1888 is a leap year starting on Sunday (click on link for calendar). In Germany, 1888 is known as the 1888 Year of Three Emperors.
- January 3 - 91cm telescope first used at Lick Observatory
- January 12 ? Blizzards in Dakota and Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Texas - 235 dead, many of which were children on their way home from school
- January 24 - Jacob L. Wortman patents the typewriter ribbon.
- January 27 - In Washington, DC the National Geographic Society is founded.
- March 11 - The "Great Blizzard of '88" begins along the eastern seaboard of the United States, shutting down commerce and killing more than 400.
- March 22 - The Football League is formed
- April 11 - The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is inaugurated.
- May 13 - Brazil abolishes slavery.
- June 19 - In Chicago Republican Convention opens at Auditorium Building. General Benjamin Harrison & Levi Morton will win the nominations.
- August 7 - The body of Martha Tabram was found, a possible murder victim of Jack the Ripper
- August 31 - Mary Ann Nichols is murdered. She is perhaps the first of Jack the Ripper's victims.
- September 4 - George Eastman registers the trademark Kodak, and receives a patent for his camera which uses roll film.
- September 8 - In London, the body of Annie Chapman is found. She is generally considered the second victim of Jack the Ripper.
- September 8 - In England the first 6 Football League matches ever were played.
- September 30 - In London, the bodies of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes are found. They are generally considered Jack the Ripper's third and fourth victim respectively.
- October 9 - The Washington Monument officially opens to the general public.
- November 6 - U.S. presidential election, 1888: Democrat incumbent Grover Cleveland wins the overall popular vote, but is voted out of office because he loses in the Electoral College to Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison.
- November 9 - In London the body of Mary Jane Kelly is found. She is typically considered the fifth and last of Jack the Ripper's victims. A number of similar murders actually follow, but police attribute them to copycat killers.
- January 8 - Matt Moore, actor (d. 1960)
- January 24 - Vicki Baum, writer (d. 1960)
- January 24 - Ernst Heinkel, aircraft designer (d. 1958)
- February 2 - Frederick Lane, Australian swimmer (d. 1969)
- February 17 - Otto Stern, physicist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics 1943 (d. 1969)
- February 19 - José Eustasio Rivera, Colombian writer (d. 1928)
- February 25 - John Foster Dulles, United States Secretary of State (d. 1959)
- February 27 - Lotte Lehmann, singer (d. 1976)
- March 4 - Knute Rockne, American football player and coach (d. 1931)
- March 10 - Barry Fitzgerald, actor (d. 1966)
- March 12 - Vaslav Nijinsky, Ukrainian ballet dancer (d. 1950)
- March 17 - Frank Buck, big game hunter (d. 1950)
- March 26 - Elsa Brändström, "the Angel of Siberia" (d. 1948)
- April 4 - Tris Speaker, Baseball Hall of Famer (d. 1958)
- April 6 - Hans Richter, German filmmaker
- April 18 - Duffy Lewis, Major League Baseball player (d. 1979)
- April 26 - Anita Loos, writer (d. 1981)
- April 27 - Florence La Badie, pioneer actress (d. 1917)
- May 10 - Max Steiner, composer (d. 1971)
- May 11 - Irving Berlin, composer (d. 1989)
- May 23 - Zack Wheat, Baseball Hall of Famer (d. 1972)
- May 25 - Miles Malleson, actor (d. 1969)
- May 27 - Louis Durey, composer, member of Les Six (d. 1979)
- June 3 - Tom Brown, jazz musician (d. 1958)
- June 6 - Pete Wendling, American composer, pianist, and piano roll recording artist
- June 9 - Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Australian illustrator
- June 13 - Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese writer
- June 17 - John Bergman, Swedish founder of workshop in Motala (d. 1969)
- June 24 - Gerrit Rietveld, Dutch architect
- July 10 - Giorgio Chirico, painter (d. 1978)
- July 23 - Raymond Chandler, American novelist
- August 13 - John Logie Baird, first demonstrated the television
- August 16 - Armand J. Piron, jazz musician (d. 1943)
- September 5 - Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian philosopher
- September 6 - Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., American politician and father of President John F. Kennedy
- September 12 - Maurice Chevalier, French actor
- September 16 - Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Finnish writer
- September 26 - T. S. Eliot, American/British poet
- September 26 - J. Frank Dobie, Texas folklorist and newspaper columnist.
- October 7 - Henry A. Wallace, vice president of the United States
- October 9 - Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin, Russian politician
- October 16 - Eugene O'Neill, American dramatist
- January 19 - Anton de Bary, German biologist
- January 29 - Edward Lear, British artist and writer
- February 3 - Henry Maine, British jurist
- March 6 - Louisa May Alcott, American novelist
- March 9 - German Emperor Wilhelm I
- March 12 - Henry Bergh, founder of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- April 15 - Father Damien, Belgian priest
- June 15 - German Emperor Friedrich III
- August 9 - Charles Cros, French poet
- August 23 - Philip Henry Gosse, British scientist
- October 16 - John Wentworth, mayor of Chicago, United States
- December 31 - Samson Raphael Hirsch, rabbi (b. 1808)
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