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Best Inventions of the 19th Century

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An old candlestick style telephone Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation

An old candlestick style telephone Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation

Inventions and Revolutions

The 19th century stands out above many as a century of change.

And most of that change was driven by human progress.

Inventions abounded in the 19th century, largely as a result of the industrial revolution which placed demands for output on workers more used to being able to create things 'by hand'.

So the best inventions of the 19th century were those driven by industrial change - automated spinners and weavers, ploughs, locomotives, steam engines, safety lamps for miners etc.

And people in the 19th century also wanted to communicate more effectively so there were a number of innovative inventions to improve the ways in which people communicated.

There were also quite a few interesting inventions which pushed academia to its limits with physicians and mathematicians working hard to create inventions which used their particular field to affect human progress.

19th century entertainment also seems to have mattered to people and so inventions which facilitated entertainment were also among some of the most interesting in the 1800s - beside the 'big' inventions like the phonograph and microphone were simple inventions like the kaleidoscope.

People now as then worked, rested and played and any inventions which supported the endeavour of any of these 3 things was likely to be embraced.

However, it is interesting to note that most of the inventions featured here show that in the 19th Century the world was shrinking as people tried and found ways to bring people closer together - a strange paradox during a century also infamous for its many wars.

interesting-inventions-of-the-19th-century
A portrait of Jacquard created in silk cloth woven by Michel-Marie Carquillat (1803–1884) After Claude Bonnefond (1796–1860)

A portrait of Jacquard created in silk cloth woven by Michel-Marie Carquillat (1803–1884) After Claude Bonnefond (1796–1860)

Difference Engine #2 Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections,

Difference Engine #2 Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections,

Best 19th Century Inventions- Patterns & Programs

Joseph Marie 'Jacquard' Charles was a French merchant who worked mainly in the textiles industry.

It is an interesting and amazing fact that one of the inventions which supported the creation of patterned silk weaving in France as early as 1805 would have an enormous influence on the creation in 1833 of the world's first automated 'computer'.

After his father's death, Jacquard had inherited wealth and a grand house. He speculated with money unsuccessfully and ended up returning to the work he understood - weaving.

His father had been a successful loom manufacturer and Jacquard, upon falling on hard times, went back to this endeavour.

He understood the mechanics of weaving and in 1800 he began to manufacture looms himself and created a silk loom which used punch 'cards' to create its patterns upon the silk cloth. The pattern was punched onto a series of oilcloth cards and these cards were 'read' by the loom and the pattern was automatically created upon the silk when it was being woven.

Jacquard was hailed in manufacturing and inventing circles for this interesting new and innovative invention. Needless to say he was loathed by silk weavers more used to creating patterns by hand.

They saw this new technology as a direct threat to their working practices.

This was the industrial revolution at work in post-revolution France, a difficult time for workers and mill owners alike.

In spite of Jacquard's card machine being prone to failure; it was seized upon by other manufacturers and in a short time, it was improved upon enough to make it a viable invention for use on all silk looms.

Emperor Napoleon gave the patent for the invention to the people of Jacquard's hometown, Lyon and Jacquard himself was given a pension in lieu of his creative skills.

Incredibly, Jacquard's interesting invention was what Charles Babbage turned to during his invention of his 'Difference' Engine #2, now considered the world's first automatic computer.

Babbage realised that if a pattern could be punched on cards, basically a 'program' of design, then so could a program of instructions to enable the difference engine to 'compute' numerical tables.

Would Babbage have achieved such success without Jacquard? Who knows.

The silk loom's punch card and Charles Babbage computer are arguably two of the best inventions of the 19th century. Forever linked because one proved to be the perfect invention and catalyst for the successful invention of the other, even though they were from very different areas of invention.

interesting-inventions-of-the-19th-century
Stephenson's famous steam locomotive 'Rocket'.  This is a replica which is held ar Nuernberg Museum, Germany

Stephenson's famous steam locomotive 'Rocket'. This is a replica which is held ar Nuernberg Museum, Germany

Best 19th Century Inventions - Locomotion

George Stephenson's Rocket, built in 1829, is chosen because it could easily belong in any or all of the human need categories of work, rest or play in the 19th century.

Although it was built some years after the first steam locomotive built by Richard Trevithick in 1804, the Rocket was innovative for a number of reasons and was created to participate in the Rainham Trials, an engineering show where it shone as the stand out invention.

