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1890 (MDCCCXC) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar, the 1890th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 890th year of the 2nd millennium, the 90th year of the 19th century, and the 1st year of the 1890s decade. As of the start of 1890, the Gregorian calendar was 12 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.
- April 2 – Kashihara Shrine, a landmark spot in Nara Prefecture, Japan, is officially built by Emperor Mutsuhito (Emperor of Meiji).
- April 14 – At the First International Conference of American States, in Washington D.C., The Commercial Bureau of the American Republics is founded.
- May 1 – A coordinated series of mass rallies and one-day strikes is held throughout many cities and mining towns, in Europe and North America, to demand an eight-hour workday.
- May 2 – President Benjamin Harrison signs the Oklahoma Organic Act, under which Oklahoma Territory is organized, a prerequisite for later statehood.
- May 12 – The first ever official English County Championship cricket match begins in Bristol; Yorkshire beats Gloucestershire, by eight wickets.
- May 20 – Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh moves to Auvers-sur-Oise on the edge of Paris, in the care of Dr Paul Gachet, where he will produce around seventy paintings in as many days.
- May 31 – The five-story skylight Arcade opens in Cleveland, Ohio.
- June 1 – The United States Census Bureau begins using Herman Hollerith's tabulating machine to tabulate census returns using punched card input, a landmark in the history of computing hardware. Hollerith's company eventually becomes IBM.
- June 12 – In Michigan, the wooden steamer Ryan is lost near Thunder Bay Island.
- June 16 – Royal Dutch Petroleum, as predecessor of Royal Dutch Shell, a major energy product and sales on worldwide, that founded in Netherlands.
- June 20 – The Picture of Dorian Gray (by Oscar Wilde) is published by Philadelphia-based Lippincott's Monthly Magazine (dated July).
- June 27 – Canadian-born boxer George Dixon defeats the British bantamweight champion in London, giving him claim to be the first black world champion in any sport.
- October 9 – The first brief flight of Clément Ader's steam-powered fixed-wing aircraft Ader Éole takes place in Satory, France. It flies uncontrolled approximately 50 m (160 ft) at a height of 20 cm (7.9 in), the first take-off of a powered airplane solely under its own power.
- October 11 – In Washington, D.C., the Daughters of the American Revolution is founded.
- October 12 – In Uddevalla, the Uddevalla Suffrage Association is founded, with a formal founding event on November 2 a month later.
- October 13
- November 4 – The first deep level London Underground (Tube) Railway, the City and South London Railway, opens officially.
- November 9 – British Royal Navy torpedo cruiser HMS Serpent (1887) is shipwrecked off Camariñas in Spain with the loss of 173 out of her crew of 176.
- November 21 – Edward King, Anglican bishop of Lincoln, is convicted of using ritualistic practices.
- November 23 – King William III of the Netherlands dies without a male heir, and his daughter Princess Wilhelmina becomes Queen, causing the end of the personal union of thrones with Luxembourg (which requires a male heir) so that Adolphe, Duke of Nassau becomes Grand Duke of Luxembourg.
- November 29
- November – Scotland Yard, headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service, moves to a building on London's Victoria Embankment, as New Scotland Yard.
- December 15 – Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull is killed by police on Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
- December 27 – The British steamship Shanghai burns in the East China Sea off the coast of Anhui Province; 101 lives are lost.
- December 29 – Wounded Knee Massacre: At Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a Native American camp, the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment tries to disperse the non-violent "Ghost-Dance" which was promised to usher in a new era of power and freedom to Native Americans but is feared as a potential rallying tool for violent rebellion by some in the U.S. government. Shooting begins, and 153 Lakota Sioux and 25 troops are killed; about 150 flee the scene. This is the last tribe to be defeated and confined to a reservation as well as the beginning of the decline of both the American Indian Wars and the American frontier.
- The folding carton box is invented by Robert Gair, a Brooklyn printer who developed production of paper-board boxes in 1879.
- The United States city of Boise, Idaho, drills the first geothermal well.
- Brown trout are introduced into the upper Firehole River, in Yellowstone National Park.
- High School Cadets is written by John Philip Sousa.
- William II of Prussia opposes Bismarck's attempt to renew the law outlawing the Social Democratic Party.
- Blackwall Buildings, Whitechapel, noted philanthropic housing, is built in the East End of London.
- English archaeologist Flinders Petrie excavates at Tell el-Hesi, Palestine (mistakenly identified as Tel Lachish), the first scientific excavation of an archaeological site in the Holy Land, during which he discovers how tells are formed.
- American geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan publishes his influential book The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783.
- Francis Galton announces a statistical demonstration of the uniqueness and classifiability of individual human fingerprints.
- Alfred Tucker becomes Anglican Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa.
- The Ohio Northern University Marching Band is founded as a part of the military department. Now known as the “Star of Northwest Ohio” they perform regularly each football season and travel across the world through their sponsoring university.
- Japanese tractor and iron pipe brand, Kubota founded in Osaka, Japan.
- Emerson Electric, an American electronics industry giant, founded in Missouri.