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History Research Paper Topics Before 1865 Silver

To view United States inventions from other historical time periods, please see Timeline of United States inventions (1890–1945), Timeline of United States inventions (1946–1991), and Timeline of United States inventions (after 1991).

A timeline of United States inventions (before 1890) encompasses the ingenuity and innovative advancements of the United States within a historical context, dating from the Colonial Period to the Gilded Age, which have been achieved by inventors who are either native-born or naturalized citizens of the United States. Copyright protection secures a person's right to his or her first-to-inventclaim of the original invention in question, highlighted in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, which gives the following enumerated power to the United States Congress:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

In 1641, the first patent in North America was issued to Samuel Winslow by the General Court of Massachusetts for a new method of making salt.[3][4][5] On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the Patent Act of 1790 (1 Stat. 109) into law proclaiming that patents were to be authorized for "any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement therein not before known or used".[6] On July 31, 1790, Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vermont became the first person in the United States to file and to be granted a patent for an improved method of "Making Pot and Pearl Ashes".[7] The Patent Act of 1836 (Ch. 357, 5 Stat. 117) further clarified United States patent law to the extent of establishing a patent office where patent applications are filed, processed, and granted, contingent upon the language and scope of the claimant's invention, for a patent term of 14 years with an extension of up to an additional 7 years.[6] However, the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 (URAA) changed the patent term in the United States to a total of 20 years, effective for patent applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, thus bringing United States patent law further into conformity with international patent law.[8] The modern-day provisions of the law applied to inventions are laid out in Title 35 of the United States Code (Ch. 950, sec. 1, 66 Stat. 792).

From 1836 to 2011, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted a total of 7,861,317 patents[9] relating to several well-known inventions appearing throughout the timeline below.

Colonial Period (1500s–1775)[edit]

1717 Swim fins
  • Swim fins, also known as fins, or flippers, are blade-shaped extensions worn on feet or hands for use in water. They aid movement in aquatic sports such as swimming, surfing, and underwater diving. Swim fins are typically made of rubber or plastic. Benjamin Franklin invented wooden swim fins in 1717.[10] His original design consisted of 10-inch-long (250 mm) and 6-inch-wide (150 mm) palettes. Contrary to today's version of rubberized swim fins worn on the feet, Franklin's swim fins were originally intended for use on a person's hands. Shaped like lily pads or an artist's paint palette, they helped attain greater speed with each stroke.[11] Franklin has since been posthumously honored by being inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.[12]
1730 Octant
  • An octant, also called "reflecting quadrant", is a measuring instrument used primarily in navigation. It is a type of reflecting instrument that uses mirrors to reflect the path of light to the observer and, in doing so, doubles the angle measured. This allows the instrument to use a one-eighth circle arc to measure a quarter circle or quadrant. The octant was invented in 1730 by Thomas Godfrey, a glazier in Philadelphia, and independently at the same time in England by the mathematician John Hadley, who began work on a similar version of the octant.[13] Both men have an equal and legitimate claim to the invention of the octant. Originally this instrument was referred to as "Hadley's quadrant", after the English inventor. These days it is now known as an octant, the name given to it by its American inventor, Thomas Godfrey.[14]
1742 Franklin stove
  • The Franklin Stove, also known as the circulating stove, is a metal-lined fireplace with baffles in the rear to improve the airflow, providing more heat and less smoke than an ordinary open fireplace. The stove became very popular throughout the Thirteen Colonies and gradually replaced open fireplaces. The Franklin stove was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1742.[15]
1744 Mail order
  • A mail-order catalog is a publication containing a list of general merchandise from a company. Those who publish and operate mail-order catalogs are referred to as catalogers within the industry, who also buy or manufacture goods and then market those goods to prospective customers. Mail ordering uses the postal system for soliciting and delivering goods. According to The National Mail Order Association, Benjamin Franklin invented and conceptualized mail order cataloging in 1744.[16]

1749 Lightning rod

  • A lightning rod is one component in a lightning protection system. In addition to rods placed at regular intervals on the highest portions of a structure, a lightning protection system typically includes a rooftop network of conductors, multiple conductive paths from the roof to the ground, bonding connections to metallic objects within the structure and a grounding network. Individual lightning rods are sometimes called finials, air terminals or strike termination devices. In 1749[17] or 1750,[11] the pointed lightning rod conductor, also called a "lightning attractor" or "Franklin rod", is generally thought to have been conceived when Benjamin Franklin came to the conclusion that electricity and lightning were identical and of the same.[17] By building lightning rods originally intended to be adorned atop church steeples, Franklin set about trying to prove their usefulness of shielding people and buildings from lightning. By 1752, Dr. Franklin tied the string of his "electrical kite" to an insulating silk ribbon for the knuckles of his hand. The kite in turn was attached to a metal key. During a storm, witnessed by his son William Franklin, Dr. Franklin had finally proven that lightning was a form of electricity when the metal key received an electrical charge from a bolt of lightning. Thus, the practical use of lightning rods, attributed to the inventor Benjamin Franklin, was confirmed.[18]

1752 Flexible urinary catheter

  • In medicine, a catheter is a tube that can be inserted into a body cavity, duct, or vessel. Catheters thereby allow drainage, injection of fluids, or access by surgical instruments. Prior to the mid 18th-century, catheters were made of wood or stiffened animal skins which were not conducive to navigating the anatomical curvature of the human urethra. Extending his inventiveness to his family's medical problems, Benjamin Franklin invented the flexible catheter in 1752 when his brother John suffered from bladder stones. Dr. Franklin's flexible catheter was made of metal with segments hinged together in order for a wire enclosed inside to increase rigidity during insertion.[10][19][20][21]

1761 Armonica

  • Also known as the glass harmonica or glass armonica, Benjamin Franklin invented a musical instrument in 1761, an arrangement of glasses after seeing water-filled wine glasses played by Edmund Delaval in Cambridge, England. Dr. Franklin, who called his invention the "armonica" after the Italian word for harmony, worked with London glassblower Charles James to build one, and it had its world première in early 1762, played by Marianne Davies. In this version, 37 bowls were mounted horizontally nested on an iron spindle. The whole spindle turned by means of a foot-operated treadle. The sound was produced by touching the rims of the bowls with moistened fingers. Rims were painted different colors according to the pitch of the note.[22]

Independence and the Federalist Era (1776–1801)[edit]

1776 Swivel chair

  • A swivel or revolving chair is a chair with a single central leg that allows the seat to spin around. Swivel chairs can have wheels on the base allowing the user to glide the chair around their work area without getting up. This type of chair is common in modern offices and is often also referred to as an office chair. Using an English-style Windsor chair which was possibly made and purchased from Francis Trumble or Philadelphia cabinet-maker Benjamin Randolph, Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair in 1776.[23] Jefferson heavily modified the Windsor chair and incorporated top and bottom parts connected by a central iron spindle, enabling the top half known as the seat, to swivel on casters of the type used in rope-hung windows. When the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, Jefferson's swivel chair is purported to be where he drafted the United States Declaration of Independence. Jefferson later had the swivel chair sent to his Virginia plantation, Monticello, where he later built a "writing paddle" onto its side in 1791. Since 1836, the chair has been in the possession of the American Philosophical Society located in Philadelphia.[24]

1782 Flatboat

1784 Bifocals

  • Bifocals are eyeglasses whose corrective lenses contain regions with two distinct optical powers. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the invention of the first pair of bifocals in the early 1760s, though according to the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first indication of Dr. Franklin wearing his double spectacles comes from a political cartoon printed in 1764. Many publications from that period onward refer to Dr. Franklin's double spectacles, including his first reference to them in a letter written in Paris, France on August 21, 1784, that was addressed to his personal friend, English philanthropist George Whatley.[27][28]

1785 Artificial diffraction grating

  • In optics, a diffraction grating is an optical component with a regular pattern, which diffracts light into several beams. The first man-made diffraction grating was invented around 1785 in Philadelphia by David Rittenhouse who strung 50 hairs between two finely threaded screws with an approximate spacing of about 100 lines per inch.[29]

1787 Automatic flour mill

  • Classical mill designs were generally powered by water or air. In water-powered mills, a sluice gate opens a channel, starts the water flowing, and a water wheel turning. In 1787, American inventor Oliver Evans revolutionized this labor-intensive process by building the first fully automatic mill using bucket elevators, screw conveyors, and the hopper boy to spread, cool, and dry the meal between grinding and bolting. This was the first time that anyone had conceived and executed a system of continuous, fully automatic production.[26][30]