Because of Stephenson's Rocket, travel would never be the same again as people were able to jump on a train thanks to the steam locomotive and George Stephenson (and his son, Robert) deserve their places as the main inventors and innovators of rail transport, especially in Britain.

His invention led to thousands, maybe million miles of track being laid down all over the world in the name of commerce, industry and leisure.

George Stephenson is honoured with a statue at the Railway Museum in York. If you ever find yourself in York it is well worth a visit; an interesting museum full of wonderful old locomotives and admission to the museum is completely free.

Imagine the USA's incredible railway building programme without Stephenson's locomotion engine?

Imagine industries like mining, textiles and farming becoming successful without the ability to move products from A to B quickly and efficiently?

Stephenson's steam locomotion remains one of the most interesting inventions of the 19th century because other country's grasped its fundamental usefulness and saw that it was peerless in terms of moving not only things but people from place to place; yes, it was slow at first but once Stephenson had made the invention, he worked tirelessly, as did others, to make it faster.

The railways remain a viable form of transport even in this day and age.

interesting-inventions-of-the-19th-century
The earliest surviving photographic image, created by Joseph N Niepce.  He was once in partnership with Daguerre.

The earliest surviving photographic image, created by Joseph N Niepce. He was once in partnership with Daguerre.

The first photograph to feature a person - a man having his shoes shined on the corner of the street This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less..

The first photograph to feature a person - a man having his shoes shined on the corner of the street This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less..

Best 19th Century Inventions - Photography

'Photography' or 'Photographie' was a word first coined in the 19th century.

Nobody is quite sure who came up with it first but in any event it was derived from the Greek, photo and graphe (literally meaning 'drawing with light').

Incredibly, inventors of the 19th century were often working on the same ideas at the same time.

For example, there is very little to separate Trevithick, Stephenson and Brunel in the creation of the steam locomotion. All were actively pursuing the same idea at the same time; Stephenson, though is regarded as the 'inventor' because he perfected the ideas.

In the invention of photography, there is a similar pattern with Niepce and Daguerre in France, Hershel in England, Maxwell in Scotland and Eastman in the USA all seemingly working on ideas with the same core aim.

Niepce was the first person to create an actual photograph though it required a heavy metal plate and the use of bitumen, substantial exposure times and then a difficult process of polishing the metal plate to finally create an image.

Before this though, the only way of creating images with light was by using a camera obscura. Camera Obscura were an ancient form of projecting the human form, using light, onto a surface but up until Niepce's first photographic image, nobody had found a way to capture an image created by light.

Further work after Niepce's death by his partner, Louis Daguerre refined the processes, though exposire time still ran into hours.

In 1839, English physicist, mathematician and astronomer, Sir John Herschel using Niepce's ideas refined them by discovering that similar negative images could be rendered onto glass rather than metal plates and he also discovered that silver had far better photo catalyst properties than bitumen and cut exposure times considerably.

In 1861, James Clerk Maxwell created the first coloured photo of a tartan ribbon but he is rarely mentioned as one of the great 19th century inventors because his is more famous as a physicist dealing with electromagnetism, yet it is incredible to think of a coloured photo created as early as 1860 when most of us have memories of our own early photos always being in black and white.

The creation of the first camera for sale to the general public was by the Eastman Company in the USA, later knows as Kodak. This brought the 'pocket' camera to the masses.

At first, photography was seen as a useful aide for artists and then as a way of creating memento of family members. It was not seen as an 'art' until the early 20th century.

Amazing that we all take it for granted that our mobile phones have really great cameras - exposure takes seconds and we can share them with everyone we know within 5 seconds of taking the photo.

The first photograph (featured on the right) took over 8 hours to create!

interesting-inventions-of-the-19th-century
Morse Telegraph diagram - the original is held in the Smithsonian. This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US

Morse Telegraph diagram - the original is held in the Smithsonian. This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US

Braille alphabet This file is ineligible for copyright and therefore in the public domain, because it consists entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship.

Braille alphabet This file is ineligible for copyright and therefore in the public domain, because it consists entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship.

Best Inventions of the 19th Century - Communication

The 19th Century was also a century in which the world suddenly got smaller.

Before then, people stayed in their own town and rarely travelled to the next town. If they did, it was either on foot or by horse and cart.

