1856 was 15 years before the founding of the City of Birmingham and the 37th year of Alabama statehood.
- February 1: The East Alabama Male College was chartered.
- March 9: National fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon was founded at the University of Alabama.
- The Ellard Cemetery was established on what is now the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
- The Good Hope Cemetery was established west of Graysville.
- Southern University was founded in Greensboro, Hale County.
- Alburto Martin opened a law practice in Elyton.
- Goldsmith Hewitt II was admitted to the Alabama State Bar.
- August 16: William C. Eubanks succeeded Richard Hudson as Jefferson County Sheriff.
- William Mudd was elected as circuit judge.
- An appointment to to the United States Military Academy was secured for John Pelham.
- Michael Tuomey resumed teaching after his legislative appropriation for a state geological survey expired.
- Samuel Ullman's father sent him to Louisville, Kentucky to attend a Jewish school
- Todd R. Wyatt succeeded William P. Reeves as Shelby County Sheriff.
- February: Mary Cahalan, educator
- April 5: Booker T. Washington, educator
- April 26: Freeman Daniel, brick maker and Mayor of Avondale
- June 5: Rufus Rhodes, founder of The Birmingham News
- July 5: James Weatherly, attorney and Birmingham City Commissioner
- August 1: Benjamin Wyman, physician
- November 7: Robert Van Hook, Disciples of Christ minister
- Patrick O'Reilly, rector of St Paul's Catholic Church
- April 22: Pioneer settler William "Silver Dollar Billy" Reed died at his home in Huffman.
- November 2: Former Governor of Alabama Joshua Martin died in Tuscaloosa.
In 1856, the Taiping Rebellion continued. Dallas, Texas was incorporated. The Crimean War ended. Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Senator Charles Sumner with a cane in the hall of the United States Senate, for a speech Sumner had made attacking Southerners who sympathized with the pro-slavery violence in Kansas. The Great Train Wreck occurred near Philadelphia. The Second Opium War between several western powers and China began. James Buchanan defeated former President Millard Fillmore in the presidential election. Gregor Mendel started his research on genetics.
Notable births in 1856 included efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor, Tongzhi Emperor of China, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, author L. Frank Baum, inventor Nikola Tesla, writer George Bernard Shaw, architect Louis Sullivan, biologist William Emerson Ritter, lawman Bat Masterson, physicist J. J. Thomson, statesman Frank B. Kellogg, and President Woodrow Wilson. Notable deaths included soprano Anna Gottlieb, chemist Amedeo Avogadro, composer Robert Schumann, and revolutionary Francesco Bentivegna.
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