A disappointing submersible (1886)

The top picture makes one believe that this submarine, known as The Goubet, is a sizable vessel. Far from being so, I'm afraid. A gentleman would have to remove his hat to be comfortable inside this sub, and a gentleman would never do that!


Illustration for a steampunk novel

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have gathered you here so you can observe from a perfect vantage point the destruction of the entire human civilization. Prepare to witness the awesome power of my electrostatic steam-ray gun!", said Prof. Ubelmauer before bursting into maniacal laughter.

The actual image is of the "world's tallest chimney" in Kearny, NJ. I assume that the chimney was not operational at the time.


This looks unsafe for the use in one's swimming pool, let alone on top of the salty brine.

Electric belt

"All in search of health should wear..." I wonder if it's DC or AC.

Deception in advertising

A classic example of a deceptive ad. Unless you read the fine print you will think that the Prince of Wales needs a governess at 1,000 pounds a year. If you look closely, the ad announces an actors benefit. No idea how they managed to get away wit this, especially using the official V. R. logo.


How to sit down without chairs

"A regiment of soldiers sitting as above, and forming a circle, can all rest comfortably on each others knees."

Comfortably, really? How about sitting down on the ground?


Dance on the stump of a sequoia: "without suffering any inconvenience" (1853)

"Upon this stump, however incredible it may seem, on the 4th of July, 32 persons were engaged in dancing four sets of cotillions at one time, without suffering any inconvenience whatever; and, besides these, there were two musicians and lookers on" (Hutchings' Illustrated California magazine, March 1859).

Hors d'oeuvres were served prepared from freshest baby whales!

How to make a pig's head

So, you need to make a pig's head, ugh? Victorian ingenuity to the rescue:

"Fix a glass between the teeth and cover the glass and head with a handkerchief, marking the pig's eyes with ink. Sounds in imitation of a pig will be magnified to a surprising extent by the resonance of the glass."

Seriously, don't try this one at home. You just might look weird or suffocate.

For the ladies: a catamenial sack (1894)

Before the arrival of all those convenient feminine products that one sees advertised on TV, Victorian inventors fiddled with a plethora of designs similar to this one. The term for this contraption is catamenial sack. Easy to see how it works... This particular one was designed by Eliza Kirwin, so at least one woman must have used it.

"New Shaving Machine"

Representation of the NEW SHAVING MACHINE, whereby a number of Persons may be done at the same time with expedition, ease and safety. Manufactured and Sold by D.Merry and Son. Birmingham.


Whereas the wonderful powers of this useful Machine are yet but little known, and even doubted by those who have not seen it, the Inventor has for their satisfaction prefixed a Plate representing his Shaving and Dressing Room with six Customers sitting. Pledges himself that his Machine will be foud to do its work in the most safe, smooth and efficacious manner with three scrapes or movements and that those who shall have once tried it will no longer entertain any doubts on the subject, but will smile at the thoughts of being again shaved in the ordinary manual way. The Large Machine, including brushes, cheek and chin razors, completely fitted for shaving from one to twenty persons at a time - seven guineas - and small ones for Gentlemen's private use at three guineas each - The Large Machines are particularly recommended to the Barbers in Fortified and Manufacturing Towns and Villages, on account of their expedition.


A. a small barel of Soap Suds. B. Soap brush. C. the razor. D. the Master of the shop who directs the position of his Customers' faces. Here his is desiring the Gentleman with the large nose to keep it more to the left, that it may be out of the way. The Pinion wheel E. being turned round, the Machine H. is put in motion & brought to E. and in passing along, the brush, followed by the razor, performs on the right cheek. The faces, the brush & the razor being then reversed a contrary motion of the Wheel does left the left Cheek. And the faces being again turned to the front, the fore beard is done by the instrument at I. which finishes the shaving. - The Boy on the foreground is employed in the ordinary & tedious mode of dressing a Wig. The inventor of the Shaving machine hopes soon to present a much more expeditious Plan of dressing, part of which is exhibited by the Figure on the background discharging the hair powdering gun along the line of Wigs - Seated near him, is a Gentleman already dressed reading the Newspaper - And behind him is a Stranger whose doubts are removed by seeing the ease and safety of the Shaving operation. 

This was obviously a joke, but it should create some respect towards the shaving tools that we enjoy in our technologically advanced age.


Napoleon learning the English language (original grammar drills in Bonaparte's handwriting)

Avez-vous faim?
Are you hungry?

Êtes-vous en colère?
Are you angry?

Banished to the British island of St. Helena, Napoleon spent considerable time learning English. This playing card is an example of his grammar exercises. Above you can observe an attempt to grasp the difference between hungry and angry. Chances are, Napoleon's accent sounded very similar to the ex-emperor's portrayal in Woody Allen's Love and Death.

1. How do you do, sir - madam?
Comment vous portez-vous, Monsieur?

2. Bonjour, Monsieur - bonne nuit.
Good day, sir - good night.

3. D'où venez-vous?
From where do you come?

4. When did you leave England?
Quand êtes-vous parti d'Angleterre?


Silent shave

Supposedly, the barbers in diving helmets can see and hear, but they cannot talk. I can think of a number of other things that would work. One of them is represented by the sign on the wall: "A talking barber gathers no spondulicks." You guessed right, the rather obscure word (also spelled spondulix) means money. As a piece of social history, notice a small boy working at the barber's shop, also wearing a helmet. Child labor everywhere!

