1878 1879 1880 – 1881 – 1882 1883 1884
| Decades: |
1850s 1860s 1870s – 1880s – 1890s 1900s 1910s
| Centuries: |
18th century – 19th century – 20th century
1881 was a common year starting on Saturday (see link for calendar).
Table of contents
January – April
- January 16-24 ? Siege of Geok Tepe ? Russian troops under general Skobeleff defeat Turkomans
- January 25 – Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company
- February 5 – Phoenix, Arizona is incorporated.
- February 13 – First issue of the feminist newspaper La Citoyenne is published by Hubertine Auclert.
- February 19 – Kansas became the first U.S. state to prohibit all alcoholic beverages.
- March 4 – Rutherford Birchard Hayes is succeeded as President of the United States by James Abram Garfield.
- March 13 – Alexander II of Russia is killed near his palace when a bomb is thrown at him.
- March 16 – Fenian dynamiters hit Mansion House in London.
May – August
- May 12 – In North Africa, Tunisia becomes a French protectorate.
- May 21 – The American Red Cross is established by Clara Barton.
- May 21 – The United States Tennis Association is established by a small group of tennis club members.
- June 12 – The USS Jeannette is crushed in an Arctic Ocean ice pack.
- July 1 – General Order 70, the culmination of the Cardwell-Childers reforms of the British Army's organisation, came into effect.
- July 2 – James Abram Garfield, President of the United States is shot by lawyer Charles Julius Guiteau. He survives the assassination attempt but he suffers from infection of his wound.
- July 4 – In Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute opens.
- July 20 – Indian Wars: Sioux chief Sitting Bull leads the last of his fugitive people in surrender to United States troops at Fort Buford in Montana.
September – December
- September 19 – James Abram Garfield, President of the United States dies due to an infected wound caused by an assassins bullet and is succeeded by Vice President Chester Alan Arthur.
- October 26 – Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona, USA.
- October 29 – The Judge (US magazine) first published.
- November 19 – A meteorite struck earth near the village of Großliebenthal, a few kilometers southwest of Odessa, the Ukraine.
- December 8 – At least 620 die in fire at Ring Theatre, Vienna
- Founding of the Pali Text Society
- University College Dublin is established in Ireland
- The United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA) is founded, and the first U.S. Tennis Championships are played.
- Founding of the League of the Three Emperors
- London Evening News begins publication
- Some Vatican archives opened to scholars for the first time
- Abilene, Texas is founded.
- Leyton Orient F.C. is Founded
- January 6 – Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (d. 1961)
- January 9 – Lascelles Abercrombie, English poet and critic (d. 1938)
- January 16 – Sir Arthur Percy Morris Fleming, radio pioneer
- February 12 – Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina (d. 1931)
- March 12 – Kemal Atatürk, first President of Turkey (d. 1938)
- March 25 – Béla Bartók, Hungarian composer (d. 1945)
- March 25 – Mary Gladys Webb, English writer (d. 1927)
- May 1 – Mary MacLane, Canadian-born feminist writer (d. 1929)
- June 17 – Tommy Burns, Canadian-born boxer (d. 1955)
- July 30 – Smedley Butler, U.S. general (d. 1940)
- August 6 – Sir Alexander Fleming, Scottish researcher, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (d. 1955)
- August 19 – Georges Enescu, Romanian composer (d. 1955)
- September 8 – Harry Hillman, American athlete (d. 1945)
- October 11 – Hans Kelsen, Austrian legal theorist (d. 1973)
- October 15 – P. G. Wodehouse, English-born writer (d. 1975)
- October 25 – Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter (d. 1973)
- November 14 – Nicholas Schenck, Russian-born film studio executive (d. 1969)
- November 24 – Al Christie, Canadian-born director and producer (d. 1951)
- November 25 – Pope John XXIII (d. 1963)
- William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1944)
- January 3 – Anna McNeill Whistler, Whistler's mother (b. 1804)
- January 21 – Wilhelm Matthias Näff, member of the Swiss Federal Council (b. 1802)
- February 5 – Thomas Carlyle, Scottish writer and historian (b. 1795)
- February 9 – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian novelist (b. 1821)
- March 13 – Czar Alexander II of Russia (b. 1818)
- March 28 – Modest Mussorgsky, Russian composer (b. 1839)
- April 19 – Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1804)
- May 24 – Samuel Palmer, English artist (b. 1805)
- June 6 – Henri Vieuxtemps, Belgian composer (b. 1820)
- July 17 – Jim Bridger, American explorer and trapper (b. 1804)
- July 18 – Billy the Kid, American gunslinger (b. 1859)
- September 7 – Sidney Lanier, American writer (b. 1842)
- September 19 – James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States (assassinated) (b. 1831)
- September 22 – Solomon L. Spink, U.S. Congressman from Illinois (b. 1831)
- October 3 – Orson Pratt, American religious leader (b. 1811)
- October 31 – George Washington De Long, American naval officer and explorer (starvation) (b. 1844)