Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors in human history. He was famously dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park" by a local journalist, after the location of his vast…
Inventions of the 1800s
Although the 21st century may appear to be hustling and bustling towards the peak of technological advancement, the path that led to it was laid in the centuries before it, namely the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. Read on to find out more about some of the vital inventions made in the 1800s.
What are some of your most frequently used devices? The lights, the mobile phone, the computer, the car, the bike, the camera, the vacuum cleaner? What about some favorite foods? Hamburgers, Coke, Jell-O, cornflakes, peanut butter, chocolate bars, perhaps? And speaking of commonly used household items, it goes without saying that jeans are virtually indispensable in the wardrobe, and a life without milk chocolates is terribly close to a hellhole, isn’t it?
If you agree with this description, wake up, because your life is, essentially, still in the 1800s!!
Every item in the list mentioned above has, in some way or other, been invented in the 1800s. Just got the latest model of the zenith of photography technology? Still does the same function as programmed by George Eastman. Lusting after the Ferrari Berlinetta, or maybe the Pagani Huayra? It’s more than 200 years old, think new! Think your new jeans are the ‘in thing’? Well, think again, because it was the ‘in thing’ in 1873 as well.
The 1800s saw the birth of several groundbreaking inventions that have since gone on to become some of the most commonplace. Imagine being able to talk to someone miles away in a time when cars had to be fed hay, scrubbed, and had ears, a nose and a tail, and you can get an inkling of just why these inventions were so important and revolutionary.
Here’s a list of some of the most important inventions of the 19th century, i.e., the 1800s.
NOTE: Click on images for better viewing. Many images are modern versions of the original inventions, but largely resemble their predecessors.
19th Century Inventions
The Voltaic Cell (Volta’s Pile)
Alessandro Volta – 1800
The Voltaic Pile was the first design to provide a continuous current to a circuit.
Joseph Marie Jacquard – 1801
The Jacquard Loom was the first programmable loom, and led to more research in the field, eventually yielding the computer.
Dry Cell Battery
Johann Wilhelm Ritter – 1802
Ritter provided a better (more accurate) explanation of Luigi Galvani’s findings in bioelectricity than Alessandro Volta, or Galvani himself!
Luigi Brugnatelli – 1805
Brugnatelli’s work remained unpublished and commercially unused until 1839, when British and Russian scientists separately arrived at the same conclusion as him.
Coffee Pot / Percolator
Benjamin Thompson – 1806
Thompson invented the coffee pot while working with the Bavarian Army to improve their diets.
Carbon Arc Light
Humphry Davy – 1808
In the construction of the carbon arc lamp, Davy placed a lump of charcoal in a circuit, causing it to glow when current was passed through it. Since Davy used a battery in the construction of this lamp, some consider this the very first electric lamp.
Peter Durand – 1809
The earlier cans, which were made of steel, had to be hammered open. Yes, you read that right! Oftentimes, the customer got the tin hammered open at the shop right after the purchase.
Francis Lowell – 1816
Lowell based his American version of the power loom on the original already in use in Britain. He traveled to England to study the plans, and memorized them before returning, since he wasn’t allowed to carry the plans back to America.
Draisine (Primitive Bicycle)
Karl Drais – 1817
The Draisine, named after its inventor Karl Drais, was also called the dandy horse. Although it was wheeled, it didn’t have pedals and had to be propelled by the rider running while seated on it!
Rene Laennec – 1820
Before the invention of the stethoscope, doctors used to discern heartbeats by applying their ears directly to the patient’s chest. However, Laennec was unable to use this method when consulted by an obese woman. Forced to find a solution to the conundrum, Laennec came up with a rudimentary stethoscope by rolling up a newspaper. Finding that he could hear the heartbeats much clearer in this fashion, he later perfected the device.
Joseph Aspdin – 1824
Portland cement was thus named to advertize its strength — the mortars created with it were said to be as strong as Portland stone, a prized construction material at the time.
Nicephore Niepce – 1827
Niepce took what has been considered the first ever photograph — a view of the surroundings from the top window of his estate Le Gras.
Edwin Budding – 1827
In addition to the lawn mower, Budding also invented the adjustable spanner.
