People and events of interest in the history of California, especially Southern California (south of the Tehachapi Mountains to the Mexican border) and Orange County.
By the month
Age of Discovery
- 1510 Spanish writer Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo describes the fabulous island of California, kingdom of the Amazon Queen Calafia, in his prose romance Las Sergas de Espandián (The Deeds of Esplandián).
- 1513 Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovers the Pacific Ocean.
- 1519 Ferdinand Magellan sails from Spain seeking a westward route to China and Japan.
- 1533 Spanish explorers sailing westward from Mexico, land on the peninsula of Baja California. They believe it to be an island, and it became known as California.
- 1539 Francisco de Ulloa discovers the mouth of the Colorado River and proves Baja California is not an island.
- 1540 Expedition led by Hernando de Alarcón explores hundreds of miles up the Colorado River. Alarcón or Melchor Díaz becoms the first European to set foot in Alta California.
- 1542 Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sets sail from La Navidad in Mexico to explore the coast of Alta California.
- 1543 Death of Cabrillo on San Miguel Island. Bartolomé Ferrer takes over leadership of the expedition and travels as far north as 42°N latitude, the current-day border between California and Oregon.
- 1577 Sir Francis Drake sails from Plymouth, England, with five ships.
- 1579 Drake’s sole remaining ship, The Golden Hinde, enters Drake’s Bay on the Point Reyes Peninsula for rest and repair. Drake claims the land as Nova Albion (New England) for the British Crown.
- 1580 Drake returns to Plymouth, England, via the Moluccas, the Celebes, Java, and the Cape of Good Hope.
- 1584 Francisco de Gali discovers the best route from the Philippines to New Spain takes the Japanese current eastward to Cape Mendocino, then south along the California coast. Two hundred days!
- 1595 Sebastián Rodriguez Cermeño anchors in Drake’s Bay and formally claims the land for Spain. His ship is later run aground at Point Reyes by a sudden storm. The remaining crew members sail to Acapulco in a boat built from salvage.
- 1602 Sebastián Vizcaíno sails from Acapulco with three ships for San Diego Bay. The expedition eventually reaches Monterey Bay but misses the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
- 1768 José de Gálvez expels Jesuits from Baja California. Franciscans led by Father Junípero Serra replace them. Gaspar de Portolá appointed governor of Baja and Alta California.
- 1769 Joint naval and land expeditions led by Portolá and Serra set out for San Diego. Forces meet in San Diego amid much hardship, death, and loss. Portolá and Father Juan Crespí continue to Monterey Bay by boat. A scouting party led by Sgt. José Ortega Discovers San Francisco Bay. Founding of Mission San Diego de Alcalá by Father Serra.
- 1770 Portolá returns to San Diego. Relief supplies arrive. Founding of Mission San Carlos Borromeo at Monterey Bay.
- 1774 Juan Bautista de Anza and Francisco Garcés leave Tubac presidio in Arizona. The party arrives at Mission San Gabriel two and a half months later.
- 1775 San Carlos, commanded by Juan Manuel de Ayala, sails through the Golden Gate into San Francisco Bay.
- 1776 De Anza party arrives on the San Francisco peninsula. Lt. José Joaquín Moraga establishes the San Francisco presidio. Founding of Mission San Francisco de Asís.1777 Founding of Pueblo San José de Guadalupe on southern edge of San Francisco Bay.
- 1781 Founding of pueblo Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Angeles.
Ranchos and Californios
- 1821 Mexico breaks away from Spain, taking California with it.
- 1834 Secularization of California Missions.
Authorization of land grants for Ranchos Santa Gertrudes, Los Coyotes, Las Bolsas, Los Alamitos, Los Cerritos to members of the Nieto family.
- 1841 Marriage of Abel Stearns to Arbadia Bandini.
- 1842 Abel Stearns buys Rancho Los Alamitos from Governor José Figueroa, about 28,000 acres.
- 1846 Life in California Before the Conquest, a memoir by Alfred Robinson, is published.
- 1847 Charles Weber founds what would become the city of Stockton.
The English walnut is introduced to Southern California.
- 1848 1st Regiment of New York Volunteers is discharged. With their wives and children, they join the growing Yankee population in California.
- 1850 Three Years in California, a memoir by Walter Colton, is published.
Cholera outbreak in Sacramento kills more than 600 people. [Source: California by Kevin Starr and the Sacramento Bee.]
