Plastic

Plastic

1856

In 1856 British scientist Alexander Parkes created the first man-made plastic from cellulose treated with nitric acid. Trademarked as Parkesine, Parkes’ invention soon won him a bronze medal at the 1862 Industrial Exhibition in London and, as a result, he decided to ramp up production of the new material. Unfortunately, after beginning mass production of the plastic, a mixture of demand and high costs saw his company fail and, by 1868, Parkesine was no longer made.

Light bulb

yellow light bulb

1835

Many years before Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan introduced their own light bulbs to the world, a Scotsman called James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated a constant electric light at a public meeting in Dundee. Reportedly, Lindsay’s light was so powerful and stable — for 1835 at least — that he could read his book from a distance of 0.4 metres (1.5 feet). Lindsay had invented the world’s first electric light bulb, however he neither patented the device nor sold it, instead moving on to wireless telegraphy. Regardless, Lindsay’s innovation was continuously honed in the following decades and, after Edison married a stable electric generator to this revolutionary light-giving device, the stage was set for its widespread adoption. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without electric light bulbs and they’re often voted one of the greatest inventions of all time in polls.

Photography

Photography

1826

For centuries the only way to record a person or place was with paint, which was a time-consuming and expensive process. That all began to change in 1826 when Joseph Nicephore Niepce — a French inventor from Chalon-sur-Saone — produced the first permanent photographic image by covering a pewter plate with bitumen. Niepce continued to experiment and, after replacing the bitumen with silver, produced one of today’s earliest surviving photographs.

Canned food

Canned food

1810

While canned food may get a bad rap today for not being ‘fresh’, it has been and remains a critical source of nourishment in many parts of the world. Indeed, canned food has many benefits, including acting as a preservative and providing a protective container for transportation. As such, when it was invented in the early-19th century, it radically transformed what the average person ate.