The Most Important Victorian Inventions


Invented by: Alexander Graham Bell.

Information: Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847. When he left school, he worked for his father who was a speech therapist, teaching deaf people to speak. He caught tuberculosis (a very dangerous lung disease) when he was 23, so the family moved to Canada where the climate was drier.

After a year the family moved to Boston in America where Bell became a Professor at Boston University. He worked on his telephone idea in his spare time trying to pass messages to his assistant in another room. He further developed his idea and by 1876 took it to the patent office to ‘file’ a patent on it.

Another inventor, Elisha Gray, had also been working on a similar idea. He also took his idea to the patent office, but 2 hours later than Bell, and as the ideas were so similar, he was not allowed the patent.

Both Graham Bell and Elisha Gray were trying to invent a way of sending speech through wires and cables at the same time as each other. Bell reached the office where people register their inventions first, and so he won the right to make telephones for everyone.

All the cabling was very complicated, particularly the way in which the cables were switched about to connect the lines to different people. This was done by people who spent the whole day plugging and unplugging the telephone lines in a huge board of sockets. (There were lots of wrong numbers and bad connections in those days!)

When a new automatic switching system was invented, it became much easier and reliable. This is considered by many to be one of most important victorian inventions.



Invented by: Guglielmo Marconi (Radio)

Information: Guglielmo Marconi was born near Bologna in Italy in 1847 (Victorian Era). When he was 20, he heard about a discovery that another scientist had made. This scientist had shown that there are invisible waves that travel through the air. Marconi thought that it would be possible to send messages over these waves, and start experimenting. He needed to make two machines one which would send the messages, and one, which received them.
His first success was in making a bell ring by sending a (wireless) signal across a room. Later, he increased the distance that the signals could be sent to over 3 km.
Nobody in Italy wanted to give him money to start making his machines, so he moved to Britain and in 1901 took out a patent for them. Here in Britain, the Post Office, the army and the navy were all interested in his invention.

Nowadays radio is used more for entertainment but we do still hear news bulletins and information on it.

People had been trying to send and receive information without using wires and cables for a long time, but it was Marconi who actually managed it. He made a radio wave transmitter using sparks and a receiver to pick the waves up and turn them into electricity again. This electricity was then turned into sound.
In 1901, he managed to send signals from England to America, although it was in Morse code (lots of dots and dashes).  This was a huge breakthrough in Victorian Inventions.

Sending speech across great distances came much later.



Invented by: William Henry Fox Talbot (Photography)

Information : Talbot was born in 1800. One of his favourite subjects at school was chemistry, but this got him into some trouble, as many of the things he was experimenting with were causing explosions. Instead, he continued his experiments at a nearby blacksmith’s shop.

In 1833 the early Victorian time period, when he was on holiday in Switzerland with his wife, he was trying to take pictures with the only camera available at the time. He couldn’t get any god pictures at all, and on returning home, started experimenting.

By the end of the year, he was able to make “photogenic drawings” (as he called them) by exposing a chemically sensitive paper to sunlight with objects such as leaves, lace, etc. on top. This produced what is now called a negative image, with white where the original scene was dark, and vice versa. Talbot recognized the value in producing a negative image at first, because it meant that the picture could be copied. When the paper negative was soaked in oil it became transparent, and could then be printed onto another piece of paper, producing a positive.  This was considered a remarkable Victorian invention.

In late September 1840, he patented the positive / negative process.
A Frenchman called Daguerre had just announced that he also had invented a photograph, and although the image was much clearer than Talbot’s, he could not make any copies of his photos.  This is one of the Victorian Inventions that many of us take for granted.



Invented by: George Stephenson.

Information: George Stephenson was born in 1781. He worked as a fireman in a coal mine, but was also a very clever mechanic. At that time, in 1814, after the coal had been dug up, it was put into big carts that ran on rails to be pulled out of the mine. This was an extremely difficult and dangerous job so the owner of the mine asked Stephenson to build an engine to do the pulling instead. His very first engine could pull 30 tons at a speed of 4 miles per hour. This was much more coal than any men could pull.

George Stephenson had invented a steam engine to move coal in a coalmine before Queen Victoria became queen. However, in 1825, he went on to invent the first public railway to carry steam trains and also the first public passenger train, which he called the ‘Locomotion’.

Years later, when the owners of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway offered a prize for the best steam engine, Stephenson won the prize with a very special engine which he call ‘Rocket’. This was special because it travelled at speeds of 30 miles per hour.

The very first electric train was invented by a German in 1879. Electric trains were quieter and not as dirty as steam trains but it was many years before they were used for passengers.  Although we don’t  use this Victorian inventions as much as we did in the past, it was a huge stepping stone for earlier transportation.



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