First meeting of the California State Legislature passes the Foreign Miners Tax. [Source: California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams.]
- 1851 The Land Act requires Mexican land grant recipients to prove ownership according to American law. This, plus two years of drought, property taxes, high interest rates, and profligate spending lead to most of the gente de razón losing their land grants for back taxes or defaulted mortgages.
Renowned landscape photographer Carleton E. Watkins arrives in California. According to the Smithsonian, he learned photographic techniques while pretending to be a portrait photographer after the shop’s actual photographer quit suddenly. Mt. Watkins in Yosemite is named after him.
- 1858 Bee ranching is introduced to Southern California.
- 1860 The California Geological Survey is founded.
- 1864 Juan Forsters returns ownership of Mission San Juan Capistrano to the Catholic Church.
- 1852 The richest year of the gold rush ends with $81.3 million in gold produced.
- 1865 St. Vincent’s College opens.
1868 Scottish-born naturalist and photographer John Muir arrives in San Francisco.
The first artesian well in Southern California is bored, in the Compton area.
- 1869 The transcontinental railroad to San Francisco was completed.
- 1870 The first orange tree is planted in Orange County by Dr. William N. Hardin of Anaheim.
- 1873 California for health, pleasure, and residence: a book for travellers by Charles Nordhoff is published.
An economic bust takes the wind out of the sails of a short boom in Southern California.
The Department of Agriculture ships two Washington navel orange trees from Bahía, Brazil, to Mrs. L.C. Tibbetts of Riverside.
- 1875 Native Sons (and Daughters) of the Golden West formed.
- 1876 A Southern Pacific Railroad extension to Southern California is completed.
St. Vibiana Cathedral is dedicated for the Diocese of Los Angeles. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1877 Ambrose Bierce settled in San Francisco. He joins Argonaut and creates the genre of bylined newspaper columns.
- 1878 The Drainage Act creates the position of California State Engineer.
- 1879 Spanish is dropped as one of two official languages of the State of California. English is the other.
- 1880 The University of Southern California opens. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1881 The Southern Pacific Railroad is extended to New Orleans, Louisiana, greatly expanding the reach of agricultural exports from California.
- 1882 Harrison Gray Otis becomes editor of the Los Angeles Times.
- 1884 The novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson is published.
- 1885 The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reaches San Bernardino. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1886 The completion of the Santa Fe Railroad leads to a price war, lowering the cost of a rail trip from the Mid West to the West Coast to as low as $1 per person.
- 1887 The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reaches Los Angeles. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
Occidental College and Pomona College opened. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
The Wright Act empowers local communities to form irrigation districts. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1888 The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad reaches San Diego.
An important court case, Lux v. Haggin, modifies the doctrine of riparian rites within the State of California. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1889 Orange County is established by an act of the California State Legislature from a southeastern section of Los Angeles County.
- 1890 The Rose Parade is started in Pasadena. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1890-1920 Wages from 20% to 40% lower than in San Francisco allow growth of the industrial base of Los Angeles. [Source: Southern California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams.]
- 1891 An experiment in growing celery “in the marshlands of Orange County” with help from Los Angeles Chinese market growers helps to establish agriculture in the area. [Sources: Beasts of the Field: A Narrative History of California Farmworkers by Richard Steven Street and Southern California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams.]
Stanford University opens in the Fall. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1892 Sierra Club established. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1893 An economic depression hits Southern California.
- 1896 Merchants & Manufacturers Association formed. This group was a major force against unions and in favor of open shop employment in the Los Angeles area. The M&MA merged with the Industrial Relations Committee of San Francisco in 1921 to form what is now known as Employers Group.
- 1900-1910 The Owens Valley aqueduct is built. [Source: California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams.]
- 1900-1915 Pacific Electric connects beach resorts to inland areas as far away as San Bernardino. [Source: California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams.]
1901 Pacific Electric Railway incorporated.
The first aqueduct is completed to bring water from the Colorado River to Imperial Valley. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1902 The Southern District of the Pacific Electric Railway is completed. [Source: Seal Beach Red Car Museum.]
A college football game is added to the Rose Parade. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1903 Philip A. Stanton organized the Bay City Land Company, which developed the town site of Bay City that later became Seal Beach. [Source: Seal Beach Red Car Museum.]
- 1904 Pacific Electric Railway service begins to Bay City. [Source: Seal Beach Red Car Museum.]
