Queen Victoria ruled for more than 63 years, in an age of wonder and discovery. Victorian inventions revolutionised medicine, transportation, work and leisure. From aspirin to the automobile, many modern conveniences spawned during the period. Throughout the 20th century, scientists continued to build on the work accomplished during Queen Victoria's reign, and enhanced the quality of life for most of the world's population.
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Home and Workplace
The sewing machine, invented by Elias Howe in 1846 and made affordable by Isaac Singer, decreased the number of hours that women devoted to sewing in the home. It also increased output in factories.The electric light bulb, created by several inventors in the late 1870s and perfected by Thomas Edison, replaced dim and dangerous gaslights. It remains the prevalent source of artificial light today.
William Henry Perkin, an 18-year-old college student, accidentally discovered synthetic dye in 1856. His invention delighted the Paris couturiers who dominated the world's fashion scene. Many other inventions of the period, such as safety pins, mousetraps, icemakers, fountain pens and can openers, all helped to reduce drudgery and improve the human condition.
Health and Medicine
Louis Pasteur increased the world's life expectancy with radical theories on medicine and illness. He conceived the idea that germs caused disease and created the first anthrax and rabies vaccines. He also lent his name to the process of boiling milk to kill germs, known as "pasteurisation."
In 1858, during the "summer of the great stink," members of Britain's parliament left the building due to the smell from the Thames River, which furnished all of London's drinking water. Sir Edward Frankland took on the city's water challenge. His work led to more rigorous drinking water standards and a higher quality of life.
Other medical advances, such as the modern aspirin tablet, came into use in 1898. While willow bark had eased pain for centuries, no one had thought to extract its properties and refine it into tablet form. Aspirin is now one of the most widely used analgesics.
Entertainment and Communication
The Victorian Age ushered in new ways to communicate. The telegraph, patented in 1837, made it possible for information to spread rapidly. News that once arrived days late could now reach citizens within hours. The telephone, patented in 1876, extended that reach further and allowed families to connect as never before.
With the invention of photography in 1839, families unable to afford painted portraits could now preserve their memories. When the roll film camera came out in 1888, pictures entertained all classes of society. The phonograph and the motion picture camera, both invented in the last quarter of the 19th century, enhanced leisure opportunities.
The paddle steamship, invented in 1839, and the steam locomotive, patented in 1846, changed the perception of distance. As travel grew affordable and safer, inventors sought faster modes of transportation. Karl Benz, of Mercedes-Benz fame, invented the first true automobile. Benz offered his machine for sale in 1888, and by 1893, it had captivated public interest. Many other inventors followed suit and the automobile changed the way most people travel.
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- American Genesis: A century of invention and technological enthusiasm, 1870-1970; Thomas Park Hughes; 2004
- University of Rochester; Scientific American; Elias Howe
- Smithsonian Institution; Lighting a Revolution; Competition to Edison's Lamp
- Brown University; UC14 Insights Into Chemistry; Joseph Steim;
- "Inventing the 19th Century: 100 inventions that shaped the Victorian Age"; Stephen Van Dulken; 2001
- Library of Congress; Everyday Mysteries; Who Invented the Automobile?