Victorian Inventors & Inventions

Queen Victoria’s reign began in 1837 and ended with her death in 1901. This period is often described as an age of rapid change, and many breakthroughs were achieved in terms of scientific thought and industrial innovation and design.

Here is a list of some of the inventions that were developed during the Victorian period (both in the UK and overseas) and the inventors behind them.

1837 – The telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse, and the postage stamp was invented by Rowland Hill.

1838 – Samuel Morse invented Morse Code.

1839 – The process of rubber vulcanization was invented by Charles Goodyear, the first pedal bicycle was produced by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, and the first paddle steamship was made by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

1841 – The stapler is invented by Samuel Slocum.

1842 – The first grain elevator is constructed by Joseph Dart.

1843 – The first Christmas card was designed by John Calcott Horsely.

1845 – Elias Howe invented a type of sewing machine.

1849 – The safety pin is invented by Walter Hunt, and modern concrete was developed by Monier.

1851 – Isaac Singer invents a type of sewing machine.

1852 – The gyroscope is invented by Jean Bernard Leon Foucault.

1856 – Louis Pasteur invents the process of pasteurisation.

1858 – The internal combustion engine is invented by Jean Lenoir.

1861 – The Yale lock is invented by Linus Yale.

1862 – The machine gun is invented by Richard Gatling, and the first man-made plastic is produced by Alexander Parkes.

1864 – Jelly Babies are invented by Herr Steinbeck.

1866 – Dynamite is invented by Alfred Nobel, and Robert Whitehead invents the torpedo.

1868 – Air brakes are developed by George Westinghouse, and J. P. Knight invents the traffic light.

1873 – Barbed wire is invented by Joseph Glidden.

1876 – The telephone is patented by Alexander Graham Bell.

1875 – First chocolate Easter eggs were manufactured by Fry’s in Bristol.

1877 – The world’s first recording of the human voice is made by Thomas Edison.

1880 – A form of toilet paper is manufactured by the British Perforated Paper Company, and the seismograph is invented by John Milne.

1881 – Roll film for cameras is patented by David Houston.

1884 – The mechanical cash register is invented by James Ritty, and a useable fountain pen is invented by Lewis Edson Waterman.

1885 – The first practical internal-combustion engine powered car is developed by Karl Benz.

1886 – The dishwasher is invented by Josephine Cochrane, and Coca-Cola is invented by John Pemberton.

1887 – Radar is invented by Heinrich Hertz, the gramophone is invented by Emile Berliner, and the first wearable contact lenses are developed by Muller & Fick.

1888 – The first pneumatic tyre is patented by John Boyd Dunlop, and the AC motor and transformer are invented by Nikola Tesla.

1891 – The escalator is invented by Jesse W. Reno.

1892 – The diesel-fueled combustion engine is invented by Rudolf Diesel.

1895 – The first wireless is launched by Guglielmo Marconi.

1888 – George Eastman invents the Kodak box camera.

1898 – The rollercoaster is invented by Edwin Prescott.

1899 – A motor-powered vacuum cleaner is patented by J. S. Thurman.

Frank Whittle: Facts About the Inventor of the Jet Engine

Frank Whittle was an officer in the Royal Air Force, an engineer, and an inventor. He is best known for inventing the turbojet engine.

Disclaimer: This post includes Amazon product images that include affiliate links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, Primary Facts earns from qualifying purchases.

