Thursday, 30 January 2014

A century of invention

Writing yesterday's blog entry about the London Underground system made me realise that a lot of what we take for granted today actually pre-dates the twentieth century. I therefore did a bit of research and came up with the following list (in ascending date order) of nineteenth century inventions and patents. Where possible I have listed the inventor and/or patentee.
  • 1800: Electric battery – Count Alessandro Volta
  • 1800: Programmable machine – J.M. Jacquard
  • 1804: Gas lighting – Freidrich Winzer/Winsor
  • 1804: Prototype steam locomotive – Richard Trevithick
  • 1809: Electric arc lamp – Humphry Davy
  • 1810: Tin can – Peter Durand
  • 1814: Practical steam locomotive – George Stephenson
  • 1814: Spectroscope – Joseph von Fraunhofer
  • 1814: Plastic surgery
  • 1814: First photograph – Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
  • 1816: Miner's safety lamp – Humphry Davy
  • 1816: Stethoscope – Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec
  • 1820: Arithmometer (the first mass-produced calculator) – Charles Xavier Thomas de Colmar
  • 1821: Electric motor – Michael Faraday
  • 1822: Mechanical computer – Charles Babbage
  • 1823: Mackintosh raincoat – Charles Mackintosh
  • 1824: Portland cement – Joseph Aspdin
  • 1825: Electromagnet – William Sturgeon
  • 1827: Friction matches – John Walker
  • 1829: Typographer (index typewriter) – William Austin Burt
  • 1830: Sewing machine – Barthelemy Thimonnier
  • 1830: Lawn mower – Edwin Beard Budding
  • 1831: Reaper –Cyrus McCormick
  • 1831: Electric dynamo – Michael Faraday
  • 1832: Stereoscope – Charles Wheatstone
  • 1834: Combine harvester – Hiram Moore
  • 1834: Corn planter – Henry Blair
  • 1834: Ether ice machine (an early refrigerator) – Jacob Perkins
  • 1835: Mechanical calculator – Charles Babbage
  • 1835: Calotype photography – Henry Talbot
  • 1835: Revolver – Samuel Colt
  • 1835: Wrench – Solymon Merrick
  • 1836: Propeller – Francis Pettit Smith and John Ericcson
  • 1837: Postage stamp – Rowland Hill
  • 1837: Electric telegraph – Charles Wheatstone and Samuel Morse
  • 1838: Morse code – Samuel Morse
  • 1839: Rubber vulcanization – Charles Goodyear
  • 1839: Daguerreotype photography – Louis Daguerre and Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
  • 1839: Mechanically-propelled bicycle – Kirkpatrick Macmillan
  • 1840: Blueprint – John Herschel
  • 1841: Stapler – Samuel Slocum
  • 1842: Use of inhaled diethyl ether as an anesthetic – Crawford Long
  • 1842: Facsimile – Alexander Bain.
  • 1842: Grain elevator – Joseph Dart
  • 1843: Keyboard typewriter – Charles Thurber
  • 1844: Mercerized cotton – John Mercer
  • 1845: Lockstitch sewing machine – Elias Howe
  • 1845: Vulcanised rubber pneumatic tire – Robert William Thomson
  • 1846: Cold cure process for vulcanizing rubber – Alexander Parkes
  • 1846: Rotary printing press – Richard M. Hoe
  • 1849: Safety pin – Walter Hunt
  • 1851: Falling shuttle sewing machine – Isaac Singer
  • 1852: Gyroscope – Jean Bernard Léon Foucault
  • 1853: Manned glider – George Cayley
  • 1855: Rayon – Georges Audemars
  • 1856: Pasteurisation – Louis Pasteur
  • 1858: Two-stroke gas-powered internal combustion engine – Jean Lenoir
  • 1861: Elevator safety brakes – Elisha Otis
  • 1861: Cylinder (or Yale) lock - Linus Yale
  • 1861: Crank-driven bicycle – Pierre Michaux
  • 1862: Thermoplastic – Alexander Parkes
  • 1862: Revolving mechanical machine gun – Richard J. Gatling
  • 1867: Ticker tape stock price telegraph – Edward A. Calahan
  • 1866: Dynamite – Alfred Nobel
  • 1866: Locomotive torpedo – Robert Whitehead
  • 1866: Can opener – J. Osterhoudt
  • 1868: Air Brakes – George Westinghouse.
  • 1876: Telephone – Alexander Graham Bell
  • 1876: Gasoline carburettor – Gottlieb Daimler
  • 1876: Carpet sweeper – Melville Bissell
  • 1876: Four-stroke gas-powered internal combustion engine – Nicolaus August Otto
  • 1877: Zoopraxiscope (moving picture projector) – Eadweard Muybridge
  • 1877: Cylinder phonograph – Thomas Alva Edison
  • 1878: Cathode ray tube – William Crookes
  • 1878: Longer-lasting electric light bulb – Sir Joseph Wilson Swan
  • 1880: Seismograph – John Milne
  • 1880: Photophone (a wireless communication device) – Alexander Graham Bell
  • 1880: Pre-packed boxes of toilet paper – British Perforated Paper Company
  • 1881: Roll film for cameras – David Houston and George Eastman
  • 1884: Cash Register – James Ritty
  • 1884: Steam turbine – Charles Parson
  • 1884: Fountain Pen – Lewis Edson Waterman
  • 1884: Artificial silk – Hilaire de Chardonnet
  • 1885: Vibrating shuttle sewing machine – Isaac Singer
  • 1885: Gas-engined motorcycle – Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach
  • 1885: Gas-engined automobile – Karl Benz
  • 1885: Automatic machine gun – Hiram Maxim
  • 1886: Coca Cola – John Pemberton
  • 1887: Disc gramophone – Emile Berliner
  • 1887: Barbed wire – Rowell Hodge
  • 1888: Drinking straws – Marvin Stone
  • 1888: Electric chair – Thomas Edison
  • 1888: Commercially successful pneumatic tire – John Boyd Dunlop
  • 1888: AC motor and transformer – Nikola Tesla
  • 1889: Matchbook – Joshua Pusey
  • 1889: Cordite – Sir James Dewar and Sir Frederick Abel
  • 1891: Kinetoscope (motion picture exhibition device) – Thomas Alva Edison
  • 1891: Escalator – Jesse W. Reno
  • 1892: Oil-fueled internal combustion engine – Rudolf Diesel
  • 1892: Dewar or vacuum flask – Sir James Dewar
  • 1893: Carborundum – Edward Goodrich Acheson
  • 1893: Zipper – Whitcomb L. Judson
  • 1893: Wireless communication using radio waves – Nikola Tesla
  • 1895: Cinematographe (a portable motion-picture camera, film processing unit and projector) – Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas Lumiere and Louis Jean Lumiere
  • 1895: Transmission of messages by radio signals – Guglielmo Marconi
  • 1898: Flashlight – American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Company (later the American Ever Ready Company)
  • 1898: Remote control using radio waves – Nikola Tesla
  • 1899: Motor-driven vacuum cleaner – John Thurman
  • 1899: Paperclip – Johan Vaaler
I must admit that I was surprised by how early some of inventions listed above were made.


