Samuel Langhorne Clemens is born in Florida, Missouri, the sixth child of John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens.
The Clemens family moves to Hannibal, Missouri, a riverbank town that is a frequent stop for steamboats traveling the Mississippi. Young Samuel reveres the riverboat pilots and hopes to become one himself.
Samuel's father John Clemens dies, forcing the family into financial hardship.
At the age of 15, Samuel leaves school and goes to work as a printer in Hannibal.
Samuel Clemens begins a successful two-year apprenticeship to become a licensed river pilot. He learns the lingo of the trade, including "mark twain," a phrase that refers to the river depth at which a boat is safe to navigate. He soon adopts it as his pen name.
Twain's youngest brother Henry is killed tragically at the age of 20 in an explosion on the steamboat Pennsylvania. Henry had been training to become a steamboat pilot, at Twain's encouragement. Twain, devastated by his brother's death, feels responsible for it for the rest of his life.
The Civil War breaks out. Trade along the Mississippi River is halted, forcing an end to Twain's steamboat career. Twain spends two weeks training in a volunteer Confederate militia before it disbands.
In an adventure later chronicled in the book Roughing It, Twain travels to Nevada with his brother Orion, who had been named the secretary to the territorial governor. He tries his hand at mining and other schemes, without much success, before becoming a reporter for the Virginia City (Nev.) Daily Territorial Enterprise.
Twain travels to northern California, visiting Calavaras County before settling in San Francisco.
The short story "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog" (later "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County") appears in the New York Saturday Press. The story proves extremely popular and raises Twain's profile as a writer.
Twain travels to Hawaii as a reporter for San Francisco's Alta California newspaper. When he returns to the mainland a few months later, he gives his first public lecture. It's a hit.
Twain is introduced to Olivia "Livy" Langdon, the sister of a friend. He is instantly smitten.
Mark Twain's first book, The Innocents Abroad, becomes a bestseller.
Twain marries Olivia Langdon, who becomes an important editor of his work. Their son Langdon is born later that year.
Twain moves his family to Hartford, Connecticut. He publishes Roughing It, the memoir of his years in the West. The year is one of tragedy and joy—the couple's daughter Susy is born, but their son Langdon dies of diphtheria.
Daughter Clara is born, the only one of Twain's children to outlive her father.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is published. One of his most successful novels.
Livy Clemens gives birth to the couple's fourth and final child, a daughter named Jean.
Twain publishes Life on the Mississippi, his memoir of his years as a steamboat pilot.
Twain founds his own publishing company, Charles L. Webster & Co. (named after his nephew and co-owner Charles L. Webster). It turns out to be a bad financial move—the company's struggles will eventually ruin his family's finances.
In the span of less than a year, Twain publishes both his greatest fiction and non-fiction works: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a biography of President Ulysses S. Grant.
His finances in shambles following a series of poor business decisions, Twain moves his family from Hartford to Europe for cheaper living.
Pudd'nhead Wilson, Twain's last novel, is published. After ten difficult years, Twain's publishing house, Charles L. Webster & Co., finally goes belly-up. The writer finds himself essentially bankrupt. Close friend Henry Huttleston Rogers takes over his finances, saving him from complete disaster.
Twain's 24-year-old daughter Susy dies of meningitis in the U.S. while Twain is lecturing in Europe. Twain, who was particularly close to his oldest daughter, is devastated. He never fully recovers from her death, which marks the end of his most successful period as a writer.
Twain's wife Livy dies after a serious two-year illness. Following his wife's death, Twain moves to New York City and begins writing his autobiography.
Twain's youngest daughter Jean Clemens dies.
Mark Twain dies at the age of 74 at his home in Redding, Connecticut.