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The Year 1876 in History

The presidential election ended in dispute in November when neither Democrat Samuel J. Tilden nor Republican Rutherford Birchard Hayes captured the needed 185 Electoral College votes to win, although Tilden had a plurality of popular votes. Votes from Louisiana, Florida, Oregon, and South Carolina were in dispute, with conflicting numbers from different sources. In early 1877 the mess was adjudicated by a commission of five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices, numbering eight Republicans and seven Democrats. Voting strictly along party lines (what else?), the committee declared the winner to be (who else?) Hayes. If there had been fair voting allowed in the South, Hayes would have won. If the reported vote totals had been treated fairly, Tilden would have won. There was also the question of the secret agreement over military occupation of the South. (In short, the Republicans stole the election from the Democrats, who had stolen it from the Republicans in the first place.)

The Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876 ended in an overwhelming victory for the Indians (one of only a few such instances in American history), led by Sioux Chief Sitting Bull. General George Armstrong Custer and his 264-man contingent were killed.

The Homestake Mining Company was formed at Lead, a town in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory, and would become the largest single United States gold producer. By this time, most major California deposits had been played out, many by monitors (high-pressure hoses) that obliterated entire hills. Meanwhile, in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, "Wild Bill" Hickok was murdered on August 2nd when he was shot from behind by Jack McCall in Saloon No. 10. Hickock was playing poker, and died holding two pairs: two black aces and two black eights (plus a jack of diamonds), which would become known as "the dead man’s hand."

The Centennial Exhibition was held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia on a 236-acre site. On opening day, May 10th, President U.S. Grant addressed the assembled throng, with Dom Pedro, emperor of Brazil, at his side, the first major foreign head of state to visit the United States. A Corliss steam engine, another version of the device that created a sensation at the world’s fair in London in 1851, powered much of the machinery at the Exhibition. Thirty-seven nations and 26 states mounted exhibits of their art, industries, agriculture, and other accomplishments.

Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone he had invented the year before. The president of Western Union declined the offer to buy the device for $100,000, stating that it was only a "scientific curiosity," a decision that would rank in the annals of business with the Regina Music Box Company not buying the Victor phonograph in 1904, and the General Aniline & Film Co. (Ansco) not buying the Xerox patents from the Haloid Company in the early 1950s.

In Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University was founded under terms of the will of the late Johns Hopkins, a bachelor. In 1942, the University would acquire by bequest the Garrett Collection of United States coins. On the medical scene, the Eli Lilly Company was founded in Indianapolis, while in Massachusetts, Lydia E. Pinkham patented her label for her Vegetable Compound, which, it was said, was ideal for curing female ills.

A colony of passenger pigeons in Michigan was reported to occupy an area of over 60 square miles. Within decades, the bird would become extinct and go the way of the dodo and other unfortunate species. Henry Martin Robert’s guide, Robert’s Rules of Order, was published. Popular songs include I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen and Grandfather’s Clock.

In Carson City, 10,000 1876-CC 20-cent pieces were minted, but all but about 20 were melted, thus creating a rarity.