The 18th century, a period of hundred years from 1701 to 1800, is widely regarded as the ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ The ideas of Enlightenment, which were primarily based on the scientific revolution of the previous century, weakened the socio-political influence of the monarchy. It led to several significant political revolutions around the world.
The century saw American colonies breakout from the shackles of European colonial powers, while many new territories were gained in Asia. It also witnessed the rise of new kingdoms at the expense of old and worn out empires in Europe and Asia.
In this overview article, we have tried to compile every significant event around the world that occurred in the 18th century. For simplicity, we have given a year-by-year description, which is, in turn, organized by decades.
The 1700s. From The Year 1701 to 1710
The political boundaries at the start of 18th century | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The decade witnessed two large-scale conflicts in Europe, the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, and one of the coldest winters in European history. Several prominent mathematicians were also born during this period.
The 18th century started with the outbreak of a conflict between the mighty Swedish Empire and Tsardom of Russia, known as the Great Northern War, which lasted until 1721. The war concluded with the fall of the Swedish Empire, which ruled most of the modern-day Nordic countries.
July: The War of Spanish Succession broke after the death of King Charles II of Spain in the late 1700. It was one of the most significant conflicts in the history of modern Europe, involving almost every significant power in continental Europe.
After the death of her brother-in-law, William III, Anne became the Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. She was the fourth Queen to rule England. Her reign ended on August 1, 1714.
May 27: The city of Saint Petersburg is established by Peter the Great as the capital of Tsardom of Russia. It remained a Russian capital until 1918.
April 15: One of the most influential mathematicians of all time, Leonhard Euler is born in Switzerland.
May 1: The Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united, for the first time, to found the Kingdom of Great Britain. The driving force behind such union was a failed Scottish attempt to establish a colony in Panama in the 1690s, which almost bankrupted Scotland.
As a result, the Act of Union was signed between the two Kingdoms unifying their trade, taxation, and flag.
Europe experiences the coldest winter in at least 500 years. The entire continent turned to ice. In England, it was known as the Great Frost. The event coincides with the Maunder Minimum, a period of low sunspot activity between 1645 and 1715.
A part of the lagoon in Venice, Italy, which froze over in 1709 by Gabriele Bella
The Copyright Act 1710, or the Statue of Anne, became the world’s first copyright legislation regulated by a government rather than by private parties.
Italian inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori built the world’s first piano sometime in the first decade of the 18th century. Cristofori was a skilled harpsichord (musical instruments featuring a keyboard) maker and possessed a vast knowledge about their inner-workings. He was bankrolled by Ferdinando de’ Medici, a member of the Medici banking family.
The 1710s. From the Year 1711 to 1720
September 22: The Tuscarora War broke out between native American tribes and the European settlers in North Carolina. The war ended with the decisive victory of the colonial settlers in 1715.
Thomas Newcomen, a British inventor, designed a steam engine that could transmit uninterrupted power to machinery. The Newcomen engine was a significant improvement over its predecessors and the first one to become commercially successful.
A schematic of Newcomen Engine (Steam is shown in pink and water in blue) Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
June 22: Philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva. His works in political philosophy were crucial in advancing Enlightenment throughout the European continent.
Daniel Gabrial Fahrenheit invents the mercury-in-glass thermometer in Amsterdam. It was the first accurate thermometer to be used.
The Sikh Confederacy, also known as Misl, was established in the Punjab region of modern-day Northern India and Pakistan. The rise of Misls in the early 18th century is widely regarded as one of the primary causes of the weakening of the Mughal Empire.
The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718 by French colonists on land inhabited by the Chitimacha, a native American tribe.
One of the earliest recorded stock market crashes occurred after months of bubble-forming at the British South Sea Company. Shortly after the passage of the South Sea Act, which granted the company monopoly over trade with South America, its shares rose ten times their value.
Mid-1720: The Great Plague of Marseille killed about 100,000 people in the city and its surrounding areas. It was the second and last major outbreak of the deadly bubonic plague in Western Europe.
Marseille during the Great Plague by Michel Serre
The 1720s. From The Year 1721 to 1730
The Great Northern War, which started in 1701, ends after the Treaty of Nystad on September 10.
The Russian Empire declares war on weakened Safavid Iran, which became known as the Russo-Persian War of 1722-1723. The war ended with the defeat and ultimately fall of the Safavid Iran, one of the most powerful Iranian empires since the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th century.
September 27: Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, is born.
In Central Asia, the once-mighty Kazakh Khanate fell into disparity after years of continuous raids by neighboring Khanates and Cossacks (semi-military communities). The most notable of them was the Dzungars.