A trip on the river usually meant a rocky ride in a rowing boat, until canals and the steam engine made this easier.

In the USA, still in the age of settlement, horses were an absolute necessity.

So then along came canals, steamships and trains.

The next really important means of bringing man into contact with his neighbours would have to overcome the problem of distance.

In 1837, Samuel Morse thought it might be interesting to see if he could use on off electrical radio signals to create a message.

He created a tapping device which allowed him to tap out his message in a series of long and short codes and created a manual to let the receiver know what was being sent.

Morse code is still used today.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the first 'telephone' and it is certainly one of the 19th century's most interesting inventions because debate goes on even now over who actually invented it.

There is no argument over the fact that Alexander Graham Bell and his 'photophone' got there first (to the patent office anyway), his patent was accepted and all telephone manufacture and line creation is based on his patent.

The telephone was considered a luxury in Europe for a long time but telephone systems in the USA were established very quickly and consequently, line development in the USA was faster.

It is incredible to think of the phone (now sometimes very mobile); something most of us take for granted, as being one of the most innovative and interesting inventions of the 19th century but all across Europe and the USA, inventors were trying to turn what Morse had developed into plain speech. Thankfully, Alexander Graham Bell succeeded.

In 1829, Louis Braille also invented a code specifically for use by blind people. Of all forms of communication, this is one which deserves special praise and has helped visually impaired people to read since its invention.

Braille was blinded himself as a boy and frustrated at his inability to read anything or to write letters home to his parents.

His professor created a form of raised Latin lettering so that the blind children he was teaching could learn Latin (then considered the norm) but Braille was a bright, intelligent young man and in time he felt that he could improve on this raised lettering system of communicating.

In time, he heard about an army captain, Charles Barbier who had devised a system of 'impressed' lettering so that soldiers could pass on strategic messages on battlefields and still 'read' them in the dark by running their fingers over the dents in the paper.

Braille redeveloped this system but instead he raised the paper to make it easier to read and completely created his own alphabet. In doing so, he changed the lives of the visually impaired forever.

Braille is still used today.

interesting-inventions-of-the-19th-century
Edison with his phonograph - if I could thank him personally, I would! Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) -This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.  published in the US before 1923.

Edison with his phonograph - if I could thank him personally, I would! Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) -This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. published in the US before 1923.

Other 19th Century Inventions

The 19th century deserves its reputation as a century of innovation. It was a time when inventors were looking for ways to create things that were useful to all of mankind.

It was also a century of revolutions and revolts, of people getting rich and others getting poor.

Among some of the other interesting inventions of the 19th century (though not included here for reasons of space!) were:

  • 1819 Stethoscope (though improved substantially in 1840) by Laennec
  • 1827 Matches by Walker
  • 1836 Revolver by Colt
  • 1839 Vulcanized rubber by Goodyear
  • 1846 Sewing Machine by Howe
  • 1849 Safety pin by Hunt
  • 1851 Cylinder lock by Yale
  • 1853 Blue 'jeans' by Levi Strauss
  • 1855 Gas burner by Bunsen
  • 1860 Linoleum by Walton
  • 1866 Dynamine by Nobel
  • 1877 Phonograph by Edison
  • 1884 Fountain pen by Waterman
  • 1886 Coca-Cola by Pemberton (they took out the cocaine eventually!)
  • 1887 Disc Record by Berlinger
  • 1891 Zipper by Judson
  • 1891 Basketball by James Naismith (a Canadian!!)
  • 1895 Radio Signal by Marconi

It seems that the 19th century was 100 years of people being creative and we thank them all for their efforts!

Many thanks for reading.

© 2013 Jools Hogg

Comments

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on June 01, 2013:

Stephanie, I can't magine what it must have been like to be able to communicate with people so easily after so many centuries of messages delivered by someone on a horse!

Stephanie Henkel from USA on June 01, 2013:

Great hub, Julie! How interesting to learn the background of some of these inventions that have led to today's technology. I remember using punch cards in college when first learning computer programing, but didn't realize that it all started with weaving. What a long way we've come!

Voted up and shared!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on May 27, 2013:

Duchess, many thanks for reading - yup, I would really be thrilled if I had a big idea that could help lots of people...and make me some money, even better!