William Nicol – 1828
The Nicol prism was the first polarizing prism.
Polarization is a phenomenon observed in waves. Waves travel along a particular direction through oscillations — imagine the ‘ripple effect’ of a whipping action on a rope. Certain waves, such as electromagnetic waves and light oscillate along two axes — imagine two ropes, one whipped vertically and the other horizontally. Polarizers (such as a polarizing prism) only allow waves of a particular (or in a defined range) polarization, and block the others.
Louis Braille – 1829
The Braille language, which is composed of dots and blanks, is the first binary language.
Joseph Henry – 1830
Joseph Henry was a founding member of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, and the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In addition to the electromagnetic motor, Henry also invented a primitive version of the doorbell.
Safety Fuse for Explosives
William Bickford – 1831
While this may seem too trivial a matter to be included among the greatest inventions, the safety fuse was a necessary improvement, considering that several lives were lost due to untimely explosions, especially in mines.
Cyrus Hall McCormick – 1831
Despite being credited as the inventor of the reaper, McCormick’s primary contribution was towards establishing a company (the precursor of Navistar International). His invention was actually based on preexisting designs used for decades by his father, among others.
William Sturgeon – 1832
Sturgeon also made versions of electromagnets, a compass and a galvanometer (a device used to measure electric current).
Charles Babbage – 1833
The ‘analytical engine’ was actually the first computer in the world. It was a mechanical machine that could perform mathematical functions. Babbage collaborated with Ada Lovelace during this project. As a result, Lovelace is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.
Hiram Moore – 1834
Moore’s harvester was drawn by mules or horses. The first self-propelled combine was made in 1911, by the Holt Manufacturing Company.
Jacob Perkins – 1834
Oliver Evans had formulated refrigeration about 30 years before Perkins, but didn’t follow up with the actual construction. Nevertheless, Evans is known as the ‘father of refrigeration’.
Samuel Morse – 1837
Samuel Morse was also an excellent painter.
Samuel Morse – 1838
Morse was anti-Catholic to the extent of not respecting the Pope by taking his hat off when he met him.
William Grove – 1839
The commercial potential of fuel cells was not realized until NASA used them in satellites and space probes. Since then, however, numerous scientists have extensively researched fuel cells.
Charles Goodyear – 1843
No one since the Mesoamericans had mastered the process of stabilizing rubber, which would melt in the summer and harden in the winter. Goodyear’s (accidental) discovery of the process of vulcanization, wherein rubber is treated with sulfur, enabled rubber to be used in various applications previously considered unsuitable.
Paper Made From Wood
Charles Fenerty – 1843
Before Fenerty’s invention, paper was made from the likes of hemp. The introduction of wood made the resultant paper suitable for newsprint.
Sir Henry Cole – 1843
Henry Cole was an organizer of the 1851 Great Exhibition (Crystal Palace Exhibition) in London, under the patronage of Prince Albert.
Elias Howe – 1846
Like so many others on this list, Howe didn’t invent the sewing machine per se, but improved upon the existing designs for the same. Howe’s design was fundamentally similar to modern ones, and his lockstitch mechanism provided a much stronger weave than existing designs.
Stephen Perry – 1845
Rubber bands are usually made from natural rubber, due to its superior elasticity, combined with latex.
Joseph Fry – 1847
Before Fry’s invention, packaged candy bars cost much more than regular candy, since the buyer also had to pay for the packaging!
David Brewster – 1849
Stereoscopes are viewing machines which allow 3D images to be seen. Brewster is often credited with the discovery of the stereoscope, although it was actually invented in 1838 by Sir Charles Wheatstone. However, Brewster’s version was a significant improvement upon the original.
Walter Hunt – 1849
Walter Hunt is also known for having invented versions of the velocipede (the previously mentioned draisine), the sewing machine, the ice plow, and a primitive version of the Winchester repeating rifle.
Robert Bunsen – 1850
Bunsen discovered the Group 1 elements Caesium (Cs) and Rubidium (Rb) along with Gustav Kirchhoff.
