Top 20 Inventions of the 19th Century

The 19th century was brought about the dawn of revolutionary inventions that changed the world. Almost all the things we rely so deeply on today, have their roots in devices that were invented in the 1800’s.

From photography to automobiles, the 19th century was defiantly the golden period of inventions. In this article, I have compiled a list of the top 20 inventions of the 19th century. Continue reading to find out more about the advancement of science and technology.

1. Steam Locomotive Engine

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The steam locomotive engine was first introduced in the 19th century in the United Kingdom and was a main feature of the railway industry up until the middle of the 20th century. The first steam locomotive was built in 1802 by a fellow named Richard Trevithick, and in 1812, George Stephenson built the first commercially successful steam engine.

A steam locomotive is actually a type of railway locomotive that is powered by a steam engine. The engine is fuelled by combustible material such as wood, oil, coal, which is used in the boiler to generate steam. The steam then helps to move the pistons, which are linked to the wheels of the locomotive.

Over the years, steam locomotives evolved at a rapid pace. In order to help the locomotives turn easily around the corners, cowcatchers where attached, which also protected the train from wandering animals on the tracks. Soon cabins for passengers were added for both long as well as short travels with all the required luxuries. The engines were updated to four cylinders and added wheels for industrial use. Now steam engines can only be seen in museums as windows of the past, but some working models are used to entertain tourists.

2. Automobile

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The original idea of the automobile, unfortunately, cannot be credited to just one individual. The idea of the automobile cam about way before then it was ever recorded. The automobile was actually first invented in France and Germany in the late 19th century. In the year 1808, Francoise Isaac de Rivaz developed the first car, which was powered by an internal combustion engine fuelled by hydrogen.

After some years in 1870, the first gasoline-powered combustion engine was built by Siegfried Marcus, which he placed on a pushcart, and he also built four other combustion engine cars that over the next 10 to 15 years influenced later cars.

The first successful American gasoline combustible engine and automobile was made in 1893 in Massachusetts by Bicycle mechanics Charles Duryea and J. Frank. And they went on and made the first American-gasoline automobile sale in the next year.

Thirty American car manufacturers went ahead and produced about twenty-five hundred motor vehicles in the year 1899, and then more than 400 companies entered into the automobile business in the next ten years.

3. Telephone

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In the late 19th century, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. He was actually not the first one to come up with the idea, though; work was being done on different kinds of telephones as early as the 17th century. Those early telephones were very primitive as compared to Bell’s device, though.

The first kinds of telephones were known as mechanical acoustic devices as they transformed audio energy into electrical energy. These devices just transported voice mechanically via pipes and other media.

Around the time Graham Bell invented the telephone, there were six different devices of the same nature being tested and worked on. Bell used his harmonic telegraph approach to develop his device. This approach theorized that you could send several signals along an electrical wire, just as long as those signals had a different pitch.

While Bell was conducting experiments based on this theory, he hit a breakthrough with his harmonic telegraph. He realized that he could hear a sound over the wire, the sound was of a clock spring twanging.

About a year later, Alexander Graham Bell achieved tremendous success in March of 1876; he successfully spoke to his assistant in the next room over the telephone. This device changed the world and made communicating over long distances much easier.

4. Escalator

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5. Electric Battery

Batteries are literally used everywhere; they are easily one of the greatest inventions not just of the 19th century but of all time. Batteries are devices that store chemical energy, which is then converted into electrical energy. From mobile phones to big industrial machines, batteries are a vital part of our daily lives.

The first-ever true battery was actually invented by an Italian Physicist in 1800, Alessandro Volta. Volta managed to stack up zinc and copper disks and separated them by a cloth soaked in salty water.

He then connected wires to both the ends of the stack, which generated a continuous and stable current. A set of copper, zinc, and brine disc generated 0.76 Volts. Several sets helped to produce a higher value.

The most prominent battery known as the lead-acid battery was developed in the year 1859 and is something that is still used today in internal combustion engine cars. It is actually one of the oldest examples of rechargeable batteries.

Different kinds of batteries have been developed over the years after they first came onto the scene in the 19th century. An American Physicist, Professor John Goodenough in 1980, invented a new kind of lithium battery in which the lithium moved through the battery from one electrode to another as lithium-ion.

