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Many of the essential inventions used in day to day life were actually invented during the Victorian era – not the 20th Century as you might think. These Victorian inventions provided the backbone for many modern inventions. See the fact file below for more on the timeline of Victorian inventions or download the entire worksheet pack today.
Inventions from the Victorian Era (20th June 1837 – 22nd January 1901)
Many people believe the majority of inventions used today are recent and created during the 20th Century, in actual fact, many of the essentials used in day to day life were invented during the Victorian era. Although most of these would now look extremely outdated, a lot of them provide the backbone for many modern-day creations.
People found science exciting and were keen to progress in both technology and the development of society. Particular areas that advanced in the Victorian era centered around communication and travel, this saw a huge improvement in the standard of living.
Here is a selection of inventions that helped pave the way for how we live today:
- Adhesive Postage stamps: Englishman Sir Roland Hill (a schoolmaster) is credited with the invention of the first postage stamp – later known as the Penny Black stamp and sporting the image of Queen Victoria’s head. The first one was issued on May 6th, 1840, starting Great Britain’s penny post system. This is essentially the framework of the system still used in post offices today. Before this, postage was paid by the recipient rather than the sender. The cost of postage was one penny, making it an affordable method of communication for everyone.
- Vacuum Cleaners: Hubert Cecil Booth – an engineer who also designed the Ferris wheel – created the first electric vacuum cleaner and set up the British Vacuum Company in 1901. The design, which sounds strange now, was an engine transported by horse and cart, with a hose that was passed through clients’ windows. It was actually so successful he was asked to vacuum the carpets for King Edward VII’s coronation ceremony.
- Telephone: The invention of the telephone took a long time and can be credited to the work of several pioneers who developed the different aspects to create a working model. It wasn’t until the 10th of March 1876 that the first successful clear transmission of speech was both received and responded to via a telephone device. This was done by Sir Alexander Graham Bell (a Scottish born scientist) and his assistant Thomas Watson (an electrical designer and mechanic) when Bell spoke into the device, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” and Watson answered. It was only Alexander Bells’ race to the patent office that technically secured him with the invention of the telephone, many other people were working on similar systems with varying success at the same time.
- Tarmac: John McAdam is usually credited with the creation of tarmac but in actual fact, he only created the method of crushed stone road surfaces. He failed to make the stones stick and although this sufficed when the only vehicles traveling were horse-drawn carts, it created quite a problem with punctured tires after the invention of cars. It was Edgar Hooley, a surveyor for Nottinghamshire county who accidentally discovered tarmac when he came across a smooth stretch of road, created when a barrel of tar had fallen from a dray and burst open. Locals had poured waste slag over it to clear up the mess. By 1902 Hooley had patented the process of heating tar, adding slag to the mix, and then breaking stones within the mixture to form a smooth road surface. Having perfected the operation, Hooley began transforming road surfaces and Nottingham’s Radcliffe Road became the first tarmac road in the world. A five-mile stretch was given the tarmac treatment and proved itself by being long-lasting, dust, and mud-free.
- Cars: The first automobile was built in 1885 by Karl Benz who was a German engineer and became a co-founder of the company that would eventually become Mercedes-Benz. It was a vehicle with three wheels powered by a one-cylinder gasoline engine. There was a speed limit imposed of 4 miles per hour. Given the average human walking speed of 3.1 miles obviously driving was not the time saver it is today for quite some time. It was also quite a while before anyone other than the fabulously rich could afford to own a car.
- Photographs: The 1830s saw the invention of photographs, they became popular fast and it only took a few years before the majority of towns had their own studio set up. Families would get together and dress in their best for a family portrait. The technology was not quite what it is today though and people had to stand still for quite some time to capture an image – this is why people generally are not smiling in old photographs – it was difficult to keep the pose for the necessary length of time. In 1840 William Henry Fox Talbot was responsible for patenting the process of creating a negative, allowing an image to be copied.
- Penny Farthing Bicycles: Invented by British engineer James Starley between 1870 and 1872, these bicycles and a very large front wheel and a small back one, looking quite bizarre by comparison to modern-day bikes. Its design had a few flaws though – including the large wheel causing riders to be thrown over the front of the bicycle. Despite this, the bikes remained popular for roughly 20 years, a short while in the grand scheme of things, before being replaced by “the safety bicycle”. Their popularity was short-lived but the image of the penny-farthing bicycle is quite famous in history and is still viewed as an icon representing inventions of the Victorian era.
- The lightbulb: In 1879 Thomas Alva Edison – American inventor and businessman invented the electric lightbulb and a patent was granted in 1880. Electric light was actually first invented in the early 1800s, however, it held little use in day to day life as it would grow too bright and hot and required a huge source of power to sustain it. Inventors figured out that the current needed to be passed through materials, however in early experiments the materials simply melted or burst into flames. Inventors realized they had to eliminate oxygen from the process, making combustion impossible. Many people tried and failed to perfect the design and only after studying everyone else’s mistakes with the help of physicist Francis Upton did Thomas Edison find success. He probably cannot claim full credit for the invention but he certainly created the first sustainable and useful lightbulb. In 1883 the first business installed the incandescent lamps and this was Macy’s in New York City.
- Electric trains: in 1879 a German named Werner Von Siemens invented the first electric train. He displayed it in Berlin at an international trade exhibition where it traveled around a specifically built track transporting 30 passengers at a time. It was exhibited for four months and carried a total of 90,000 people at a speed of 13 kilometers per hour. They were mostly used as attractions until 1890 when the first electric train built for actual travel was installed in the London Underground when the use of steam power was prohibited. Soon electric trains became the more popular mode of transport and began replacing steam-powered transport systems.
- Railway development: Although railways began with the opening of the Stockton and Darlington line in 1825 the Victorian era saw a railway boom with 30 million passengers traveling along 2441 miles of railway by 1845. This opened up new opportunities for travel and transport, which alongside the penny post system saw radical changes to social barriers which had been in place. It was these railways that helped begin the still very popular family tradition of a day trip to the seaside – made even better by the invention of the ice cream machine in 1843. Queen Victoria herself graced the railways for the first time on 13th June 1842 and from then on used it to show herself to her subject throughout the country.
Victorian Inventions Worksheets
This bundle includes 12 ready-to-use Victorian Inventions worksheets that are perfect for students to learn about many famous inventions from the Victorian era. These worksheets can be utilized within the classroom or homeschooling environment.
This download includes the following worksheets:
- Victorian Inventions Facts
- Victorian Inventions Word Search
- Modified True or False
- Picture Crossword
- Who Am I?
- Victorian Inventions Timeline
- Blast From the Past
- Ultimate Throwback
- My Favorite Invention
- My Invention
- We Owe Them
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Link will appear as Victorian Inventions Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, December 1, 2016
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.