On This Day

What Happened in May 1878

Historical Events

  • May 2 US stops minting 20 cent coin

Historic InventionThomas Edison's Phonograph

May 4 Thomas Edison's Phonograph shown for 1st time at Grand Opera House

Learn More
Thomas Edison with his second phonograph, photographed in 1878
Thomas Edison with his second phonograph, photographed in 1878
Learn More
  • May 8 1st unassisted triple play in organized baseball, by Paul Hines

Event of interestEvent of Interest

May 8 David Edward Hughes' paper on the idea for a microphone is read before the Royal Society of London by Thomas Henry Huxley

  • May 13 Danvers State Lunatic Hospital, which served as the inspiration behind H.P. Lovercraft Arkham Sanitorium which in turn inspired DC Comics' Arkham Asylum, is opened in Danvers, Massachusetts
  • May 13 Danvers State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, opens—later serves as inspiration for Arkham Sanitorium in the work of H.P. Lovecraft, which in turn inspired Arkham Asylum of the D.C. Batman universe
  • May 14 Vaseline is granted a patent (U.S. Patent 127,568)
  • May 19 Blanche Kelso Bruce appointed register of treasury by President Garfield
  • May 21 4th Kentucky Derby: Jimmy Carter aboard Day Star wins in 2:37.25
  • May 23 Attorney John Henry Smyth named US minister to Liberia
  • May 24 CA Parker (Harvard) wins 1st American bike race at Beacon Park in Boston

Music releaseMusic Premiere

May 25 W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's comic opera "H.M.S. Pinafore" premieres in London, their first international success

English Dramatist William Schwenck Gilbert
English Dramatist
William Schwenck Gilbert
  • May 27 6th Preakness: C Holloway aboard Duke of Magenta wins in 2:41.75
  • May 27 Australians Cricket 41 & 12-1 defeat MCC 33 & 19
  • May 31 German battleship SMS Grosser Kurfürst sinks, 284 killed
  • May 31 US Congress accepts decrease in dollar circulation

Famous Birthdays


Person of interestGustav Stresemann

May 10 Gustav Stresemann, German chancellor (1923) who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926, born in Berlin, Germany (d. 1929)

German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann
German Chancellor
Gustav Stresemann
  • May 11 Jan Machiel Reyskens, oldest male resident of the Netherlands, (d. 1990 aged 111)
  • May 13 Muriel Robb, British tennis player (Wimbledon 1902), born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England (d. 1907)
  • May 14 James L. Wilkinson, American baseball executive (d. 1964)
  • May 15 Francisco Pujol, composer
  • May 16 Taylor Holmes, American actor (Sleeping Beauty, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), born in Newark, New Jersey (d. 1959)
  • May 19 Adam von Ahn Carse, composer
  • May 21 Glenn Hammond Curtiss, American inventor (hydroplane)
  • May 21 Louis de Visser, Dutch politician (CPN)
  • May 24 Lillian Moller Gilbreth, American psychologist and industrial engineer (CIOS Gold Medal-1954), born in Oakland, California (d. 1972)

Person of interestBill Robinson

May 25 Bill Robinson "Bojangles", American actor and tap dancer (Stormy Weather, The Little Colonel), born in Richmond, Virginia (d. 1949)

Tap Dancer and Actor Bill Robinson
Tap Dancer and Actor
Bill Robinson
  • May 28 Paul Pelliot, French Sinologist and Orientalist best known for his explorations of Central Asia and his discovery of many important Chinese texts among the Dunhuang manuscripts, born in Paris (d. 1945)
  • May 30 Mike Donlin, American baseball player (NY Giants), born in Peoria, Illinois (d. 1933)

Famous Deaths

  • May 12 Catherine Beecher, American educator (championed higher education for women), dies at 77
  • May 13 Joseph Henry, American scientist and pioneer of electromagnetism, dies at 80
  • May 14 Ookubo Toshimichi, Japanese statesman, samurai, and one of the three great nobles who led the Meiji Restoration (b. 1830)
  • May 22 Franz von Holstein, composer, dies at 52
  • May 27 Carlo Marsili, Italian composer, dies at 49

Person of interestJohn Russell

May 28 John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, British Prime Minister (Whig: 1846-52 and 1865-66), dies at 85

British Prime Minister John Russell
British Prime Minister
John Russell