A note in the issue of November 30, 1867, states grandly: “The Age of Invention: It appears from the records of the Patent Office, that in 1864 the number of applications for patents was 6,000; in the following year the number increased a full fifty percent; in 1866, 15,000 applications were filed, and this year will probably increase the number to 25,000.” Fast forward to 2015: in that year alone the U.S. Patent and Trade Office received 589,410 applications. That figure is dwarfed by the number of patent applications worldwide: 2,888,800 (mostly in China).

Patents, though, are only one cobblestone in the continuum of invention that paves the way to progress. Before technology can be useful, it must be manufactured on a mass scale, adopted by—and bought by—a skeptical (usually!) public. Most of the inventions and products shown here fulfill a need, but most of them were neither useful or economical enough to see the light of day.

The images here come from the Scientific American Archive, which provides us with a grand tour of human progress from August 28, 1845, to the present day.