- January 9 - The French Academy of Science announces the Daguerreotype photography process.
- January 19 - British East India Company captures Aden
- January 20 - In the Battle of Yungay, Chile defeats a Peruvian and Bolivian alliance.
- February 24 - William Otis receives a patent for the steam shovel.
- March 23 - First recorded use of "OK" oll korrect (Boston Morning Post).
- March 26 - The first Henley Royal Regatta is held
- Change of emperor of the Ottoman Empire from Mahmud II (1808-1839) to Abd-ul-Mejid (1839-1861)
- In the United States, the first state law permitting women to own property is passed in Jackson, Mississippi.
- The first parallax measurement of the distance to Alpha Centauri is published by Thomas Henderson.
- January 19 - Paul Cézanne, painter (+ 1906)
- February 11 - Josiah Willard Gibbs theoretical physicist/chemist.
- February 22 - Francis Pharcellus Church, American editor and publisher (+ 1906)
- March 21 - Modest Mussorgsky, Russian composer
- July 8 - John Davison Rockefeller, American industrialist and philanthropist.