WIRED has a story on the new book Inventions That Didn’t Change the World that details wonderfully silly inventions from the Victorian Age that didn’t stand the test of time (and weren’t popular during their time either). Although, if you ask me, I’m pretty sure the Air Conditioned Top Hat is ready for a second go around.
The title of the book kind of gives things away, but these aren’t exactly early-stage blueprints for the telephone, or the subway. Instead, the designs are for oddities like “an improved pickle fork,” “an elastic dress and opera hat,” “the pillow cap for travelers,” (which might be the precursor to the ugly but popular Ostrich Pillow) and “for a gold digger’s dwelling.”
“Trifling or otherwise, these designs provide a fascinating insight into the social history and technology of the period,” says author Julie Halls in the book’s preliminary remarks. “Some seemingly inexplicable inventions make sense within their historical context.” Well-mannered Victorians seemed to be interested in inventions like the ‘Spring Bible and Prayer Case,’ which “ ‘obviates the necessity of a ribbon’ for removing the book from the case, suggest[ing] the need for urgent moral guidance of a kind few of us turn to today,” Halls writes. Likewise, cutlery featured prominently in a gallery of these designs at the Great Exhibition of 1851, because the correct cutlery, as used at dinner parties, spoke volumes about propriety and social status.
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