There were many inventions that came about during the Victorian era, both in England and across the globe. However, Victorian inventors lead the way for some key inventions, including significant advancements in transportation, engineering, industrialisation and technology.
Inventions for Daily Life
After the invention of the light bulb by Joseph Wilson Swan and Thomas Edison, electric lighting and bulbs started to become the norm in homes and on the streets. No longer did we have to use yellow gas lights and oil lamps, or indeed candle light. Many streets and towns were now powered by electric lighting and many families were starting to use it in their own houses.
Photographs were first taken in the 1830s and within a few years people were visiting photographic studios to have their picture taken with their families, capturing their moment in history. Many families would dress in their finest clothes when having the picture taken. It was a prestigious moment for those that could afford it. The process involved having to keep still for ages in order to stop the picture becoming blurred! In 1888 photography became main stream with the invention of the “Kodak box camera” invented by American George Eastman. By using a film roll and camera photography quickly became accessible to the public and become widely popular throughout the world.
Although the sewing machine was first designed and patented in the 1700s, it was the Victorian Era where the Sewing Machine as we know it today came into existence. Throughout the early 1800s there were many attempts at creating a reliable method of sewing using machinery, with as American farmer named Elias Howe being credited with completing the first prototype in 1844, followed by Isaac Singer producing a sewing machine which could be used at home in 1850.
Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson were able to come up with the idea and invention of the telephone using both of their skills which led to the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell was an expert in sound, but lacked expertise in electricity which Thomas Watson was an expert in. The foundations of the phone happened by accident when experimenting with a long piece of wire with a spring on each end.
They hoped to waggle the spring and see the one on the other end waggle also, instead they noticed that the sound of the spring was passed down the wire. After much more work on this they were able to send the sound of their voices down the wire. Alexander Bell decided to quickly patent this idea and amazingly another inventor tried to register a patent for the same invention just 2 hours later!
This was a major invention that really linked up Victorian Britain and was seen as the Internet of the Victorian Era. We could now fully communicate with each other rapidly using an electronically transmitted telegram message through circuits of wires. The telegraph was first used in the 1840s and within 10 years became commonplace. Soon we could exchange telegrams with people in New York and many other far away locations!
The first stamps available were known as the “Penny Black” which was invented by David Charles. The stamp itself was black with Queen Victoria’s profile in the middle and looks much the same as stamps that we see today with our current queen on. This stamp was used for letters and cards which weighed less than half an ounce, making people all over Britain able to send letters throughout the country for only a penny!
The vacuum cleaner created by Hubert Cecil Booth. Booth received his patent in 1901 for his vacuum, which did not blow away the dirt and debris like other prior models, this vacuum actually removed the dirt with suction.
In 1852 the first public flushing toilet was available in London. Before this the majority of people had to use an earth closet, a toilet outside the house with soil in it instead of water! To accompany the invention of the flush toilet and the newly implemented sewer system, toilet paper was created. The British Perforated Paper Company in 1880 distributed what was then called “therapeutic paper” where the acronym used today “T.P.” comes from. Thomas Twyford created the first one piece toilet which was constructed of china much like the ones we used today. This was a great upgrade from the previous wood and metal toilets which were also very hard to clean!
Joseph Bazalgette created a much more sanitary place during the Victorian era. In 1858 Bazalgette put into place a sewage system in London. Consisting of 82 miles of sewer pipes with an additional 1,000 miles of interconnected street sewers, which all allowed for removal of wastes and disease from the city—including cholera, a deadly disease during the Victorian era. Bazalgette served as chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works in London.
Trains and railways were springing up across England starting in the early in the 1800’s with the first train introduced in 1804 and continued to grow and expand into and throughout the Victorian era. Slowly, with the expansion across the country, numerous railway stations were built, along with 35,000km of railway during Victoria’s reign. With this monumental change in travel, it allowed for great economic growth and ease of travel throughout the country.
Another advancement in transportation occurred within the shipping industry. With the introduction of iron and steel, ships were built better, bigger and stronger to accommodate larger cargo areas for commerce and trade. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the great engineers of his time and built one of the largest ships to date in July of 1843. It was the debut of the SS Great Eastern, which some call Brunel’s greatest accomplishment. The Great Eastern was made completely of iron and was the first propeller ship to travel in the ocean. The Great Eastern made many important journeys during the Victorian era, ranging from carrying up to 730 passengers at a time, traveling to Australia and a voyage to New York. Much future advancement in ship building originated from the Great Eastern and Brunel’s ingenuity.
Late in the Victorian Era petrol powered “horseless carriages” were seen taking to the road. This was the first sight of cars on the streets, which were predominantly owned by the rich as they were very expensive and hard to get hold of. The first car was a three wheeled, once cylinder petrol engine vehicle invented by German engineer Karl Benz which went on sale in 1886. The first cars on the road required a man with a red flag to walk in front of the car warning pedestrians and people of the town that the car was coming.
Many in the Victorian times had to suffer from poorly laid roads and cobble streets with potholes. This made getting around rather difficult and hindered the booming trade which was taking part on the roads up and down the country. To help with this Tarmac was first laid from London Road in Nottingham in 1845, quickly becoming widely used up and down the country on important roads and routes.
Penny Farthing Bicycle
Around the 1870s cycling became a very popular way of getting around and alongside this came the invention of the penny farthing bicycle, which was invented by James Starley. The bike had no brakes and a unique design which had a near six foot wheel on the front and a small wheel on the back. The seat sat above the wheel and the pedals were directly mounted to the front wheel rather than a chain. This design was popular until around 1880 when bicycles with equal size wheels became the norm.