Duchess OBlunt on May 26, 2013:

I love the look back in history to see how things were created. "necessity is the mother of invention". And so many of us benefit from these things still to this day. Amazing. I wish I was so gifted!!! It would be awesome to come up with something that could be used by millions for so many generations!

Enjoyed the read!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 16, 2013:

Rajan,many thanks for your comment - you are always so encouraging.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on February 16, 2013:

This is an awesome list of inventions. You have done a very impressive job in compiling this fantastic hub. Voted up and awesome.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 15, 2013:

pstraubie48, thanks for your comment. This was actually an HP 'exclusive' title and although history is my 'thing', I think this will be it for inventions to be honest though it was a very interesting article to write. I am doing an American history hub next - I know nothing about it and I do enjoy a challenge :o)

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on February 14, 2013:

Very interesting and well done. These are all pretty amazing but Charles' pre-computer invention was probably the one that surprised me the most. Will you be writing more on this topic? Surely there must be many more of these unsung inventors out there.

Thanks for sharing this.

Sending you Angels this evening. :) ps

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 12, 2013:

Yes, the 19th century was certainly an inventive 100 years.

Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on February 12, 2013:

So many great inventions and where we would stand without them ?

Truly an addition to y knowledge, Thank you so much , God bless.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 05, 2013:

Denise, I found the punch card info very interesting too but still a little sad that the people who created these patterns by hand lost their income; the artisan lifestyle was killed off by the industrial revolution.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on February 04, 2013:

What a fascinating hub! Blue jeans in 1853? Wow! I love the first bio about the punch card textile weaving leading to the first computer-amazing. The other thing I had do smile about was the reaction of those who did the designs by hand...it reminded me of the reactions I heard when 'self check out' first came into the grocery stores. "It's just going to put more people out of work" is what I heard.

Very interesting info here, including the photos. UP, U/I/A and sharing.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 02, 2013:

Many thanks.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 02, 2013:

Mary, glad you liked it, thanks for stopping by.

Kishore from Nellore on February 02, 2013:

Good writing, Nice Hub

Mary Hyatt from Florida on February 01, 2013:

I really enjoyed reading this Hub. It is mind boggling how many things were invented during this time.

Voted UP, etc. and will share.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 01, 2013:

'Lens' Mike, you've gone all Squidoo on me! Thanks though - yup, all great inventions but guns...Mmmmm

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 01, 2013:

Vinaya, it didn't feel brief when I was writing it but I settled on my favourites, otherwise it would not be a hub but a book :o)

Mike Robbers from London on February 01, 2013:

Great lens! Personal favorites: photography, phone of course, disc record, basketball and... Coca Cola (just kidding!). I would personally live without the revolver for sure!

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on February 01, 2013:

I did not know about Joseph Marie.Thanks for this brief but very educational hub. I love photography, so I think invention of photography was amazing.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 01, 2013:

jainismus, many thanks for your comment and the share (always appreciated!!!).

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 01, 2013:

Natasha, yes, it is crazy sounding but I expect you are totally correct! When you look at the 19th century, you can only be inplressed by all of that innovation and yet, all of that industrial invention had a dark side if you were poor! They mill owners must have become very rich with the rate and speed of all of those machines!

Natasha from Hawaii on February 01, 2013:

The 19th century is when so much of it what we have now began! In fact, it is scientifically proven that the rate of invention peaked in the 19th century (I can't remember the exact year and don't want to quote it!) and that, in a few more years at the same rate of decline, we'll be experiencing the same invention rate as the Dark Ages. Crazy sounding, isn't it?

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on February 01, 2013:

All these inventions were foundations of modern day advanced equipments. Interesting Hub, thank you for sharing this valuable information. I am glad to share it with my followers.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on February 01, 2013:

Michelle, many thanks for checking this one out, I do appreciate it! Indeed, we all take our cameras for granted don't we? And yet, photography was years in the 'development' (pardon the pun, could not help myself!)

Michelle Liew from Singapore on February 01, 2013:

Jools, I would say that without many of these, we would not be where we are!! Am on a train reading this right now! And w/o photography, we'd have fewer records of anything! Thanks for sharing! Passing this hub around!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 30, 2013:

Thanks, glad you liked it!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 30, 2013:

Mary, many thanks for reading. The 19th century stands head and shoulders above most others for its innovation and invention.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 30, 2013:

Christy, many thanks for reading - trouble with writing these is that I want to do more research!

ryokowaren from USA on January 27, 2013:

I love this era of History. Great article. Voted up!

