608: Victorian Inventions by Leonard de Vries

by Gerard


608.7: de Vries, Leonard. Victorian Inventions. New York: American Heritage Press, 1971. 192 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 608: Inventions and patents
  • 608.7: Historical, geographic, and personal treatment of inventions and patents

If you’ve ever stayed up too late watching television, you’ve probably seen all manner of infomercials for interesting, crazy, outlandish, unnecessary, and even usable products. The thing is, someone had to invent all those items. From new bacon microwave racks to foot mops to gyroscopically-stabilized snack bowls, each one required thought, design, and materialization. This phenomenon is by no means a recent one. Folks have been coming up with new products and devices for hundreds of years. Leonard de Vries’s Victorian Inventions highlights one such era of imagination to show that we are not as removed from our past as we think.

De Vries’s stories come from three sources—Scientific American, De Natuur, and La Nature—and are divided into five major categories: transport, electricity, optics, telephony, and of course, miscellaneous. They span many areas of daily life from 1865 to 1900. Right off the bat, there is the Pedespeed, a pair of small side wheels one attaches to one’s shoes to skedaddle faster through the city. Then, there are devices to mechanically deliver food to one’s table, to bore tunnels through solid rock, to project advertisements into the night sky, to simultaneously play the cello and piano, and so on and so on.

This coffee table book offers a varied glimpse into the past. From the photographic rifle to the theatrophones, each invention brought something of the amazing into people’s lives. Much like today’s technology, each item seems slightly weird but useful in the right environment. De Vries’s writing is many time secondary to the large illustrations, but interesting nonetheless. A fun and inviting book.