1792 Cracker

  • A cracker is a type of biscuit that developed from military hardtack and nautical ship biscuits. Crackers are now usually eaten with soup, or topped with cheese, caviar, or other delicacies. The holes in crackers are called "docking" holes as a means to stop air pockets from forming in the cracker while baking. Crackers trace their origin to the year 1792 when John Pearson of Newburyport, Massachusetts invented a cracker-like bread product from just flour and water that he called "pilot bread". An immediate success with sailors because of its shelf life, it also became distinctly known as a hardtack or sea biscuit for long voyages away from home while at sea.[31][not in citation given]

1793 Cotton gin

  • The cotton gin is a machine that separates cotton fibers from seedpods and sometimes sticky seeds, a job previously done by hand. These seeds are either used again to grow more cotton or, if badly damaged, disposed of. The cotton gin uses a combination of a wire screen and small wire hooks to pull the cotton through the screen, while brushes continuously remove the loose cotton lint to prevent jams. In 1793, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin and later received a patent on March 14, 1794.[32] Whitney's cotton gin could have possibly ignited a revolution in the cotton industry and the rise of "King Cotton" as the main cash crop in the South. However, it never made him rich. Instead of buying his machine, farmers built inferior versions of their own which led to the increasing need for African-American slave labor.[33]

1795 Wheel cypher

  • The Jefferson disk, or wheel cypher, is a cipher system for encrypting messages and used as a deterrent for codebreaking. Using 26 wheels, each with the letters of the alphabet arranged randomly around them, Thomas Jefferson invented the wheel cypher in 1795. Falling in and out of use and obscurity, the wheel cypher was "re-invented" twice: first by a French government official around 1890, and then just prior to World War I by an officer in the United States Army. Designated as M-94, the latter version was used by the United States Army and other military services from 1922 to the beginning of World War II.[34]

1796 Rumford fireplace

  • The Rumford fireplace created a sensation in 1796 when Benjamin Thompson Rumford introduced the idea of restricting the chimney opening to increase the updraught. Rumford fireplaces were common from 1796, when Benjamin Rumford first wrote about them, until about 1850. Thomas Jefferson had them built at Monticello, and Henry David Thoreau listed them among the modern conveniences that everyone took for granted. Rumford and his workers changed fireplaces by inserting bricks into the hearth to make the side walls angled and added a choke to the chimney to increase the speed of air going up the flue. It produced a streamlined air flow, reducing turbulence so the smoke would go up into the chimney rather than choking the residents. Rumford fireplaces are appreciated for their tall classic elegance and heating efficiency. This simple alteration in the design of fireplaces were copied everywhere in an age when fires were the principal source of heat. The Rumford fireplace is still used in the 21st century.[35]

1796 Cupcake

  • A cupcake, fairy cake, patty cake or cup cake is a small cake designed to serve one person, frequently baked in a small, thin paper or aluminum cup. As with larger cakes, frosting and other cake decorations, such as sprinkles, are common on cupcakes. The earliest reference of cupcakes can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of "a cake to be baked in small cups" was written in American Cookery by Amelia Simms.[36] However, the first use of the term "cupcake" was in Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats in 1828 in Eliza Leslie's Receipts cookbook where it referred to the use of a cup for measuring the ingredients.[37]

1801 Suspension bridge

  • A suspension bridge is a type of bridge in which the deck, the load-bearing portion, is hung below suspension cables on vertical suspenders that carry the weight of the deck below, upon which traffic crosses. Primitive in their earliest form, the ancestor to what is now considered a suspension bridge, the simple suspension bridge, was developed sometime around 2000 BC in China and India, relying upon ropes thrown across a narrow gorge or river, from which people could hang as they crawled across. With the extreme dangers of swinging back and forth, these simple suspension bridges were deemed impractical as horses as well as carriages later found it difficult to maneuver across their wooden planks.[38] The world's first suspension bridge in a modern sense, the Jacob's Creek Bridge at approximately 70 feet in length, was invented by James Finley of Uniontown, Pennsylvania in 1801,[39] who designed vertical towers to elevate the curved iron cables and to stiffen trusses in order to make the deck of bridges architecturally sound for passing travelers. Nowadays, suspension bridges use steel cables. However, the suspension bridge and its basic, fundamental design of which Finley is duly accredited to inventing, is still evident today in suspension bridges found throughout the world.[40]

1801 Fire hydrant

  • A fire hydrant is an active fire protection measure, and a source of water provided in most urban, suburban and rural areas with municipal water service to enable firefighters to tap into the municipal water supply to assist in extinguishing a fire. Before the existence of fire hydrants, a primitive fire suppression system known as "fire plugs" consisted of burying a wooden water pipe (often no more than a hollowed out log) along the streets for teams of bucket brigades to form and fight fires. Wooden pegs would then need to be hammered over fire plugs in order to stop the flow of water.[41] The invention of a post or pillar type fire hydrant is generally credited to Frederick Graff Sr., Chief Engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works around the year 1801.[26] It had a combination hose/faucet outlet and was of "wet barrel" design with the valve in the top. It is said that Graff held the first patent for a fire hydrant, but this cannot be verified due to the fact that the patent office in Washington D.C. was burned to the ground in 1836 where all patent records from that time period were destroyed in the process.[42] In 1863, Birdsill Holly invented the modern version of the fire hydrant. While Holly was only one of many involved in the development of the fire hydrant, innovations he introduced are largely responsible for the fire hydrant taken for granted today. In 1869, Holly was issued U.S. patent #94749, for an "improved fire hydrant".[41]

1802 Banjo clock

  • A banjo clock is a wall clock with an inverted banjo-shaped case. The banjo clock normally lacks a striking mechanism and indicates time only by its hands and dial, for which reason some horologists may insist upon calling it a timepiece rather than a true clock. The clock is usually adorned with a finial on the top. Known as his "patent timepiece", the banjo clock was invented by renowned American clockmaker Simon Willard of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and patented on February 8, 1802.[43][44][45]

1804 Burr Truss

  • The Burr Arch Truss, Burr Truss, or the Burr Arch, is a combination of an arch and a multiple kingpost truss design typically implemented in the construction of covered bridges. The design principle behind the Burr arch truss was that the arch should be capable of holding the entire load on the bridge while the truss was used to keep the bridge rigid. In 1804, American architect Theodore Burr, a cousin of then Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, designed and built the first Burr Truss on a bridge over the Hudson River in Watertown, New York.[46]

1805 Amphibious vehicle

  • An amphibious vehicle is one which can be used on land or water. The self-propelled variant was invented by Oliver Evans who named it the "Orukter Amphibolos". Its steam-powered engine drove either wooden wheels or a paddle wheel used as a means of transport, on land and in water. Evans demonstrated his machine in Philadelphia's Center Square in 1805, built on commission from the Philadelphia Board of Health. Evans' steam engine differed fundamentally from later models, operating at a high pressure, 25 or 30 pounds. Many years later, Evans' invention would be sold off for parts. On July 16, 2005, Philadelphia celebrated the 200th anniversary of Oliver Evans's Orukter Amphibolos. Many historians describe Oliver Evans' invention as the United States' first land and water transporter.[47]

1805 Vapor-compression refrigeration

  • Refrigeration is the process of removing heat from an enclosed space, or from a substance, and moving it to a place where it is unobjectionable. The primary purpose of refrigeration is lowering the temperature of the enclosed space or substance and then maintaining that lower temperature. The American inventor Oliver Evans, acclaimed as the "father of refrigeration", invented the vapor-compression refrigeration machine in 1805. Heat would be removed from the environment by recycling vaporized refrigerant, where it would move through a compressor and condenser, where it would eventually revert to a liquid form in order to repeat the refrigeration process over again. However, no such refrigeration unit was built by Evans.[48] In 1834, Jacob Perkins modified Evans' original design, building the world's first refrigerator and filing the first legal patent for refrigeration using vapor-compression.[49]John Gorrie, an American doctor from Florida, invented the first mechanical refrigeration unit in 1841, based on Evans' original invention to make ice in order to cool the air for yellow fever patients. Gorrie's mechanical refrigeration unit was issued a patent in 1851.[50] American professor Alexander C. Twining of Cleveland, Ohio patented an early vapor-compression refrigerator in 1853 that was fully capable of producing a ton of ice per day.[51] In 1913, refrigerators for home and domestic use were invented by Fred W. Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana with models consisting of a unit that was mounted on top of an ice box.[52] A self-contained refrigerator, with a compressor on the bottom of the cabinet was invented by Alfred Mellowes in 1916. Mellowes produced this refrigerator commercially but was bought out by William C. Durant in 1918, who started the Frigidaire Company in order to begin the first mass-production of refrigerators.[53]

