Timeline

  • c 12,000 BC

Early inhabitants of the Americas arrive from Siberia in waves from 12,000 to 8000 BC, crossing land now submerged beneath the Bering Strait, then gradually spreading southward over many millennia.

  • AD 1500

Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral makes landfall around present-day Porto Seguro and claims possession of the land – believed at first to be an island – for the Portuguese crown.

  • 1549

Tomé de Sousa is named Brazil's first governor. He centralizes authority and founds the city of Salvador, which will remain Brazil’s capital for more than two centuries.

  • 1550

Facing a shortage of labor (as índios die from introduced European diseases), Portugal turns to the African slave trade; open-air slave markets flourish in the slowly growing colony.

  • 1621

The Dutch West India Company sets up shop in Northeastern Brazil, heralding the beginning of the Dutch presence in Brazil. Its goal: to wrest control of the colony from Portugal.

  • 1644–54

Over a decade, the Portuguese wage war against Holland's presence in Brazil, pushing the Dutch back to Recife; the Dutch surrender in 1654, ending Holland’s presence in Brazil.

  • 1650s

Communities of runaway slaves, called quilombos, flourish in the countryside, eventually becoming targets of bandeirantes. Hundreds of these informal communities will later become towns following abolition in the late 1800s.

  • 1695

Palmares, the largest quilombo in Brazil’s Northeast – and home to more than 20,000 inhabitants – is finally destroyed following decades of attacks by Portuguese troops.

  • 1696

News of the discovery of gold in Brazil reaches Lisbon. In ensuing years, tens of thousands of migrants stream into present-day Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Goiás and southern Bahia.

  • 1750

The Spanish concede to the Portuguese the Treaty of Madrid, which hands over 6 million sq km to the Portuguese and puts Brazil’s western borders largely where they are today.

  • 1750s

Gold (and later diamonds) begin to define the colonial economy. In Minas Gerais the population explodes from 30,000 in 1710 to 500,000 by the end of the century.

  • 1763

With gold flowing from Minas Gerais through Rio de Janeiro, the city grows in wealth and population; the Portuguese court transfers the capital of Brazil from Salvador to Rio.

  • 1789

The first organized movement toward independence springs to life. Tiradentes and 11 other conspirators organize the Inconfidência Mineira to overthrow the Portuguese. The plot fails, however, and Tiradentes is executed.

  • 1807

Napoleon invades Portugal and the Portuguese prince regent (later known as Dom João VI) and his entire court of 15,000 flee for Brazil. The royal coffers shower wealth upon Rio.

  • 1815

Dom João VI declares Rio the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil. The same year, a mounting financial crisis forces the king to return to Portugal.

  • 1822

Left in charge of Brazil after his father Dom João VI returns to Portugal, the prince regent Dom Pedro I declares independence from Portugal and crowns himself ‘emperor’ of Brazil.

  • 1831

Brazil’s first homegrown monarch, Dom Pedro, proves incompetent and abdicates the throne. His son Pedro II takes power in 1840 and ushers in a long period of growth and stability.

  • mid-1830s

The coffee bush, which flourishes in Rio de Janeiro province, plays a major role in the colony’s economy. Fazendas (ranches) spring up as Brazil becomes a major coffee exporter.

  • 1835

Inspired by the successful Haitian Revolution some years earlier, Brazilian slaves in Salvador stage an uprising – Brazil’s last big slave revolt – which narrowly fails.

  • 1865

Brazil, allied with Uruguay and Argentina, wages the ‘War of the Triple Alliance’ on Paraguay. South America’s bloodiest conflict leaves untold thousands dead, and wipes out half of Paraguay’s population.

  • 1888

Slavery is abolished in Brazil, the last country in the New World to do so. The law is signed by Princesa Isabel, admired by many blacks as their benefactress.

  • 1889

A military coup, supported by Brazil’s wealthy coffee farmers, overthrows Pedro II. The monarchy is abolished and the Brazilian Republic is born. Pedro II goes into exile in Paris.

  • 1890

Demand for rubber skyrockets with the start of the US automobile industry. Brazil, the world’s only natural exporter until 1910, fuels boom times in Amazonian cities like Belém and Manaus.

