Inventions That Didn't Change the World

Julie Halls

A captivating, humorous, and downright perplexing selection of nineteenth-century inventions as revealed through remarkable–and hitherto unseen–illustrations from the British National Archive

Inventions that Didn’t Change the World is a fascinating visual tour through some of the most bizarre inventions registered with the British authorities in the nineteenth century. In an era when Britain was the workshop of the world, design protection (nowadays patenting) was all the rage, and the apparently lenient approval process meant that all manner of bizarre curiosities were painstakingly recorded, in beautiful color illustrations and well-penned explanatory text, alongside the genuinely great inventions of the period. Irreverent commentary contextualizes each submission as well as taking a humorous view on how each has stood the test of time.

This book introduces such gems as a ventilating top hat; an artificial leech; a design for an aerial machine adapted for the arctic regions; an anti-explosive alarm whistle; a tennis racket with ball-picker; and a currant-cleaning machine. Here is everything the end user could possibly require for a problem he never knew he had.

Organized by area of application—industry, clothing, transportation, medical, health and safety, the home, and leisure—Inventions that Didn’t Change the World reveals the concerns of a bygone era giddy with the possibilities of a newly industrialized world.


Sometimes an idea isn't as wonderful or useful as its inventor thinks. Halls takes you on an illustrated tour of some of the most unique and unusual inventions registered in Britain in the 19th century.

— New York Public Library

[Julie Halls] does a lovely job investigating the social and cultural back stories that led to the design of an Improved Pickle Fork and a Bona Fide Ventilating Hat, to name just a few, revealing the Victorians to be not just ingenious but wildly insecure about their social status, their bodies and their safety.

— The New York Times

Many of the contraptions may seem silly today, such as a current-cleaning machine or a 'portable smelting apparatus' that would allow you to meld metal on the run. Still, notes Ms. Halls, the devices vividly illustrate the era's rising consumer demand and fascination with innovation and practical science.

— The Wall Street Journal

Shows us that we were always obsessed with technological innovations that promised to make our lives better.

— Fast Co.Create

While no single gadget in [this] books changed life as we know it, collectively they shaped an outlook on innovation that exists even today.


A remarkable collection of design drawings for inventions long forgotten.

— The Miami Herald

Covering everything from home and garden to sport and safety, these misfit inventions tell as story that grew curiouser and curiouser. This is the perfect book for your quirky uncle who spends too much time tinkering in the basement.

— The Washington Post

Whether or not all the inventions stood the test of time doesn't matter so much; the culture of amateur inventing as a whole can be credited for creating an environment that encouraged tinkering, discovery, and therefore progress.



Julie Halls


?Julie Halls works at The National Archives, London, and is a specialist in 19th-century registered designs. ?