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Historical Facts: 19th Century

The British laid 5,000 miles of rails in less then twenty years, a fact that led to British railway workers being paid three times the wages of other railway workers. Posted 8/15/2010

The introduction of window screens in the 1880s was said to be the “most humane contribution the 19th century made to the preservation of sanity and good temper.” Posted 7/15/2011

By the 19th century, it was routine to take beds apart at least once a year and paint them with disinfectant or varnish to get rid of bed bugs.  Manufacturers often advertised how quickly their beds could be dismantled for this annual maintenance. Posted 8/15/2012

The image of servants in black uniforms in frilly caps, starched aprons, and the like actually reflects a fairly short-lived reality.  Servants’ uniforms didn’t become routine until the rise of cotton imports in the 1850s.  Before then, the quality of clothes worn by the upper classes was so instantly and visibly superior to that of working classes, that it wasn’t necessary to distinguish servants with uniforms. Posted 4/01/2013

If a woman wanted to show off her legs in the early 19th century, she could appear at a transvestite ball, which were made popular in Russia by the Tsarina Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great.  She personally organized a number of these balls at her winter palace in St. Petersburg.  The gentlemen were required to wear false breasts, but the ladies were not required to wear false calves. Posted 10/15/2013

From the late 18th century to the early 20th century breadcrumbs were used to clean satin ballroom dancing slippers. Posted 5/15/2014

In the 19th century amateur accomplishment in art were considered an advantageous social refinement for a girl.  However, professional studies in life-drawing classes were feared to compromise a woman’s virtue by inflaming her passions and making her unfit as a wife and mother.  It was even considered improper for women artists to draw undraped statuary in mixed company. Posted 3/15/2015

The first hair dryers were created by a woman who moved the hose attachment from the front of a vacuum cleaner to the back, so that air would blow out instead of in. Posted 4/15/2016

During the 19th century, one-third of all mill employees were children. Posted 9/15/2017

Equal pay for equal work was first put forth by Susan B. Anthony at the 1850 teacher’s convention. Posted 9/01/2018

The Statue of Liberty was inspired by the Roman pagan goddess, Libertas. Libertas is the Roman goddess of freedom, and she represents the freedom of action, freedom from restraint, and also signifies independence, personal rights, along with personal and social liberty. Posted 7/15/2019

Rousing sleepers so they would not be late for work was the job of the knocker-up (or knocker-upper), who sometimes used a pole to tap at the upper-floor windows of his or her clients in order to avoid waking up the whole household, or neighbors. Posted 10/15/2019

During the 19th century, theatre and opera chairs had wire rungs underneath the seat so you could store your top hat during the performance. Posted 12/01/2020

The Dentist’s Act of 1878 established a register of dentists but failed to make it unlawful for people without qualifications to practice.  So long as the unregistered did not call themselves dentists, they could be “dental experts” and put up signs reading Dental Parlor or Dental Surgery. Posted 1/01/2021

Medical care in New York City’s poorest slums was pretty nonexistent in the late 1890s, until social reformer Lillian Wald—founder of the Henry Street Settlement—established a visiting nurses service. Her nurses went from tenement to tenement offering free or low-cost check-ups and treatment, mostly for immigrant mothers and kids. Rather than climbing all those tenement stairs on their rounds, the nurses simply hopped from rooftop to rooftop. Posted 3/15/2021

In Britain, The Mandatory Schooling Act passed in 1880, making it compulsory to attend school for 5- to 12-year-olds. This was a real hardship for poorer families, because they lost the income the children were bringing in. Posted 9/01/2021


In December 1880, inventor Thomas A. Edison hung the first electric Christmas lights outside his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Posted 12/15/2021


The first Westminster dog show was held May 8 of 1877, and 1,201 dogs were shown in Manhattan. Westminster Kennel Club was started by sporting gentlemen who used to meet in the Westminster Hotel bar 'to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments.' When they decided to form a club, they could not agree on a name and so called it after the Westminster Hotel bar where they met. Other than the Kentucky Derby, the annual Westminster dog show is the longest continuous sporting event in the US. Posted 5/01/2022

