Important Ideas of the 19th Century

Important Ideas of the 19th Century

In the 19th century, man has seen some of the most revolutionary ideas in human history. These ideas have not only shaped the way we live our lives, but they have completely changed the way we view ourselves and the world around us. Significant new ideas have come by way of science,philosophy and religion, psychology, and sociology. There were simply too many important ideas during the 19th century to go over all of them so here we will just look over some of the ones of greatest significance.

Scientific Ideas

Perhaps the most significant idea of the 19th century was that of Charles Darwin. His Theory of Evolution had major implications on the scientific thinking, religious thinking, and social thinking of the 19th century. His theory postulated that all life we see today can be traced back to a common ancestor. With this came the idea that even humans had descended from some ape-like being. Prior to the introduction of this theory, the widely accepted belief was that God had created humans directly approximately 6,000 years ago. The Theory of Evolution not only challenged the origin of man, but also the age of the earth as well.

The 19th century also saw a tremendous explosion in population. This was due in large part to scientific breakthroughs which led to a significantly better understanding of the causes of diseases and how to prevent their occurrence. One man responsible for some of these ideas was Louis Pasteur. He is most widely recognized for inventing the process which stops milk from causing sickness, called pasteurization. He also developed the first vaccine for rabies and was responsible for experiments which helped to rid the world of spontaneous generation theories. His work aided to the overall healthiness of the human race as well as started a tree of scientific knowledge which branched out and started many of the fields of science that exist today.

Incredible ideas in the discipline of mathematics also arose in the 19th century. However, few mathematicians of the time have achieved as much as Carl Friedrich Gauss.  Surely anyone  will admit that he was one of the finest mathematician of the 19th century, but many will also say that he was one of the brightest mathematician of any time period, including today. His work in mathematics and science created a foundation upon which many advancements across several fields of study could flourish from. Many people who do not study mathematics may not have heard of Gauss or any of his accomplishments, but nonetheless without the applications that sprouted from the work of Gauss, our technology would probably not be where it is at today.

Philosophical and Religious Ideas

Georg Hegel, a German philosopher, was responsible for introducing a significant alternative way to view the course of human history. He saw it as a dialectical, in other words, history progressed through a series of contradictions followed by solutions to those contradictions. Hegel believed the new synthesis of two opposing theories was a certain path that the world would take, a path he thought of as the Absolute.  His work in philosophy was significant in its own right, but it also was a major influence on other prominent thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

One philosopher whom Hegel’s work had an impact on, was the work of political economist and German philosopher Karl Marx. Although he is most widely known because his ideas provided the foundation of modern communism, it seems to me that people generally do not know much the actual ideas of Marx. Similar to Hegel’s philosophical view of history, Marx saw a dialectic struggle between social classes. The upper classes take advantage of the hard working lower classes who then revolt and this process continues. Marx believed that capitalism would eventually destroy itself due to the exploitation of the lower class by the upper class, and that true progress could not be made by the human race until it abolishes classes and gives up its obsession with material things. The philosophical views of Marx greatly influenced many areas of philosophy including: political, historical, ethics, epistemology, and aesthetics.

The British philosopher John Stewart Mill also contributed to some of the most revolutionary ideas of the 19th century. His friend Jeremy Bentham developed the theory of Utilitarianism, and Mill strongly advocated his form of Utilitarianism. This theory postulated that the moral worth of something you do is solely determined by the amount of pleasure or happiness it brings to everyone.  This theory had tremendous influence on political thought.  Mill is also thought of as the first male feminist because of his beliefs towards women’s rights.

Other Significant Ideas of the 19th Century

Possibly the most famous name of psychology is that of Sigmund Freud. He was born in the mid 19th century and was the founder of the psychoanalysis.One of  the most significant ideas that Freud contributed to us was the idea of the unconscious.  He believed that within the unconscious, sexual drives motivated us and our actions could sometimes be explained by these drives. By no means are Freud’s ideas widely accepted by all the highly respected psychologists, but his approach and methods inspired new directions which psychologists and scientists could take to find an answer to how the human mind works.

Every century is filled with excellent ideas that have changed the way human beings carry on with their lives. The 19th century is no exception. In fact, one can argue that the 19th century can be characterized as a time when some of the brightest and most influential people lived and did the work which inspired the future.  The very future which is our present.