Ignacy Lukasiewicz – 1853
Lukasiewicz was a petroleum industry pioneer, and built the first oil refinery in the world and the first oil well in Poland.
Sir George Cayley – 1853
Caley was an early pioneer in heavier-than-air flight and worked out several fundamental innovations about flight, such as cambered wings.
Luigi Palmieri – 1855
Palmieri was a meteorologist and an expert in volcanology. He performed detailed studies into the eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius. Although he didn’t invent the seismometer itself, the additions and modifications made by him helped improve the instrument by a great degree.
William Perkin – 1857
The first aniline dye to be invented was of the color mauve, mauveine.
Daniel Peter – 1857
Although Peter invented the process in 1857, he couldn’t perfect it until 1875. Peter later formed the Nestle company with Henri Nestle.
Joseph Gayetty – 1857
Gayetty didn’t invent toilet paper; it had been in use, especially in Oriental cultures, since centuries. Gayetty was the first one to market and commercialize it.
Ezra Warner – 1858
As mentioned before, early cans were made of steel, and had to hammered open. It was only after the advent of thin, tin cans that can openers became a feasible construction.
Nathan Ames – 1859
Ames also had patents for a polygraph and a shoe-polishing machine.
Internal Combustion Engine
Etienne Lenoir – 1860
Lenoir wasn’t the first to build an internal combustion engine. Nicephore Niepce had actually built the pyreolophore as early as 1807, but Niepce’s and other designs before Lenoir failed to appeal to the masses. Lenoir’s was the first to be a commercial success.
Daniel Hess – 1860
Hess’ model was based on the existing designs of carpet sweepers, but had the all-important new mechanism of ‘sucking’ the dirt and dust in.
James Clerk Maxwell – 1861
Although Maxwell is best known for his unifying theory of electromagnetism, he also laid the grounds for the field of color photography through his research into optics and color analysis.
Auguste Mouchout – 1861
Mouchout’s design converted solar energy into steam power rather than the modern electric configuration. Considering that Edison’s discovery of the electric bulb was still about 20 years away, the solar-steam engine deserves much praise.
Joseph Wilbrand – 1863
Weirdly, Wilbrand envisaged trinitrotoluene as a yellow dye. Although it was known to be a powerful explosive, TNT required a high temperature to explode and thus wasn’t considered practically convenient.
James Plimpton – 1863
Although Plimpton didn’t invent the roller skates, he created quad skates, wherein the user simply leans to the desired direction to turn. This made skating much safer.
James Caleb Jackson – 1863
Granula was the first dry breakfast cereal, and had to be soaked for hours — even overnight — before eating.
Louis Pasteur – 1864
Pasteurization, named after its inventor, is now a standard industrial and DIY procedure, and is one of the easiest processes to limit adverse microbial growth in milk.
Georges Leclanche – 1866
The configuration of Leclanche’s battery was later adapted into the production of modern dry cells. The original design by Leclanche produced 1.4 volts, whereas the slightly modified modern versions produce 1.5 V.
Alfred Nobel – 1866
The famous Alfred Nobel, the eponym of the prestigious Nobel Prize, invented dynamite. Dynamite was much more stable than conventional explosives, and thus was a lot safer.
Christopher Sholes, Samuel W. Soule, and Carlos Glidden – 1867
Sholes’ design of the typewriter was the first to be commercially successful; the typewriter had been invented in the 18th century by Henry Mill. Sholes also designed the QWERTY arrangement of keypads.
Sylvester Roper – 1869
Roper also built a steam-powered car, and invented the shotgun choke — a constriction at the ‘firing end’ of a shotgun, reducing the spread of the projectiles.
Denim Trousers (Jeans)
Levi Strauss – 1873
Denim pants were made as sturdy trousers for factory workers, and didn’t become fashionable among the general public until about a hundred years after their conception.
Nikolaus August Otto – 1876
A four-stroke engine helps burn fuel more efficiently. Otto was the first to actually construct such an engine, although the idea had been in circulation for a few years.
