1878 1879 1880 - 1881 - 1882 1883 1884
| Decades: |
1850s 1860s 1870s - 1880s - 1890s 1900s 1910s
Events of 1881
- January 16–January 24 – Siege of Geok Tepe: Russian troops under General Mikhail Skobelev defeat the Turkomans.
- January 24 – William Edward Forster, the chief secretary for Ireland, introduces his Coercion Bill, which temporarily suspended habeas corpus so that those people suspected of committing an offence could be detained without trial; it goes through a long debate before it is accepted February 2.
- January 25 – Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company.
- February 2 – The Parkfield Earthquake occurs.
- February 5 – Phoenix, Arizona is incorporated.
- February 19 – Kansas becomes the first U.S. state to prohibit all alcoholic beverages.
- March 4 – Inauguration of James A. Garfield as President of the United States.
- March 13 – Alexander II of Russia is killed near his palace when a bomb is thrown at him. He is succeeded by his son, Alexander III.
- April 11 – Spelman College is established.
- April 14 – The Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight erupts in El Paso, Texas.
- April 15 – Temuco, Chile is founded.
- April 15 – Anti-Semitic pogroms in Southern Russia start.
- April 21 – The University of Connecticut is founded as the Storrs Agricultural School.
- April 25 – Caulfield Grammar School is founded in Melbourne, Australia.
- April 28 – Billy the Kid escapes from his 2 jailers at the Lincoln County Jail in Mesilla, New Mexico, killing James Bell and Robert Ollinger before stealing a horse and riding out of town.
- May 12 – In North Africa, Tunisia becomes a French protectorate.
- May 13 – The Pacific island of Rotuma cedes to Great Britain, becoming a dependency of the Colony of Fiji.
- 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 organization, comes into effect.
- July 2 – James Garfield, President of the United States, is shot by lawyer Charles Julius Guiteau. He survives the shooting but suffers from infection of his wound, dying on September 19.
- July 4 – In Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute opens.
- July 14 – Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Pat Garrett outside Fort Sumner.
- 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.
- July 23 – The Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina is signed in Buenos Aires.
- August 3 – The Pretoria Convention peace treaty is signed, officially ending the war between the Boers and Britain.
- August 27 – The fifth hurricane of the Atlantic season hits Florida and the Carolinas, killing about 700.
- September 5 – The Thumb Fire in the U.S. state of Michigan destroys over a million acres (4,000 km²) and kills 282 people.
- September 12 – Francis Howell High School (Howell Institute) in St. Charles, Missouri, and Stephen F. Austin High School in Austin, Texas open on the same day, putting them in a tie for the title of the oldest public high school west of the Mississippi River.
- September 19 – U.S. President James A. Garfield dies eleven weeks after being shot. Vice President Chester A. Arthur becomes the 21st President of the United States.
- October 5 to December 31 – International Cotton Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia
- October 26 – The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurs in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona, USA.
- October 29 – Judge (U.S. magazine) is first published.
- November 11 – The Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech is completed and unveiled to the public.
- November 19 – A meteorite strikes earth near the village of Großliebenthal, a few kilometers southwest of Odessa, Ukraine.
- December 8 – At least 620 die in a fire at the Ring Theatre, Vienna.
- December 28 – Virgil Earp is ambushed in Tombstone and loses the use of his left arm.
- March 9 - Ernest Bevin, British politician (d. 1951)
- June 25 - Merwin K. Hart, American nationalist (d. 1962)
- September 26 - Hiram Wesley Evans, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (d. 1966)