The 19th century was a time of great change and intriguing beauty…


The music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, Erik Satie, and Claude Debussy all have something in common yet they all have distinctly different music styles. Music in the 19th century was an escape from reality much as it is today. Music was used to express the emotions felt by composers of the time, in order to reach the emotions of other people. Composing music is a very special artform, because it is the ability to take sounds and move the intermost parts of a persons soul. I am sure that the people who heard the music of the composers I will talk about, heard something that will never again be made so beautifully. These composers started the works that are now the music that we hear today, from classical to rock. The roots of our modern music start here…

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Child Prodigy

Ludwig van Beethoven was born to an obscure tenor singer in the latter half of the  1700’s. His exact date of birth is unknown. His father was known to be a violent and temporate man whose addiction to alchohol controlled him. He would beat Beethoven in order to “beat’ music lessons into the little boys head.  Beethoven was a very talented musician but his childhood was troubled and scary. He was so good, that at age 7 he appeared publicly. The “child prodigy” was destined for greatness.

Beethoven’s music was highly influenced by the political and social tensions that raveged Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. His compositions flowed from him like a forever flowing river. He was the first composer to go freelance by choice and was wealthy enough to own many apartments. Beethoven was the one of the most recognized composers of his time and he was on his way to being the very best until deafness started to cause turmoil in his life and he retreated to seclusion. He told one of his friends that he could not believe his fate and that he would overcome it.

For a long time the deafness persisted and he lost touch with reality. Some say he had a break down. But in that breakdown he continued to write some of the greatest music in the world. All he knew was music and even though he could not hear the music he was writing he could feel it in his mind. Beethoven left a legacy for other musicians to come. That legacy of overcoming even the toughest of obstacles to do what is in your heart.

Check out this link to hear some of Beethoven’s work:

Gustav Mahler: The Late Romatic

Gustav Mahler picture

Gustav Mahler experienced many tragic events in his life. These events were the inspiration he used to create the beautiful works he created. His first love was the love of music. Mahler was influenced by many other composers including; Beethoven and Bach. His works were those that he said were “about life”. He used a combination of nature sounds, and military and band music styles. His music is somewhat complex, but is some of the greatest music ever written.

He was born in 1860 to a family who had 14 children. He witnessed the death of many of his siblings and even the suicide of one of his brothers. He was married and though the love was strong with his marriage, they could not overcome the death of their daughter. His wife became addicted to alcohol and at the sanitorium where she was treated had an affair with another man. Although he was consumed with hardships he was still able to express happiness and hope in his music…

Check out this link to listen to Mahler’s work:

Erik Satie: The Eccentric

Satie was born in 1866 in Normandy, but moved to Paris in 1879 to study music. He was an eccentic man who did not want to follow the musical styles of other composers of his time. Because he did not want to follow the rules, he created many excellent pieces that portray a sound unlike any other. A critic of his music called it “surreal”. That began the term “Surrealism” and gave a whole knew experience to people who enjoyed the art of this time… Satie died from cirrosis of the liver in 1925.

Satie is one of my favorite composers for the very fact that he portrays a difference to other composers. His music makes me feel what he may have been feeling. It is like a real life reflection that can be enjoyed as much in the 19th and 20th centuries as it can be today.

Check out this link to hear some of Satie’s work:

Claude Debussey: The Oddball

Claude Debussy. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

Debussey was born in 1862 in France. At age 7 he entered the Paris Conservatory- school of the fine arts. He was recognized by some of his classmates as odd. He was also good friends with Erik Satie who I discussed earlier. He was highly influenced by the music of German composer Richard Wagner. After winning various contests and showing that he could create wonderful works of art he married a rich woman who gave him the livelyhood he needed to become extrememly productive with his writing. His life was a success as a musician. He died in 1918 from terminal cancer.

Check out some of Debussey’s work:


Painting by William Rudolphe Bouguereau in 1889…

Art of the 19th century was beautifully creative. In my opinion it was much different and more expressive from that of past centuries. This picture and portray  the beauty of a woman and the angels that stay by her side admiring the wonderful things she does with her life, or it can portray a woman in turmoil that the angels are trying to whisper in her ear what she needs to do. The thing I admire most about 19th century art and any art for that matter is the ablility for it to mean something different to every person, and that you can only begin to think of what the artist was feeling while they were making it. It is extraordinary to look at art and imagine what it was intended to mean, and what the artist was going through at that time.

Here is a link to look at some of the 19th century most famous works of art:


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19th century theatre began during the time of Romanticism and melodrama. Theatre began to evolve into realism that sparked the modernism that is known in today’s theatre. Realism was created in order to portray the nature of human relationships, and peoples functional and dysfuntional attributes.

