World Facts

Great Inventions of the 19th Century

The 19th century brought us many important inventions, from the telegraph to the automobile to the typewriter to aspirin.

An invention is a new process, method, composition or device which achieves unique functions. It can be an entirely new device or an improvement to a machine that makes it work more efficiently. Ever since the beginning of time, human beings have been building tools and processes which helped them tame their environment. Technology has helped shape the world into what it is today. Some of the greatest inventions of the 19th century are outlined below.

15. Typewriter - 1867

Typewriters are electromechanical or mechanical equipment that produce characters by pressing ink upon paper. Johann Gutenberg invented the idea of a printer which applied the concept of the movable type. Johann helped convert the printing press into simple equipment for personal usage. The description of this type of device dates back to 1714 when Henry Mill patented the typewriter idea. Christopher Sholes created the first reliable typewriter with the help of Samuel Soule and Carlos Glidden in 1867. Sholes licensed the patent to Remington and sons from New York who developed the first commercial typewriter in 1874. Thomas Edison built the first electric typewriter in 1872.

14. Camera - 1888

Cameras have evolved over the years from the camera obscura to the numerous generations of photographic technologies which include films, dry plates, calotypes, daguerreotypes and finally the present day digital cameras. George Eastman pioneered photographic film usage in 1885 when he started producing paper films. He patented his first film in 1884 and perfected the first camera which used roll film in 1888. In 1888, Eastman introduced the Kodak camera into the market. It was a unique box-camera that came with a film roll that was big enough for one hundred photos. The film roll had to be returned to the company for processing once finished. In 1892, Eastman opened the Eastman Kodak Company which produced transparent flexible films.

13. Electric Battery - 1800

The concept of electricity dates back to ancient Greece when Thales noticed that an electric charge was produced when he rubbed amber. Scientists also discovered a 2,000 year old jar in Baghdad in 1938, which it is believed to be the world's earliest example of a battery. It produced 1.1 volts. The current battery was invented by Alessandro Volta in 1880 when he developed his voltaic pile. The voltaic pile could create a steady and reliable electricity stream. Volta started his work in 1794 when he noticed an electrical interaction between two metals that were submerged in an acidic solution. Using this principle, he designed his battery which had alternating zinc and copper rings immersed in an electrolyte.

12. Telephone - 1876

A telephone is a system which converts a voice into an electric impulse of varying frequency and then back to its original form. Michael Faraday was the first person to contribute to the idea of a telephone when he proved that metal vibrations could be converted into electric impulses. Faraday’s concept was not put into practice until Philip Reis invented a device that could convert sound waves into electric impulse and then back to sound waves in 1861. The invention of a practical telephone is credited to Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray who worked on their projects independently. Gray invented the first electromagnetic receiver in 1874 but did not perfect the design of a working diaphragm until Bell managed to create the first working telephone. The invention became a reality on March 10, 1876, when Bell transmitted the first sentence through his simple phone.

11. Aspirin - 1897

The effects of aspirin-like mixtures have been known for centuries now. The first report of this type of product dates back to the Ancient Romans when they used the back of a willow tree to fight a fever. The willow tree has a unique compound known as salicin which resembles aspirin. However, it was not until the 1800s that researchers discovered and extracted salicylic acid from willow trees. Charles Gergardt tried mixing salicylic acid with other elements for good results, but the compound he produced was impractical. In 1897 Felix Hoffmann, a German chemist, was searching for medicine to help relieve his father’s arthritis when he created acetylsalicylic acid commonly known as aspirin.

10. Coffee Pot - 1806

Before the invention of a coffee pot, coffee lovers had to chew the coffee since the drink would be full of grounds. In 1806 Benjamin Thompson invented a percolating coffee pot with a metallic sleeve that helped strain all the grounds, converting the beverage into a refreshing drink instead of a liquid meal. Thompson developed the coffee pot after his service with the Bavarian army where he helped improve their diets. Thompson was a British inventor and physicist whose inventions and challenges in establishing physical theory played a crucial role in the creation of thermodynamics during the 19th century.

9. Sewing Machine - 1846

During the early 1800s, much of the population did not have the income to purchase clothes. Therefore, everything was sewed by hand and families had to sew clothes using a thread and needle. Elias Howe changed all this when he invented the sewing machine, which he patented in 1846.

However, although the patent for the sewing machine was new, the concept wasn't. In 1755, Charles Wiesenthal had invented a double-pointed needle which got rid of the idea of turning the needle after every stitch. Bartholomew Thimonnier created his sewing machine using the double-pointed needle in 1830. In 1834, Walter Hunt invented double-thread shuttle equipment. Nonetheless, Elias Howe is remembered for his invention of an early model of the modern sewing machine.

8. Telegraph - 1837

Pavel Schilling invented the earliest electromagnetic telegraph in 1832, making him the first inventor to use the idea of binary systems in signal transmission. In 1833 Carl Gauss used induction pulse to send seven letters per minute, and this earned him some funding which enabled him to construct a telegraph network along the German railroad in 1835.