The period of five years, between 1723 and 1728, became known as the “Years of Great Disaster” for the Kazakhs as they suffered from widespread hunger and deaths.
Outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War between Great Britain and Spain to gain control of Gibraltar. It ended in 1729.
September 28: A relatively peaceful era in the history of the Ottoman Empire, known as the Tulip period, ends with the outbreak of Patrona Halil rebellion.
The 1730s. From The Year 1731 to 1740
John Kay invents the Flying Shuttle, one of the crucial developments in the early weaving industry. It considerably increased the efficiency of a weaver and allowed them to weave wider fabrics.
October 10: The War of Polish Succession took place, which pitted the kingdoms of Spain and France against a coalition of Russia, Austria, and Saxony to determine the next king of Poland. The war ended in 1738 with the accession of Augustus III (backed by Russia and Austria) to the throne.
The reign of the Qianlong Emperor starts in China. During his reign, between 1735 and 1799, the Qing dynasty reached the height of its territorial powers.
Carl Linnaeus publishes the first edition of ‘Systema Naturae,’ in which he introduced the naming system (binomial nomenclature) for different species.
The Europeans discovered rubber for the first time. During an expedition in the South Americas, French explorer Charles La Condamine came across natural rubber, a few samples of which he later presented to the French Academy of Sciences.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear took place between Britain and Spain. The conflict ensued after almost a decade long hostilities between the two empires over trading opportunities in the Caribbean.
The Irish Famine of 1740-41, also known as the ‘Year of Slaughter’, killed about 2.4 million people in the Kingdom of Ireland. It was about 20 percent of its total population.
October: The War of the Austrian Succession broke out after the death of Charles VI, the ruler of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy. It was one of the bloodiest wars in the 18th century Europe, involving every Great Power. The war ended in 1748, with the rise of Prussia as a dominant force in the continent.
The 1740s. From The Year 1741 to 1750
February 23: Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a German banker and founder of the legendary Rothschild banking dynasty, was born.
The first Saudi State, Emirate of Diriyah, is established under the monarchy of Imam Muhammad bin Saud. By the early 1800s, the State’s territorial map was similar to that of modern-day Saudi Arabia.
The extent of First Saudi State between 1744 and 1816 | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
First of the three Carnatic Wars occurred in India between British and French East India Companies and the Mughal Empire to gain control over Indian trading ports. It is largely seen as an extension of the War of the Austrian Succession, which broke out in 1740, and had a worldwide effect.
Eva Ekeblad, a Swedish agronomist, invented a method to make alcohol and flour from potatoes.
Leonhard Euler publishes his pioneering work in the field of mathematical analysis, ‘Introductio in analysin infinitorum,’ or introduction to the Analysis of the Infinite.
Eva Ekeblad became the first female member (honorary) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The 1750s. From The Year 1751 to 1760
June: Benjamin Franklin conducts the famous kite experiment to prove that lightning is electrical in nature.
The French and Indian War took place between British American colonies and the French colonies. Both sides were aided by their Indian allies.
Immanuel Kant proposes the nebular hypothesis in ‘Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven.’ He argued that stars and other heavenly bodies are formed out of slowly rotating gaseous clouds or nebulae.
November 1: The Great Lisbon earthquake occurred in Portugal. It became the first earthquake to be scientifically studied and is closely associated with the birth of modern seismology.
The Seven Years’ War erupts between Britain and France, and their allies. It was a direct result of various unresolved disputes between the major European powers following the War of Austrian Succession.
A depiction of Battle of Kolin between Persia and Austria
The conflict is considered as the first true World War since it was fought globally and had extensive repercussions, both politically and economically than any other wars until the 20th century.
The 1760s. From The Year 1761 to 1770
January 14: The Third Battle of Panipat took place between the Maratha Empire and the Afghan Empire, about 60 miles north of Delhi.
Mikhail Lomonosov, a Russian polymath, speculated the existence of the atmosphere on Venus, for the first time, after observing a transit of the planet.
Catherine the Great, born as Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, became the empress of Russia and remained in power until 1796. Her reign is widely considered as the Golden Age of Russia.
Catherine the Great visits scientist Mikhail Lomonosov
The Stamp Act, a direct taxation law, is enacted on the British colonies in America.
The Russo-Turkish War took place between the Russian and the Ottoman Empire. It ended with the decisive Russian victory in 1774 and the decline of Turkish influence in Eastern Europe.
British explorer, James Cook, navigated and mapped the coastline of New Zealand. It’s the first recorded circumnavigation of the island country. He also made detailed maps of the eastern coast of Australia, the first European to do so.
