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The Most Important Inventions Of The 19th Century

The world changed drastically during the 1800s. During this time, bookended by two different industrial revolutions, we saw society go from largely agriculture-based to a world of factories, trains, and automobiles.

Naturally, a host of inventions emerged from this time period, from sewing machines to typewriters, from matches to chewing gums. While it would take years to address all the incredible inventions of the 19th century, we can address the ones that impact our daily lives the most.

The Most Important Inventions of the 19th Century


Interchangeable Parts

Before the 19th century, a skilled worker had to make specialty items completely by hand in a process that could be extremely time and labor-intensive. Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, changed that in 1804 after the US government entered a contract with him to create guns for the military.

When called upon to justify his use of government funds, Whitney brought several guns to Congress, disassembled them, and reassembled them using parts from different guns, astonishing the onlookers.

Of course, the demonstration was actually just for show. Whitney had pre-marked the parts so he could reassemble the right part with the right gun. However, the concept remained and revolutionized modern industry. From here, modern factories with a largely unskilled workforce became possible.


Steam Locomotive

By the 19th century, the steam engine itself was already hundreds of years old. However, while the original engines were used as novelties or to remove water from flooded mines, steam engines weren’t used to transport goods until around the time Whitney was tinkering with interchangeable parts.

In 1802, British inventor and mining engineer Richard Trevithick created the steam locomotive, which didn’t begin operating until 1804. However, Trevithick’s model ultimately wasn’t popular due to issues with the design. It wasn’t until George Stephenson built upon these ideas in 1814 that steam locomotives became some of the most popular modes of long-distance travel of the century.


Electric Lights

Most of us learned as children that Thomas Edison’s light bulb was one of the most important inventions of the 19th century. However, as you begin to look into its history, you find that the creation of electric lights didn’t start or end with Edison’s 1878 invention. In fact, several inventors had created electric lights leading up to Edison, including:

  • Humphry Davy in 1802
  • Warren de la Rue in 1840
  • Joseph Wilson Swan in 1850
  • Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans in 1874

As with George Stephenson and many other inventors, Edison improved upon the work of those who came before him to create the bulb that has revolutionized our world today.


Fact Check: Did Tesla Invent the Light Bulb?

Edison and inventor Nikola Tesla were in a bitter feud, and Edison allegedly stole work from him. This has led to the myth that Tesla actually invented the light bulb and Edison stole it. While this may be true of some inventions, this does not seem to be true of the light bulb.

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