1806 Coffee percolator

  • A coffee percolator is a type of pot used to brew coffee. In the case of coffee-brewing the solvent is water, the permeable substance is the coffee grounds, and the soluble constituents are the chemical compounds that give coffee its color, taste, and aroma. In 1806, Benjamin Thompson Rumford invented the percolating coffee pot with a metal sieve to strain away the grounds.[26][54]

1808 Lobster trap

  • A lobster trap is a portable trap which traps crustaceans such as lobsters or crayfish and is used in the industry of lobster fishing. A lobster trap can catch multiple lobsters at once. The lobster trap was invented in 1808 by Ebenezer Thorndike of Swampscott, Massachusetts.[26][55]

1812 Columbiad

1813 Circular saw

  • The circular saw is a metal disc or blade with saw teeth on the edge as well as the machine that causes the disk to spin. It may cut wood or other materials and may be hand-held or table-mounted. Tabitha Babbitt is credited with inventing the first circular saw used in a saw mill in 1813.[26][57]

1815 Dental floss

  • Dental floss is either a bundle of thin nylon filaments or a plastic ribbon used to remove food and dental plaque from teeth. Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans, is credited with inventing the first form of dental floss. He had been recommending that people should clean their teeth with silk floss since 1815.[26][58]

1816 Milling machine

  • A milling machine is a machine tool used for the shaping of metal and other solid materials. In contrast to drilling, where the drill is moved exclusively along its axis, the milling operation uses movement of the rotating cutter sideways as well as 'in and out'. Simeon North is generally credited for inventing and building the earliest, though primitive, milling machine to replace filing operations by about 1816 or even earlier.[59]

1818 Profile lathe

  • A lathe is an adjustable horizontal metal rail and a tool rest, between the material and the operator which accommodates the positioning of shaping tools. With wood, it is common practice to press and slide sandpaper against the still-spinning object after shaping it to smooth the surface. As the first of its kind, Thomas Blanchard of Middlebury, Connecticut, invented the profile lathe in 1818, intended for the mass duplication of woodworking.[60]

1827 Detachable collar

  • A detachable collar is a collar separate from the shirt, fastened to the shirt by studs. Hannah Lord Montague invented the detachable collar in Troy, New York in 1827, after she snipped the collar off one of her husband's shirts to wash it, and then sewed it back on.[61]

1829 Graham cracker

1830 Platform scale

  • Also known as the Fairbanks Scale, the platform scale is a benched scale for measuring the counterbalance weight of loaded objects at ground level, thus eliminating the use of a hoist. After a series of trial and error in his designs, Thaddeus Fairbanks patented his invention in 1830. E & T Fairbanks & Company, a business partnership between Thaddeus and his brother, Erastus Fairbanks, exported their famous scales around the world to exotic locations such as England, China, Cuba, Russia, and India due to the high demand.[63]

1831 Flanged T rail

  • The flanged T rail is an all-iron railway rail that has a flat bottom and requires no chair to hold the rails upright. The flanged "tee" rail was invented in May 1831 by an American named Robert L. Stevens of the Camden & Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company, which he conceived while crossing the Atlantic en route to buy an English locomotive. The first 500 T-rails were installed in Philadelphia. They would go on to be employed by railroads across the United States and are still seen today.[64]

1831 Multiple coil magnet

1831 Doorbell (electric)

  • A doorbell is a signaling device commonly found near a door. It commonly emits a ringing sound to alert the occupant of the building to a visitor's presence. The electric doorbell was invented by Joseph Henry in 1831.[26][66]

1833 Sewing machine (lock-stitch)

  • Most modern sewing machines use the lockstitch technique of sewing invented by Walter Hunt, which consists of two threads, an upper and a lower. The upper thread runs from a spool kept on a spindle on top of or next to the machine, through a tension mechanism, a take-up arm, and finally through the hole in the needle. The lower thread is wound onto a bobbin, which is inserted into a case in the lower section of the machine. Walter Hunt invented the first lock-stitch sewing machine in 1833. Hunt lost interest and did not patent his invention.[67] In 1846, Elias Howe secured a patent on an original lock-stitch machine, and failed to manufacture and market it. Isaac Singer infringed on Howe's patent to make his own machine, making him wealthy. Elias Howe filed a lawsuit, alleging patent infringement. On July 1, 1854, a federal commission ruled in favor of Howe, ordering Isaac Singer as well as all sewing machine makers to pay Elias Howe royalties.[68]

1834 Combine harvester

  • The combine harvester, or combine, or thresher, is a machine that combines the tasks of harvesting, threshing, and cleaning grain crops. The objective is to complete these three processes, which used to be distinct, in one pass of the machine over a particular part of the field. The waste straw left behind on the field is the remaining dried stems and leaves of the crop with limited nutrients which is either chopped or spread on the field, or baled for livestock feed. The first combine harvester was invented by Hiram Moore in 1834.[69]

1835 Steam shovel

  • A steam shovel is a large steam-powered excavating machine designed for lifting and moving material such as rock and soil, typically in the mining industry. The steam shovel is composed of a bucket, boom and 'dipper stick', boiler, water tank and coal bunker, a steam engine, and a winch. The steam shovel was invented in 1835 by William Otis, later receiving a patent for his invention on February 24, 1839.[70]

1835 Solar compass

  • A solar compass is a railroad compass with a solar attachment that allows surveyors to determine the north direction by reference to the sun rather than by reference to the magnetic needle. It consists of three arcs: one for setting the latitude of the land to be surveyed; one for setting the declination of the sun; and one for setting the hour of the day. In 1835, the solar compass was invented by William Austin Burt, a U.S. Deputy Surveyor who began surveying government lands in the Michigan Territory earlier in 1833. While experiencing great difficulty in using his standard vernier compass in order to detect deposits of iron ore in the Northwest Territory (present-day Wisconsin), Burt devised the solar compass so that garbled readings of the Earth's magnetic field and north-south survey lines would be easier to find.[71][72] A patent was issued to Burt on February 25, 1836.[73]

1835 Relay

  • A relay is an electrical switch that opens and closes under the control of another electrical circuit. In the original form, the switch is operated by an electromagnet to open or close one or many sets of contacts. The relay was invented by the renowned American scientist, Joseph Henry in 1835.[74]

1836 Morse code

  • Morse code is a type of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation, and special characters of a given message. After many years of development, an electrical telegraph came to exclusively refer to a signaling telegram, as an operator makes and breaks an electrical contact with a telegraph key, resulting in an audible signal at the other end produced by a telegraph sounder which is interpreted and transcribed by an operator. The short and long elements are formed by sounds, marks, or pulses, in on off keying and are commonly known as "dots" and "dashes" or "dits" and "dahs". In 1832, Alfred Vail in collaboration with Samuel Morse, began the process of co-inventing the Morse code signalling alphabet.[75] After a few minor changes, including the development of International Morse code which is distinct from the original encoding system, American Morse code, Morse code was standardized in 1865 by the International Telegraphy Congress in Paris, France and later made the norm by the International Telecommunication Union. After 160 years of continuous use, international regulations beginning on January 31, 1999, no longer required ships at sea to call for help in an emergency using Morse code or the famous SOS signal.[76]

1836 Gridiron (cooking)

  • A gridiron is a metal grate with parallel bars typically used for grilling meat, fish, vegetables, or combinations of such foods. It may also be two such grids, hinged to fold together, to securely hold food while grilling over an open flame. Gridironing is often performed outdoors, using charcoal (real wood or preformed briquettes), wood, or propane gas. The earliest gridiron was a combination hinged gridiron and spider co-invented in 1836 by Amasa and George Sizer of Meriden, Connecticut.[77] U.S. Patent #78 was issued to them jointly on November 14, 1836.[78] The next advancement in the gridiron was a steel wire one was invented and patented in 1889 in New Haven, Connecticut, by William C. Perkins, of the New Haven Wire Goods Company, who received U.S. Patent #408,136 on July 30, 1889, for a hinged gridiron that would hold the meat in place while broiling.[79]

