- January 13 - The accordion is patented by Anthony Faas.
- February 11 - Major streets lit by coal gas for first time.
- February 14 - Texas is linked by telegraph with the rest of the United States, when a connection between New Orleans and Marshall, Texas is completed.
- February 17 - The British recognize the independence of the Orange Free State.
- February 27 – Britain sends Russia an ultimatum to withdraw from two Ottoman provinces it had conquered, Moldavia and Wallachia
- February 28 - The United States Republican Party is organized in Ripon, Wisconsin.
- March 1 - German psychologist Friedrich Eduard Beneke disappears, two years later his remains are found in the canal near Charlottenburg
- March 20 - The Boston Public Library opens to the public.
- March 27 – United Kingdom declares war on Russia – Crimean War begins
- March 28 – France declares war on Russia
- March 31 - Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy, signs the Treaty/Convention of Kanagawa with the Japanese government, to be precise, Tokugawa Shogunate, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade. (See History of Japan)
- May 30 - The Kansas-Nebraska Act becomes law establishing the US territories of Nebraska and Kansas.
- June - The Grand Excursion takes prominent Eastern U.S. inhabitants from Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois by railroad, then up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, Minnesota by steamboat.
- June 10 - The first class of the United States Naval Academy graduate at Annapolis, Maryland
- June 21 - In the battle at Bomarsund in Åland, Royal Navy mate Charles D. Lucas throws a live Russian artillery shell overboard by hand before it explodes - the incident is the first that will be retroactively awarded the Victoria Cross in 1857
- July 6 - In Jackson, Michigan, the first convention of the U.S. Republican Party is held.
- July 13 - In the battle of Guaymas, Mexico, General Jose Maria Yanez stops the French invasion led by Count Gaston de Raousset Boulbon.
- July 13 - Assassination of Khedive Abbas I of Egypt
- August 16 - Russian troops in the island of Bomarsund in Åland surrender to French-British troops
- September 20 - Crimean War: At the Alma, the Franco-English alliance wins the first battle of the war.
- October 01 - The watch company founded in 1850 in Roxbury by Aaron Lufkin Dennison relocates to Waltham, Mass. to become the Waltham Watch Company pioneer in the American System of Watch Manufacturing.
- October 17 - Newspaper The Age is founded in Melbourne, Australia.
- October 21 - Florence Nightingale leaves for Crimea with 38 other nurses
- October 25 - Crimean War: The Battle of Balaclava occurs, overall a victory for the allies, but it included the disastrous cavalry Charge of the Light Brigade, from which only 200 of 700 men survive.
- November 5 - Crimean War: Russians lose again at the Battle of Inkerman.
- November 17 - In Egypt, the Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, is inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony.
- January 18 - Thomas Watson, telephone pioneer
- February 17 - Friedrich Alfred Krupp, industrialist (d. 1902)
- March 14 - Paul Ehrlich, physician, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1908 (d. 1915)
- March 14 - Thomas R. Marshall, US vice-president (d. 1925)
- March 15 - Emil Adolf von Behring, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1901
- May 11 - Albion Woodbury Small, US sociologist
- July 3 - Leos Janacek, Czech composer
- July 12 - George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera
- July 27 - Takahashi Korekiyo, Japanese prime minister (d. 1936)
- August 2 - Milan I, king of Serbia
- October 16 - Oscar Wilde, Irish writer (d. 1900)
- October 20 - Arthur Rimbaud, French poet
- November 6 - John Philip Sousa, famous march composer and conductor
- November 21 - Pope Benedict XV (d. 1922)
- December 23 - Victoriano Huerta, Mexican president
- December 24 - Thomas Stevens, world-circling bicyclist
- Diamond Bessie - prostitute and murder victim (d. 1877)
- Edward Harkness - US philanthropist (d. 1940)
- C. W. Post - cereal manufacturer (d. 1914)
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