  1. Hi Bob,
    Some others you might want to research and include:
    Cotton gin
    Steam thresher
    Steam-powered locomotive
    Armored steam-powered warship
    Warship turret
    Breech-loading rifle
    Breech-loading cannon
    Spar torpedo
    Lighter-than-air balloons (& dirigibles ?)

    I've always thought it would be very interesting to have a set of Imagi-nations on the cusp of a number of technologies, where some would have advantages in one area and some another. It should make for an interesting campaign background.
    So many ideas, so little time.
    Thanks for an interesting post.

  2. The Ferrymen (John),

    I tried to avoid including too many of the military inventions as I thought that trying to attribute some of them might cause a certain amount of disagreement and/or discussion.

    In the case of the thresher, the adoption of steam power came with the development of the traction engine in the 1850s and 1860s ... but it is difficult to say who invented the combination of thresher and traction engine. Whitney's cotton gin pre-dates the nineteenth century ... just! Elias Whitney's patent for his cotton gin is dated 1794, although it was not validated until 1807.

    I may well add your suggestions to my list as and when I can.

    I like your idea of several imagi-nations competing with one another at a time when technology is in a state of rapid development. Suppose - for example - one imagi-nation combined the man-carrying glider with a gas-powered two-stroke internal combustion engine in 1858! Would they have developed 'proper' aircraft as a result? An interesting question ... and one that could change to course of imagi-history.

    All the best,


  3. Fascinating post! I would add Thomas Hancock who in 1820 invented the first elastic for use in clothes and later the masticator which enabled rubber scraps to be re-used and led to the first Macintosh coat when he merged his company with Charles Macintosh's

  4. Legatus Hedlius,

    I did not know about the invention of elastic or the rubber masticator, both of which I would have included on my list if I had known about them.