The Great Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 caused deaths of nearly 10 million people in the Bengal region of British India. The famine is largely attributed to the policy failure of the British East India Company.
The 1770s. From The Year 1771 to 1780
Some of the most important events of the 18th century took place in this decade, including the partition of Poland (which led to the fall of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth) and the American Revolutionary War.
Daniel Rutherford, a Scottish chemist, discovers the Nitrogen gas.
Johann Heinrich Lambert, a Swish polymath, publishes seven map projections in ‘Notes and Comments on the Composition of Terrestrial and Celestial Maps.’ Three of them are widely used in various projections around the world.
September 22: The First Partition of Poland is ratified in Vienna. Earlier that year, Austrian, Russian, and Persian armies captured vast territories of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth and divided the lands among themselves.
The largest peasant mutiny (Pugachev’s Rebellion) in Russian history broke out shortly after Catherine the Great’s ascension to the throne.
The thirteen original American colonies declared war on the Kingdom of Britain over levied taxation and lack of local representation in colonial affairs. It became known as the American War of Independence.
The British Surrender at Saratoga by painter John Turnbull
March 9: Adam Smith publishes his seminal work ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,’ or simply The Wealth of Nations.
May 1: The Illuminati, a secret society, is established by German philosopher Johann Adam Weishaupt in Berlin. Its objectives were to fight against the State’s abuse of power, superstition, and religious influence on the public.
July 4: The thirteen American states unanimously proclaim independence from the British Empire by signing the U.S Declaration of Independence. The declaration justified why the States are at war with the British.
The Watt steam engine is commercially released. The engine was based on Thomas Newcomen’s early steam engine but with better fuel efficiency.
The 1780s. From the Year 1781 to 1790
French astronomer Charles Messier publishes the final catalog of the Messier Objects. These are deep-sky objects that are not an individual star, planet, or a comet.
February 17: Rene Laennec, a French physician, was born in the Quimper commune of France. He is known for his contributions to the field of clinical medicine, most importantly for inventing the stethoscope in 1816.
Laennec was the first to differentiate various lung ailments such as pneumonia, pneumothorax, and bronchiectasis.
Laennec demonstrating auscultation
March 13: Sir William Herschel made observations of Uranus and was the first to compare it to a planet implicitly. Though, he initially reported it as a comet.
The first-ever steam-powered ship is built by Jouffroy d’Abbans in France. His boat, named Pyroscaphe, was fitted with a Newcomen steam engine.
September 3: The American Revolutionary War ends with the ratification of the Treaty of Paris.
January: The colonial occupation of Australia begins with the arrival of British ‘First Fleet’ on the shores of modern-day Sydney. The fleet consisted of a total of 11 ships, half of which carried convicts and prisoners.
The founding of Australia
April 30: George Washington became the first president of the United States. Previously, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a high-ranking official in the United States Army. Washington remained in the office until 1797.
May 5: The French Revolution, a major turning point in Europe’s socio-political sphere, took place. Though the causes of the revolution remain debatable, it is widely accepted that the American Revolution played a major part in it.
Antoine Lavoisier publishes his book, ‘Elementary Treatise on Chemistry,’ wherein he presented the oxygen theory, explained the law of conservation of mass, and rejects the phlogiston theory.
The 1790s. From The Year 1791 to 1800
Many important discoveries were made in this decade. It also saw the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.
May 17: The New York Stock Exchange is established following the Buttonwood Agreement. The earliest traded securities were government-issued war bonds and the First Bank of the United States’ stock.
The most devastating outbreak of yellow fever epidemic in the United States’ history occurred in Philadelphia. It killed at least 5,000 people.
April 12: Napoleon Bonaparte achieved his first major victory as commander of the army during the Montenotte Campaign, fought between France and an Austro-Sardinian alliance in Italy.
May 14: Edward Jenner, a British physician, successfully demonstrates the process of immunization by injecting subjects with cowpox and then inoculating them with smallpox virus.
Dr. Edward Jenner performing his first vaccination by Ernest Board
German playwright Alois Senefelder invents the printing technique of lithography.
March 4: John Adams becomes the second President of the United States. As a Founding Father, his contributions in drafting the U.S Deceleration of Independence is almost next to none.
July 5: The Rosetta Stone is rediscovered after being in an unknown state for at least three centuries by French soldiers in Egypt under Napoleon’s rule.
January 1: The Dutch East India Company is formally dissolved after forming almost 200 years ago in 1602.
Alessandro Volta develops the voltaic pile, the first battery. However, he was unaware that the chemical reaction is causing the voltage.