Theatre in America began to grow incredibly by the latter half of the 19th century when money was fluent, and people had more time to create the laughter, glitz, and emotions of the artform. This grew especially in New York  City, which is  the home of Broadway, containing the largest theatre productions in America.

Acting was not always a respected profession and actors and actresses were socially ostricized. Up until the middle of the 1900’s this was the case.  The acting community was much the same as it is today in which many actors and actresses start as children coming from artistic families.  The personality traits of performers was also the same. They had to be a strong willed and determined as they are today if they wanted to be successful in the industry.


Photography of the 19th century was one of the greatest inventions. It made it capable to capture the moments in life that you could keep forever. Potraits were done in a posed fashion. Where the photographer would set up and the people would pose in a certain style. While today we can produce pictures in the matter of seconds, during the early 19th century exposure time was eight hours.. Over the course of the century cameras went from that to a higher speed exposure camera and the first Kodak camera was develped in 1900. Photography forever changed how we view the world, as through a lense… Images of the civil war shows what we should not repeat and gives people in the modern day the option to see what others felt.

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Styles changed throughout time, and the most used style today for people pictures is the candid photograph, where the picture is taken while people are in action. This type of photo expresses real life and people as they are…

Today’s photography:


Mark Twain:

Biography Of Mark Twain

Oh the good ol’ Mark Twain. Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn…Where would we be today without these books?


Incredible evolution has taken place since the 19th century that has given people the power to create, recreate and create some more. So many great things happened to change how people view the world. How people express themselves, and how people relate to what is going on around them. The people of this world are not that different then they were during the 19th century. We all have the same emotions, the same life experiences, and encounter the same political issues. It is amazing to research the great time of change because it allows me a chance to see just how much the 19th century influenced who we are today. It was the time when culture took the greatest stance on freedom of expression. We can not deny that these people had something to say. And I say: Thank you!



Scientific Discoveries of the 19th Century

The 19th century was not only a time of great change, but of also discovery.  Throughout the 19th century, many different aspects of science were found, expanded upon, and pursued.  Here are two scientific discoveries that have really changed the faces of the categories of science they are within.  Without either, our understanding of the universe and even within our own bodies would probably not be what they are today.

Spectroscopy Principles Spectroscopy was discovered by Gustav Kirchoff in 1859 with the help of Robert Bunsen; who created the Bunsen Burner for his own scientific experiments.  Using Bunsen’s burner invention as a part of this discovery, the two scientists used a prism-like device to separate visible light emitted by different substances and chemicals when they were vaporized by the Bunsen Burner’s flame.  Through this, they also determined that when light passed through a cooler gas, bright spectral lines turned dark; meaning, when a substance was heated, it emitted spectral lines when heated (bright colored lines appear) and absorbed light instead when cool (just dark lines).

Spectroscopy is the reading of a substance’s chemical make up through the use of breaking up light to see what chemicals are in the gas.  This is predominately used nowadays to find out the temperature and chemical makeup of starts far out in space.  Through the use of Spectroscopy, scientists were able to discover that the sun was a large gaseous star and what its atmosphere was made of.  This has lead to a far greater understanding of the different elements that make up the many bodies of our universe.

After the creation of Spectroscopy, William Huggins was the first person to use its technique to study celestial bodies in 1863.  He was also the one who found that the sun and stars are predominately made of Hydrogen, and he and his wife also studied comets and nebulae.

Perhaps one of the greatest discoveries that has helped save many lives since its discovery is the X-Ray.  Discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen, a German physicist, he called it a new form of radiation that “allowed him to photograph objects hidden behind opaque shields”.  One of the first pictures he took with the rays was one of his wife’s hand (pictured above) where her bones and ring are very easy to see.  Wilhelm also had fun taking pictures of his own skeleton.

He also called these rays “X-radiation” because at the time, he knew so very little about them and much of their make up was unknown.  Now, x-rays are known to be emitted by electrons outside of the nucleus of an atom and their wave lengths: Hard X-rays being the stronger and used for seeing through solid objects – such as crystal – and soft X-rays being much gentler.

Nowadays, X-rays are used rather extensively in medical diagnosis, but since an x-ray is formed by ionizing radiation, prolonged and unprotected exposure to them can cause health hazards.  Though he was pioneering the use of X-rays for medical use in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Major John Hall-Edwards had to have an arm amputated due to the radiation they caused if precautions were not taken.

This is a bad idea

This is what not to do when working with X-rays.

And yet without x-rays, we would not have MRI scans, CAT scans, and other machines and procedures for looking for internal problems without requiring exploratory surgery.