Mary Craig from New York on January 27, 2013:

Though we seem to be moving at the speed of light (20th Century onward) it is the 19th Century that gave us our start. You've picked some great inventions that had a huge impact on where we are today.

Your list of additional inventions is intriguing as well. As Paula said, we can always count on you to make history interesting. Thanks so much for this information.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on January 27, 2013:

I like how you take the inventions and explain their significance for present day. There have been many great inventors and you explain some great ones here! Vote up, useful, and sharing too.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 26, 2013:

Pamels, many thanks for your kind comment. I have also 'lost' a few emails to people I follow, nust be some sort of glitch :o)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 26, 2013:

Very interesting hub. We sure have come a long way. I was following you and for some reason I wasn't getting the emails anymore, so I clicked on the following button again. This has happened with a few people and I enjoy your hubs , so glad to be back. Voted up and very interesting.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 25, 2013:

Pavlo, I know, you are quite right. It's amazing that we just take these incredible inventions for granted!

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on January 25, 2013:

All these inventions were not just interesting. They changed the world and life of a humanity. Take for instance telephone invention. We can not imagine our life without it!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 24, 2013:

Yes, the punch card was ahead of its time. I was still using punch cards when I was a computer operator in the late 1980s so they were still a useful invention over 100 years later.

Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on January 23, 2013:

I found the "punch card" system of the loom absolutely ingenious and ahead of it's time while trailing toward the worlds first computer.

I commend you for sharing such an interesting hub. From the smallest yet useful inventions like the safety pin to the many forms of communication, these individuals truly are a testament to "thinking out of the box".

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 22, 2013:

Dianna, thanks so much for your kind comment - I do love writing these history hubs - if only more people would read them :o)

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 22, 2013:

Paula, thanks for your comment. Wow! Imagine knowing someone with the clever idea of putting a light in the heel of a shoe! My daughter had those shoes! And good on him, making some cash out of his own idea. I do love writing about the past, dear to my heart as you know! So far in my genealogy studies I have discovered two of my great-grandfathers sisters born in Montour, Pennsylvania and that his dad (my gr-gr grandfather) was a methodist preacher!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 22, 2013:

Russell, I sometimes wonder what the next big invention will be - just read a story about mining asteroids today - whatever next?

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 22, 2013:

Vellur, many thanks for your comment-it certainly was an interesting century!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 22, 2013:

web923, many thanks for your comment. Life without the zipper? Impossible!

Dianna Mendez on January 20, 2013:

Very well written, researched, and interesting to read. Voted up! Being as how America is into technology, I can see why the US was faster at implementing the telephone system. I learned much here today.

Suzie from Carson City on January 17, 2013:

Julie.....You really DO love history, don't you? And lucky for us that you relate these history lessons so expertly. I thoroughly enjoyed today's class, Miss Jools.

The degree of genius I believe it requires to conceive of an invention that is so profound as to improve quality of life...progress in the industrial world, increase overall advancement...is somewhat shocking.

I do know a couple of people personally, who made a few current day inventions....but of course, just minor things. Enough to make them some hefty cash, but no major earth shattering world changes!

My cousin's boyfriend is the guy who came up with the lighting in the heels of kid's gym shoes......? LOL....well, it's an invention, right ? Thanks so much, Julie. Keep the stories coming, please....you're increasing my brain!!.........UP+++

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff from Long Island, New York on January 17, 2013:

A great recounting of history and a fascinating hub. I wonder what a future article on the great inventions of the 21st century will look like. It will probably be written by a computer. Voted up and awesome.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on January 16, 2013:

Cheers to creativity of the human mind. So many things invented in the 19th century. Interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing. Voted up.

Bill Blackburn from Twentynine Palms, California on January 16, 2013:

I could live without the zipper! That was a step backwards as far as I'm concerned, nevertheless this was a great article. You did your homework and it is laid out very well. It's interesting and awesome!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on January 16, 2013:

Bill, many thanks for your comment, it certainly was an interesting century.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 16, 2013:

It was an incredible century for inventions; I have taught about this subject often in middle school and high school. There was a bout a twenty-year span when it seemed almost daily someone invented something that today we just can't live without.

Great look back in time, Julie!