    All the best,


  5. So tin cans were invented in 1810, but can openers not until 1866? Interesting.

  6. Bob,
    Good example. Another: one nation might be more advanced in armored warships, but an enemy develop an efficient spar torpedo with an easier means of re-deployment on its wooden-walls; they would have to maneuver into ramming range to be effective. One might armor their steam threshers to carry gatling guns; another might have mounted infantry with the most advanced breech-loading rifles, for superior mobility. How about a steam-driven telegraph-line-layer? An observation balloon tethered to a fast steam launch? Lots of ways to go.

  7. Hi Bob

    Quite a list, but there remains a crucial question.

    The tin can was invented in 1810, but the opener only in 1866 - may I deduce there were a lot of unopened cans in the intervening 50 odd years?

    Blame it on the Goons and Monty Python...


  8. Fascinating list which has set me thinking

  9. Hi Fitz-Badger

    Only saw your post after entering mine.

    Glad to see there is more than one inquiring mind here...


  10. The Ferrymen (John),

    You have really got the bit between your teeth with this idea!

    I look forward to seeing if you manage to take this concept to some sort of fruition over the next few weeks and months.

    What you are suggesting is a type of Steampunk ... but without some of the more extreme or fanciful elements.

    All the best,


  11. Tradgardmastare,

    I am sure that there are even more things that could have been added to the list, had I had more time to do the research.

    All the best,


  12. Fitz-Badger and Arthur,

    Tin cans were - and still can - be opened with a knife (or bayonet) ... but as this tends to damage said implement, lever-type can openers were developed by 1855. Further research indicates that it was the tin can and attached key (as used on tins of sardines and corned beef) that was invented in 1866.

    Sorry for the confusion.

    I can imagine the sort of conversation the invention of the tin can might have produced:
    'So what do you call this?'
    'Its a tin of salmon, sir.'
    'Very interesting. How long will the salmon keep from going off inside the can?'
    '56 years sir. That's how long it is going to take us to develop a can opener!'
    'Jolly good show.'

    All the best,


  13. How about the edison light bulb? And thank God for the Perforated Paper Company!

  14. Dick Bryant,

    An interesting point. Swan's light bulb was being used from 1880 onwards, which was before Edison's light bulbs were, and when Edison sued Swan for infringement of his patent Swan could show that his research and design pre-dated Edison's.

    In 1883 the two men created the Edison and Swan Electric Light Company Limited to produce Swan's light bulb design.

    As to who invented toilet paper ... well whoever it was, they get my undying thanks as well!

    All the best,


  15. Hi Arthur and Bob,
    The tin can/can opener reminded me of an episode in "Three Men and a Boat" (to say nothing of the dog), wherein J and his 2 friends were trying to open a can without having a can opener available.

  16. Fitz-Badger,

    I think that the passage you are referring to reads as follows:

    We are very fond of pine-apple, all three of us. We looked at the picture on the tin; we thought of the juice. We smiled at one another, and Harris got a spoon ready.

    Then we looked for the knife to open the tin with. We turned out everything in the hamper. We turned out the bags. We pulled up the boards at the bottom of the boat. We took everything out on to the bank and shook it. There was no tin-opener to be found.

    Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup.

    Then we all got mad. We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought it down.

    It was George’s straw hat that saved his life that day. He keeps that hat now (what is left of it), and, of a winter’s evening, when the pipes are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.

    Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.

    After that, I took the tin off myself, and hammered at it with the mast till I was worn out and sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand.

    We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry – but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it.

    There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and rowed away from the spot, and never paused till we reached Maidenhead.

    It proves what a boon the can opener can be!

    All the best,


  17. Right you are, Bob! I love that stuff! Very visual and very funny.

  18. Fitz-Badger,

    What is more, it was written by the man who - according to the second chapter of LITTLE WARS - started H G Wells down the path to becoming a wargamer.

    The present writer had been lunching with a friend — let me veil his identity under the initials J. K. J. — in a room littered with the irrepressible debris of a small boy's pleasures. On a table near our own stood four or five soldiers and one of these guns. Mr J. K. J., his more urgent needs satisfied and the coffee imminent, drew a chair to this little table, sat down, examined the gun discreetly, loaded it warily, aimed, and hit his man. Thereupon he boasted of the deed, and issued challenges that were accepted with avidity....

    He fired that day a shot that still echoes round the world. An affair — let us parallel the Cannonade of Valmy and call it the Cannonade of Sandgate — occurred, a shooting between opposed ranks of soldiers, a shooting not very different in spirit — but how different in results! — from the prehistoric warfare of catapult and garter. "But suppose," said his antagonists; "suppose somehow one could move the men!" and therewith opened a new world of belligerence.

    Perhaps wargamers owe Jerome K Jerome something of an unrecognised debt?

    All the best,


  19. Arthur,

    It was amusing, wasn't it?

    All the best,