Facts About Frank Whittle

  • Frank Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907. His family moved to Royal Leamington Spa when he was nine years old, and his father ran the Leamington Valve and Piston Ring Company.
  • Frank Whittle learned to use all of the tools at his father’s workplace, and he became very knowledgeable about the company’s single-cylinder gas engine.
  • He attended Milverton School and Leamington College for Boys, and he was an avid reader, spending much of his free time in the library learning about engineering, turbines, aviation, and the theory of flight.
  • When he was fifteen years old, he decided to become a pilot and he completed an application to join the RAF.
  • In 1923, Frank Whittle passed the RAF entrance examination and reported to RAF Halton (Buckinghamshire) to start as an Aircraft Apprentice. Unfortunately, due to his small stature (he was only 5′ 2″ tall) and narrow frame, he failed the medical assessment.
  • Undeterred, Frank Whittle focused on improving his physique and applied to the RAF again using a different name. This time he was accepted, and in September 1923 he began the three-year training to become an aircraft mechanic.
  • During his time in RAF training, Frank Whittle joined the Model Aircraft Society. He built several high-quality working replicas of planes, and these were noticed by one of his commanding officers. This, combined with the fact that Frank Whittle was an exceptional mathematician, resulted in Frank Whittle being put forward for officer training at RAF College Cranwell.
  • Part of the training at Cranwell involved flying an Avro 504 biplane, and after just 13.5 hours of tuition, Frank Whittle flew solo for the first time. He soon moved on to fly Bristol Fighters and became known for his skillful flying maneuvers.
  • Frank Whittle graduated in 1928 (ranking second in his class for academics) and was commissioned as a pilot officer at the age of just 21.
  • While at Cranwell, he wrote a thesis called Future Developments in Aircraft Design. He discussed using motorjets and argued for the benefits of flying at high altitudes.
  • In 1928, he joined No 111 Squadron based at Hornchurch, and he soon went on to become a flying instructor at the Central Flying School at Wittering.
  • In 1930, Whittle patented his idea to use turbine engines instead of piston engines to make his motorjet principles a reality. He previously shared his ideas with the RAF, but their top engineers had decided that Whittle’s concepts would be impracticable.
  • In 1931, Frank Whittle was posted to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Felixstowe, Suffolk. As part of his work, he piloted more than twenty different types of seaplanes and flying boats.
  • He attended Peterhouse College, Cambridge in 1934, and graduated two years later with a degree in Mechanical Sciences.
  • In 1936, Frank Whittle signed an agreement with OT Falk, the Air Ministry, Rolf Dudley-Williams, and James Collingwood Tinling to form a company called Power Jets Ltd.
  • Power Jets worked with British Thomson Houston (a steam turbine company) to manufacture the first prototype jet engine design.
  • At the same time as the Power Jets prototype was being made, a German group of engineers was working on their own jet engine design. With the support of the German Ministry of Aviation, their efforts made it into the air first. But the German engines continually overheated and would only last a maximum of 25 hours before burning out. It is estimated that more than 200 pilots lost their lives during training in Messerschmitt Me 262s powered by the Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engine, but these planes proved to be very effective late on in World War 2, shooting down more than 500 Allied planes.
  • Whittle worked increasingly hard to turn his ideas of an efficient and reliable working jet engine into a reality. He frequently worked 16-hour days, and he suffered from headaches and heart palpitations.
  • In 1939, Frank Whittle finally managed to convince the Air Ministry to invest more heavily in his design. After proving that the technology was sustainable, the Air Ministry purchased the Power Jets company, and Frank Whittle was made Chief Technical Advisor. He received a payment of £10,000 (a much lower sum than the value of the shares he owned in Power Jets). He resigned in 1946.
  • In 1948, he received a payment of £100,000 from the Royal Commission on Awards to recognize the contribution he had made to developing the jet engine. He left the RAF in the same year with the rank of Air Commodore.
  • He worked for Shell in the 1950s, and then he went on to work for Bristol Aero Engines.
  • In 1967, Frank Whittle is inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
  • In the 1960s, he became good friends with one of the leading German engineers (part of the group he had competed with when he was prototyping his jet engine), Hans von Ohain.

If you had been given the money you would have been six years ahead of us. If Hitler or Goering had heard that there is a man in England who flies 500 mph in a small experimental plane and that it is coming into development, it is likely that World War II would not have come into being.

Hans von Ohain on Frank Whittle
  • Frank Whittle died in 1996 at his home in Columbia, Maryland, US. He was 89.
  • Frank Whittle has been commemorated in his birthplace of Coventry with the Whittle Arch (located outside the Coventry Transport Museum), and a statue created by Faith Winter. There is also a Sir Frank Whittle Primary School and the Frank Whittle building at Coventry University.
  • Frank Whittle was knighted in 1948.

