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1896 (MDCCCXCVI) was a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar and a leap year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar, the 1896th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 896th year of the 2nd millennium, the 96th year of the 19th century, and the 7th year of the 1890s decade. As of the start of 1896, the Gregorian calendar was 12 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.
- January 2 – The Jameson Raid comes to an end as Jameson surrenders to the Boers.
- January 4 – Utah is admitted as the 45th U.S. state.
- January 5 – An Austrian newspaper reports that Wilhelm Röntgen has discovered a type of radiation (later known as X-rays).
- January 6 – Cecil Rhodes is forced to resign as Prime Minister of the Cape of Good Hope, for his involvement in the Jameson Raid.
- January 7 – American culinary expert Fannie Farmer publishes her first cookbook.
- January 12 – H. L. Smith takes the first X-ray photograph.
- January 17 – Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War: British redcoats enter the Ashanti capital, Kumasi, and Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I is deposed.
- January 18 – The X-ray machine is exhibited for the first time.
- January 28 – Walter Arnold, of East Peckham, Kent, England, is fined 1 shilling for speeding at 8 mph (13 km/h) (exceeding the contemporary speed limit of 2 mph (3.2 km/h) (the first speeding fine).
- February 1 – Puccini's opera La bohème premieres in Turin, Italy.
- February 4 – The International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers is established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- February 11 – Oscar Wilde's play Salomé premieres in Paris.
- February 19 – Braamfontein Explosion: A train carrying 56 tons of dynamite explodes at Braamfontein, Johannesburg, killing more than 78 people.
- March 1 – Battle of Adwa: Ethiopia defends its independence from Italy, ending the First Italo-Ethiopian War.
- March 3 – Publication begins for Der Eigene, the world's first magazine with an orientation to male homosexuality, by Adolf Brand in Berlin.
- March 9 – Responding to national outrage at the defeat at Adwa, Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi resigns.
- March 23 – The New York State Legislature passes the Raines law, restricting Sunday alcoholic beverage sales to hotels.
- April – The first study of the sensitivity of global climate to atmospheric carbon dioxide is published. Svante Arrhenius presents his findings in his paper, "On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground", the London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, as an extract of a paper that had been presented to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on December 11, 1895.
- April 3 – The first edition of the Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport is published.
- April 4 – The first known women's basketball game between two colleges is played between Stanford and California.
- April 6 – The opening ceremonies of the 1896 Summer Olympics, the first modern Olympic Games, are held in Athens, Greece.
- April 9 – The National Farm School (later Delaware Valley College) is chartered in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
- May 8 – Cricket: Against Warwickshire, Yorkshire sets a still-standing County Championship record, when they accumulate an innings total of 887.
- May 13 – The Franchise Bill is passed by the Colony of Natal's Legislative Assembly, disfranchising natives of other countries.
- May 18 – Plessy v. Ferguson: The U.S. Supreme Court introduces the separate but equal doctrine, and upholds racial segregation.
- May 26 – Eleven years after its foundation, a group of 12 purely industrial stocks were chosen to form the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The index is composed entirely of industrial shares for the first time.
- May 27 – St. Louis–East St. Louis tornado: The costliest and third deadliest tornado in U.S. history levels a mile wide swath of downtown St. Louis, Missouri, incurring US$2.9 billion (1997 USD) in normalized damages, killing more than 255 and injuring over 1,000 people.
- June 4 – The Ford Quadricycle, the first Ford vehicle ever developed, is completed, eventually leading Henry Ford to build the empire that "put America on wheels".
- June 7 – Mahdist War – Battle of Ferkeh: British and Egyptian troops are victorious.
- June 12 – J.T. Hearne sets a record for the earliest date of taking 100 wickets in cricket (it is equalled by Charlie Parker in 1931).
- June 15 – The 8.5 Mw Sanriku earthquake and tsunami kills 22,000 in northeastern Japan.
- July 9 – William Jennings Bryan delivers his Cross of Gold speech at the Democratic National Convention, which nominates him for president of the United States.
- July 11 – Wilfrid Laurier becomes Canada's seventh prime minister, and the first French-speaker to hold that office.
- July 21 – In Washington, D.C., in response to a "call to confer" issued by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin to all women of color, the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs is organized.
- July 26 – The International Socialist Workers and Trade Union Congress opens in London.
- July 27 – A causeway is opened between the islands of Saaremaa and Muhu in Estonia.
- July 30 – Atlantic City rail crash: Shortly after 6:30 pm, at a crossing just west of Atlantic City, New Jersey, two trains collide, crushing five loaded passenger coaches, killing 50 and seriously injuring approximately sixty.
- August – The 1896 Eastern North America heat wave kills 1,500 people from Chicago, Illinois to Boston, Massachusetts.
- August 14 – The Uganda Railway Act, 1896, is approved in the United Kingdom, for construction of a railway in Africa, from Mombasa to Lake Victoria.
- August 16 – Skookum Jim Mason, George Carmack and Dawson Charlie discover gold in the Klondike, Yukon.
- August 17 – Bridget Driscoll is run over by a Benz car on the grounds of The Crystal Palace, London (the world's first motoring fatality).
- August 23 – The Cry of Pugad Lawin initiates the Philippine Revolution.
- August 27
- September 2 – Clarkson University holds its first classes, with 17 students attending in Potsdam, New York.
- September 15 – The Crash at Crush train wreck stunt is held in Texas.
- September 22 – Queen Victoria surpasses her grandfather King George III as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
- September 28 – Pathé or Pathé Frères a French film company and one of the oldest film companies is founded by the brothers Charles Pathé, Théophile Pathé, Émile Pathé and Jacques Pathé.
- September 30 – Italy and France sign a treaty, whereby Italy virtually recognizes Tunisia as a French dependency.
- October 1 – Gottlieb Daimler builds the first worldwide gasoline truck.
- October 2 – The is established as in Australia (a predecessor for the ).
- October 16 – The design of the flag of Knoxville, Tennessee is officially approved by the Knoxville City Council.
- October 30 – Augusta, Kentucky: The Augusta High School cornerstone is laid, marking the end of the Augusta Methodist College.
- November 3 – 1896 U.S. presidential election: Republican William McKinley defeats William Jennings Bryan. The event is viewed by some as a realigning election for the United States Republican Party.
- November 27 – Also sprach Zarathustra (Strauss) is first performed in Frankfurt.
- November 30
- December 1 – Archaeologist Alois Anton Führer, Nepalese General Khadga Samsher Rana, and an expedition, rediscover the great stone pillar of Ashoka at Lumbini, traditionally the spot of the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, after using Faxian's records.
- December 10
- December 14 – The Glasgow Subway, the third-oldest underground metro system in the world, opens.
- December 25 – John Philip Sousa composes his magnum opus, The Stars and Stripes Forever.
- December 30 – José Rizal, Filipino scholar and poet, is executed by Spanish authorities in the Philippines.