Books, Design

The Victorian Inventions That Never Took

The 19th century was a feverish time for inventions and discoveries in Britain, the nation, at the time, “giddy with the possibilities of a newly industrialized world.”

But for every genuinely good innovation, such as Listerine, there were scores more that were stupid and bizarre and still others that were perfectly reasonable concepts, which no one cared about.

A new book, “Inventions That Didn’t Change the World,” by Julie Halls, catalogs some of those odd contraptions.

The lenient approval process for getting a design protected made it easy for all manner of strange curiosities to be painstakingly recorded.

In principle, inventors were required to apply for a patent, but the process of obtaining one was mired in so much red tape as well as being expensive—costing up to £400—that they preferred the faster and cheaper route to having their design registered for £10. All that it needed was two drawings of the device, an explanatory text, and a title for it.

Often, small improvements were given tongue-twisting pseudo-scientific names, only to make them sound like technological bling, such as the Amphitrepolax Boot (1868). It had a rotary heel that spun a full 360 degrees, therefore, always ensuring a “perfectly flat and even-worn heel.”

The Amphitrepolax Boot (1868).

There was also a trend in combining several everyday tools into “one extremely fiddly gadget, for no good reason other than it being possible.” The Pen and Pencil Case-Calendar and Tape Measure (1871) was one of them.

The Pen and Pencil Case-Calendar and Tape Measure (1871).
The Pen and Pencil Case-Calendar and Tape Measure (1871).
The Duplex Hat (1878) was a top hat that converted into a bowler, thanks to hidden springs.
The Lunette Parasol or Umbrella (1844) was an umbrella with peep holes.



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