6. Powered Airship

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Hot air balloons were invented in the 18th century by two French brothers, Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Etienne, and then later, a French physicist makes the first manned air balloon flight. At this point, air travel was rather primitive, and the movement of the balloon was on the mercy of the prevailing winds.

The first breakthrough in air travel came in the year 1852 when Henri Giffard built the first powered airship. The airship was cigar-shaped and was 143 feet long. It was powered by a propeller which ran on a three horsepower steam engine.

In the 19th century, there were many attempts to improve balloon travel. The Australian William Bland sent his deigns of the Atomic Airship to the Great Exhibition that was held in 1851 in London. The design consisted of an elongated balloon that was driven by a steam engine suspended underneath it. The balloon could lift about 5 tons, and the car, which had the fuel weighed about 3.5 tons, giving a payload of about 1.5 tons. Bland believed that the vehicle could be used to travel from Sydney to London in less than seven days.

Solomon Andrews in 1863 flew his Aeron design, which was an unpowered controllable dirigible in New Jersey, and he even offered his device to the US Military amidst the Civil War. He later flew his airship around New York.

7. Practical Photography

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Photography has become a big part of our lives; it’s the best way to record memories and also helps in identification purposes throughout the world.

The first process of Photography was termed as heliography. Heliography was developed by Nicephore Niepce in the year 1824. Bitumen of Judea was spread on a silver plate after the exposure of several days, and this helped to obtain an image. The next technique used in Photography was Daguerreotype, which was developed by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre in the year 1838. The first process was a developmental stage in which a silver plate which was coated with a very thin layer of silver iodide was exposed in a camera obscure and then afterward was exposed to vapors of mercury that induced the apparition of the invisible latent image that had been formed during the light exposure. This entire process took about half an hour, and later, the image was immersed in sea salted water.

In the early days, people knew how to project images, but they had no idea how to preserve or save the light. Sir John Herchel, in the year 1839, came up with a method of creating the first glass negative instead of metal like most inventors before he did. Later he coined the name Photography, which was derived from the Greek words fos that meant light and grafo, which meant to write.

In the beginning, Photography was just an aid to artists, and it followed the same principles as artists followed. The first images were usually portraits or family portraits.

8. Typewriter

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The first machine which was closely related to a typewriter was patented by Christopher Latham Sholes in the year 1868; he was a journalist from Wisconsin. This wasn’t technically the first machine of this nature, a patent for granted to an Englishmen Henry Mill in the 18th century, but this was the first time that a typewriter was practical enough to be marketed at a mass scale and could be used by the general public.

By 1873 Lantham produced about fifty machines, but he was unable to sell them, so he sold his production rights to Philo Remington, who was a gun manufacturer. In 1874, the first Remington made typewriter was sold, and then after that, a new typewriter that offered the ability to type both upper cases and lower case letters was debuted in 1878.

Sholes believed that typewriters could help women earn a livelihood for themselves. According to him, typewriters could help women achieve entrepreneurial freedom, especially in business and politics. Mark Twain was the first writer who wrote a book using a typewriter that he bought in the year 1874. The typewriter became a symbol for writers, and the typewriters of great writers such as Ian Fleming, Rudyard Kipling, and George Bernard are still preserved in museums and estates.

9. Revolver

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The first revolver was invented by an American Industrialist Samuel Colt; it was a firearm that he names Colt Revolver. He was granted a patent for the Colt Revolver in 1836, which consisted of a revolving cylinder that could carry give to six bullets and an innovative cocking device.

The Colt was not technically the first revolver but was the first cartridge revolver to be officially adopted by the US Military. The Colt was a hit until the single-action system was suspended.

Colt has many jobs in his early years and one of which was a sailor. On the voyage to the Indian city, Calcutta he invented a handheld firearm which consisted of a six-chambered revolving barrel that was loaded with percussion caps. He then went ahead and improved his original idea with a rotating breech.

In 1832, Colt started his journey back to The States, and he began to work with various gunsmiths in order to improve his technique. In 1857, Colt began to manufacture guns under the name of the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, with foundries in London, Hartford, and Connecticut.