Charles Goodyear: Facts About the Famous Inventor

Here are some facts about Charles Goodyear

  • Charles Goodyear is best known for developing vulcanized rubber. The vulcanization process hardens rubber, making it suitable material to use for tyres.
  • The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was named after him.
  • He was born in 1800, in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, and he died in 1860 in New York.
  • He sold his furniture to fund his experiments with India rubber. He was desperately looking for a way to make the rubber lose its stickiness.
  • He discovered that rubber dipped in nitric acid helped to keep the rubber hard, and Andrew Jackson (the 7th President of the United States) was so impressed he wrote to Goodyear to congratulate him.
  • He was once nearly suffocated in his lab by poisonous gases.
  • In 1839, Goodyear discovered that combining rubber and sulfur, and heating the mixture would cause the rubber to vulcanize. During the 1840s he continued to work on the process.
  • In 1852, a court case took place to see whether Thomas Hancock had come up with the process of vulcanization independently in Britain, or whether he’d copied Goodyear. It was decided that both men had invented the process.
  • In 1976 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • He married Clarissa Beecher in 1824, and they had five children.
  • Before he began to experiment with rubber, he was a partner in a button-making and agricultural implement manufacturing business.
  • The Charles Goodyear Medal is awarded to those who are most innovative in the rubber industry.
  • He is buried in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.

Check out some facts about other famous inventors.

Alfred Nobel: Facts About the Famous Scientist and Inventor

Here are some facts about Alfred Nobel.

  • Alfred Nobel was a Swedish businessman, chemist and inventor. He is known today for leaving much of his fortune to establish the annual Nobel Prize system.

  • Nobel was born in Sweden in 1833. He went to school in Sweden and France and became fluent in several European languages – French, English, Russian and German, as well as Swedish.
  • Alfred Nobel invented gelignite, an explosive, in 1874, and then invented dynamite two years later. His brother had died in a nitroglycerin explosion in the family’s factory a few years earlier.
  • When Nobel’s brother died, several papers mistakenly reported that Albert had died. He was upset to read himself described as a merchant of death, a reference to his work with explosives.
  • He went on to work in his father’s factory. The factory produced armaments for the Crimean War, and the Nobel family also became wealthy by developing oilfields in the Caspian Sea.
  • During his life, Nobel opened 90 arms factories and patented 350 of his inventions and discoveries. He is credited with inventing the detonator, gas meters, and ballistite, used to propel rockets.

Alfred Nobel

  • Nobel led a lonely life, and had a fear of being buried alive. He wrote several novels, poetry and a play called Nemesis, which in 2005, was staged at a theatre in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Alfred Nobel died of a heart attack in Italy, in 1891. He died a rich man and in his will he set aside most of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prize system.
  • A monument in St. Petersburg, Russia was dedicated in 1991 to celebrate 90 years since the first Nobel Prize was awarded. The synthetic element Nobelium was named after him in 1966.
  • The Nobel Prize comprises a medal, diploma and cash sum. Over 550 prizes have been awarded, the youngest recipient being Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai in 2014, aged 17.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous inventors.

John Boyd Dunlop: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about John Boyd Dunlop.

  • John Boyd Dunlop was a Scottish vet and inventor. He is best known for his work in developing the first pneumatic or inflatable tyre, a device still used today.

  • Dunlop was born in Scotland in 1840, and moved to Ireland at age 27. He established a large veterinary practice, which had become one of Ireland’s largest by the mid-1880s.
  • He found that solid wood, rubber or iron wheels made cycling difficult on the bumpy and rough roads. He experimented by using an inflatable rubber tyre on his son’s tricycle.
  • In 1889, cyclist Willie Hume tested Dunlop’s tyres by taking part in several races in the UK. He was the first member of the public to buy a bicycle with pneumatic tyres.

John Boyd Dunlop

  • Another Scot, Robert Thomson, also developed a pneumatic tyre about 40 years before Dunlop. Thomson had patented his invention in France in 1846 and in the US in 1847.
  • Dunlop was told that the tyre had been invented by someone else, but still set up his own company. It was known as the Pneumatic Tyre and Booth’s Cycle Agency.
  • In 1896 the company was sold to another UK company and was renamed Dunlop Rubber. The company went on to make different types of car tyres, as well as aeroplane tyres and golf balls.
  • John Boyd Dunlop never became rich from his invention. After selling his part of the company, he retired to Dublin where he bought part of a drapery company.
  • John Boyd Dunlop died unexpectedly in 1921.
  • In 2005 Dunlop was admitted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, and an Irish bank issued a 10 pound note with his picture on it.
  • Dunlop’s first pneumatic tyre can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The museum also displays a bust of Dunlop, as well as several historic cars.