Dr. David Alter developed the first electric telegraph in 1836 in Elderton, but he did not manage to establish a practical system. In 1837 Samuel Morse developed a recording device. Together with his assistant, Alfred Vail, they managed to create Morse code and send the first telegraph message across two miles on January 11, 1938. He later managed to send another message over 44 miles from Washington to Baltimore.

7. Paperclip - 1899

A paper clip might be a simple device, but for centuries people used straight strings and pins as fasteners which damaged documents. Samuel Fay invented the first paper clip in 1867 and patented it as a ticket fastener on April 23, 1867. Over fifty designs were copyrighted before 1899, none of them resembling the current paper clip design.

William Middlebrook designed the modern paper clip. Middlebrook also developed a paper clip creating machine as early as April 27, 1899. He sold the patent to Cushman and Denison in 1899 who created ‘’GEM’’ a trademark for their paper clips. In 1903 George Mc Gill patented a design which resembles today’s version of paper clips.

6. Escalator - 1859

Escalators are power-driven stairs arranged in an endless belt-like manner which descend or ascend while transporting people between floors. Jesse Reno invented an escalator type machine in 1891. The earliest working escalator (which was patented to Jesse Reno in 1892) was installed at the Old Pier, Corney Island as a novelty ride in 1896.

George Wheeler patented an Escalator on April 18, 1899, and then sold it to Seeberger who registered the trademark ‘’Escalator’’. Seeberger sold the trade name ‘’Escalator" along with the patent to the Ortis Elevator Company in 1910, and with the help of David Lindquist, they added some improvement on the invention thus creating the present day escalators.

5. Coca Cola - 1886

The history of Coca Cola dates back to 1886 when Dr. John Pemberton modified his tonic headache and stimulant formula, creating Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Dr. Pemberton produced a Coca Cola syrup and took it to Jacob’s pharmacy where they sampled it and sold it at five cents per glass. With the help of Frank Robinson, Dr. Pemberton coined the trademark ‘’Coca Cola’’. Dr. John sold part of his company, and before he died, he sold his share of the company to Asa G. Candler who managed to gain complete control over the beverage. Mr. Chandler together with his brother John and other associates opened The Coca Cola Company.

4. Chewing Gum - 1870

People have chewed gum-like substances for centuries now - in fact, the earliest gums were thickened latex or resin obtained from various trees while others were from waxes, grains, leaves, and grasses. The American colonists chewed gums from spruce trees, and they were sold as lumps in the eastern parts of the United States by the early 1800s.

Chewing gum was made by Thomas Adam who was introduced to chewing chicles by General Santa Anna. Adam experimented on it and tried making rain boots, masks and toys from chicle but failed. Tired and discouraged, Adam popped a small piece of his surplus chicle into his mouth and finally came up with the idea of the first chewing gum and opened a factory in 1870. Adam patented the gum making process on February 14, 1871. He created the first flavored chewing gum called the ‘’Black Jack’’ in 1880.

3. Elevator - 1852

An elevator is an enclosure which is lowered and raised in a vertical shaft to transport both people and freight. The origin of elevators dates back to 1852 when Elisha Otis developed the first elevator’s safety brakes which he installed in an elevator in 1853. Otis started his elevator company in 1853 which manufactured freight holstering elevators. His invention helped architects achieve the goal of designing taller buildings.

Otis installed the first human elevator in a department store in New York in 1857. He received the patent for his improvements on the safety brakes and the holstering device in 1861. After his death, his sons opened the Otis Brothers and Company, and by 1873 they had installed over 2,000 elevators in various buildings. The Otis brothers partnered with other fourteen entities to create Otis Elevator Company in 1898, and they introduced the gearless traction elevator in 1903.

2. Jell-O - 1897

A man named Pearl Wait decided to switch to the food industry after his syrup manufacturing business failed in 1897. Pearl modified gelatin, which had been invented in the 1600s, by adding some fruit syrup to it. By doing this, Wait created a new product named Jello. Pearl tried marketing his new product, but due to lack of enthusiasm, he sold the patent to Francis Woodward. By the 1900 various chefs discovered Jell-O and introduced it to the market. Francis started advertising his product in 1902 as the "Best American Dessert". Jello remains popular today.

1. Automobile - 1889

The earliest automobile ever invented was the Fardier which was built by Nicholas Cugot. Fardier was a steam-powered machine which Nicholas developed for the French War minister in 1771. The Fardier was much slower than a horse driven vehicle, therefore, was never produced. Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler built the first car which was powered by a 1.5hp 2-cylinder gasoline engine in 1889. Their car had a 4-speed transmission and attained a maximum speed of 10 mph.

Another German known as Karl Benz developed a gasoline-powered vehicle in 1889. The first mass-produced cars were the Curved Dash Oldsmobile which Ransom E. Olds produced in 1901 in the United States. Henry Ford is credited for the current mass production of vehicles after he built his first car in 1896. Ford began developing the Model-T in 1908 and by the time its production stopped in 1927, over 18 million units had been sold.

More in World Facts