1850 1851 1852 1853 1854
1830s 1840s - 1850s - 1860s 1870s
The 1850s decade ran from January 1, 1850, to December 31, 1859.
- Distinction between coats and jackets begins to blur
- Production of steel revolutionized by invention of the Bessemer process
- Benjamin Silliman fractionates petroleum by distillation for the first time
- First transpacific telegraph cable laid
- First safety elevator installed by Elisha Otis
- Railroads begin to supplant canals in the United States as a primary means of transporting goods.
- First commercially successful sewing machine made by Isaac Singer
- Charles Darwin publishes The Origin of Species, putting forward the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1859
- Epidemiology begins when John Snow traces the source of an outbreak of cholera in London to a contaminated water pump.
- Discovery of Neanderthal fossils in Neanderthal, Germany
- Solar flares discovered by Richard Christopher Carrington
War, peace and politics
- Crimean war (1854–56) fought between Imperial Russia and an alliance consisting of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Second French Empire, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire. The majority of the conflict takes place around Crimea, on the northern coasts of the Black Sea.
- The Indian Mutiny: revolt against British colonial rule in India
- Bleeding Kansas (1854–59): battles erupt in Kansas Territory between proslavery and "Free-State" settlers, directly precipitating the American Civil War.
- Dissolution of the Mughal Empire by the British.
- Eight are killed and 142 wounded in Paris in a failed assassination attempt on Napoleon III, Emperor of the French (1858).
- Moldavia and Wallachia are unified and form Romania.
- Gideon T. Stewart attempts to create a Prohibition Party.
- On 1856-10-08, the Second Opium War between several western powers and China begins with the Arrow Incident on the Pearl River.
- Taiping Rebellion (1851–64) in Qing China.
- Second War of Italian Independence (1859), also known as Franco-Austrian War, or Austro-Sardinian War.
- Padshah Bahadur Shah Zafar (Mughal Empire)
- Emperor Franz Josef (Austria-Hungary)
- Emperor Napoleon III (Second French Empire)
- King Frederick William IV (Germany)
- Pope Pius IX
- Queen Maria II (Portugal)
- King Peter V (Portugal)
- Emperor Nicholas I (Russia)
- Emperor Alexander II (Russia)
- Queen Isabella II (Spain)
- Queen Victoria, (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)
- Prime Minister Lord John Russell (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)
- Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)
- Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)
- President Millard Fillmore (United States)
- President Franklin Pierce (United States)
- President James Buchanan (United States)
- Nasser-al-Din Shah of Qajar dynasty (Persia)