What next? Learn about some other famous inventors.

Karl Benz: Facts About the Car Designer and Inventor

Here are some facts about Karl Benz.

  • Karl Benz was a German car designer and engine designer. He is considered to be the designer of the first motor vehicle to be powered by an internal combustion engine.

  • Benz was born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1844 and originally wanted to be a locksmith. He studied electrical engineering at university, and then worked in iron construction and as a draftsman.
  • As a young man, Karl Benz enjoyed riding his bicycle. While riding, he thought about how practical it would be to have a machine that was able to power itself.
  • In the 1870s, Benz established a metal working factory in Mannheim, Germany. He began to build different parts for an engine driven vehicle, and the world’s first car was built in 1885.
  • Benz’s first car was called the Benz Patent Motorwagen. The motorized tricycle had no gears, and was difficult to control, crashing into a wall while being demonstrated.

Karl Benz

  • His wife secretly tested the new car by driving it a distance of 106 km to her mother’s house. Today, every two years an antique car race is held along that same stretch of road.
  • In 1894, Benz made the Velo, the world’s first production car. It took part in the world’s first car race in France, with an average speed of just over 12 kilometres per hour.
  • Karl Benz designed the world’s first lorry in 1895. A year later, he introduced a revolutionary flat engine design, a design still used by car manufacturers such as Porsche.

Old Benz Cars

  • By the 1920s, the Benz car company was competing with its biggest rival, Daimler. The depression led to the two companies merging into one company called Daimler-Benz.
  • Karl Benz died in 1929, aged 84. His last home was designated a historic landmark and is still used today as a meeting place for a charity that honours his memory.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous inventors.

James Dyson: Facts and Information About the British Inventor

Here are some facts about James Dyson.

  • James Dyson is a British designer and inventor. He founded the Dyson Company and is best known for devising and promoting the Dyson Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.

  • Dyson was born in Cromer, Norfolk in 1947. He was good at long distance running while at school, and at college he studied furniture, interior design and engineering.
  • In 1970, he designed the Sea Truck, a type of high speed amphibious landing vehicle. The innovative design won a Design Council Award and was featured on the popular television programme, Tomorrow’s World.
  • Dyson experimented with a bagless vacuum cleaner design during the 1970s. He also devised the idea of using a ball instead of wheels, allowing the machine to turn more easily.

James Dyson

  • In 2000, Dyson designed a washing machine, although it wasn’t successful. He also came up with his Dyson Airblade hand dryer which today is a common sight in many public bathrooms.
  • In 2002, Dyson designed a water sculpture which was displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show. It is an optical illusion, in which several streams of water appear to be flowing uphill.
  • James Dyson is a strong supporter of a single European currency. Dyson also publicly encouraged Great Britain to leave the European Union before the vote in 2016.

  • James Dyson owns three homes in Gloucestershire, Chelsea in London, and the South of France. He also owns a 91 metre long yacht, one of the largest in Britain.
  • In 1998, Dyson was awarded the CBE medal. He has received several other awards including a 2016 Order of Merit for achievements in industrial design, and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2015.
  • The James Dyson Foundation was set up in 2002 to encourage education in design and engineering. An award is given every year to recognize a graduate in engineering or design.

What next? Discover some more facts about famous inventors.

The Wright Brothers: Facts About Orville and Wilbur

Here are some facts about the Wright brothers.

  • The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were American engineers, inventors and bicycle makers. They are famous for inventing, constructing and flying the first aeroplane (or airplane) in the world.

  • Orville was born in 1871 in Ohio, and Wilbur in Indiana, in 1867. They left school to start a printing business, and then in 1892, opened a bicycle sales and repair shop in Ohio.
  • A toy flying machine gave the brothers an interest in flight and aerodynamics. They designed and built several model gliders, and experimented with a wind tunnel.
  • The first flight of the brothers’ Flyer, their plane, took place on December 17th, 1903 in the North Carolina sand dunes. The site was chosen for its soft landing spots, regular breezes and privacy.
  • The fourth flight they made that day lasted 59 seconds and covered about 280 metres. The brothers tossed a coin to decide who would fly the machine first.