A second aqueduct is built to bring water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1905 California Fruit Growers Exchange formed with the trade name Sunkist. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
A natural change in the course of the Colorado River caused by heavy rainfall results in the breaching of the second Imperial Valley aqueduct and severe flooding and filling the Salton Sink, now known as the Salton Sea. Prior to settlement by Europeans, the Colorado River from time to time changed its course from its current outlet in the Gulf o California to an alternate outlet in the Salton Sink. The current highly saline lake is maintained mostly by agricultural runoff. [Sources: California by Kevin Starr, and “Salton Sea history” published by the California Department of Water Resources.]
- 1906 Santa Ana’s Chinatown burns down.
- 1907 The Southern Pacific Railroad completes a rock, gravel and clay levee to repair the damaged second Colorado River aqueduct.
George Freeth brings surfing to Southern California. He was brought to Redondo Beach from Hawaii by industrialist Henry Huntington.
- 1909 Los Angeles enacts an ordinance restricting free speech, aimed at striking workers.
- 1912 Boos Brothers opened the first self-service restaurant (cafeteria) in the Los Angeles area.
- 1913 California Alien Land Law (aka Webb-Haney Alien Land Law) targeted Asian immigrants, primarily Japanese: the law was intended to “restrict land ownership by Japanese immigrants. However, by assigning ownership of land to second generation children, born in the United States and thus citizens, or by the use of extended leases the law could be evaded.” [Sources: Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace 1940 to 1950 by Kevin Starr, and In Time and Place.
- 1915 Bay City incorporated as Seal Beach.
Panama California Exposition held in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
1919 Publication of “The Curse of Capistrano” by Johnston McCulley introduces the romantic historical fictional California hero Zorro. The dashing swordsman Don Diego de la Vega would go on to star in further pulp adventures, comics, radio dramatizations, movies, and a set of eight episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color starring Guy Williams.
The California Criminal Syndicalism Act is passed to counter union activism. It is declared unconstitutional in 1968 by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
George Freeh, who brought surfing to California, dies in San Diego at the age of 35, a victim of the global flu pandemic.
- 1920 The Better America Foundation is formed.
Proposition 1, the Alien Land Initiative, approved by California voters. “The measure permitted the acquisition and transfer of property by aliens eligible for citizenship to the same extent as citizens.” The federal Immigration Act of 1924 would ban Japanese immigration to the United States. [Sources: Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peach 1940 to 1950 by Kevin Starr, and Ballotpedia.]
- 1921 Oil is found in Santa Fe Springs and Signal Hill. [Source: California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams.]
Founding of the All-Year Club by Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times. The organization popularizes the area south of the Tehachapi Mountains as a separate geographic entity, Southern California, using the capitalized phrase. From California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams, page 137:
Like most promotions of the sort, the All-Year Club has been too successful. Its seductive advertisements were partially responsible for the great influx of impoverished Okies and Arkies in the ’thirties. Since 1929 its advertisements carry the caption: “Warning! Come to California for a glorious vacation. Advise anyone not to come seeking employment.”
- 1922 The Hollywood Bowl opens. It was designed by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Write).
- 1923 Rose Bowl stadium is built. It was designed by Pasadena architect Myron Hunt. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
A large portion of Berkeley is destroyed by fire. [Source: California by Kevin Starr.]
- 1924 With 69,797 cars daily, the intersection of Adams and Figueroa in Los Angeles is busiest in the nation.
The Shortridge Amendment, so called because it was put forward by California Senator Samuel Shortridge, to the federal Immigration Act bans Japanese immigration to the United States:
The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia.
(Emphasis added.) [Sources: Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace 1940 to 1950 by Kevin Starr, and US Department of State Office of the Historian.]
- 1928 Metropolitan Water District of Southern California created.
Los Angeles City Hall built. Designed by the firm of Parkinson, Martin, and Austin, it is topped by a ziggurat.
- 1931-1935 Building of Hoover Dam.
- 1932 Knott’s Berry Farm opened.
- 1933-1937 Building of Golden Gate Bridge.
Cotton workers in the Central Valley go on strike.
- 1933 Orange County Water District created by an act of the California Legislature. [Source: Orange County Water District.]
- 1936 Agricultural workers stage a strike for higher wages and better working conditions in a seldom-remembered conflict known as the Citrus War.
- 1936-1937 Treasure Island created to host Golden Gate International Exposition.
- 1938 Santa Ana River floods. Funding for the Prado Dam to prevent future flooding was approved.