1836 Circuit breaker

  • A circuit breaker is an automatically operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to detect a fault condition and, by interrupting continuity, to immediately discontinue electrical flow. Unlike a fuse, which operates once and then has to be replaced, a circuit breaker can be reset (either manually or automatically) to resume normal operation. Circuit breakers are made in varying sizes, from small devices that protect an individual household appliance up to large switchgear designed to protect high voltage circuits feeding an entire city. Inspired by the works of American scientist Joseph Henry and English scientist Michael Faraday, the circuit breaker was invented by an American, Charles Grafton Page.[80]

1837 Self-polishing cast steel plow

  • The plow is a tool used in farming for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting. It has been a basic instrument for most of recorded history, and represents one of the major advances in agriculture. In modern use, a plowed field is typically left to dry out, and is harrowed before planting. An American agricultural pioneer named John Deere modernized the plow by shaping steel from an old sawmill blade and joining it to a wrought iron moldboard. Deere polished both parts smooth so the damp soil would no longer stick. After patenting the device in 1837, it became an instant success and a necessity on American farms.[81]

1839 Corn sheller

  • A corn sheller or maize sheller, is a machine used to shell or shuck ears of sweet corn of their silk. By feeding ears of sweet corn into a concentric cylindrical rest, they are parallel to the axis of the shelling cylinder in a hopper fixed on one side of the machine. As the cylindrical rest revolves, an ear falls into each space between staves, and is kept in contact with the shelling cylinder by the pressure of the segment concave. The grain shelled falls beneath the machine and the ear of sweet corn is delivered at the side opposite to the hopper, after having been in contact with the cylinder during approximately four or five revolutions. The corn sheller was invented by Lester E. Denison of Sayville, Connecticut who received a patent on August 12, 1839.[82]

1839 Sleeping car

  • The sleeping car or sleeper is a railroad passenger car that can accommodate passengers in beds, primarily to make nighttime travel more restful. The first such cars saw sporadic use on American railroads in the 1830s and could be configured for coach seating during the day. The pioneer of this new mode of traveling transcontinental was the Cumberland Valley Railroad which introduced service of the first sleeping car in the spring of 1939. The sleeping car did not become commercially practical until 1857 when George Pullman invented the Pullman sleeping car.[83]

1839 Vulcanized rubber

  • Vulcanization refers to a specific curing process of rubber involving high heat and the addition of sulfur or other equivalent curatives. It is a chemical process in which polymer molecules are linked to other polymer molecules by atomic bridges composed of sulfur atoms or carbon-to-carbon bonds. A vast array of products are made with vulcanized rubber including ice hockey pucks, tires, shoe soles, hoses and many more. When "rubber fever" struck Boston in the 1830s, there was a large consumer demand for products made of rubber- aprons, life preservers, hats, carriage tops, and, by 1836, waterproof shoes. But in the heat of summer, rubber goods turned into a gooey, foul-smelling mess; in the winter, they froze stiff. In 1839, Charles Goodyear had a breakthrough when he mixed liquid latex with sulfur and heating it in the sun or over a stove top. The leather-like form of the stretchable substance resulted in the first vulcanized rubber. Goodyear received a patent on June 15, 1844.[84]

1839 Babbitt (metal)

  • Babbitt, also called Babbitt metal or bearing metal, is any of several alloys characterized by its resistance to galling. Babbitt is most commonly used as a thin surface layer in a complex, multi-metal structure, but its original use was as a cast-in-place bulk bearing material. Babbitt metal was invented in 1839 for use in steam engines by American goldsmith Isaac Babbitt in Taunton, Massachusetts.[85]

1840 Howe truss

  • A Howe truss is a specialized design of a trussed bridge whereby the vertical trusses are in tension and the diagonal trusses are compressed. Howe trusses slope upwards and towards the center of the bridge. The Howe truss was patented in 1840 by William Howe.[86]

1842 Inhalational anaesthetic

  • Crawford Long, of Jefferson, Georgia, performed the first operation using his development of ether-based anesthesia, when he removed a tumor from the neck of Mr. James Venable. Long did not reveal the practicality of using ether anesthesia until 1849.[87]

1842 Grain elevator

  • Grain elevators are buildings or complexes of buildings for storage and shipment of grain. They were invented in 1842 in Buffalo, New York, by Joseph Dart, who first developed a steam-powered mechanism, called a marine leg, for scooping grain out of the hulls of ships directly into storage silos.[88]

1843 Ice cream maker (hand-cranked)

  • An ice cream maker is a machine used to make small quantities of ice cream at home. The machine may stir the mixture by hand-cranking or with an electric motor, and may chill the ice cream by using a freezing mixture, by pre-cooling the machine in a freezer, or by the machine itself refrigerating the mixture. An ice cream maker must freeze the mixture, and must simultaneously stir or churn it to prevent the formation of ice crystals and aerate it to produce smooth and creamy ice cream. In 1843, New England housewife Nancy Johnson invented the hand-cranked ice cream churn. She patented her invention but lacked the resources to make and market it herself. Johnson sold the patent for $200 to a Philadelphia kitchen wholesaler who, by 1847, made enough ice cream makers to satisfy the high demand. From 1847 to 1877, more than 70 improvements to ice cream makers were patented.[89]

1843 Multiple-effect evaporator

  • A multiple-effect evaporator, as defined in chemical engineering, is an apparatus for efficiently using the heat from steam to evaporate water. In 1843, Norbert Rillieux invented and patented the multiple-effect evaporator where its first installation and use was in a Louisiana sugar factory.[90]

1843 Rotary printing press

  • A rotary printing press is a printing press in which the images to be printed are curved around a cylinder. In 1843, Richard Hoe invented a revolution in printing by rolling a cylinder over stationary plates of inked type and using the cylinder to make an impression on paper. This eliminated the need for making impressions directly from the type plates themselves, which were heavy and difficult to maneuver.[91]

1844 Pratt truss

  • A Pratt truss is a specialized design of a trussed bridge whereby the vertical trusses are compressed and the diagonal trusses are in tension. Sloping downwards and towards the center of the bridge, Pratt trusses therefore create Y and K-shaped patterns. As the exact opposite of the Howe truss design, the Pratt truss was co-invented and co-patented in 1844 by Thomas and Caleb Pratt.[92]

1845 Pressure-sensitive tape

  • Pressure-sensitive tape, PSA tape, adhesive tape, self-stick tape, or sticky tape consists of a pressure-sensitive adhesive coated onto a backing material such as paper, plastic film, cloth, or metal foil. The first pressure-sensitive tape took the form of surgical tape, invented by Dr. Horace Day in 1845.[93]

1845 Maynard tape primer

  • The Maynard tape primer is a system designed to allow for more rapid reloading of muskets which previously relied on small copped caps that were filled with mercury fulminate. Dr. Edward Maynard, a dentist with an interest in firearms, embedded tiny pellets of priming material in thin strips of paper, then glued a second strip of paper on top of the first, creating a "tape" of primer. The tape could be manufactured quickly and cheaply, since paper was much less expensive than copper. In 1845, Edward Maynard patented his new firearm invention which in later years, would be widely used in the American Civil War.[94]

1845 Baseball

  • As the United States' de factonational sport and pastime, baseball is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams of nine players each. Many historians attribute baseball's origins to the English sports of stoolball and rounders as well as to the 18th and 19th century North American sports of Old Cat and Town ball, all early precursors to baseball. However, the bat-and-ball sports played in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere in the world prior to 1845 did not resemble the standard of modern-day rules as to which baseball has continuously used ever since the mid-19th century. In 1845, Alexander Cartwright wrote the official and codified set of regulated rules of baseball formally known as the Knickerbocker Rules. Cartwright's original 14 rules were somewhat similar to but not identical to rounders. Three exceptions devised by Cartwright included the stipulations that the playing field had to be laid out in a diamond shape rather than a square used in rounders, foul territories were to be introduced for the first time, and the practice of retiring a runner by hitting him with a thrown ball was forbidden. On June 19, 1846, the Knickerbocker Rules were instituted for the first time when Cartwright's New York Knickerbockers competed against the New York Nine, in what is considered by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York as "the first modern base ball game".[95] With the myth of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball debunked and 46 years after his death, Cartwright in 1938, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the executive category.[96][97] On June 3, 1953, the 83rd United States Congress unanimously credited Cartwright with inventing the modern sport of baseball.[96][98]

