims to have noticed a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury - later named Vulcan
- April 9 - The Austrian army in Italy mobilizes against Piedmont.
- April 23 - The Austrians send an ultimatum to Piedmont, demanding demobilization. This puts Austria in the position of an aggressor, and leads to French intervention. Piedmont rejects the ultimatum, and war breaks out.
- April 25 - Ground is broken for the Suez Canal
- April 26 - Austro-Sardinian War - Giuseppe Garibaldi's Hunters of the Alps confront Austrian forces led by Field Marshal-Lieutenant Carl Baron Urban at Varese.
- April 29 - Austrian troops begin to cross the Ticino River to Piedmont
- May 21 - The bell of Big Ben activated
- May 22 - Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies is succeeded by his 23-year-old son Francis II of the Two Sicilies
- May 30 - Sardinians defeat the Austrian army at Battle of Palestro
- June 4 - Battle of Magenta in Austro-Sardinian War - French and Sardinians defeat Austrians
- June 6 - The British Crown colony of Queensland in Australia is created by devolving part of the territory of New South Wales
- June 8 - French and Piedmontese forces enter Milan.
- June 8 - Battle of Marignaro (1859) French victory over Austrians
- June 24 - Battle of Solferino: Kingdom of Sardinia and Napoleon III of France armies defeat Franz Josef I of Austria in northern Italy. Battle also reputedly inspires Henri Dunant to found the Red Cross
- July 6 - Australia: Queensland is established as a separate colony from New South Wales.
- July 8 - Charles XV succeeds his father Oscar I King of Sweden and Norway (as Charles IV).
- July 8 - Armistice between Austria and others
- July 11 - Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, faced with an expensive war against France and the Kingdom of Sardinia and potential revolution in Hungary, meets Napoleon III, who also worries at the costs of extending the war and fears the effects of Italian nationalism, at Villafranca. By the preliminary treaty signed there, hostilities cease. Lombardy is ceded to the French (who immediately cede it to Sardinia), while the Austrians keep Venetia and the French promise to restore the Central Italian rulers expelled in the course of the war. This brings the Austro-Sardinian War effectively to a close.
- August 27 - Edwin Drake drills the first oil well in the United States, near Titusville, Pennsylvania
- October 6 - Thomas Austin takes 24 rabbits and 5 hares to Australia in order to release them there as a game. They will multiply exponentially.
- October 12 - Self-described "Emperor of the United States" Joshua A. Norton 'orders' the U.S. Congress to dissolve.
- October 16 - John Brown raids Harper's Ferry in Virginia, the signal for a general slave rebellion.
- October 18 - Federal Troops under Colonel Robert E. Lee overpower Brown at the Federal arsenal.
- November 1 - The current Cape Lookout, North Carolina, lighthouse was lighted for the first time. Its first-order Fresnel lens can be seen for nineteen miles.
- November 10 - The Treaty of Zurich, reaffirming the terms of Villafranca, brings the Austro-Sardinian War to an official close.
- November 19 - Opera "Genevieve de Brabant", composed by Jacques Offenbach, debuts at the Theatre de Bouffes Parisians in Paris.
- November 24 - British naturalist Charles Darwin publishes The Origin of Species, a book which argues that organisms gradually evolve through natural selection. (It immediately sold out its initial print run.)
- December 2 - Militant abolitionist leader John Brown is hanged for his October 16th raid on Harper's Ferry.
- The French Navy's La Gloire ("Glory"), the first ocean-going ironclad warship in history, was laid down and commisioned.
- Island of Timor is divided between Portugal and the Netherlands
- Trinity College in Cambridge UK bans Origin of Species
- Paraguay mediates a truce between Buenos Aires government and the Argentinean Confederation
- Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope
- Codex Sinaiticus found by Constantin von Tischendorf on his third visit to the monastery of Santa Katerina, on Mount Sinai
- Bernhard Riemann formulates the Riemann hypothesis, one of most important open problems of contemporary mathematics
- Solar flares first observed on the Sun by English astronomer Richard Carrington.
- Brisbane declared the capital of newly-made-separate colony Queensland, Australia
- University of Michigan Law School founded
- January 11 - Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, British statesman and Viceroy of India (d. 1925)
- January 13 - Karl Bleibtreu, critic (d. 1928)
- January 27 - Wilhelm II of Germany, last Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia (d. 1941)
- February 1 - Victor Herbert, Irish-born composer (d. 1924)
- February 3 - Hugo Junkers, German industrialist and aircraft designer (d. 1935)
- February 6 - Elias Disney, American farmer and father of Walt Disney (d. 1941)
- February 14 - Henry Valentine Knaggs, English physician and author (d. 1954)
- February 16 - George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., inventor of the Ferris wheel (d. 1896)
- February 19 - Svante Arrhenius, Swedish chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1927)
- February 28 - Florian Cajori, Swiss historian of mathematics (d. 1930)
- March 2 - Sholom Aleichem, Ukrainian Yiddish novelist (d. 1916)
- March 8 - Kenneth Grahame, English author (d. 1932)
- March 26 - Alfred Edward Housman, English poet (d. 1936)
- April 8 - Edmund Husserl, Austrian philosopher (d. 1938)
- May 15 - Pierre Curie, French physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1906)
- May 22 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Scottish writer (d. 1930)
- July 6 - Verner von Heidenstam, Swedish writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1940)
- July 22 - Emma Lazarus, American poet (d. 1887)
- August 4 - Knut Hamsun, Norwegian author, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1952)
- October 9 - Alfred Dreyfus, French military officer (d. 1935)
- October 18 - Henri Bergson, French philosopher, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (d. 1941)
- October 21 - Francesc Macià, President of the Catalan Generalitat (d. 1933)
- November 19 - Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Russian composer (d. 1935)
- December 2 - Georges Seurat, French painter (d. 1891)
- December 15 - L. L. Zamenhof, Russo-Polish initiator of Esperanto (d. 1917)
- December 17 - Paul César Helleu, French artist (d. 1927)
- April 16 - Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian (b. 1805)
- May 6 - Alexander von Humboldt, German naturalist and geographer (b. 1769)
- July 8 - Oscar I, King of Sweden and Norway (b. 1799)
- August 2 - Horace Mann, American educator and abolitionist (b. 1796)
- September 15 - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, British engineer (b. 1806)
- October 4 - Karl Baedeker, German author and publisher (b. 1801)
- October 22 - Louis Spohr, German violinist and composer (b. 1784)
- November 28 - Washington Irving, American author (b. 1783)
- December 2 - John Brown, American abolitionist (hanged) (b. 1800)
- December 8 - Thomas de Quincey, English writer (b. 1785)
- December 16 - Wilhelm Grimm, German writer (b. 1786)
- Abd ar-Rahman, Sultan of Morocco
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