- 1941 Army Corps of Engineers completes Prado Dam to prevent flooding by the Santa Ana River. [Source: Orange County Water District.]
- 1942 As part of the American military buildup following Pearl Harbor, the United States Marine Corps purchases 122,798 acres of Rancho Santa Margarita y Flores to build Camp (Joseph H.) Pendleton. [Source: Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace 1940 to 1950 by Kevin Starr.]
- 1946 Desegregation of Orange County schools forced by a lawsuit filed by the Mendez family.
- 1950-1953 Development of the City of Lakewood.
- 1951 Orange County is assigned the 714 area code.
- 1955 Disneyland opens.
Robert Schuller and his wife arrive in Orange County.
- 1956 Rossmoor is founded.
- 1958 The Giants move to San Francisco and the Dodgers to Los Angeles.
- 1962 Seal Beach Leisure World is founded.
- 1963 The Lincoln Club is founded.
- 1968 The California Criminal Syndicalism Act, originally passed in 1919 to counter union activism, is declared unconstitutional by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- 1972 The Boys and Girls Club of Cypress is founded.
- 1973 Orange County Historical Commission is founded. A notable accomplishment: establishment and oversight of the Orange County Archives.
- 1976 The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is formed from a portion of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
- 1978 The Log Cabin Republicans is founded.
- 1979 Kay and Rick Warren return to Orange County. The couple eventually founds Saddleback Church.
Long Beach Opera is founded.
- 1980 Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral opens in Garden Grove. The building and its campus would later be bought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in a bidding competition with Chapman University.
- 1994 Orange County files for bankruptcy.
- 1996 Loretta Sanchez beats Robert Dornan for the Congressional seat she later gave up to run for Senate against Kamala Harris. She lost the Senate race. Her Congressional seat was taken over by Lou Correa.
- 1998 South Orange County is assigned the 949 area code.
- 1999 Andreas Mitisek becomes artistic director of Long Beach Opera.
- 2000 – 2001 The Dot Com bust wipes out millions of dollars in wealth and hundreds of thousands of jobs in the high tech section. It also contributes to crippling the California state budget.
- 2003 Proposition 8 amended the California Constitution to state that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Lawsuits were filed, and the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where California Attorney General Kamala Harris refused to defend it. [Sources: California: A History by Kevin Starr, LA Weekly, and Washington Blade.]
- 2004 Disney Hall opens in downtown Los Angeles. It was designed by Frank Gehry.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settles multiple sexual abuse lawsuits for $200 million.
- 2005 Proposition 30 was approved by voters. The proposition imposed a “temporary” personal income tax increase in order to ease the state budget crisis. In 2016, voters approved Proposition 55, a twelve-year extension of the income tax. [Sources: California: A History by Kevin Starr, Ballotpedia.com, and the Official Voter Information Guide for the November 8, 2016 General Election published by the California Secretary of State.]
Other local almanacs
Other sources of local history
- Associated Historical Societies of Los Angeles County
- Los Alamitos Museum
- Los Angeles City Historical Society
- Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles
- Mulholland-Scattergood Virtual Museum
- Orange County Historical Commission
- Orange County Historical Society
- Rancho Los Cerritos
- Rancho Los Alamitos
- St. Isidore Historical Plaza
- Annals of San Francisco by Frank Soulé, James Nesbit, and John Gihon (1855)
- California: A History by Kevin Starr
- California for health, pleasure, and residence: a book for travellers by Charles Nordhoff (1873)
- The Channel Islands of California by Charles Frederick Holder (1910)
- Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace by Kevin Starr (2002)
- Irrigation in California (South) by California State Engineer William Hammond Hall (1888)
- Journey to the West by Darwin Teilhet
- Lights and Shades in San Francisco by B.E. Lloyd (1876)
- Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada by Clarence King (1872)
- On the Old West Coast by Horace Bell
- Orange County: A Personal History by Gustavo Arellano
- Port of Adventure by Alice M. Williamson (1913)
- Race Questions, Provincialism, and Other American Problems by Josiah Royce (1908)
- The Reckoning by Charles Downing (1927)
- Reminiscences of a Ranger by Horace Bell (1877)
- Sea Power in the PacificL A Study of the American-Japanese Naval Problem by Hector Bywater (1925)
- Southern California: An Island on the Land by Carey McWilliams (1946)
- The Valor of Ignorance by Homer Lea (1909)