Important Inventions of the 19th Century

These are only a few of the great many inventions that the 19th century gave life to.  Through these inventions much of the very way people lived was changed and to return to a time before these discoveries would be very difficult, if not impossible. (work in progress)

Toilet Paper
19th Cent Toilet Paper Ad

Modern day toilet paper, as we all know it, is something that only came into being in the late 19th century.  Before1857, toilet paper came in the form of corncobs, newspaper pages, magazine pages, or even the specially made Farmer’s Almanac; which could be hung on a wall for easy access.  When 1857 came around, Joseph Gayetty invented toilet paper as we are familiar with it, but his came in piles of flat sheets.  This did not go over very well and the invention failed.  Walter Alcock later developed the rolled toilet paper, but his version did no better than Gayetty’s.  Success didn’t come until a group of brothers, Thomas, Edward and Clarence Scott, developed a rolled toilet paper with perferated sheets that tore easily in 1867.  The three brothers then founded the still successful Scott Paper Company.


Clothes would never be the same if the clasp locking zipper had never been created.  Whitcomb L. Judson developed his “clasp locker” in 1893, later patenting his idea and exhibiting it as the Chicago World’s Fair.  Though, he is considered the father of the zipper, Elias Howe first developed and patented the “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” in 1851.  However, Howe never pursued the idea and so Witcomb developed further upon the idea and created his own marketable version, though it met with little success.  The modern zipper we all know and love was designed by Gideon Sunback in 1913, and it was given its name “zipper” by B. F. Goodrich in 1923.  Supposedly he named them for the “zipping” noise they made, which he liked.


Dishwasher Ad

Before the dishwasher, like many other walks of life before an invention came along to make it easier, all dishes were washed by hand.  While this has not really changed, the time consumed doing so has.  In 1850, Joel Houghton patented the first dishwater which consisted of a hand powered wheel crank that splashed water on dishes.  A promising start, but his invention hardly did the job.  The first actual working automatic dishwasher was created by Mrs. Josephine Gari Cochran in 1889.  Operated very much like Houghton’s dishwasher, Cochran’s rotated the dishes within as the water churned and coated the dishes in hot soapy water.  Just like the “clasp locker”, her dishwasher made an appearance in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  Until the 1960’s, her machine was only bought by a few restaurants and hotels; remaining very much out of the common households and public interest.

Cash Register

Old Bar Cash RegisterUntil 1879, all transactions, anywhere, were done all by hand.  “Receipts” were written by hand and, no doubt, one had to have a sharp and quick mind to tally up a  purchase in a timely matter for the customer.  Probably aiming to make the task easier, James Ritty invented and patented the cash register.  An American tavern keeper, he gave his register the nickname “Incorruptible Cashier”, no doubt a joke to his customers.  Afterward, he founded the National Manufacturing Company to make and sell his creations.  In 1884, ownership switched when John H. Patterson bought the patent and company from Ritty and redesigned the register to improve it; even adding a roll of tape that printed out the transactions (a receipt as we know it).  These old registers were soon replaced by eletrontic ones in 1906, which were developed by Charles F. Kettering, who went on later to invent the electric car ignition for General Motors.

Bunsen Burner

A Bnsen Burner Stand
An invention initially not created for the good of the masses, the Bunsen Burner really changed how chemists could study chemicals and work on experients.  Robert Wilhelm Bunsen was a German chemist and teacher and created the burner in 1855 for the sole purpose of improving his experiments and as a means of heating chemicals with a non-luminous flame that would not interfere with the colored flames emitted as he tried to isolate chemicals.  Nowadays, they are widely used for the highly intense flames they can emit without interfering with emissions from other chemicals being studied and tested.


Storage Battery

Perhaps one of the greatest of all inventions that we heavily rely on now, the battery has come a very long way.  The oldest appearance of the battery comes in the form of the Baghdad Battery, though its true age is still unknown.  It wasn’t until 1800 that the first chemical battery, the beginning of the modern battery, did not appear until Alessandro Volta invented them and they remained the only type until 1859.  The type that followed then were Gaston Plante’s Storage Batteries (pictured above), lead-based batteries with the capacity to be recharged.  The Dry Cell, created by Georges Leclanche in the 1870’s removed the liquid basis within the casing; using a saturated metal instead.  The final type, and most likely the final “tweak” to the battery’s body were the Edison Batteries; created by Thomas Edison himself.  These batteries are also known as Alkaline batteries that stemmed from the Storage Battery type and used an alkaline electrolyte instead of the sulfiric acid Plante’s batteries used.

Now, where would our lives be if we did not have these inventions at the times they were created?  Most likely not as far as we are now.