Colt acted like a patent troll for a while; he harassed or sued anyone who tried to imitate his work. Revolvers are still very popular as off duty or back up handguns among US law enforcement officers as well as security guards.

10. Stethoscope

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The Stethoscope is a medical device used to listen to the internal sounds of human as well as animal bodies. It has two tubes as earpieces and a disc-shaped resonator that is placed against the skin. A Stethoscope can be used to hear the sounds made by the lungs, heart, and intestines as well as blood flow in the veins and arteries. It is also used to measure blood pressure.

This revolutionary medical device was invented by Rene Laennec in the year 1816 at the Necker Enfants Malades Hospital located in Paris. The real reason that Laennec developed this amazing medical instrument was that placing his ear directly onto a woman’s chest made him rather uncomfortable. He noticed that if he placed a piece on paper between his ear and the chest of the patient, the sound was amplified without really the need for any physical contact.

The construction and mechanism or a Stethoscope are much similar to the common ear trumpet, a historical form of a hearing aid. This new invention was also quite similar to the structure of the trumpet, which was popularly known as then a microphone. The first flexible Stethoscope was created in 1829 but was not very common. Then in the year 1840, Golding Bird showcased a stethoscope that he had been using with a flexible tube.

11. Mechanical Computer

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The first mechanical computer was created in the year 1822 by Charles Babbage, although it was much different than the computers today. Babbage started off by developing the Different Engine, which was considered to be the first automatic computing machine. The device was capable of computing various sets of numbers and also producing hard copies of results. Babbage worked on The Different engine with Ada Lovelace, who is thought to be one of the first computer programmers for her work on the Different Engine.

Babbage unluckily was never able to fully complete the Different Engine due to the lack of funds. Later in the year 1837, Babbage proposed his general computer idea, the Analytical Engine. The Analytical Engine consisted of basic flow control, Arithmetic Logic Unit, integrated memory as well as punch cards. Again due to funding issues, this device was never completed while Babbage was alive. Later his son completed a part of the machine and was able to perform basic calculations.

Computers have come a long way since they were first invented. Like most devices, the first computer was nothing like the ones we use today, but still, Babbage’s mechanical device did lay the foundations of the modern computer. The first commercially available computer was launched in the year 1951, more than a century after the first-ever mechanical computer.

12. Electric Telegraph

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The telegraph was a device using which people communicated with each other in the 19th century; it did this by transmitting electric signals over wires from one location to another and then translated it into a message.

The first primitive version of the telegraph was developed by Samuel Soemmering from Bavaria. He used gold electrodes in water with 35 wires. The message was then read 2000 feet away at the receiving end by the gas produced during the electrolysis. In the year 1828, Harrison Dyar, an American, invented the first telegraph that sent electrical sparks through a paper tape that was chemically treated in order to burn dashed and dots.

There were many different kinds of telegraphs developed. One was a needle telegraph in which a needle pointer was made to move electromagnetically with a pulse of an electric current that was generated by the help of a battery or dynamo down the telegraph line. The other kind of telegraph was the armature system in which a pulse activated a telegraph sounder, which made a click. This was actually the foundation of the Morse system, which was developed in 1838 by Samuel Morse using a single wire.

As the telegraph became more advanced, the more developed nations created commercial telegraph networks with local telegraph offices in the major cities and towns; this allowed the common man to send messages called telegrams.

13. Sewing Machine

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The first sewing machine that was functional was invented by Barthelemy Thimonnier in 1830; he was a French tailor. His device only used a single thread and a hooked needle that created the same chain stitch used with embroidery. The poor man was later killed by a mob of French tailors who believed that the sewing machine would increase unemployment in the garment industry.

America’s first sewing machine was built in 1834 by a man named Walter Hunt. He later was not granted a patent as there was again a risk of unemployment. Hunt never went through with the patent, and the first American sewing machine that this gets granted a patent was invented by Elias Howe, a device that used threads from two different sources.

Howe’s device consisted of a needle that had an eye at the point. The needle pushed through the cloth and then made a loop on the other side. A shuttle that was present on the other side then slipped the second thread through the loop which created, what is now known as the lockstitch. Howe later had to face many problems defending his patent and marketing his invention.

