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A prosthetic arm from between 1840 and 1940.
The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
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An American woman wearing a corset. 1899.GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
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The design for a "convertible corset" from between 1881-1884. It suggested using rubber or air-proof bags to enhance the user's bosom, but was never put into practice.The National Archives
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An engraving depicting a double bracket electric lamp holder for incandescent globes. Circa 1884.
Thomas Edison had perfected the first incandescent bulb in 1879, but it took awhile for the technology to catch on among Victorians.Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
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Invented in 1865, the Hansen Writing Ball was an early version of the typewriter. De Agostini/Getty Images
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A "toilet mask" invented by Helen M. Rowley. Like modern day sheet masks, toilet masks were worn by women overnight for clearer skin.Corbis via Getty Images
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A Bessemer's converter on display. Patented by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1856, the huge steel pot made it possible to cheaply produce large quantities of quality steel. SSPL/Getty Images
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This Victorian gadget never made it past the drawing board. A ventilated hat, it was meant to keep men cool.The National Archives
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A Victorian express engine designed by Matthew Kirtley, the locomotive superintendent of the Midland Railway. 1878.
Traveling by steam engine transformed the Victorian era. By 1854, every significant town in England had a train stop. Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images
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A photograph of an early X-ray device. Circa 1900. SSPL/Getty Images
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A radiograph of the hand of future King Edward VII's hand. Circa 1897. Then the Prince of Wales, he wears a large ring on his pinky finger.
Print Collector/Getty Images
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One of the most revolutionary gadgets of the Victorian age was the camera. Here, photographers Richard and Cherry Kearton work together to take a picture of a bird's nest, circa 1900.The Royal Photographic Society Collection/Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Getty Images
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The Victorian era was also the era of Jack the Ripper, who strangled a number of women in 1888. This "anti-garrotting cravat" was designed to be worn under the collar to protect its owner from strangulation. Though innovative, it was never developed.The National Archives
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The "Eureka Machine." First exhibited in 1845, the machine was invented by John Clark and was used to generate Latin verses.Wikimedia Commons
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A "typical" Victorian telephone. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, changing the Victorian era — and eras to come — forever.Bettmann/Getty Images
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A young boy stands in a Victorian parlor, circa 1901. Next to him is a gramophone, a Victorian gadget that was invented in 1887.Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images
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Today, most people have calculators on their phones. But Victorians might have turned to the Analytical Engine, designed by Charles Babbage in 1834.
His invention was designed to evaluate any mathematical formula. That's why Babbage is known as the "father" of computing. SSPL/Getty Images
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Another Victorian gadget that profoundly impacted life in the 19th century was the flushing toilet. Buyenlarge/Getty Images
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The London underground profoundly changed life in Victorian London. Opened as the Metropolitan Railway in 1863, it carried 38,000 passengers on its opening day. Today, the London Underground carries an average of five million people per day.ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
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A Victorian-era sewing machine. The contraption changed life in the Victorian era, as it allowed for the mass production of clothing and freed up women's time.SSPL/Getty Images
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Victorians are credited with inventing the Christmas card, but their cards are nothing like the ones most people send today.
In this card from 1880, a mouse rides a lobster while clutching a piece of paper that reads (in French): "Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness."Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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This Christmas card is similarly bizarre and features a frog dancing with a bug.Swim Ink 2, LLC/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
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A five-needle telegraph. Patented by English inventor William Fothergill Cooke and English scientist Charles Wheatstone in 1837, the invention helped regulate time across England and even helped catch murderers by alerting distant train stations of their imminent arrival.SSPL/Getty Images
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An electric motor cab
in London, circa 1897-1900. This may be a Bersey electric cab, which was the first electric taxi in London. English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images
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Bicycles were first invented in the early 19th century. Here, a woman sits on a "scorcher," a nickname for the bikes that sped around Victorian London. 1897.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Riders charge down the streets on their Victorian-style "penny farthings."
Douglas Miller/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
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The first postal stamp, the "Penny Black stamp," which bore the likeness of Queen Victoria.Public Domain
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.
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
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.
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 double degree in American History and French.