Things Invented Much Earlier Than You ThinkC.A. Asbrey
Many of the inventions below do have counterparts which hail from ancient times, such as the battery and the vending machine, but for the purposes of this piece I am looking purely at the works which have lead directly to the version people are familiar with using today.
The battery - March 20th, 1800.
The Volta battery was designed by Italian inventor Alessandro Volta — will oon celebrate its 218th birthday.
Capactors had been around since ancient times, but they discharge all their power in one discharge. The trickle of power from the battery meant things could now be powered over a period of time.
Volta initially called the device an "artificial electric organ,' as the prevailing theory at the time was that animal tissue was necessary for conductivity. Instead he used stacked metal disks and brine-soaked rags. They conducted electricity. The battery was born.
The Dishwasher - 1886
Josephine Garis Cochran
Invented by a woman in 1886, Josephine Garis Cochran submitted a request to the US Patent Office in late December.
The design still looks familiar: many dish and cup-sized compartments inside a wire cage, with a rotating wheel that squirted hot, soapy water onto the dirty dinnerware.
Cochran went on to found a manufacturing company for her invention, which eventually became Kitchenaid.
Contact Lenses - 1887/8
Were invented by artificial-eye manufacturer F.A. Mueller. They were initially called "scleral lenses," referring to the white of the eye, and they were designed to cover the whole eye, not just the iris. They were huge and bulky and the very thought of putting these in my eyes makes my stomach turn over. This is one of thee things which is claimed to have been invented by many people.
In 1827, English astronomer Sir John Herschel first proposed the idea of making a mold of a person's eyes. Such molds would enable the production of corrective lenses that could conform to the front surface of the eye. It took more than 50 years before someone actually produced such lenses, and there is some controversy about who did it first.
Some reports say German glassblower F.A. Muller used Herschel's ideas to create the first known glass contact lens in 1887. Other reports say Swiss physician Adolf E. Fick and Paris optician Edouard Kalt created and fitted the first glass contact lenses to correct vision problems in 1888.
The Escalator - 1859
Reno's first model was installed at the Old Iron Pier at Coney Island. The invention quickly gained favor among the Industrial Revolution's miners and factory workers, who could spare their legs the long journey to work.
Nathan Ames, a patent attorney is credited with patenting the first "escalator" in 1859, despite the fact that no working model of his design was ever built. His invention, the "revolving stairs", is largely speculative and the patent specifications indicate that he had no preference for materials or potential use (he noted that steps could be upholstered or made of wood, and suggested that the units might benefit the infirm within a household use). The suggested motive power was either manual or hydraulic.
Leamon Souder successfully patented the "stairway" in 1889. It featured a "series of steps and links jointed to each other". No model was ever built. This was the first of at least four escalator-style patents issued to Souder, including two for spiral designs.
Jesse W. Reno produced the first working escalator (called the "inclined elevator") and installed it alongside the Old Iron Pier at Coney Island, New York City in 1896
Vending Machines - 1615 - or even earlier
The Greeks and early Egyptians did have versions of machines which dipensed things such as holy water at temples. Other early examples include small machines made of brass that dispensed tobacco, which were found in some taverns in England around 1615.
In 1822, an English publisher and bookshop owner, Richard Carlile built a newspaper dispensing machine that allowed patrons to purchase banned works. And it was in 1867 that the first fully automatic vending machine, which dispensed stamps, appeared.
The coin operated machines which use a patent recognisable as forerunners of today's machines were invented by 1883 by Percival Everitt. The machines were found at railway stations and post offices, as they were a convenient way to purchase envelopes, postcards, and notepaper. And in 1887, the first vending machine servicer, the Sweetmeat Automatic Delivery Company, was founded.
In 1888, the Thomas Adams Gum Company introduced the very first vending machines to the United States. The machines were installed on the elevated subway platforms in New York City and sold Tutti-Fruiti gum. In 1897, the Pulver Manufacturing Company added animated figures to its gum machines as an added attraction.
Fax Machine - 1843
Early Fax Machine
The fax was invented by Alexander Bain, a clockmaker and crofter from Scotland. They worked by line-by-line scanning a message written with special ink on a metallic surface. This picked up the electrical impression of the original and a telegraph circuit could be used to transmit the information at a distance. At the other end, paper sensitive to electricity received the lines one by one.
Due to the rapid pace of progress at that period, other people were working on similar devices at the ame time. Bain got into several unhelpful legal wrangles with individuals like Frederick Bakewell, whom he accused of stealing his ideas. Morse managed to block the progress of Bain’s invention with a legal injunction.
Napoleon III was particularly impressed by the technology when introduced to it in Paris by Giovanni Caselli, Caselli called the it the Pantelegraph. Pantelegraph systems were established between major cities in Europe. The first system was built between Paris and Lyon, France, in 1865. Two years later, the system was extended to Marseille.
US Patent Office
Science Photo Library