Famous Victorian Inventors

Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885)

Anthony Ashley Cooper, the eldest son of the 6th Earl of Shaftesbury, was born on 28th April, 1801. He became the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1851.

Lord Shaftesbury was a politician who attempted to improve children’s lives during the Victorian times

At the age of 25, he became a member of Parliament. He began to take an interest in the plight of poor children after reading newspaper reports about labour in industry.

1833 He proposed that children should work for a maximum of 10 hours a day

1834 the Factory Act was made law. It was now illegal for children under 9 to be employed in textile factories

1842 Coal Mines Act
No child or woman should work underground

He was also interested in education for working children. He was chairman of the Ragged Schools Union – an organisation that set up over a hundred schools for poor children

Lewis Carrol (1832 -1898)
(real name Charles Lutwidge Dogson)
He was born in 1832 and was a lecturer in mathematics at Oxford University. He was the author of the well known book Alice in Wonderland which he wrote in 1865.

Alice in Wonderland came from stories he told to Alice Lidell and her sisters (the daughters of the Dean of his Oxford college) during a boat trip one sunny afternoon in 1862.

Charles Darwin (1809 -1882)
Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. In 1831 he joined a scientific expedition bound for South America and the Pacific Ocean on a sailing ship called The Beagle (1831 – 36). He was to be the ship’s naturalist, the expert on plants and animals.

In the Galapagos Islands Darwin noticed how the same species of birds, cut off from centuries on different islands, had developed in quite different ways. This and many other amazing discoveries led him to his theory of ‘evolution by natural selection’. This theory lies behind all modern ideas on how different species of living things have become to be the way they are and how they will change in the future.

Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912)
Enemy of germs who started antiseptic surgery

Lister was born on the 5 April 1827 in Upton, Essex.

In 1853 Lister, a young English doctor, became a house surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He was horrified at the number of patients whose wounds became infected and went rotten.

At that time no one knew what caused infection. It wasn’t until 1865 that Lister heard about the great French Scientist, Louis Pasteur. Pasteur had discovered that diseases are caused by tiny living things, now called ‘germs’. Lister realised it was important to kill the germs in wounds so the wounds wouldn’t get infected. Lister used carbonic acid as the most effective germ-killer – or ‘antiseptic’.

The results were a lot less rotting of wounds than the used to be and the number of deaths dramatically fell.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson was born in 1850 and was a scottish author who wrote Treasure Island and Kidnapped which are two of the most popular children’s stories ever written.
Find out more from the BBC site

Alexander Graham Bell
(1847 – 1922)
Alexander Graham Bell was born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Bell is best known for his invention of the telephone. Many inventors had been working on the idea of sending human speech by wire, but Bell was the first to succeed.

In 1876 at the age of 29 Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.  The most famous Victorian Inventor.

Sir Robert Peel
(1788 – 1850)
Robert Peel was born in Bury, Lancashire, on 5th February, 1788. He was Prime Minister twice, 1834-5 and 1841-6 and one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the nineteenth century. As home Secretary he created the modern police force, unarmed and in blue so as to be as unlike the army as possible.  Was not really an Victorian inventor, but important.

Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)
Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England on 7 February 1812. He spent much of his life in Kent and London. Charles Dickens wrote some of the most popular and widely read novels of the 19th century, from Oliver Twist to A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Dickens had ten children. He died of a stroke in 1870 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.  You could say that this Victorian inventor was the creator of some of the greatest novels of his time.


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.


A brief history of the 19th Century, the Victorian Era and Other Victorian Facts

The length of time for which Queen Victoria of Britain ruled makes the period too long to be studied in one uniform block in order to have a good look at the changes in the scenario of art, craft and culture with accompanying social evolution the world over. The Victorian era, as it is generally referred to, starts from 1830’s and lasts till almost the end of nineteenth century. It is difficult to find uniformity in any of the spheres society keeps interacting with. The fashion in dressing up, holding of social events, means of communications, recreation and entertainment, all provide enough scope for a separate study.

Apart from a large heritage of valuables preserved with care in various museums, even ephemera that survived, form a very reliable source for the researchers of history and sociology. These are profusely used to produce authentic reprints and replicas to offer us Victorian holiday cards, labels and scrapbooks, which give these items such a different collectible value apart from their historical worth.

With photography having been invented and developed somewhere during this period(did you know it was a victorian inventions?), one is thrilled to find real holiday cards and vintage posters, carrying actual vintage images that form a candid source of viewing the various ways lifestyle kept changing all along. These include vignette photo images that instantly attract curiosity for their sheer age. Just imagine how much a trade card, pamphlet, bookmark, catalogue or railway ticket printed during the era gone by, would interest any curious soul.

The period which is picked for a review here from a variety of angles corresponds to phenomenal developments in the field of technology. Electricity and its use in making the nights brighter as also leading to the epoch-making victorian inventions of telephony, recording and reproduction of human voice for posterity, were all achieved in the same era.

However, from the viewpoint of the world becoming increasingly informed about the happenings at far off places and making mankind exchange thoughts with far greater number of people, no individual technical advance comes even close to the refinement of printing technology. Thanks to this, we are today in a position to have access to umpteen printed documents both as texts and photos left behind by the yester generations that tell us quite visually all that happened.

Here the contribution of advancement of printing technology which make the printed matter far clearer, towards bringing art of illustrious artists like, Dante Rossetti, WH Hunt and Raphael, within the reach of common man, can hardly be overemphasized. To a great extent, artists of Vintage works owe their popularity to printed reproduction of their art. Else, how many people could afford a visit to Louvre just to have a glimpse of Mona Lisa!  This is a little known Victorian Facts!

The tremendous boost, printed postcards have given to tourism, is known to us all. Even before we think of visiting America, the Statue of Liberty floats in our minds, like the Taj Mahal does in case of India. Exciting use of printing during the era made people grow so much familiar with vintage spots that it served to boost to their urge to make a trip to these places.

Although much later in the present times, the value of audio-visual media has completely swept man off his feet, it needs to be added that before its advent human history would have been far poorer without the blast of technological advancement the Victorian era saw.  I hope you enjoyed these Victorian Facts!