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1878 (Script error: No such module "Roman".) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar, the Script error: No such module "Ordinal". year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the Script error: No such module "Ordinal". year of the , the Script error: No such module "Ordinal". year of the , and the Script error: No such module "Ordinal". year of the decade. As of the start of Template:Year article header/Julian day, which remained in localized use until 1923.
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- January 5 – Battle of Shipka Pass IV: Russian and Bulgarian forces defeat the Ottoman Empire.
- January 9 – Umberto I becomes King of Italy.
- January 17 – Battle of Philippopolis: Russian troops defeat the Turks.
- January 23 – Benjamin Disraeli orders the British fleet to the Dardanelles.
- January 24 – The revolutionary Vera Zasulich shoots at Fyodor Trepov, the Governor of Saint Petersburg.
- January 28 – The Yale News becomes the first daily college newspaper in the United States.
- January 31 – Turkey agrees to an armistice at Adrianople.
- February 2 – Greece declares war on TurkeyScript error: No such module "Unsubst"..
- February 7 – Pope Pius IX dies after a 31½ year reign (the longest definitely confirmed).
- February 8 – The British fleet enters Turkish waters and anchors off Istanbul; Russia threatens to occupy Istanbul but does not carry out the threat.
- February 18 – The Lincoln County War begins in Lincoln County, New Mexico.
- February 19 – The phonograph is patented by Thomas Edison.
- February 20 – Pope Leo XIII succeeds Pope Pius IX as the 256th pope.
- February 23 - Sadguru Shri Gajanan Maharaj appeared at Shegaon, Dist: Buldhana, Maharashtra.
- February 24 – Anti-Russian demonstrations occur in Hyde Park, London.
- February 28 – Mississippi State University is created by the Mississippi Legislature (under the name The Agricultural and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi).
- March 3 – The Treaty of San Stefano concludes the Russo-Turkish War; Bulgaria and Romania regain their independence from the Ottoman Empire
- March 24 – The British Royal Navy frigate Template:HMS capsizes in the English Channel, killing all but two of the 319 crew.
- March 25 – Russia rejects a British proposal to lay the San Stefano treaty before a European congress.
- March 27 – In anticipation of war with Russia, Disraeli mobilizes the reserves and calls up Indian troops to Malta.
- April 20 – The Stawell Gift is run for the first time in Australia.
- May 2 – The Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis explodes, killing 18.
- May 15 – The Tokyo Stock Exchange is established.
- May 25 – Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore debuts in London at the Opera Comique with a first run of 571 performances.
- June 1 – General Postal Union renamed Universal Postal Union (UPU).
- June 4 – Cyprus Convention: The Ottoman Empire cedes Cyprus to the United Kingdom but retains the nominal title.
- June 13–July 13 – The Congress of Berlin convenes to discuss the Ottoman Empire.
- June 15 – Eadweard Muybridge produces the sequence of stop-motion still photographs Sallie Gardner at a Gallop in California, a predecessor of silent film demonstrating that all four feet of a galloping horse are off the ground at the same time.
- June 20 – U.S. Coastal Survey renamed U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
- June 22 – Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld leaves Karlskrona on a voyage that will make him the first to navigate the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the Siberian coast.
- July 4 – A match race between champion thoroughbred racehorses Ten Broeck and Mollie McCarty draws more than 30,000 fans to Louisville and inspires the folk song, Molly and Tenbrooks.
- July 13 – The Treaty of Berlin makes Serbia, Montenegro and Romania completely independent, confirms the autonomy of Bulgaria, makes Cyprus a British possession and allows Austria-Hungary to garrison the Bosnia Vilayet.
- July 26 – In California, the poet and American West outlaw calling himself "Black Bart" makes his last clean getaway when he steals a safe box from a Wells Fargo stagecoach. The empty box is found later with a taunting poem inside.
- August 7 – The Salvation Army "foundation deed" is signed.
- August 9 – The Wallingford Tornado of 1878, the deadliest tornado in Connecticut history, destroys the town of Wallingford, killing 34 people and injuring 70 or more.
- August 26 – Uyedineniya Island is discovered in the Kara Sea by Norwegian explorer Captain Edvard Holm Johannesen.
- September 3 – Over 640 die when the crowded pleasure boat Template:SS collides with the Bywell Castle in the River Thames.
- September 12 – Cleopatra's Needle is erected in London, having arrived in England on January 21.
- September 20 – The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, is founded.
- September 30 – The ship Priscilla arrives in Hawaii from Funchal, Madeira, marking the beginning of the Portuguese immigration to the Hawaiian Islands (1878–1913).
- October 1 – Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) opens as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in the United States.
- October 14 – The world's first recorded floodlit football fixture is played at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, England.
- October 17 – John A. Macdonald returns to office as Prime Minister of Canada.
- October 31 – A fire destroys the Eldkvarn gristmill mill in Stockholm, Sweden.