Among the first commercially successful mechanical writing devices was the "writing ball," invented by Rasmus Malling-Hansen, a Danish teacher of the deaf, who wanted to provide a mechanical means of communication for the deaf and mute. In 1870, he patented a working model of the machine in Europe and received the first of three U.S. patents in 1872. The application for his "Type Writing-Machine" (US Patent 125,952), detailed how type-carrying plungers made an imprint on a piece of paper wrapped on a cylinder. Controlled by a pendulum or electricity, the machine’s spring-driven mechanism rotated the cylinder line by line and letter by letter. He suggested that the "types"—today called "keys"—should be arranged in two clusters, vowels for the left hand, consonants for the right., Early adopters like German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche had embraced the writing ball long before businesses made typewriters viable on a mass scale. Posted 9/01/2022

May 1, 1884 – The eight-hour workday is first proclaimed by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in the United States. This date, called May Day or Labour Day, becomes a holiday recognized in almost every industrialized country.

Labour Day (Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September in the United States) is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour-day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. Posted 5/01/2023

The Butterick name is mostly associated with sewing. What is not commonly known is that in the late 19th Century, the two biggest names in fashion were Charles Frederick Worth and Ebenezer Butterick. Worth created haute couture for the upper classes; Butterick created sewing patterns based on haute couture for the masses. At the height of the Butterick’s fashion empire in the 1890s, they were the second largest printer in the United States after the U.S. Government, with stores in every major city in the world. Posted 12/30/2023

On May 20, 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received a patent for using copper rivets on the heavy duty cotton cloth trousers they produced. These “Blue Jeans” are virtually indestructible and were marketed to miners, farmers, mechanics, and cattle raisers. They were called originally "Copper Riveted Overalls." The name Blue Jeans was not used before the 1960s. Posted 5/15/2023

In 1840 the Coal Act was passed forbidding women to be used as pit ponies in the mines. Posted 3/01/2011

During the 19th century, 50% of England’s population was “in domestic service.” Posted 10/15/2011

19th century corsets reduced a woman’s waist by four inches and exerted anywhere from 25-80 pounds of pressure per square inch on her body. Posted 3/15/2011

Before the First World War, the tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower. Posted 2/01/2013

The term "milkshake" was first used in print in 1885, and referred to an alcoholic whiskey drink that has been described as a "sturdy, healthful eggnog type of drink, with eggs, whiskey, etc., served as a tonic as well as a treat." Posted 7/15/2013

Up until the mid-1800s, marshmallow candy was used medicinally. Doctors extracted juice from the roots of the marsh-mallow plant and cooked it with egg whites and sugar, then whipped it into a foamy meringue. This hardened, and the resulting candy soothed children's sore throats. Eventually, advanced manufacturing processes replaced the root juice with gelatin, which eliminated any healing properties. Posted 1/15/2014

19th century etiquette stated that a gentleman never offered a lady his arm during the daytime.  However, in the evening it was appropriate for her to take his arm. Posted 12/01/2014

Until electricity, ballerinas routinely perished when the muslin of their tutus caught fire from the gas lamps used to light the stage; the deaths were referred to at the time as the “holocaust of ballet girls.” (The remedy, flame-retardant fabrics, was seen by many as too ugly to wear.) Posted 12/15/2015

At the end of the 19th century, educators began to promote physical activity as necessary for a young woman’s health.  Schools began to build gymnasiums.  The general philosophy of physical education was different for women than for men.  Men played to win.  Women exercised for their health. Posted 9/15/2016

“Crinoline fires” killed 3,000 women between the late 1850s and late 1860s in England. Women would lose sense of the circumference of their skirts, which caused them to step too close to a fire grate.  The flames would be fanned by the oxygen circulating under their skirts and caused them to catch fire. Posted 12/01/2016