Submarine tricycle

I suppose with proper ballast this could work...


Pneumatic skate

"An American Lady-Acrobat Walking Head-downwards by Means of the Pneumatic Skate." Did this really happen?

Cycle Railway

Cone of death?

For those in search of new sensations: "It is an immense cone, designed to carry a cargo of fifteen passengers, and to fall from a lofty tower into a well of water. The tower is 300 yards high, and the swiftness of the descent is more than double that of the most rapid express train: the well is about 60 yards deep."

Got noisy children?

Glass covers for noisy children. One size fits all!



Best invention I have seen in a while!

Ocean tricycle

"The cycle when travelling does not roll or pitch like a steamer, but allows its passengers to enjoy themselves without the fear of sea-sickness."

It looks to me that some ballast would be needed. Otherwise the whole thing would be perilously unstable.

Steampunk goes medieval

George Moore's invention, "a steam man." The word 'robot' was not yet known in the 19th century, but this design certainly appears to have some robotic qualities to it.


Marriage Crime

1920s ad for "Strongfortism":

"The man who marries a good, pure woman, knowing that he is not physically fit, commits the worst Crime known to civilization. Where do you stand? Are you fit to marry? Some sweet, innocent girl is trusting in your honor. You must not deceive her. You dare not marry until you are physically fit. The way looks hopless to you, but cheer up -- I can help you"

The list of problem areas that Dr. Strongfort successfully dealt with included: round shoulders, stoop shoulders, blackheads, pimples... Seriously, what kind of monster would ever entertain the idea of marriage while suffering from pimples and blackheads? Unthinkable... A crime against civilization indeed!

To the thinking man! (THIS IS NOT A TOAST!)

Sure hope this percentage has changed in 100 years!

In case it's not immediately clear, this is an anti-alcohol poster. It could be seen all over Boston in 1911. Makes me wondering if the title of this poster was actually used as a toast: To the thinking man!

Omar cigarettes

Apparently, Omar Khayyam was not as good at selling cigarettes as an average camel.


Lorgnette goggles -- actual 1914 design

This design was supposed to "dispense with the awkward and ungainly fastening now customarily used upon goggles," permitting "the wearer to readily hold the goggles in position to protect the eye when it is desired or to remove the goggles at times when there is no necessity for protection, such as when an automobile is stopped or going merely at a slow rate of speed."

Spherical cycle

Remember the Bubble Boy? This would be an improvement.

Duelling apparatus for gentlemen of weak nerves

"After a plentiful dose of laudandum and brandy, the principal is placed in the frame, so that he can neither flinch nor falter, and the second, retiring to a safe distance, pulls the string and the pistol is discharged."

"Tram-car for cyclists" - late 19th century

"The craze for cycling" was responsible for the introduction of specialized streetcars in order to accommodate cyclists and their machines.

Balloon voyage to the North Pole

Proposed balloon voyage to the North Pole, late 19th century. Note that the actual balloon expedition to the North Pole, headed by S. A. Andrée ended tragically. Perhaps they should have used this design instead (looks very steampunk, by the way).

Advertising on a tomb

Here lyes Jeremy Jobbins
An affectionate husband and
a tender parent

His disconsolate widow
In hope of a better meating
Continues to carry on
The long established
At the same place
Before her lamented

Reader, Pause & Notice the address

"Armour-plated railway trucks"

"Armour-plated railway trucks" used during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870.

Soldiers' Mock Court-Martial (British Army, 19th century)

"From time immemorial it has been the custom in the Army for men to be tried by a mock court-martial for any petty offense they may have committed which has caused inconvenience to their comrades." It appears as though this chap made too much noise in the barracks when returning from his leave. "The photographer took the photograph just before the axe fell, so it is presumed that a reprieve arrived at the last moment, for we understand that all the actors of this humorous scene are still serving their Queen and country"


Self-defense for bears

Balloon Factory

Balloon factory in Paris. 19th century. Probably looks a lot like the place where prepare for the Macy's Thanksgiving parade.

Invasion of Britain

A French raft design for the invasion of Britain. Late 18th century.

Columbus Monument

This Columbus Monument was designed for the Chicago Exhibition. "Conveying visitors by lift to the Equator, and thence by spiral railway to the North Pole." I don't remember seeing it in Chicago, so I will assume it was never built?

Cat piano

Cat piano. A fine 19th century invention. "The keys press the cats' tails, each of which mews a certain note." Yes, from the way it's worded it appears as if the tails were expected to be mewing, but I'm sure they eventually figured it out.

19th century tattoos

The Last Supper tattoo? God will be pleased.

The motto across this late 19th century tattoo enthusiast clearly says "Forget me not." Seriously, how can this be erased from ones memory?

Birthday Greeting

"Birthday Greeting" by Ernst Payer. Why is this child not frightened to death?

American Knight

A stunning thing of political propaganda: "American Knight, the world's challenger" (1911). Notice the gauntlet thrown on the ground.

Trained seals (not what you're used to seeing)

We are used to seals doing clever tricks at aquariums. Usually they balance objects, clap with their flippers and make funny noises. My favorite is when they are used to promote environmental causes (like recycling). The life of a trained seal used to be quite different in the 19th century. They were forced to smoke, play tambourines and fire pistols. As the original caption notes, "They are glad to do this, to escape being skinned to make ladies' jackets."