Wright Brothers

  • The Wright Flyer was just over six metres long, with a wingspan of 12 metres. The plane weighed 274 kg and was capable of flying at almost 50 kilometres per hour.
  • In 1909 the brothers created the American Wright Company. They became world famous, made longer test flights and flew in front of the King of England.

  • Orville Wright died in 1948; Wilbur in 1912 aged just 45. Their last home in Dayton, Ohio is now on the US register of Historic Places, and is one of 15 aviation related sites in the area.
  • The Wright Brothers’ Flyer is in the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, although for many years Wilbur refused to donate it. In 1969, Neil Armstrong took a small piece of it to the moon.
  • The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina commemorates the brothers’ achievement. A life size replica of the brothers’ 1903 plane can be seen at the site.

What next? Discover more facts about famous inventors.

Louis Braille: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Louis Braille.

  • Louis Braille was a French teacher and inventor. He is best known for his system of reading for the blind or visually impaired, which is still used today.

  • Braille was born near Paris, France in 1809.
  • At three years old, he accidentally stuck a sharp tool in his eye, developed an infection and was completely blind by five.
  • Louis Braille attended one of the world’s first schools for blind children. He was taught to read using a system of raised letters but realized the system could be improved.
  • He learned of a system of dots and dashes used by the French army. Braille made changes to it, and published his reading system for the blind in 1829 at the age of 20. It replaced letter symbols with raised dots and dashes.
  • A few years later, Braille became a teacher and also wrote several works that helped to explain his reading system. He died from tuberculosis in 1852, aged 43.
  • By the late 19th century, the Braille system was being used all over France, and in 1916 it was officially used in the US. More recent developments include braille for email and computer terminals.
  • There are statues and memorials to Louis Braille all over the world, and he has been described as one of the 100 most influential inventors. His childhood home is a museum devoted to his work.

Louis Braille

  • Braille was the world’s first binary system of writing. The 64 combinations of dots can represent letters, numbers, punctuation marks and complete words and can be in languages other than English.
  • Despite the introduction of electronic reading devices, braille is still important. In the US, an estimated 50,000 blind people rely on it; in the UK about 5,000 people use it regularly.
  • World Braille Day is celebrated every January 4th, Louis Braille’s birth date. In 2009, several countries introduced special coins to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

What next? Learn about some other famous inventors.

Nikola Tesla: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Nikola Tesla.

  • Nikola Tesla was an Austrian born inventor, physicist and engineer. He is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

  • He was born in 1856 in Smiljan, Croatia.
  • Tesla attended college in Graz, Austria, often studying for over 16 hours a day. He avoided being drafted into the army by running away and hiding in the mountains.
  • In 1882 he worked installing incandescent lighting in Paris. In 1884 he emigrated to New York, working in Thomas Edison’s factory, helping to develop a high voltage street lighting system.
  • In New York, Tesla stayed in different hotels, often without paying the bill. He fed pigeons from the window and spent a large amount of money on a device to help a wounded pigeon return to health.
  • Nikola Tesla created his own electric lighting company in 1885. He patented over 100 inventions for AC electricity devices and technology, often competing against Thomas Edison.
  • Tesla invented a steam powered generator. He also devised a remote control radio device, carried out research into X-rays, and suggested providing free electricity to everyone.

Nikola Tesla

  • One of Tesla’s most important inventions was the Tesla Coil, a device used in radio transmitters. Today, this electrical device is still widely used in radio technology.
  • Tesla was concerned about the environment, as well as the quality of life, and later in his life became a vegetarian. He was also obsessed with the number three, and apparently he had a fear of touching people’s hair.
  • Nikola Tesla died in New York in 1943. His ashes are contained in a round box which is on display in the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia.
  • The Nikola Tesla award was introduced in 1975 for contributions to electricity use. Tesla also has an airport, a planet, a crater on the moon and over 100 streets named after him.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous inventors.