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The Year 1877 in History

The arguments over the November 1876 election were settled on March 2, 1877, and President Rutherford B. Hayes took office on March 4th, in place of the popular-vote candidate, Samuel Tilden. The editor of the Washington Post, founded later in the year (December 6, 1877), would call Hayes "His Fraudulency," and refer to "President Tilden," in discussions about "the crime of 1876." In the meantime, the United States continued in an economic slump that had commenced in 1873.

For a number of years the Molly Maguires, as they were called, had been terrorizing coal-mining towns in Pennsylvania. Working for the Pinkerton detective agency, James McParlan infiltrated the membership of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, some lodges of which had been under control of the terrorist group. Eleven members of the Molly Maguires were hanged on June 21, 1877 and eight more were hanged later. Accounts were carried in the press domestically and abroad. In England, Arthur Conan Doyle read them, and years later wrote The Valley of Fear, one of four book-length Sherlock Holmes detective stories, based upon the incidents.

The Chase National Bank was founded on September 12, 1877. The name was taken from the late Salmon P. Chase, secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln. Years later it would merge with the Manhattan National Bank of New York City, to form the Chase-Manhattan Bank. Still later, it would acquire from Farran Zerbe his Money of the World Collection and exhibit it in a special museum. Still later, Chase-Manhattan would give the collection to the Smithsonian Institution.

On January 4th, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt died, and left a fortune in excess of $100 million to his 38-year-old widow and 10 children, with his 56-year-old-son William Henry Vanderbilt being the chief beneficiary.

Augustus Pope opened the first bicycle factory in the United States, in Hartford, Connecticut, and made the Columbia brand bicycle, of the penny-farthing (large front wheel, tiny back wheel) style. In the twentieth century, Pope would manufacture automobiles. In the meantime, bicycling would become a fad in America, particularly during the 1890s, when numerous clubs were formed, and it was considered an accomplishment to pedal a long distance to attend the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The first Bell telephone was sold in May 1877, and by August there were 778 instruments in use. The first commercial telephone switchboard was installed on May 17th in the Boston office of the Holmes Burglar Alarm Service (not named after Sherlock, for he hadn’t been invented yet, but after Edwin T. Holmes, proprietor). Thomas Alva Edison, America’s pre-eminent inventor, demonstrated a hand-cranked tinfoil-covered phonograph on November 29, 1877, and listeners were able to hear "Mary had a little lamb," repeated back. Edison envisioned the device as an office machine and did not believe that it had any entertainment value. Thus, most of his marketing efforts of the next 15 or so years were with phonographic dictating equipment.

Because of the slump in the national economy, things were slow at the Mint. Only 20 Proof specimens each were struck of the various 1877 gold denominations, and probably not all of these found buyers. Nickel three-cent pieces, Shield nickels and 20-cent pieces were not coined for circulation, and the only specimens made were Proofs for collectors. The 1877 Indian cent registered the lowest total production (852,500) of any Philadelphia Mint coin of this design.