  • 1890s

With slavery abolished, Brazil opens its borders to meet its labor needs. Over the next four decades, millions arrive from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and later Japan and other countries.

  • 1920

The rubber boom goes bust as the Dutch and English plant their own rubber trees in the East Indies. Brazil’s monopoly on the world rubber market deflates.

  • 1930

Getúlio Vargas comes into power. Inspired by European fascists, President Vargas presides over an authoritarian state, playing a major role in Brazilian politics until his fall from power in 1951.

  • 1937

Getúlio Vargas announces a new constitution for what he calls the ‘Estado Novo’ (New State); he passes minimum wage laws in 1938, expands the military and centralizes power.

  • 1942

Initially maintaining neutrality, Brazil enters WWII on the side of the Allies, providing raw materials, plus 25,000 troops (the only Latin American nation to do so).

  • 1950

Newly constructed Maracanã Stadium in Rio plays center stage in the FIFA World Cup. Brazil dominates until the final, when, before 200,000 fans, it suffers a stunning loss to Uruguay.

  • 1954

Following an explosive political scandal, the military calls for the resignation of President Getúlio Vargas. He pens a melodramatic letter then shoots himself through the heart at his Rio palace.

  • 1956

Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira (better known as JK), is elected president, and builds a new capital – Brasília. JK had to borrow heavily to finance the project, leading to inflation that will dog the economy for decades.

  • 1958

Brazil wins its first football World Cup. The team catapults to victory over Sweden, largely on the skills of a precocious 17-year-old unknown by the name of Pelé.

  • 1960

President Juscelino Kubitschek spearheads the creation of a new capital. Architects Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa play a starring role in building hypermodern Brasília from scratch in just 41 months.

  • 1964

President Goulart is overthrown by a military coup – with strong evidence of US involvement. So begins the era of dictatorship, with generals running the show for the next 20 years.

  • 1968

The government passes the repressive Ato Institutional 5 law, which purges opposition legislators, judges and mayors from public office; most political parties are banned. Protests erupt nationwide.

  • 1968

The Brazilian economy booms, averaging an incredible 10% growth for the next six years. Rapid income growth continues into the 1970s.

  • 1972

The era of megaprojects and skyrocketing deficits begins, with the opening of the 5300km Transamazônica highway. It costs nearly US$1 billion, but never achieves its goal of colonizing the Amazon.

  • 1979–80

The consistent decline of workers’ wages leads to strikes across the country. Unions call for justice and young workers join with intellectuals and activists to form Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT).

  • 1984

The Movimento Sem Terra (MST; Landless Workers’ Movement) – an organization calling for land reform – is founded. The fringe organization of 6000 families grows to more than 1.5 million today.

  • 1988

Amazonia rubber-tappers’ leader and environmentalist Chico Mendes is murdered by a local rancher and his son. The public outcry following Mendes’ death forces the government to create extractive reserves.

  • 1994

Following the impeachment of President Collor, Vice President Itamar Franco takes power. He introduces a new currency, the real, which stabilizes the economy and ushers in an economic boom.

  • 2002

After four unsuccessful attempts, Luíz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva is elected president. The former union leader serves a moderate first term, despite upper-class fears of radical agendas.

  • 2003

President Lula launches Bolsa Família, a program of cash payments to Brazil’s 11 million poorest families. The social program is credited with reducing poverty by 27% during Lula’s first term.

  • 2011

Dilma Rousseff is sworn in as president of Brazil, becoming the first woman ever to hold the office. As Lula's handpicked successor, she largely continues the policies of her predecessor.

  • 2014

Brazil hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup, spending around US$12 billion in preparation for the event, which is staged at 12 different cities across the country.

  • 2014

News emerges of Brazil's largest corruption scandal in history. High-ranking politicians and oil-company executives are linked to a US$4 billion scheme that shakes the country to its core.

  • 2015

In the run-up to the Summer Olympics, Rio spends R$37 billion on stadiums, infrastructure and civic beautification, adding a new metro line, a downtown light rail and new museums.