1816 Was Known As 'The Year Without A Summer' - Here's What Happened

The early 1800s proved to be an interesting time. This period experienced one of the earliest recorded instances of global climate change. In addition, the War of 1812 ended; Napoleon Bonaparte lost at Waterloo; and Otto von Bismarck was born. The year 1816, in particular, stands out as being almost as tragic as 536 CE.

Known as the "Year Without a Summer," 1816 negatively impacted the entire world, from the most poverty-stricken farmer in China to Thomas Jefferson. In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted, and its aftermath spurred droughts, crop failure, and endless winter.

The volcanic activity altered weather systems, triggered disease, and destabilized regimes. Historians struggle to cite a specific number of lives that were lost during the period, but at least 10 million people passed - many experienced a weather-induced cholera epidemic. The Year Without a Summer also profoundly impacted culture and art in the 19th century, inspiring Gothic and Romantic masterpieces.

The Mount Tambora volcanic eruption changed the course of history.


  • People Around The World Didn't Immediately Notice The Volcanic Eruption At Mount Tambora
    Photo: NASA Landsat7 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    People Around The World Didn't Immediately Notice The Volcanic Eruption At Mount Tambora

    Indonesia's Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, and humankind faced one of history's most significant geological events the following year. Some scientists believe Mount Tambora's eruption was 10 times as mighty as that of Krakatau in 1883.

    However, a while passed before the world felt Tambora's effects. Europe was reeling from the Napoleonic Wars; the United States was constructing a new nation; and the Chinese Qing Dynasty was pursuing an aggressive resettlement plan.

    As the enormous ash plume made its way across the world, it put pressure on entire communities.

  • The Event Claimed At Least 80,000 Lives In And Near Indonesia
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Event Claimed At Least 80,000 Lives In And Near Indonesia

    Analysts disagree on an exact number of lives lost due to Mount Tambora's eruption. However, even conservative estimates suggest around 10,000 people perished in the initial eruption, and another 70,000 passed in the subsequent months.

    The largest volcanic event in modern history, the 1815 burst garnered a Volcanic Explosivity Index of seven on a scale of eight.

  • The Global Climate Dropped Around Three Degrees Celsius In 1816

    Though a three-degree temperature drop may not appear particularly profound, this change in weather had wide-reaching consequences in 1816. The ash cloud generated by the volcano made its way to the stratosphere, reflecting incoming sunlight and cooling the Earth.

    The wind disrupted weather systems and increased rainfall across much of the northern hemisphere.

  • The Eruption Likely Led To One Of The Worst Irish Potato Famines
    Photo: James Mahoney / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Eruption Likely Led To One Of The Worst Irish Potato Famines

    The best-known Irish Potato Famine occurred between 1845-1849. However, many primary sources insist a series of potato famines affected the country in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is believed that Mount Tambora's eruption caused an eight-week-long rainy period in Ireland.

    As a result, local crops failed and famine ensued, leading to a typhus epidemic from 1816 to 1819. Roughly 100,000 people perished.

  • Millions Succumbed To A Cholera Epidemic That Originated In Bengal
    Photo: National Library of Wales / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Millions Succumbed To A Cholera Epidemic That Originated In Bengal

    The Mount Tambora event led to a new strain of cholera. This form of it had mutated due to the Bay of Bengal's altered weather patterns and the chemical changes in the soil. The population couldn't fight the microbe that targeted the immune system, and the disease quickly traveled all over Asia.

    By the century's end, the entire world felt cholera's effects. It claimed the lives of millions. 

  • The Napoleonic Wars Left Europe Ill-Prepared For Famine
    Photo: Joseph Louis Hippolyte Bellangé / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Napoleonic Wars Left Europe Ill-Prepared For Famine

    At the height of his power, Napoleon Bonaparte seemed unstoppable. He cut a swath across Europe and held brief dominion over most of the continent. But the Mount Tambora eruption proved more disruptive than Bonaparte. 

    The eruption caused ash, rain, and freezing temperatures to circulate through Europe. Hardly anyone was prepared for these effects, and food stores were low.

    Many European nations had to rely on American imports to avoid hunger, as strife had disrupted agricultural processes.