Victorians are well known for their inventions and the huge advances in technology that took place over Queen Victoria’s reign. These inventions helped both rich and poor people. Communication was made easier when the electric telegraph was developed in 1858 followed by the telephone in 1876.
Bicycles, cars, steam powered boats and trains meant that people could travel further than ever before.
Other Victorian inventions include the light bulb, typewriters, sewing machines, radios and the toilet.
The Victorian Age
The Victorian age saw advances in medicine, science and technology, as well as huge population growth. Britain became the world’s most powerful nation, but life was not easy for everyone. What is clear is that when Victoria died in 1901, Britain had changed greatly since she had become queen, almost 64 years previously.
In 1826 the first ever photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor. The image was taken at his family home and he gave it the title ‘View from the Window at Le Gras.’ During the Victorian age, photography continued to develop but was still very different from the instant images we can take today. People had to sit still for a very long time – photos took several hours to capture – which can explain why Victorians very rarely smiled in photographs! Queen Victoria became the first monarch to ever be photographed, and by the end of her reign George Eastman had set up the Kodak company, and cameras were sold for the first time.
An accidental breakthrough by Alexander Graham Bell and his lab assistant, Thomas Watson, led to the invention of the telephone, which was patented in 1876. The pair were experimenting with two springs that were connected by a long piece of wire. They were hoping that the movement of one spring would result in the movement of the other, but instead the sound of the spring travelled along the wire. Continued work on the invention meant that voices too could eventually be heard across the wire – the first words spoken via their telephone by Bell were ‘Mr. Watson, come here I want to see you.’
Bell visited Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in January 1878 to show Queen Victoria his invention. She was impressed and went on to purchase a set of telephones, calling them ‘most extraordinary.’ The Queen recorded in her diary that she ‘had been put in communication with Osborne Cottage & we talked with Sir Thomas & Mary Biddulph, also heard some singing quite plainly.’
The penny farthing was the first machine to be called a ‘bicycle.’ It had a very large front wheel, which was almost six foot tall and a much smaller back wheel. It was invented by James Starley, a British engineer and was used until around 1880, when bicycles with two wheels of equal size were developed. The penny farthing was fairly dangerous due to the great height of the wheel and the fact that it had no brakes!
Elias Howe worked for five years to develop the first sewing machine, which was patented in 1846. The machine did not get much attention in America, so he sold the patent rights in England for £250. Sewing machines were used during the industrial revolution to increase production speed.
In 1880 Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, which went on the replace gaslight all over the world. As Edison was already a proficient inventor, he received $30,000 to fund his research.
A light bulb in the 1880s cost the same as the average week’s wages, and to use one a home generator was needed.
It wasn’t until the National Grid was created in the 1930s, 29 years after Victoria’s death, that electricity became something that everyone could use.