A stroke is a half-rotation of the crankshaft in an engine. A half-rotation of the crankshaft results in a full movement of the piston in either the upward or downward direction. The four strokes are: Intake, Compression, Ignition and Exhaust. Hence, the crankshafts in a four-stroke engine complete 2 full rotations in a cycle. On the other hand, two-stroke engines complete the same cycle of intake, compression, ignition and exhaust in two strokes, i.e., one rotation of the crankshaft. This results in an overlap between the strokes. Two-stroke engines offer a higher power-to-weight ratio, but four-strokes burn the fuel more efficiently, thus increasing their fuel efficiency.
Alexander Graham Bell – 1876
Bell’s mother and wife were both deaf. This led him to extensive research in the field of hearing and elocution. The work finally led to the invention of the world’s first practical telephone. Ironically, Bell considered his invention a nuisance and didn’t keep one in his study because it disturbed him!
Thomas Edison – 1877
Apart from being a prolific inventor, Edison was also an astute businessman, and founded General Electric, among others.
Thomas Edison / Joseph Swan – 1879
Swan discovered the light bulb before Edison, but let Edison claim to be the sole inventor as long as he, Swan, could keep the rights in Britain.
Charles Parsons – 1884
Parsons also did considerable work in the field of optics, and made equipment for searchlights and telescopes.
Marcellus Gilmore Edson – 1884
John Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes, also devised a method to create peanut butter. George Carver, whose name has become synonymous to peanut products, also invented a process to make peanut butter. However, contrary to popular misconception, Carver didn’t invent peanut butter.
Vaccine for anthrax
Louis Pasteur – 1885
Pasteur’s vaccine was suitable for animals. Human vaccines for anthrax weren’t made until the 1920s.
George Eastman – 1885
The first photographic films were layered with paper, which would be peeled off during the development of the image. Transparent, plastic films were first made in 1889.
Vaccine for Rabies
Louis Pasteur – 1885
The rabies vaccine developed by Pasteur was for humans. Rabies was virtually untreatable before the invention of the vaccine, and virtually all human rabies patients used to die.
John Pemberton – 1886
The world-famous formula of Coca-Cola would never have been realized but for an accident. The base syrup (flavor) and soda were mixed by accident, leading to the creation of the fizzy drink. Due to the refreshing taste and the inclusion of caffeine and coca leaves (containing cocaine), the drink was first marketed as a tonic. Later, the company switched to cocaine-free coca extracts.
Modern Pneumatic Tires
John Boyd Dunlop – 1888
Dunlop was a trained vet. Also, he was on friendly terms with Queen Victoria.
George Eastman (Eastman Kodak Company) – 1888
The Kodak camera was the first to incorporate the roll film, also invented by George Eastman. The two inventions brought photography to the masses.
Karl Benz – 1889
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen was the first vehicle designed to be run by a motor. The very first models of the Motorwagen produced less than 1 horsepower!
James Naismith – 1891
Naismith also wrote the first basketball rulebook, and also invented the first football helmet.
James Dewar – 1892
The Dewar Flask was actually the first vacuum flask, or thermos, in the world. Although not as effective as the modern ones, it did an admirable job of prolonging the change in temperature of its contents.
Portable Electric Drill
Wilhelm Fein – 1895
Although drills have been in use for thousands of years, the widespread commercial use of electricity in the late-19th century facilitated the invention of this useful device.
Miller Reese Hutchison – 1895
Hutchison was trained in engineering as well as medicine. This made him an ideal candidate to create a device suitable for the anatomy of the human ear.
Peter Cooper / Pearle Wait – 1897
The patent for ‘powdered gelatin’ actually belongs to industrialist Peter Cooper. Pearle Wait and his wife, who bought the rights from Cooper, were responsible for the addition of new flavors, and the nomenclature of the product as ‘Jell-O’.
Louis Lassen – 1900
Lassen is credited with the first sale of hamburgers of America. The one true source of the hamburger is difficult to determine, since it consists of commonly available ingredients and could have originated at more than one place. Alternately, Charlie Nagreen (1885), Oscar Weber Bilby (1891), Otto Kuase (1892), and Fletcher Davis (1904) are also considered by some to be the creators of the hamburger.
Most of these inventions were modified and bettered in the technologically advanced 20th century, and have since gone on to claim indispensable places in our lives.