1846 Transverse shuttle

  • The transverse shuttle is a method to drive a bobbin on a sewing machine so as to create the lockstitch technique. Transverse shuttles carry the bobbin in a boat-shaped shuttle, and reciprocate the shuttle along a straight horizontal shaft. As the earliest of bobbin drivers, the transverse shuttle was patented by Elias Howe on September 10, 1846.[99]

1846 Printing telegraph

  • The printing telegraph is a derivative of the electrical telegraph which links two 28-key piano-style keyboards by electrical wire representing a letter of the alphabet and when pressed causing the corresponding letter to print at the receiving end. The receiver would then receive the instantly readable text of the message on a paper strip. This is in contrast to the electrical telegraphs that used Morse Code 'dots' and 'dashes' which needed to be converted into readable text. After 1850, the printing telegraph was in common use, namely along the United States east coast and in France. The printing telegraph was invented in 1846 by Royal Earl House of Rockland, Vermont.[100]

1847 Gas mask

  • A gas mask is a mask worn over the face to protect the wearer from inhaling "airborne pollutants" and toxic gasses. The mask forms a sealed cover over the nose and mouth, but may also cover the eyes and other vulnerable soft tissues of the face. The gas mask was invented in 1847 by Lewis Haslett, a device that contained elements that allowed breathing through a nose and mouthpiece, inhalation of air through a bulb-shaped filter, and a vent to exhale air back into the atmosphere.[101] According to First Facts, it states that the "gas mask resembling the modern type was patented by Lewis Phectic Haslett of Louisville, Kentucky who received a patent on June 12, 1849".[102] U.S. patent #6,529 issued to Haslett, described the first "Inhaler or Lung Protector" that filtered dust from the air.[26][103]

1847 Doughnut (ring-shaped)

  • A doughnut or donut, is a type of fried dough food popular in many countries and prepared in various forms as a sweet (or occasionally savory) snack that can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty outlets. They are usually sweet, deep-fried from a flour dough, and shaped in rings or flattened spheres that sometimes contain fillings. The doughnut has a long history, supposedly a Dutch creation exported to New Amsterdam (present-day New York City) in the 1600s under the Dutch name of olykoeks—"oily cakes". However, the ring-shaped doughnut with a "hole" in the center is thought to be an American creation, supposedly invented in 1847 by Captain Hanson Gregory of Clam Cove, Maine.[104]

1848 Pin tumbler lock

  • The pin tumbler lock is a lock mechanism that uses pins of varying lengths to prevent the lock from opening without the correct key. Pin tumblers are most commonly employed in cylinder locks, but may also be found in tubular or radial locks. The earliest pin-tumble locks were made over 4,000 years ago by the Egyptians. But due to their large, cumbersome size and since they were made of wood, the locks were not practical to use.[105] In 1848, Linus Yale, Sr. invented the modern pin-tumbler lock.[106] In 1861, Linus Yale, Jr. was inspired by the original 1840s cylindrical lock designed by his father, thus inventing and patenting a smaller flat key with serrated edges as well as pins of varying lengths within the lock itself, the same design of the pin-tumbler lock which still remains in use today.[107]

1849 Jackhammer

  • A jackhammer, also known as a pneumatic hammer, is a portable percussive drill powered by compressed air. It is used to drill rock and break up concrete pavement, among other applications. It jabs with its bit, not rotating it. A jackhammer operates by driving an internal hammer up and down. The hammer is first driven down to strike the back of the bit and then back up to return the hammer to the original position to repeat the cycle. The bit usually recovers from the stroke by means of a spring. The earliest form of a jackhammer, a "percussion drill" was invented in 1848 and patented in 1849 by Jonathan J. Couch of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this drill, the drill bit passed through the piston of a steam engine. The piston snagged the drill bit and hurled it against the rock face. It was an experimental model.[108]

1849 Safety pin

  • The safety pin is a fastening device, a variation of the regular pin, which includes a simple spring mechanism and a clasp. The clasp serves two purposes, to form a closed loop thereby properly fastening the pin to whatever it is applied to, and to cover the end of the pin to protect the user from the sharp point. The safety pin was invented by Walter Hunt, and patented in April 1849. The rights to the invention were sold for $400.[109]

1850 Dishwasher

  • The dishwasher cleans dishes, glassware, and eating utensils. The first dishwasher was a wooden one whereby a person would turn a handle to splash water on the dishware. It was invented in 1850 by Joel Houghton of Ogden, New York. The device was a failure.[110] Houghton received U.S. patent #7,365 on May 14, 1850.[111] The first successful and practical dishwasher was invented in 1886 by Josephine Cochrane. The motorized device turned a wheel while soapy water squirted up and rained down on the dishware.[110] Cochran received U.S. patent #355139 for the "Dish-Washing Machine" on December 28, 1886.[112]
Bifocals can provide a magnification factor of 10x to read text
Two cupcakes iced with the Wikipedia logo on their tops
An example of a banjo clock
Schematic of Gorrie's 1841 ice machine
An example of a lobster trap used in Devon, England
A stack of graham crackers
A John Deere combine harvesting corn
William Austin Burt's solar compass
A typical "straight key" model used for transmitting and transcribing Morse code
400 kV SF6 live tank circuit breakers
An early example of a hand-cranked ice cream maker
A sketch of an early baseball game played at Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey
A gas mask from the Czech Republic
Drilling a blast hole with a jackhammer

The revolution of technique

Development of the daguerreotype

Daguerre’s process rapidly spread throughout the world. Before the end of 1839, travelers were buying daguerreotypes of famous monuments in Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Spain; engravings of these works were made and then published in two volumes as Excursions daguerriennes between 1841 and 1843. Although Daguerre’s process was published “free to the world” by the French government, he took out a patent for it in England; the first licensee was Antoine-François-Jean Claudet. The first daguerreotypes in the United States were made on September 16, 1839, just four weeks after the announcement of the process. Exposures were at first of excessive length, sometimes up to an hour. At such lengthy exposures, moving objects could not be recorded, and portraiture was impractical.

Experiments were begun in Europe and the United States to improve the optical, chemical, and practical aspects of the daguerreotype process to make it more feasible for portraiture, the most desired application. The earliest known photography studio anywhere opened in New York City in March 1840, when Alexander Wolcott opened a “Daguerrean Parlor” for tiny portraits, using a camera with a mirror substituted for the lens. During this same period, József Petzval and Friedrich Voigtländer, both of Vienna, worked on better lens and camera design. Petzval produced an achromatic portrait lens that was about 20 times faster than the simple meniscus lens the Parisian opticians Charles Chevalier and N.M.P. Lerebours had made for Daguerre’s cameras. Meanwhile, Voigtländer reduced Daguerre’s clumsy wooden box to easily transportable proportions for the traveler. These valuable improvements were introduced by Voigtländer in January 1841. That same month another Viennese, Franz Kratochwila, freely published a chemical acceleration process in which the combined vapours of chlorine and bromine increased the sensitivity of the plate by five times.

The first studio in Europe was opened by Richard Beard in a glasshouse on the roof of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London on March 23, 1841. Unlike the many daguerreotypists who were originally scientists or miniature painters, Beard had been a coal merchant and patent speculator. Having acquired the exclusive British license for the American mirror camera (he later also purchased the exclusive rights to Daguerre’s invention in England, Wales, and the colonies), Beard employed the chemist John Frederick Goddard to try to improve and accelerate the exposure process. Among the techniques Goddard studied were two that Wolcott had tried: increasing the light sensitivity of the silver iodide with bromine vapours and filtering the blindingly bright daylight necessary for exposure through blue glass to ease the portrait sitter’s eye strain. By December 1840 Goddard had succeeded well enough to produce tiny portraits ranging in size from 0.4 inch (1 cm) in diameter to 1.5 by 2.5 inches (4 by 6 cm). By the time Beard opened his studio, exposure times were said to vary between one and three minutes according to weather and time of day. His daguerreotype portraits became immensely popular, and the studio made considerable profits the first few years, but competition soon appeared, and Beard lost his fortune in several lawsuits against infringers of his licenses.

The finest daguerreotypes in Britain were produced by Claudet, who opened a studio on the roof of the Royal Adelaide Gallery in June 1841. He was responsible for numerous improvements in photography, including the discovery that red light did not affect sensitive plates and could therefore be used safely in the darkroom. The improvements that had been made in lenses and sensitizing techniques reduced exposure times to approximately 20 to 40 seconds.

