The Victorian period was seen as a significant period in the development of not just Britain, but around the empire and the rest of the world too. New inventions formed a key part of this. These Victorian inventions helped shape the lives of normal everyday people and made travel, communication and trade easier than ever.
Today we take photos, call our family and travel around the world. These are all taken for granted and expected. These key components of our lives were all shaped by the Victorians and the inventions which took place within the Victorian times.
For Children growing up through the Victorian era life had a sense of excitement as new inventions brought about new opportunities. Below you will find some of the most key developments in terms of inventions from the Victorian era.
Some Of The Most Impactful Victorian Inventions
This was known at the time as the ‘Velocipede’. This was invented by Scotsman named Kirkpatrick MacMillan in 1838.
Another iconic invention within the Victorian times was the Penny-Farthing. Always a spectacle at museums today the Penny-Farthing was invented in the 1870’s and was famous for it’s large front wheel which was almost 6 feet from top to bottom! Certainly not safe for Children! It also had no brakes! This was used by many until the 1880’s when a Bicycle with equal wheel sizes was used.
The Penny Post System
Communication took a step forward within the Victorian era especially for those with loved ones working in the cities who wanted to communicate with family back in the farms. The Penny postal system was developed and began on the 10th January 1840. The Penny postal system was simple. Normal, everyday people could send a letter to anywhere within the UK for a penny. This was accessible for both the wealthy and the poor and improved the communication of the British isles greatly.
With the arrival of the Penny postal system, traditions like sending post cards and Christmas cards started to take off. The availability was now spread across a much wider portion of the population.
Stamps are still used today and originate from the Victorian era. After the successful launch of the Penny post system the Penny Black was created on the 6th May 1840 which would be the first pre paid postage method. A few decades later and the ‘half penny’ stamp was introduced which further improved and reformed the postal system.
In 1844 the first Morse code message was sent. This would be used as a communication method throughout miltiary and is actually in some cases still used today. American Samuel Morse invented the Morse code in 1837.
In 1845 Robert Thomson invented the rubber tyre which was filled with pressurised gas. This would be used rather than the traditional solid tyre with comfort and safety at the forefront of his invention.
In 1851 children around the world began to be introduced to the delight of Ice Cream as it was invented in the US by Jacob Fussell. Ice Cream still remains as one of the most popular desserts for children of today.
Say Cheese! – The Camera
The first photograph was officially taken within the 1830’s. This became incredibly popular within the Victorian era and it wasn’t long until most key cities and towns had their own photography studies. Proud families would dress for the occasion and have annual family photo shoot. The cameras were not point and click like they are today so children had to be still throughout the photo session.
Iron Into Steel
Henry Bessemer discovered a way of converting iron into steel which was both stronger and lighter than iron. This continued the industrialisation and modernisation of the world as it was now possible to build huge structures including bridges and boats. Transportation and getting places suddenly became far easier.
Text Messages (Not Quite the same!)
On August 16th 1858 Queen Victoria sent one of the first text messages across the transatlantic telegraph cable to the US President of the time James Buchanan. Not quite sending via the iPhone however this was a huge step in communication at the time and built a relationship between the UK and the US.
In 1859 the national post box arrived looking very similar to the ones we use today other than one thing; IT WAS GREEN!
Green was chosen as the standard colour at first for Post boxes throughout the country. This eventually changed to red which is the colour we proudly use today.
Children around the world were delighted as in 1864 the first Jelly Baby was manufactured by Herr Steinbeck in Lancashire, England. The Jelly baby became a national treasure and is still manufactured and consumed world wide today.
Feeding Poor Children
Although not an invention of sorts Dr Barnardo founded the Barnardo’s Charity for poor children in 1870. The first of his homes opened in 1870 in London and became a place to feed, educate and clothe the stray children. Although not directly associated with inventions it deserves a place on the list. Due to the shift in attitude it provided that education and a loving home was critical for all children’s development.
Another one to delight Children. In 1873 the first chocolate Easter egg was produced in Bristol, England by Fry, Vaughan and Co. We all know how successful that was. Chocolate Easter eggs then became the norm. It’s now impossible to go through the Easter period without eating chocolate.
One of the most significant inventions by quite possibly the most famous inventor of Victorian times – Alexander Graham Bell – is the telephone. A bit different in appearance to the modern phones and cellular devices we use today. But a revolutionary invention this was.
Bell’s first practical telephone was invented when he was 29 years old. On March 10, 1876, he transmitted the famous first words to his assistant, Thomas Watson: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”
His interest in sound technology was deeply personal, partly due to his mother’s and wife’s deafness. This led him to work on communication devices. It was while he was trying to improve the telegraph that he invented the telephone.
Bell will always be known as one of the most successful inventors of all time. He was also a co-founder of the National Geographic Society and served as its second president.
The first practical typewriter was invented in 1868 by American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes, along with his colleagues Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule. Their design, which featured a QWERTY keyboard layout still used today, revolutionized writing by allowing for faster and more legible text production compared to handwriting. The QWERTY layout became the standard for typing machines all over the world, after Sholes’ patent expired in 1883.
This invention not only increased efficiency in workplaces, particularly in business and journalism, but also played a significant role in women’s entry into the clerical workforce. The typewriter underwent numerous refinements and innovations over the years, eventually evolving into the modern computer keyboard, making it a foundational tool in the development of modern office work and communication.
The X-Ray Machine
X-Rays, and the basic equipment necessary to capture x-ray images were discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895. The discovery was somewhat accidental. Röntgen was experimenting with cathode rays in his laboratory at the University of Würzburg in Germany.
While experimenting, Röntgen observed that a fluorescent screen in his lab started to glow even though it was placed a distance away from the cathode ray tube, shielded from direct light. Unsure why this would happen, he conducted further experiments. He placed different objects between the tube and the screen, and discovered that these rays could pass through almost anything but left shadows of solid objects they passed through. In an observation that was about to have a huge impact on medical diagnosis, he found that they could also pass through human tissue but not bones and metal objects.
His discovery was one of histories incredibly ‘happy accidents’. It revolutionized the medical field and his work on X-rays earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.