Inventions that Didn’t Change the World

A book of eccentric Victorian inventions that never quite caught on


For every groundbreaking new idea that changes the world as we know it, there are thousands (if not more) that are entirely useless—whether or not they were inspired, clever or even ingenious at their moment of inception. In “Inventions that Didn’t Change the World,” author Julie Halls of the British National Archives chronicles the plentitudes proposed and even developed during the Victorian Era—a heyday of England’s industrial prowess. From the downright bizarre to the curious and perplexing, the book contains 240 color illustrations and the original penned explanatory text from each designer that was submitted to the design protection office, all accompanied by Halls’ context and commentary. It’s an engaging product design guide of beautiful failures and the optimism and vision of those dreaming them up.


The book has been divided up into seven categories, ranging from house and garden to preventatives and panaceas. Among the wonders, there’s insight on an omnidirective shower bath from 1843 and an early combined fork knife from 1881. A ventilated top hat from 1849 is followed up with an elastic opera hat that assumes various forms so people seated behind can have a clear view. There’s even a glove that doubles as purse and a series of faux fire escapes for higher floor apartments. Someone thought these all up, and went so far as to patent them. And now, for the first time since their filing, the early drawings and accompanying proposals are available to the public to consume with both humor and appreciation.

Set to publish 9 December 2014, “Inventions that Didn’t Change the World” is available for preorder from Amazon for $22.

Images by Cool Hunting