27 Of The Most Imaginative Victorian Inventions

Published November 10, 2022

These gadgets from the late 18th and early 19th centuries have a definitive Steampunk look — but some had more of a lasting effect on society than others.

Victorian Gadgets
Victorian Gadgets
Convertible Corset
Electric Lamp
27 Of The Most Imaginative Victorian Inventions
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The Victorian era was an exciting time to be alive. In the span of about 60 years, a number of revolutionary inventions like the sewing machine, the telephone, and the light bulb changed the world. But not every new Victorian gadget or idea made a profound impact on society.

Some, like the ventilated hat or the adjustable corset — which allowed its wearer to expand their bosom — never quite got off the ground. Others, like the five-needle telegraph, were eventually replaced by more effective means of communication.

But all of the Victorian gadgets in the gallery above had a certain style, a certain look. Whether or not they endured over the next century, these inventions have Steampunk energy. After all, they came from an era when the future seemed like it lurked just around the corner.

Victorian Gadgets That Changed The World

The Victorian era is generally defined by the reign of Queen Victoria of England, which lasted from roughly 1837 until her death in 1901. During that time, a number of exciting new inventions profoundly changed people's lives.

Many of them made the world seem smaller than ever before. The development of the passenger steam engine, for example, transformed life in Victorian England by connecting major towns across the country.

Developed by George Stephenson, the first steam locomotive took to the rails in 1825 and could carry 450 people at a speed of 15 miles per hour, per Britannica. Twenty years later, thousands of miles of railroads stretched across England and carried millions of passengers around the country.

Victorian Train

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty ImagesGeorge Stephenson's Steam Locomotion No. 1, the first train to carry passengers on a public railroad.

But it wasn't only transportation that was changing. Communication was undergoing dramatic shifts at the time as well. Inventions like the five-needle telegraph, patented by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in 1837 as a commercial electrical telegraph, didn't only help people stay in touch. In 1845, it alerted authorities at Paddington station that a murder suspect was about to arrive, per the London Science Museum.

The pace of new technologies was so exciting that some authors, like Jules Verne, set about dreaming up new ones in their fiction. Indeed, the genre and aesthetic of Steampunk habitually returns to the 19th century, where its characters interact with inventions that could have been cooked up in a Victorian lab.

But not everything that was invented during the Victorian era left a mark on society.

Bizarre Inventions From The Victorian Era

Parasol With Eyeglasses

The National ArchivesThis eyebrow-raising Victorian gadget proposes combining a parasol with eyeglasses. Perhaps its inventor imagined the user slouched in the London rain, with the umbrella held tightly against their face.

Victorian gadgets like the telephone, the radio, and even the Christmas card transformed society. But not everything that was invented during the Victorian era left an everlasting mark on people. Some inventions — while certainly innovative — never made it further than the drawing board.

According to Inventions That Didn't Change the World by Julie Halls, a number of Victorians submitted their inventions to the United Kingdom's Design Registry. Inspired by the seemingly endless new technologies that surrounded them, they'd come up with ideas of their own.

Their ideas weren't all practical enough for Victorians to use. Take the design for the "anti-garrotting cravat." Basically a brace that someone could wear beneath their collar, it was meant to protect its wearer from strangulation. These were the days of Jack the Ripper, after all, but there wasn't exactly a clamor for the device.

The Victorian gadgets in the gallery above show how people thought about the future. Sometimes their visions came true, and sometimes they didn't. But these inventions embody how people of the era stared boldly forward.

After looking through these 27 Victorian gadgets, discover more about the Victorian era by browsing through these facts about Victorian life. Or, peruse these colorized photos of Victorian London.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.