For nearly a decade, the poor fellow had to fight hard to protect his machine from imitators. Isaac Singer was another inventor who invented the up and down motion mechanism, and Allen Wilson went ahead and invented a rotary hook shuttle.

14. Mechanical Calculater

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The Mechanical Calculator is a mechanical device that was used to perform the primitive operations of arithmetic automatically. When it came to their size, they were huge as compared to the calculators available today, about the size of a desktop computer and are no longer used. They became absolute once the electronic calculators dominated the market.

The first commercially successful device that resembled closely to a mechanical calculator was invented in the Year 1851 by Thomas de Colmar and was called Arthimometre. The machine was durable and reliable enough to be used in an office environment. For the next four decades, this was the only device available that could perform arithmetic calculations with ease. This machine was sold all over the world, and until 1890, approximately twenty-five hundred arithmometers had been sold.

The next device which could perform mathematical calculation was called the comptometer, which was introduced in the Year 1887. Its was actually the first device that used a keyboard and consisted of columns with nine keys for each digit. The first direct multiplication device was invented by Luigi Torchi in the Year 1834. This was actually the second key-driven device after the machine developed by James White in 1822.

Later, Charles Babbage introduced a machine that was similar to the mechanical calculator but laid the foundation of mechanical computers.

15. Coco Cola

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Coco-Cola is a carbonated beverage that was introduced to the world by Dr. John S. Pemberton, who was a pharmacist from Atlanta in the Year 1886. His curiosity led him to develop a unique tasting soft drink that could be sold to soda fountains. He started by developing a syrup that he mixed with carbonated water, and his recipe was a success with everyone who tasted it.

Frank M. Robinson was Dr. Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper; he helped name the carbonated drink, ‘Coca-Cola.’ He also went ahead and designed the distinct script as well as the trademark that is still used today. Coco-Cola was sold for only 5 cents per glass in the year days. In its initial year, sales were about nine glasses a day per average in Atlanta.

Originally the drink was marketed as a patent medicine and a temperance drink. Although it was created by John Stith Pemberton, the popularity of coca-cola is credited to Asa Griggs Candler, whose marketing tactics helped Coca Cola dominate the market for decades.

In its initial days, Pemberton claimed that the drink could cure many diseases, such as morphine addiction, nerve disorders, indigestion, impotence, and headaches. The first-ever advertisement for the drink for ran in the Atlanta Journal on the 29th of May. Unfortunately, Pemberton died in 1888, after which Asa Candler moved swiftly to take control of the entire operation. The drink became much more popular after the creator’s death.

16. Bicycle

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The Bicycle is a vehicle with two wheels that require the balance of the rider. This vehicle was first introduced to the world in the 19th century. The first machine that resembled the Bicycle we know today was invented by a German draisine in the Year 1817.

The name Bicycle was given to the vehicle in France in the 1860s. The first Bicycle was invented nu Barol Karl von Drias, who was German and a civil servant to the Grand Duke of Baden. He invented the running machine and called it Draisine. He then went ahead and was granted a patent for his design in the Year 1818. His device was the first successful commercially available two-wheeled vehicle that could be steered and was known as velocipede and was also called dandy horse or hobby horse. The device was initially manufactured in France and Germany.

It is said that Drais wanted an alternative to the horse due to the starvation and death of horses that occurred during the crop failure of 1816 in the year without a Summer, this led him to create the two-wheeled device.

Later a chap names Johnson copied the design of the hobby horse, and thanks to his marketing skills, the device became the fashion and craze in London society. After the invention of the two-wheeled device, many inventors went ahead and started to create vehicles with more than two wheels. The new machines had three wheels or four wheels and came in a variety of designs.

17. X-ray

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In the year 1895, X-rays were discovered by a Professor at Wurzburg University in Germany known as Willhelm Conrad Roentgen. He was working with the cathode-ray tube in his lab when he noticed a fluorescent glow of crystals close to his tube on the table. The tube was made up of a glass bulb with negative and positive electrodes encapsulated in it. A high voltage current was then applied after the tube was evacuated, and the tube produced a fluorescent glow. Roentgen then went ahead and covered the tube with black paper and noticed a green-colored fluorescent light generated by a material that was present just a few feet away from the table.