- November 17 – The first assassination attempt is made against Umberto I of Italy by anarchist Giovanni Passannante, armed with a dagger. The King survived with a slight wound in one arm. Prime minister Benedetto Cairoli blocks the aggressor, receiving a leg injury.
- November 21 – The Second Anglo-Afghan War commences when the British attack Ali Masjid in the Khyber Pass.
- November 26 – American-born artist James McNeill Whistler's libel case against English critic John Ruskin over a review of the painting Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket (in which Whistler is described as "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face") is decided in the High Court of Justice in London. Whistler wins a farthing in nominal damages and only half of the costs, leading to his bankruptcy, and alienates patrons.
- December 7 — The United States territory of New Mexico is linked to the rest of the nation by railroad for the first time as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway inaugurates a newly completed line through the Raton Pass.
- December 25 — Stella Maris Church in Sliema, Malta becomes a parish - seceding from the Parish of St. Helen's in Birkirkara.
- U.S. arbitration rejects Argentine claims to Paraguay's part of the Chaco region.
- Otto von Bismarck abandons his Kulturkampf and forces through legislation outlawing the Social Democrats.
- 10-year Nauruan Tribal War breaks out.
- Yellow fever in the Mississippi Valley kills over 13,000.
- Foundation of:
- Nainital Cantonment.
- The Buchan School, Isle of Man.
- The Johns Hopkins University Press, America's oldest university press.
- Geiger (corporation), formed as Geiger Brothers.
- The following English Association football clubs:
- Everton Football Club, formed as St Domingo.
- Grimsby Town F.C., formed as Grimsby Pelham.
- Ipswich Town Football Club, formed as amateur club Ipswich A.F.C. They will not turn professional until 1936.
- Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club, the team that will become Manchester United.
- West Bromwich Albion F.C..
- Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is published complete in book form in Moscow.
- Lester Allan Pelton produces the first operational Pelton wheel.
- Death of last confirmed Cape lion.
- Remington, in the United States, introduce their No. 2 typewriter, the first with a shift key enabling production of lower as well as upper case characters.
- January 4
- January 6 – Carl Sandburg, American poet and historian (d. 1967)
- January 9 – John B. Watson, American psychologist (d. 1958)
- January 12 – Ferenc Molnár, Hungarian-born author (d. 1952)
- January 20 – Finlay Currie, Scottish actor (d. 1968)
- January 22 – Constance Collier, English stage & screen actress (d. 1955)
- January 23 – Rutland Boughton, English composer (d. 1960)
- January 25 – Ernst Alexanderson, Swedish-born television pioneer (d. 1975)
- February 1 – Milan Hodža, Slovak politician, champion of regional integration in Europe (d. 1944)
- February 2 – Alfréd Hajós, Hungarian swimmer and architect (d. 1955)
- February 5 – André Citroën, French automobile manufacturer (d. 1935)
- February 8 – Martin Buber, Austrian philosopher (d. 1965)
- February 14 – Hirota Koki, Prime Minister of Japan (d. 1948)
- February 16
- February 21 – The Mother (Mirra Alfassa), multi-origined spiritual leader and founder of Auroville in India (d. 1973)
- February 26 – Emmy Destinn, Czech soprano (d. 1930)
- February 28 – Pierre Fatou, French mathematician (d. 1929)
- March 4
- March 5 – P. D. Ouspensky, Russian mathematician (d. 1947)
- March 16 – Clemens August Graf von Galen, German Catholic cardinal (d. 1946)
- March 22 – Michel Théato, Luxembourg athlete (d. 1919)
- March 26 – Henry Gullett, Australian politician (d. 1940)
- March 31 – Jack Johnson, American boxer (d. 1946)
- April 1 – C. Ganesha Iyer, Ceylon Tamil Philologist (d. 1958)
- April 4 – Stylianos Lykoudis, Greek admiral (d. 1958)
- April 6 – Erich Mühsam, German author (d. 1934)
- April 24 – Jean Crotti, Swiss artist (d. 1958)
- April 28
- May 3 – Jean Chiappe, French civil servant (d. 1940)
- May 10 – Gustav Stresemann, Chancellor of Germany, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (d. 1929)
- May 18 – Dr. Prescott, American doctor, explorer, and philanthropist (d. 1938)
- May 21 – Glenn H. Curtiss, American aviation pioneer (d. 1930)
- May 25 – Bill Robinson, African American tap dancer (d. 1949)
- May 27 – Anna Cervin, Swedish artist (d. 1972)
- May 28 – Paul Pelliot, French sinologist (d. 1945)
- June 1 – John Masefield, English poet and novelist (d. 1967)
- June 3 – Barney Oldfield, American automobile racer and pioneer (d. 1946)
- June 5 – Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary (d. 1923)
- June 12 – James Oliver Curwood, American writer and conservationist (d. 1927)
- June 20 – Will Mastin, American vaudevillian (d. 1975)