Daguerreotyping became a flourishing industry. Practitioners such as Hermann Biow and Carl Ferdinand Stelzner worked in Germany, and William Horn opened a studio in Bohemia in 1841. It was the United States, however, that led the world in the production of daguerreotypes. Portraiture became the most popular genre in the United States, and within this genre, standards of presentation began to develop. Certain parts of the daguerreotype portrait, usually the lips, eyes, jewelry, and occasionally the clothing, were hand-coloured, a job often done by women. Because of their fragile nature, daguerreotype images always were covered with glass and encased in a frame or casing made of leather-covered wood or gutta-percha, a plasticlike substance made from rubber.

In the late 1840s every city in the United States had its own “daguerrean artist,” and villages and towns were served by traveling photographers who had fitted up wagons as studios. In New York City alone there were 77 galleries in 1850. Of these, the most celebrated was that of Mathew B. Brady, who began in 1844 to form a “Gallery of Illustrious Americans,” a collection of portraits of notables taken by his own and other cameramen. Several of these portraits, including those of Daniel Webster and Edgar Allan Poe, were published by lithography in a folio volume.

In Boston, Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes opened a studio in 1843 that was advertised as “The Artists’ Daguerreotype Rooms”; here they produced the finest portraits ever made by the daguerreotype process. The partners avoided the stereotyped lighting and stiff posing formulas of the average daguerreotypist and did not hesitate to portray their sitters unprettified and “as they were.” For example, in his portrait Lemuel Shaw, a judge of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, stands with a crumpled coat and unruly locks of hair under a glare of sunshine; in her portrait Lola Montez—adventurer, dancer, actress—lolls over the back of a chair, a cigarette between her gloved fingers.

Cities and towns, as well as their inhabitants, were also photographed by American daguerreotypists: the rapid growth of San Francisco was documented month by month, and the first history of the city, published in 1855, was illustrated with engravings made from daguerreotypes.

Daguerreotyping spread throughout the world during the 1850s as photographers from England, France, and the United States followed colonialist troops and administrators to the Middle East, Asia, and South America. Army personnel and commercial photographers portrayed foreign dignitaries, landscape, architecture, and monuments in order to show Westerners seemingly exotic cultures. Particularly notable were daguerreotypes made in Japan by the American photographer Eliphalet Brown, Jr., who accompanied the 1853–54 mission led by Matthew C. Perry to open Japan to Western interests.

While most of the initial photographic work in these places was by Westerners, by the 1860s local practitioners had begun to open studios and commercial establishments. Marc Ferrez in Brazil, Kusakabe Kimbei in Japan, the (French-born) Bonfils family in Lebanon, and Kassian Céphas in Indonesia were among the international photographers who set up studios to supply portraits and views during this period.

Development of the calotype

The popularity of the daguerreotype surpassed that of the photogenic drawing, but Talbot, convinced of the value of duplicability, continued to work to improve his process. On September 21–23, 1840, while experimenting with gallic acid, a chemical he was informed would increase the sensitivity of his prepared paper, Talbot discovered that the acid could be used to develop a latent image. This discovery revolutionized photography on paper as it had revolutionized photography on metal in 1835. Whereas previously Talbot had needed a camera exposure of one hour to produce a 6.5-by-8.5-inch (16.5-by-21.6-cm) negative, he now found that one minute was sufficient. Developing the latent image made photography on paper as valued as the daguerreotype, although the image still was not as clearly defined. Talbot named his improved negative process the calotype, from the Greek meaning “beautiful picture,” and he protected his discoveries by patent.

The first aesthetically satisfying use made of this improved process was in the work of David Octavius Hill, a Scottish landscape painter, and his partner, Robert Adamson, an Edinburgh photographer. In 1843 Hill decided to paint a group portrait of the ministers who in that year formed the Free Church of Scotland; in all, there were more than 400 figures to be painted. Sir David Brewster, who knew of Talbot’s process from the inventor himself, suggested to Hill that he make use of this new technique. Hill then enlisted the aid of Adamson, and together they made hundreds of photographs, not only of the members of the church meeting but also of people from all walks of life. Although their sitters were posed outdoors in glaring sunlight and had to endure exposures of upward of a minute, Hill and Adamson managed to retain a lifelike vitality. Hill’s aesthetic was dominated by the painting style of the period in lighting and posing, particularly in the placement of the hands; in many of Hill’s portraits, both the sitter’s hands are visible, placed in a manner meant to add grace and liveliness to a dark portion of an image. Indeed, many of his calotypes are strikingly reminiscent of canvases by Sir Henry Raeburn and other contemporary artists. Proving the calotype’s artistic qualities, William Etty, a royal academician, copied in oils the calotype Hill and Adamson made of him in 1844 and exhibited it as a self-portrait. In addition to their formal portraiture, the partners made a series of photographs of fishermen and their wives at Newhaven and in Edinburgh, as well as architectural studies.

The calotype, which lent itself to being manipulated by chemicals and paper, was used in the 1850s to create exceptionally artistic images of architectural monuments.

Development of stereoscopic photography

Stereoscopic photographic views (stereographs) were immensely popular in the United States and Europe from about the mid-1850s through the early years of the 20th century. First described in 1832 by English physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone, stereoscopy was improved by Sir David Brewster in 1849. The production of the stereograph entailed making two images of the same subject, usually with a camera with two lenses placed 2.5 inches (6 cm) apart to simulate the position of the human eyes, and then mounting the positive prints side by side laterally on a stiff backing. Brewster devised a stereoscope through which the finished stereograph could be viewed; the stereoscope had two eye pieces through which the laterally mounted images, placed in a holder in front of the lenses, were viewed. The two images were brought together by the effort of the human brain to create an illusion of three-dimensionality.

Stereographs were made of a wide range of subjects, the most popular being views of landscapes and monuments and composed narrative scenes of a humorous or slightly suggestive nature. Stereoscopes were manufactured for various price ranges and tastes, from the simple hand-held device introduced by Oliver Wendell Holmes (who promoted stereography through articles in The Atlantic Monthly) to elaborate floor models containing large numbers of images that could be flipped into place. The stereograph became especially popular after Queen Victoria expressed interest in it when it was exhibited at the 1851 Crystal Palace Exposition. Like television today, stereography during the second half of the 19th century was both an educational and a recreational device with considerable impact on public knowledge and taste.

Development of the wet collodion process

Photography was revolutionized in 1851 by the introduction of the wet collodion process for making glass negatives. This new technique, invented by the English sculptor Frederick Scott Archer, was 20 times faster than all previous methods and was, moreover, free from patent restrictions. Paper prints could easily be made from glass-plate negatives. The process had one major drawback: the photographer had to sensitize the plate almost immediately before exposure and expose it and process it while the coating was moist. Collodion is a solution of nitrocellulose (guncotton) in alcohol and ether; when the solvents evaporate, a clear plasticlike film is formed. Since it is then impervious to water, the chemicals used for developing the exposed silver halides and removing the unexposed salts cannot penetrate the coating to act upon them. The wet collodion process was almost at once universally adopted because it rendered detail with great precision that rivaled that of the daguerreotype. It reigned supreme for more than 30 years and greatly increased the popularity of photography, despite the fact that it was unequally sensitive to different colours of the spectrum.

At first the positive prints made from the glass plate negatives were produced by Talbot’s salt paper method, but from the mid-1850s on they were made on albumen paper. Introduced in 1850 by Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, albumen paper is a slow printing-out paper (i.e., paper that produces a visible image on direct exposure, without chemical development) that had been coated with egg white before being sensitized. The egg white gave the paper a glossy surface that improved the definition of the image.

A new style of portrait utilizing albumen paper, introduced in Paris by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854, was universally popular in the 1860s. It came to be called the carte-de-visite because the size of the mounted albumen print (4 by 2.5 inches [10.2 by 6 cm]) corresponded to that of a calling card. Disdéri used a four-lens camera to produce eight negatives on a single glass plate. Each picture could be separately posed, or several exposures of the same pose could be made at once. The principal advantage of the system was its economy: to make eight portraits the photographer needed to sensitize only a single sheet of glass and make one print, which was then cut up into separate pictures. At first cartes-de-visite almost invariably showed the subjects standing. Over time, backgrounds became ornate: furniture and such architectural fragments as papier-mâché columns and arches were introduced, and heavy-fringed velvet drapes were hung within range of the camera. With the advent of the cabinet-size (6.5 by 4 inches [16.5 by 10.2 cm]) picture in 1866, the decorative strategies of the photographer became yet more pronounced, so that in 1871 a photographer wrote: “One good, plain background, disrobed of castles, piazzas, columns, curtains and what not, well worked, will suit every condition of life.”