His conclusion was that a new type of ray was being emitted by the tube. The ray was able to pass through paper and also the phosphorescent materials within the room. He discovered that this new ray could pass through almost all kinds of objects casting shadows and also that the ray could pass through human tissue and bones or any metal objects.

The first X-ray the professor ever took was that of his wife’s hand. In its initial days, X-rays were used for industrial purposes rather than medical ones. Just six months after the professor’s discovery, in 1896, physicians started using the X-ray to locate bullets in wounded soldiers. A new medical era began, and radiography were made in Europe and America to guide surgeons in their work. X-rays were a scientific bombshell and was received with great interest by scientists as well as the common man.

18. Paper Clip

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A paper clip is a small device that is used to fasten pieces of paper together, and it’s usually made of steel wire or plastic. The first paper clip patent was granted to Samuel B Fay in the United States in 1867. The clip was initially invented to primarily attach tickets to fabrics, although the patent stated that it could also be used to attach papers together. He received his patent in the year 1867 and came up with 50 or so more designs.

Another rather popular paper clip patent was granted to Erlman J Wright of the United States in 1877. The clip was to be used to fasten newspapers together. The most common type of paper clip was the Gem paper clip, which was produced in Britain in the 1870s by The Gem Manufacturing Company.

A Norwegian inventor, Johan Vaaler, who had a degree in electronics, mathematics, and science, invented his own kind of paperclip in 1899, and as Norway had no patent laws, he was granted a patent in Germany. He then went ahead and received an American patent in 1901.

The paperclip has been invented over and over again by many inventors. The Gem paper clip, with its double oval shape and non-skid ability, has been the most popular. This paperclip was ideal for thick stacks of papers, and it did not get easily tangled with other paperclips.

The paperclips also have some significant history, during the Second World War, the people of Norway were forbidden from wearing any buttons that resembled the initials of their king. So in protest, the people began to wear paperclips, as they were a Norwegian invention whose original function was to bind together.

19. Dishwasher


Joel Houghton invented the first dishwasher in America in the year 1850. It was a machine made out of wood and had a hand turning wheel that splashed water onto the dishes. The machine barely worked, but it was granted a patent.

L.A Alexander, in the year 1865, was granted a patent for a machine that used a hand crack and gearing to spin a rack of dishes all through the dishwasher. This machine was also not that efficient at what it was supposed to do.

The first practical machine was created in the year 1886 by Josephine Cochrane and unveiled her new invention at the World Fair in 1893. At this point, only restaurants and hotels bought her idea. This invention came into the market way before electricity was common, and so the dishwasher was the hand-operated machine. Cochrane then went ahead and founded a company called Kitchen Aid that began mass-producing this dishwasher.

Cochrane became successful at creating the first usable dishwasher because she has engineered in her blood, and she was pretty well-heeled. The only reason she thought of creating a dishwashing machine was that she was tired of her servants breaking her expensive pots. The dishwasher went through many developments until it was ready for the public, and it wasn’t until the 20th century when permanent plumbing was introduced when dishwashers actually became popular.

20. Vacuum Cleaner

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The Vacuum Cleaner is a device that created a partial vacuum and can be used to suck up dirt and dust. An air pump is added to the device, which helps to create a vacuum, and it is used to clean surfaces such as floors. Whatever the vacuum cleaner manages to suck is collected into a disposable bag and thrown out.

Contrary to popular belief, vacuum cleaners are not a modern invention in any way; they actually came about in the 19th century, although it did take about a century for them to be popular among households. The first mechanical device that resembled a vacuum cleaner was invented by Daniel Hess, who was a carpet sweeper in 1860. The device consisted of a rotating brush and bellows which generated suction.

Later in the year 1869, a man names Ives W McGaffe invented a device he called Whirlwind, which had a belt-driven fan that was powered by hand. In the year 1898, John S Thurman invented a cleaner that ran on gasoline, and it was so big that it had to be drawn, and it was incapable of producing a vacuum, but it did blow air and cleaned like that.

A vacuum cleaner that actually ran on the same mechanisms like the one we have today was invented by Hubert Cecil Booth in 1901 in England.

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