The 1850s – Then and Now

During the Victorian goldrushes of the 19th century, people lived very different lives to those Australians lead today in the 21st century. We can understand these differences by taking a look at some examples of technologies etc. which highlight what has changed in our lives between then and now.

Do you think you could have lived in the 1850s? What listed in the ‘Now’ column couldn’t you live without today?

Then

Now

A meat safe (a fly-wire box which is covered with a damp cloth to keep food cool)

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Electric refrigerator

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Wooden, bone, paper and metal toys

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Plastic toys (plastic is made from petroleum or natural gas, and wasn’t invented until the 20th century)

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Humorism – the belief that illness was the result of an imbalance in the four humors (4 bodily liquids: blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile). Imbalances were thought to be caused by bad smells called ‘miasma’

Germ theory – the understanding that most illnesses are caused by microorganisms (bacteria, like viruses, fungi etc.) that spread easily if you don’t wash your hands or carefully manage sewage

A wash board and clothes mangle

A washing machine and tumble dryer

Newspaper, leaves, smooth stones or even your hand!

Toilet paper

Corset – a tight-fitting piece of structured underwear mainly worn by ladies to secure and train the torso

Bra – a complex piece of ladies’ underwear designed to support the breasts

Long-handled toasting fork – used to hold bread close to the fire to toast it

An electric toaster

Tooth powder often made of chalk, charcoal or bicarb soda – the wealthy used a brush, the poor used a finger

Tooth paste – made available once flexible metal tubes were invented in the 1890s

Pantalettes – long cotton ladies underwear that are secured with a button/ribbon

Cotton, elasticated underpants for ladies

Anaesthetics were being invented in the 1850s – before then only alcohol or cocaine were available to help with pain during surgery!

Modern anaesthetics to make either a small part or the entire body ‘fall asleep’ and not feel any pain during surgery

Phrenology – a ‘science’ that uses the shape of the skull to explain personalities and behaviours of people

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Psychology – a science that seeks to explain the chemistry, thoughts and behaviours of the brain/mind

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Dresses for babies and small children – including boys, who might wear a sort of dress until they were ‘breeched’ (a rite-of-passage that allows boys to start wearing pants – there’s a boy in a dress in this S. T. Gill sketch)

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Jumpsuits/bodysuits for babies (also known as ‘onesies’)

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Click on the S. T. Gill sketch to enlarge

Trains and boats

Aeroplanes and cars

Leeches and amputation were used to treat infections (this is a real 1850s amputation kit…)

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Antibiotics are now used to treat bacterial infections (this is the structural formula of penicillin)

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Flat (or ‘sad’) iron which is heated on the fire

Electric steam iron that you fill with water and plug into the electricity outlet in the wall

Newspapers, the postal service and the electric telegraph

The internet and mobile phone technology

A fob or pocket watch (a watch on a chain/necklace) powered by daily manual winding

A battery-powered wrist watch

Candles and gas lights (which were highly explosive and killed lots of people in their homes)

Electric lights

Life has changed dramatically in the last 160 years. In that time, we have popularised world-changing ideas like germ and evolutionary theory, and we invented amazing technologies like electricity, the car and the internet. How do you think it will change in the next 160 years?

Links and references

An article about the big ideas that have changed our world: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/jun/22/philosophy.plato

A video about the most important inventions humans have ever created: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwPw2VchQGQ

Changes to life expectancy across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo

The impact of the Industrial Revolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhL5DCizj5c&index=32&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9

The way the Industrial Revolution fostered globalisation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SnR-e0S6Ic&index=41&list=PLBDA2E52FB1EF80C9

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