- June 27 – He Xiangning, Chinese revolutionary, feminist, politician, painter and poet (d. 1972)
- July 3 – George M. Cohan, American singer, dancer, composer, actor, and writer (d. 1942)
- July 10 – Otto Freundlich, German painter and sculptor (d. 1943)
- July 12
- July 24 – Edward Plunkett, Baron Dunsany, Irish author (d. 1957)
- August 2 – Princess Ingeborg of Denmark, Princess of Sweden (d. 1958)
- August 4 – Ernest Lundeen, American lawyer and politician (d. 1940)
- August 9 – Eileen Gray, Irish architect and furniture designer (d. 1976)
- August 10 – Alfred Döblin, German writer (d. 1957)
- August 13 – Harold Clarke Goddard, American professor and Shakespearean scholar (d. 1950)
- August 19 – Manuel Luis Quezon, 2nd President of the Philippines (d.1944)
- August 28 – George Whipple, American scientist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 1976)
- August 31 – Frank Jarvis, American athlete (d. 1933)
- September 2 – Werner von Blomberg, German field marshal (d. 1946)
- September 5 – Robert von Lieben, Austrian physicist (d. 1913)
- September 9 – Sergio Osmena, 4th President of the Philippines (d. 1961)
- September 13 – Matilde Moisant, American pilot (d. 1964)
- September 14 – Ion Farris, American politician, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (d. 1934)
- September 18 – James O. Richardson, American admiral (d. 1974)
- September 20 – Upton Sinclair, American writer (d. 1968)
- September 22 – Yoshida Shigeru, Prime Minister of Japan (d. 1967)
- September 24 – C. F. Ramuz, Swiss writer (d. 1947)
- October 1 – Othmar Spann, Austrian philosopher and economist (d. 1950)
- October 9 – Robert Warwick, American stage & screen actor (d. 1964)
- October 16 – Maxie Long, American athlete (d. 1959)
- October 29 – Alexander von Falkenhausen, German general (d. 1966)
- November 1 – Carlos Saavedra Lamas, Argentine politician, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (d. 1959)
- November 14
- November 17 – Grace Abbott, American social worker and activist (d. 1939)
- November 23
- December 1 – Nathaniel Baldwin, American inventor and a supporter of the early Mormon fundamentalist movement (d. 1961)
- December 10 – C. Rajagopalachari, Indian politician and freedom-fighter. (d. 1972)
- December 18 – Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union (d. 1953)
- December 25
- December 28 – Nikolai Bryukhanov, Soviet statesman and political figure who served as People's Commissar of Finances (d. 1938)
- December 31
- January 8 – Nikolay Nekrasov, Russian poet (b. 1821)
- January 9 – King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (b. 1820)
- January 18 – Antoine César Becquerel, French scientist (b. 1788)
- February 7 – Pope Pius IX (b. 1792)
- February 11 – Gideon Welles, American politician (b. 1802)
- February 19 – Charles-François Daubigny, French painter (b. 1817)
- February 26 – Angelo Secchi, Italian astronomer (b. 1818)
- March 8 – Archduke Franz Karl of Austria (b. 1802)
- March 20 – Julius von Mayer, German physician and physicist and one of the founders of thermodynamics (b. 1814)
- March 27 – George Gilbert Scott, British architect (b. 1811)
- April 8 – Henrietta Treffz, soprano, first wife of Johann Strauss II (b. 1818)
- April 11 – Robert Wentworth Little, British occultist (b. 1840)
- April 12 – William M. Tweed, American politician (b. 1823)
- April 25 – Anna Sewell, English author (b. 1820)
- May 12 – Anselme Payen, French chemist (b. 1795)
- May 13 – Joseph Henry, American scientist (b. 1797)
- May 14 – Ōkubo Toshimichi, Japanese samurai and later leader of the Meiji restoration (b. 1830)
- May 28 – John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1792)
- June 6
- June 12
- June 27 – Sidney Breese, U.S. senator from Illinois known as the "father of the Illinois Central Railroad" (b. 1800)
- July 1 – Catherine Winkworth, English translator of hymns (b. 1827)
- July 17 – Aleardo Aleardi, Italian poet (b. 1812)
- July 23 – Carl Freiherr von Rokitansky, Bohemian pathologist, philosopher and politician (b. 1804)
- August 13 – Henry James Montague, English-born actor (b. 1844)
- August 16 – Richard Upjohn, English-American architect (b. 1802)
- August 26 – Mariam Baouardy, Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic nun, canonized (b. 1846)
- August 30 – James Geiss, English businessman (b. 1820)
- September 7 – Mehmed Ali Pasha, Prussian-born Ottoman military leader (b. 1827)
- October 20 – Hiram Paulding, American admiral (b. 1797)
- November 20 – William Thomas (Islwyn), Welsh poet (b. 1832)
- November 28 – Orson Hyde, American religious leader (b. 1805)
- December 10 – Henry Wells, American businessman (b. 1805)
- December 14 – Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine (b. 1843)
- December 25 – Henry K. Hoff, American admiral (b. 1809)
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- Metropolitan Elevated Railroad From 40 Feet Away Charles Batchelor