Good, Bad and Indifferent Inventions from 1866
Fancy Inventions, 1866
Grindstones for Manufacturing: A very old and useful tool, with a modern distrubution method. Grindstones made in quantity in Ohio are crated for shipping on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad. Credits: Image: Scientific American, April 7, 1866
Axle Gauge: Manufacturing in 1866 still had to rely on “the unreliableness of manual dexterity.” This measuring device was supposed to help the blacksmith make more precise wagon axles.
Image: Scientific American, September 29, 1866
Adjustable Mirror: With two mirrors, you can see the back of your coiffure (hair-do). Fashionable young ladies can avoid “being compelled to depend upon the opinions of another for information as to one’s appearance.”...
Image: Scientific American, July 21, 1866
Working Nonstop: If your broken leg puts you “in a state of idleness for at least two months,” this patented hospital bed will help you sit up and pursue business as usual, because “loss of time is often considered the most serious result” of an injury...
Image: Scientific American, April 21, 1866
Jet Boat, 1866: A steam-powered turbine shoots jets of water out of side nozzles to propel the boat. Nice idea, but probably not very efficient.
Image: Scientific American, August 25, 1866 Advertisement
Machines for Farmers: This mechanical corn picker was patented by an optimistic inventor in Shelbyville, Missouri, in hopes of reducing the labor needed for harvesting.
Image: Scientific American, February 24, 1866
Machines for Harvest: Many a farmer in 1866 must have muttered at some point: “if only there was a machine that could help me with this work!” A pair of inventors in Alton, Illinois, came up with this machine for processing cut grain...
Kneading Dough: Bread and cakes in 1866 were baked at home. But kneading was “one of the most tedious and exhausting duties.” An inventor from Springfield, Vermont, devised this machine for that task...
Image: Scientific American, February 17, 1866
Energy Production: Most oil produced in the U.S. in 1866 came from Pennsylvania. This rig was developed to improve the technology for drilling oil wells, but I do not know if it had any lasting effect.
Image: Scientific American, June 2, 1866 Advertisement
Sewing Machine, 1866: There was no shortage of inventors trying to cash in on this lucrative field that did truly change the world. Here's another design that never caught on.
Image: Scientific American, January 1, 1866
Grindstones for Manufacturing: A very old and useful tool, with a modern distrubution method. Grindstones made in quantity in Ohio are crated for shipping on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad.
Image: Scientific American, April 7, 1866 Advertisement
The patent system in the 19th century was a driver of economic expansion (or so it is said). That was problably true for a tiny minority of devices and processes that worked well and saved money. Some devices, such as the grindstone, were old tools, but improved manufacturing and distribution systems enabled them to have a greater impact in the industries of the day. Most of the 15,269 patents granted in 1866, however, were more optimistic than useful. The gizmos they covered may have demonstrated a desire to improve some aspect of the human condition but these inventions seem to lack some aspect of true usefulness or efficiency, or they were simply a more expensive method for getting the same result that could be achieved with existing and cheaper tools.
Take courage, or take heed, from the history of invention from 1845 to today in the Archive of
Scientific American at ScientificAmerican.com/magazine/sa
This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago" in Scientific American 314, 5, (May 2016)
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