The new wet collodion process was also used to produce positive images on glass called ambrotypes, which were simply underexposed or bleached negatives that appeared positive when placed against a dark coating or backing. In pose and lighting, these popular portraits were similar to daguerreotypes in sizes and were enclosed in similar types of cases. They did not approach the brilliancy of the daguerreotype, however.

Tintypes, first known as ferrotypes or melainotypes, were cheap variations of the ambrotype. Instead of being placed on glass, the collodion emulsion was coated on thin iron sheets that were enameled black. At first they were presented in cases, surrounded by narrow gilt frames, but by the 1860s this elaborate presentation had been abandoned, and the metal sheets were simply inserted in paper envelopes, each with a cutout window the size of the image. Easy to make and inexpensive to purchase, tintypes were popular among soldiers in the Civil War and remained a form of folk art throughout the 19th century. Poses of sitters in tintypes were often informal and sometimes humorous. Because they were cheap and easy to produce, tintypes became a popular form of street photography well into the 20th century. Street-corner photographers, often equipped with a donkey, were common in European countries.

Development of the dry plate

In the 1870s many attempts were made to find a dry substitute for wet collodion so that plates could be prepared in advance and developed long after exposure, which would thereby eliminate the need for a portable darkroom. In 1871 Richard Leach Maddox, an English physician, suggested suspending silver bromide in a gelatinemulsion, an idea that led, in 1878, to the introduction of factory-produced dry plates coated with gelatin containing silver salts. This event marked the beginning of the modern era of photography.

Gelatin plates were about 60 times more sensitive than collodion plates. The increased speed freed the camera from the tripod, and a great variety of small hand-held cameras became available at relatively low cost, allowing photographers to take instantaneous snapshots. Of these, the most popular was the Kodak camera, introduced by George Eastman in 1888. Its simplicity greatly accelerated the growth of amateur photography, especially among women, to whom much of the Kodak advertising was addressed. In place of glass plates, the camera contained a roll of flexible negative material sufficient for taking 100 circular pictures, each roughly 2.5 inches (6 cm) in diameter. After the last negative was exposed, the entire camera was sent to one of the Eastman factories (Rochester, New York, or Harrow, Middlesex, England), where the roll was processed and printed; “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was Eastman’s description of the Kodak system. At first Eastman’s so-called “American film” was used in the camera; this film was paper based, and the gelatin layer containing the image was stripped away after development and fixing and transferred to a transparent support. In 1889 this was replaced by film on a transparent plastic base of nitrocellulose that had been invented in 1887 by the Reverend Hannibal Goodwin of Newark, New Jersey.

Photography of movement

A few years before the introduction of the dry plate, the world was amazed by the photographs of horses taken by Eadweard Muybridge in California. To take these photographs, Muybridge used a series of 12 to 24 cameras arranged side by side opposite a reflecting screen. The shutters of the cameras were released by the breaking of their attached threads as the horse dashed by. Through this technique, Muybridge secured sets of sequential photographs of successive phases of the walk, the trot, and the gallop. When the pictures were published internationally in the popular and scientific press, they demonstrated that the positions of the animal’s legs differed from those in traditional hand-drawn representations. To prove that his photographs were accurate, Muybridge projected them upon a screen one after the other with a lantern-slide projector he had built for the purpose; the result was the world’s first motion-picture presentation. This memorable event took place at the San Francisco Art Association in 1880.

Muybridge, whose early studies were made with wet plates, continued his motion studies for some 20 years. With the new gelatin plates, he was able to improve his technique greatly, and in 1884–85, at the invitation of the University of Pennsylvania, he produced 781 sequential photographs of many kinds of animals as well as men and women engaged in a wide variety of activities. He was aided in this project by painter Thomas Eakins, who also made motion studies.

Muybridge’s photographic analysis of movement coincided with studies by French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey to develop chronophotography. Whereas Muybridge had employed a battery of cameras to record detailed, separate images of successive stages of movement, Marey used only one, recording an entire sequence of movement on a single plate. With Marey’s method, the images of various phases of motion sometimes overlapped, but it was easier to see and understand the flow of movement. Marey was also able to record higher speeds at shorter intervals than Muybridge. Both his and Muybridge’s work greatly contributed to the field of motion study and to the development of the motion picture.

Early attempts at colour

Photography’s transmutation of nature’s colours into various shades of black and white had been considered a drawback of the process from its inception. To remedy this, many portrait photographers employed artists who hand-tinted daguerreotypes and calotypes. Artists also painted in oils over albumen portraits on canvas. Franz von Lenbach in Munich, for example, was among the many who projected onto canvas an image that had been made light-sensitive, whereupon he painted freely over it. In Japan, where hand-coloured woodcuts had a great tradition and labour was cheap, some firms from the 1870s onward sold photographs of scenic views and daily life that had been delicately hand-tinted. In the 1880s photochromes, colour prints made from hand-coloured photographs, became fashionable, and they remained popular until they were gradually replaced in the first decades of the 20th century by Autochrome plates.

Establishing genres


From the medium’s beginnings, the portrait became one of photography’s most popular genres. Some early practitioners such as Southworth and Hawes and Hill and Adamson broke new ground through the artistry they achieved in their portraits. Outside such mastery, however, portraiture throughout the world generally took on the form of uninspired daguerreotypes, tintypes, cartes-de-visite, and ambrotypes, and most portraitists relied heavily on accessories and retouching. Such conventions were broken by several important subsequent photographers, notably Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, a Parisian writer, editor, and caricaturist who used the pseudonym of Nadar; Étienne Carjat, likewise a Parisian caricaturist; and Julia Margaret Cameron.

Nadar took up photography in 1853 as a means of making studies of the features of prominent Frenchmen for inclusion in a large caricature lithograph, the “Panthéon Nadar.” He posed his sitters against plain backgrounds and bathed them with diffused daylight, which brought out every detail of their faces and dress. He knew most of them, and the powers of observation he had developed as a caricaturist led him to recognize their salient features, which he recorded directly, without the exaggeration that he put in his drawings. When Nadar’s photographs were first exhibited, they won great praise in the Gazette des Beaux Arts, then the leading art magazine in France.

Carjat depicted the prominent Parisian artists, actors, writers, musicians, and politicians of his day. These portraits display dignity and distinction like those of Nadar, his contemporary and rival, but with a sometimes startling level of intensity in the sitters’ gazes.

Cameron took up photography as a pastime in 1864. Using the wet-plate process, she made portraits of such celebrated Victorians of her acquaintance as Sir John F.W. Herschel, George Frederick Watts, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Darwin, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. For her portraits, a number of which were shown at the Paris International Exhibition of 1867, Cameron used a lens with the extreme focal length of 30 inches (76.2 cm) to obtain large close-ups. This lens required such long exposures that the subjects frequently moved. The lack of optical definition and this accidental blurring was criticized by the photographic establishment, yet the power of her work won her praise among artists. This can be explained only by the intensity of her vision. “When I have had these men before my camera,” she wrote about her portraits of great figures,

my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty toward them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner man as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus obtained has almost been the embodiment of a prayer.

Besides these memorable portraits, Cameron produced a large number of allegorical studies, as well as images of children and young women in costume, acting out biblical scenes or themes based on the poetry of her hero, Tennyson. In making these pictures—which some today find weak and sentimental—she was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, who portrayed similar themes in their work.


From the outset, photography served the press. Within weeks after the French government’s announcement of the process in 1839, magazines were publishing woodcuts or lithographs with the byline “from a daguerreotype.” In fact, the two earliest illustrated weeklies—The Illustrated London News, which started in May 1842, and L’Illustration, based in Paris from its first issue in March 1843—owe their origin to the same cultural forces that made possible the invention of photography. Early reproductions generally carried little of the conviction of the original photograph, however.

Photography as an adjunct of war reportage began when Roger Fenton sailed from London to the Crimea to photograph the war between England, Russia, and Turkey in 1855. He was sent to provide visual evidence to counter the caustic written reports dispatched by William Russell, war correspondent for The Times of London, criticizing military mismanagement and the inadequate, unsanitary living conditions of the soldiers. Despite the difficulties of developing wet-collodion plates with impure water, in high temperatures, and under enemy fire, during his four-month stay Fenton produced 360 photographs, the first large-scale camera documentation of a war. Crimean War imagery was also captured by British photographer James Robertson, who later traveled to India with an associate, Felice Beato, to record the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of 1857–58.

