Once upon a time presents were exchanged on New Years. But an 1848 engraving of the Royal Family gathered around a decorated Christmas tree piled with gifts was published in the Illustrated London News. The story went viral and Christmas stole gifts from New Years. Queen Victoria and her German-born Prince Albert shaped many of the Christmas traditions we still follow. (Of course, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens published in 1843, helped.) Shopping for Christmas presents was always a tricky endeavor. Following are ten Victorian Christmas Gifts that made the top ten list.
Sketches of early bicycles date back to the late 1400s. But bicycles as we know them became popular in 1867 in Paris where Pierre Michaux and his three brothers found commercial success selling velocipedes.
The first female velocipede racer paved her way to victory of 1868 by demonstrating female pedal power. Bicycles of all types evolved throughout the later 1800s making them hugely popular on Santa’s list to this day.
For less than $100, we can enjoy 3D life wherever and whenever. With a gizmo 7.7 x 6.6 x 5 inches, you can see street festivals around the world, fly through the Alps, snag front-row seats to a major event, or kayak through a protected rainforest. Carlo Ponti (1823–1893) patented the first in the family of these devices in 1860. In 1862, his Super-sized Virtual Reality Megalethoscope brought the world to armchair travelers just as VR is doing for us today. With a huge price tag and alarming size of 20″ wide x 36″ long x 24″ high, this gift was not for everyone on your list.
According to legend, the Christmas Pickle was a time-honored German tradition that found its way to America in the Victorian Era. Parents would wait until Christmas Eve to hide a small pickle-shaped ornament somewhere on the tree. The first child to spot it on Christmas morning received a special treat. Sadly, this legend lands historians in a pickle because it was probably a piece of fake news.
However, in the “true” column is the fact that Christmas ornaments were being imported to America from Germany in the late 1800s. A salesman with glass ornaments from Germany called on Frank Woolworth’s store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1880. It’s entirely possible that Woolworth ended up with a good price on a box of pickle ornaments and needed a quick story to sell them off. Either way, they became a bonafide holiday favorite.
One of the biggest hits of the first International Exposition of Electricity in Paris held near the Champs-Élysées August 15, 1881 was the Theatrophone. An exhibition of eight apartments buzzed with new electric devices never imagined. Familiar rooms including a kitchen were filled with the unfamiliar. The Theatrophone became a favorite device for the techies on Santa’s list. Perhaps the most famous addict of this new service was Marcel Proust. He complained of excessive fatigue when he became enthralled with his new device with he kept by his bed.
Josephine Cochrane’s dishwasher invention was awarded a patent on December 28, 1886. Although powered by a hand crank their final design was similar to today’s electric dishwashers. Cochrane was a well-heeled socialite who enjoyed lavish entertaining. She had expensive china and little tolerance when the help chipped her fine family heirlooms so she invented the newfangled device. Granted, this was a gift that could only be afforded by some. But for those people, the dishwasher definitely made Santa’s must-have list.
The 19th was an explosive time for inventions. It seems we couldn’t live without countless items that saw their beginnings in the 1800s. Just to name a few: the vacuum cleaner, the flushing toilet and the light bulb. Perhaps most important of all was the Victorian Era Hidden Camera. During the 1880s, cameras designed to be used while hand-held became increasingly popular. Dramatic changes in photographic technology enabled people to take spontaneous, candid photographs without the subject’s knowledge or permission. Nothing makes the holidays merrier than candid photos of family and friends.
George Eastman’s first affordable camera sold in 1888 was a simple box with a fixed-focus lens and one shutter speed. It was called the Kodak. This evolved into the Brownie series. The early Kodak was pre-loaded for 100 photographs. When finished, the budding photographer sent the camera back to the factory where the pictures were processed and the camera reloaded. In essence Kodak had created a “no-brainer.”
Kodak Girls were at the center of the new camera’s ad campaigns for decades. Kodak Girls were on the go. They traveled around the world, launched new businesses and documented special moments for their families. Of course, most important among these were Christmas Holidays.
This game was all the rage at parties and social gatherings in the late 1880s. It was also one of the first mass produced Victorian Era games. The story involved a wide-eyed “country bumpkin” named Peter Coddle who came to New York where he was astounded by the wonders of the big city. People could put this in the more affordable gift column.
Nellie Bly was all the rage in the Christmas of 1889 when she was in the middle of her race to beat Jules Verne’s fictional record from Around The World In Eighty Days. Bly was the stunt journalist who barged into Pulitzer’s offices at the New York World Newspaper with ideas for stories he could not resist. Among those stories was the race that created news. She set sail on November 14, 1889. Sadly, the board game did not include Bly’s archrival, Elizabeth Bisland who set sail in the opposite direction to beat Nellie Bly. Even so, this was a fantastically popular game in its day and definitely a must-have on the Christmas list.
Emily Warren Roebling, the first female field engineer, completed construction of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 23, 1883. The bridge was an instant success. It was also the victim of droves of scam artists.
Late 19th-century con artist George Parker sold real estate. Most famously he sold the Brooklyn Bridge–reportedly many times during his “career” before he was convicted for life in Sing Sing—not to mention Santa’s Naughty List. In addition to the Brooklyn Bridge, Parker was also known to sell the Statue of Liberty, the original Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He even sold Grant’s Tomb, claiming to be the general’s grandson. Any one of these great monuments would certainly rank high on the Christmas Wish List.
Racing Nellie Bly
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