Formal Victorian dinners consisted of 10-12 courses with 2-4 dishes per course and a different wine with each course. 12/15/2017

When the Duke of Wellington, he of the Battle of Waterloo fame, showed up at a famous ballroom in London, the matrons who ran the balls to ensure strict adherence to etiquette turned him away, because he showed up wearing trousers instead of the more formal breeches. Posted 5/15/2019

A Gandy Dancer is slang for a railroad worker who maintained the tracks in the years before the work was taken over by machines. Posted 9/15/2019

The pony express lasted from April 1860 to October 1861. It was created to provide the fastest mail delivery between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. It was also used to try and gain the million dollar government mail contract for the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. It consisted of a total of 183 men and 400 horses to travel day and night, summer, and winter. The riders were paid one hundred dollars per month. Posted 4/15/2020

In 1885, German engineer Gottlieb Daimler unveiled the world's first motorcycle, the Daimler Reitwagen. It was partially named for its creator, Gottlieb Daimler, while “Reitwagen” means “riding wagon” or “single track.” The Daimler Reitwagen was on two wheels that followed a single track, as opposed to a four-wheeled carriage, which rode on two tracks.

Daimler's motorcycle was essentially a wooden bicycle frame without foot pedals that was powered by an internal combustion four-stroke engine mounted on rubber blocks. The Daimler Reitwagen was fueled by gasoline, which was not common at the time. Previous vehicles of the time had tiny two-cylinder engines powered by steam. It also featured two iron tread wooden wheels, as well as two outrigger wheels to keep it stable, and it achieved a top speed of about 11 kmph (6 mph).

Daimler’s priority was to make his single-cylinder engine usable for mobile vehicles. The Daimler Reitwagen remains the first gasoline internal combustion motorcycle, a milestone in the history of technology, and was the forerunner of all land, sea, and air vehicles, using an engine that was small and powerful compared to other combustion engines of the day used for stationary operation.

The engine’s popularity and practicality caught on, leading to its use in both boats and cars, specifically four-wheeled carriages. Eventually, the engine was used in the construction of a four-wheeled vehicle that was designed from scratch as an automobile. Posted 7/2021

The most photographed horsecar line ran from 1833 to 1910 in Englewood, Colorado. The horse would pull the car one-and-a-half miles uphill, and then the horse boarded the car via a wooden ramp and rode back downhill with the passengers.

Posted 7/2022

Ida Holdgreve is credited with being the first female American aerospace worker. She was born in Delphos, Ohio in 1881. In her 20s she moved to Dayton to look for work. She saw an ad in the paper that advertised for "Plain Sewing Wanted". She was an excellent seamstress, so she answered the ad. It was, in fact, an ad for "Plane Sewing Wanted" by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Ida became the head seamstress at the Wright Brothers Airplane Factory, sewing the cover for the fuselage, wings, and rudders. Despite her work with airplanes Ida did not take her first airplane ride until 1969 at age 88.

Posted 3/01/2023

The Butterick name is mostly associated with sewing. What is not commonly known is that in the late 19th Century, the two biggest names in fashion were Charles Frederick Worth and Ebenezer Butterick. Worth created haute couture for the upper classes; Butterick created sewing patterns based on haute couture for the masses. At the height of the Butterick’s fashion empire in the 1890’s, they were the second largest printer in the United States after the U.S. Government, with stores in every major city in the world. Posted 3/2023

In 1870, the Marriage law in Britain was relaxed so that betrothals were no longer legally binding or blessed by the church, and they thus began to be called engagements. Posted 6/2023

In 1845, the world-famous store Tiffany's produced the first mail order catalog in the United States. Posted 12/1/2023

Yellowstone National Park was appointed the United States' first national park on March 1st, 1872. It covers more than three and a half thousand square miles of plateaus, mountains, and valleys in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. The park's fossils, lava flows, volcanic remains, forests, and other mountainous features such as its hot springs and geysers (like Old Faithful) have made it a national treasure. Posted 3/1/2024

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