When the Civil War broke out in the United States, Mathew B. Brady, a New York City daguerreotypist and portraitist, conceived the bold plan of making a photographic record of the hostilities. When told the government could not finance such an undertaking, he invested his own savings in the project, expecting to recover his outlay by selling thousands of prints. Brady and his crew of about 20 photographers—among them Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan, who both left his employ in the midst of hostilities—produced an amazing record of the battlefield. At his New York gallery, Brady showed pictures of the dead at Antietam. The New York Times reported on October 20, 1862:

Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.…It seems somewhat singular that the same sun that looked down on the faces of the slain, blistering them, blotting out from the bodies all semblance to humanity, and hastening corruption, should have thus caught their features upon canvas, and given them perpetuity for ever. But so it is.

Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, intermittent conflicts in Asia and Africa arising from imperialist ambitions were documented by photographers working for news media and for companies that manufactured stereographs. For the most part, war images were accepted as truthful depictions of painful events. However, after images of the Communard uprising in Paris in 1871 were shown to have been doctored, the veracity of such camera documentation no longer could be taken for granted.

Regular use of photographs in magazines began with the perfection of the halftone process, which allowed the camera image to be printed at the same time as the type and thereby reduced the cost of reproduction. The first newspaper halftone in the United States appeared in 1888, and shortly thereafter newspapers turned to photography for reporting topical events, making the profession of newspaper illustrator obsolete. Although technical advances improved reproduction quality, apart from impressive examples of combat photography, the subjects and styles of early journalistic photography were generally unimaginative and dull.

Documentary photography

Landscape and architectural documentation

From the earliest days of the medium, landscape, architecture, and monuments were appealing subjects for photographers. This sort of photography, which was collected by artists, scientists, and travelers, was impelled by several factors. In Europe one powerful factor was the maneuverings among western European powers for control of portions of North Africa and Asia. From the late 1850s through the 1870s, British photographers were particularly active in recording the natural landscape and monuments of the empire’s domains: Francis Frith worked in Egypt and Asia Minor, producing three albums of well-composed images; Samuel Bourne photographed throughout India (with a retinue of equipment bearers); John Thomson produced a descriptive record of life and landscape in China; and French photographer Maxime Du Camp traveled to Egypt with Gustave Flaubert on a government commission to record landscape and monuments.

Both for patriotic reasons and as a commodity for travelers, photographers also were active in recording the landscape of western Europe in the 1850s and ’60s. Important British photographers included Roger Fenton, who worked in England and Wales; Charles Clifford, who worked in Spain; Robert Macpherson, who photographed Rome; and George Washington Wilson, who photographed Scotland. French photographer Adolphe Braun recorded the landscape around his native Alsace, as well as the mountainous terrain of the French Savoy, as did the brothers Louis-Auguste and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson. Herman Krone in Germany and Giacchino Altobelli and Carlo Ponti in Italy were also intent on recording the beauties of their regional landscapes.

Photographs of specific historical buildings were made for a number of purposes: to satisfy antiquarian curiosity, to provide information for restoration, to supply artists with material on which to base paintings, or to effect preservation efforts. Practically from photography’s inception, such documentation was commissioned by public and private authorities. In western Europe and the United States, photographs captured the building of the industrial infrastructure, from bridges to railroad lines, from opera houses to public places to monumental statuary. In the early 1850s Philip Henry Delamotte was hired to document the progress of the construction of the Crystal Place in London, and a few years later Robert Howlett depicted the building of the Great Eastern transatlantic steamship. Alfred and John Bool and Henry Dixon worked for the Society for Photographing Old London, recording historical buildings and relics. In the 1850s the French government commissioned several photographers to document historical buildings. Working with cameras making photographs as large as 20 by 29 inches (51 by 74 cm), Henri Le Secq, Charles Marville, and Charles Nègre produced remarkable calotypes of the cathedrals of Notre-Dame (Paris), Chartres, and Amiens, as well as other structures that were being restored after centuries of neglect. An establishment was set up in Lille, France, by Blanquart-Evrard at which these paper negatives could be printed in bulk.

In the United States explorations of the lands beyond the Great Plains led to the apogee of landscape photography during the period. Before the Civil War, relatively few exceptional images of the Western landscape had been made. In the postwar era railroad companies and government commissions included photographers among their teams sent to determine mineral deposits, rights of way, and other conditions that would be suitable for settlement. Of the photographers confronting the spectacular landscape of the American West in the 1870s and ’80s, William Henry Jackson, O’Sullivan, and Carleton Watkins produced particularly notable work. Both O’Sullivan, who helped survey Nevada and New Mexico, and Watkins, who worked in California and Oregon, were able to convey through their work a sense of the untamed and extraordinary quality of the Western landscape. As a testament to the power of his images, Jackson’s photographs of the Grand Canyon and the Yellowstone River were influential in getting public land set aside for Yellowstone National Park. The work these and other photographers of the American West produced usually was made available in several sizes and formats, from stereographic images to mammoth-sized works.

Landscapes in places outside the United States and Europe were usually portrayed by European photographers during this period. However, exceptions included the Chinese photographer Afong Lai and the Brazilian photographer Marc Ferrez, both of whom produced excellent views of their native countries. In particular, Lai’s serene compositions reflected the conventions of the long-standing tradition of Chinese landscape painting.

Social documentation

The recognition of the power of photography to persuade and inform led to a form of documentary photography known as social documentation, or social photography. The origins of the genre can be traced to the classic sociological study issued by Henry Mayhew in 1851, London Labour and the London Poor, although this was illustrated with drawings partly copied from daguerreotypes by Richard Beard and not actual photos. A later effort, Street Life in London (1877), by Adolphe Smith and John Thomson, included facsimile reproductions of Thomson’s photographs and produced a much more persuasive picture of life among London’s working class. Thomson’s images were reproduced by Woodburytype, a process that resulted in exact, permanent prints but was costly because it required hand mounting for each individual print. This pursuit was continued by John Barnardo, who, beginning in the 1870s, photographed homeless children in London for the purpose of both record keeping and fund-raising and thus fulfilled the double objectives of social documentation: capturing theoretically objective description and arousing sympathy. The “before” and “after” images used by Barnardo to demonstrate the efficacy of social intervention became a convention in social documentation. It was taken up to good effect by the Indian photographer Raja Lala Deen Dayal, especially in his documentation of the good works undertaken by the nizam of Hyderabad in the late 19th century. In 1877 Thomas Annan began a project in Edinburgh in which he used the camera to record the need for new housing for the working poor. He concentrated mainly on the derelict buildings and sewerage systems rather than on the inhabitants; eventually the images were collected for their artistic merit rather than their social use.

Social documentation became more focused in the work of Jacob A. Riis, a police reporter in New York City in the 1880s who spent about four years depicting slum life. Employing cameramen at first, Riis eventually learned the rudiments of the medium so that he could himself portray the living and working conditions of immigrants whose social circumstances, he believed, led to crime and dissolution. Reproduced by the recently developed halftone process, the photographs and drawings based on them illustrated How the Other Half Lives (1890), Riis’s first book about immigrant life. They also were turned into positive transparencies—slides—to illustrate Riis’s lectures, which were aimed at a largely middle-class audience, some of whom were said to have fainted at the sight of the conditions the images documented. Able to convince the progressive reformers of the time of the need for change, Riis’s work was instrumental in effecting slum-clearance projects in New York.

In European countries especially, there was also an awakened interest in documenting social customs during this period. Sometimes this meant recording those European customs that were being replaced by advancing industrialization. This interest led to the establishment of photographic archives, such as the National Photographic Record Association, set up in the mid-1890s by Benjamin Stone, a British member of Parliament. Left to the city of Birmingham, the collection included photographs taken by Stone and others of vanishing local customs. Other times this led to an interest in the particularities of dress and custom of those living in distant regions. William Carrick, a Scotsman, portrayed daily life in Russia. In addition to portraying nature and artifacts, John Thomson, Felice Beato, and Samuel Bourne also depicted indigenous peoples in China and India. In 1888 the journal National Geographic, which produced photographic accounts of cultures throughout the world, was established.