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titleTechnology in the Time Machine

The London Sanitation System

Pulling things together, I reach a strong suggestion of an extensive system of subterranean ventilation, whose true import it was difficult to imagine. I was at first inclined to associate it with the sanitary apparatus of these people. (Wells, 27)

The London sanitation system was one of the great feats of the 19th century in terms of both the scale of the project and the affect it had on the lives of people living in London. Improved sanitation led to a steep decline in the mortality rate as less people died from pollution related diseases, such as cholera. Prior to the London sewer system, all waste was drained directly into the Thames River, contaminating the same water supply that many Londoners used for their daily activities. The year 1858 would be known as “The Great Stink” in London, where the combination of an unusually hot summer and the abundance of waste in the Thames and its tributary caused much of the city to smell of human waste.[4] Realizing the importance of a modern sewer system, the city immediately began constructing a massive underground sewer network consisting of over 1300 miles of pipes sewers, carrying waste away from the city to the Thames Estuary, away from the most populous areas of the city.[4]

The rapid urbanization of London and improved sanitary conditions of the city led to a boom in the population. The number of people in London grew from approximately 2.8 million in 1861 to 6.7 million people in 1900.[7] Despite several major initiatives to update and expand on the original sewer system in the 20th century, London largely still uses this system of sewers and tunnels constructed over a hundred years before.

The London Metropolitan Rail 

There is a tendency to utilize underground space for the less ornamental purposes of civilization; there is the Metropolitan Railway in London, for instance, there are new electric railways, there are subways, there are underground workrooms and restaurants, and they increase and multiply. (Wells, 40)

The London Metropolitan Railway was the first underground rail system built in London, with construction beginning in 1860. With the rapid population increase of London in the 19th century, road and rail congestion had become a major problem, and government officials discussed plans for an underground rail system a decade before in 1853.[1]

Despite the need for an additional rail system, many feared an underground system would be dangerous to the city, that residents whose home had to be demolished to construct the underground rail system would create problems, that the vibrations from the railway system would make nearby buildings unsafe, and that construction of the railway underground would inadvertently open into hell.[1]

The initial line of over 3 miles was completed and opened to the public in 1863, and was immediately recognized as a success, carrying up to 38,000 Londoners around the city per day.  The line was continually expanded through the late Victorian period to the 20th century, where, in 1890, the underground rail system was electrified.[1]

The Portable Camera

I had come without arms, without medicine, without anything to smoke- at times I missed tobacco frightfully!- even without matches. If only I had thought of a Kodak! I could have flashed that glimpse of the Underworld in a second, and examine it at leisure. (44)

George Eastman was the founder of the Eastman Kodak company. He is responsible for popularizing roll film, buying the patent from its creator, Peter Houston . Roll film allowed more mobility in cameras and made photography more accessible to the masses. Portable cameras requiring roll film became widely available, and offered a cheap alternative to earlier cameras. Eastman was a major philanthropist of the time, donating approximately 100 million dollars to charitable causes in the United States and Europe as well as educational and medical institutions. [3]


In once place I suddenly found myself near the model of a tin mine, and then by the merest accident I discovered, in an air-tight case, two dynamite cartridges! I shouted "Eureka", and smashed the case with joy. (Wells, 55)

When The Time Machine was released, the explosive dynamite was still a relatively recent invention. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish physicist and the namesake of the Nobel price, invented dynamite in 1863 and obtained a patent for it in 1867 [2]. After an accident in his Nitroglycerin factory, killing his younger brother and several others, Nobel set out to create an explosive device that could be more safely and easily managed than nitroglycerin. Dynamite was considered the first explosive device safely manageable; in previous years black powder was used for detonations. It immediately gained popularity in demolitions, mining, and the military. Nobel continued to work with explosives until the 1890s, creating a gelatin explosive product called ballistite [2].

The Transatlantic Telegraph and the Telephone

What would he know of railway companies, of social movements, of telephone and telegraph wires, of the parcel delivery companies, and postal orders, and the like? (34)

The first transatlantic telegraph was send in 1858 and the message read: "Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men.[5]" Queen Victoria and US President James Buchanan shared the first few telegraphs, congratulating each other and stating that the new transatlantic telegraph would usher in an unprecedented age of communication and friendship between nations and would aid in bringing God and civilization throughout the world [5].

Meanwhile, nearly twenty years later in 1876, Alexander Bell conducted the very first successful test of the telephone.[6] The phone was hailed as a momentous step forward in communication, but sales were poor before the Bell Telephone Company was formed. Alexander Bell went to England to personally demonstrate the use of the telephone to Queen Victoria, who called London from the Isle of Wright, marking the first long distance call in England [8]. Later that year, in June, the telephone would be commercially available in England and the orders for telephone poles to be erected in London. By 1884, there were 13,000 telephones in use in the UK [8].

Click to read more about the history of the telephone and the telegraph


1. Metropolitan Railway. Wikipedia. Date of Access: May 3rd, 2012. <>

2. Dynamite. Wikipedia. Date of Access: May 5th, 2012. <>

3. George Eastman. Kodak Company. Date of Access: April 29th, 2012. <>

4. The Great Stink. Martin Frost. Date of Access: May 3rd, 2012. <>
5. HistoryWired: A few of our favorite things. HistoryWired. Date of Access: May 3rd, 2012. <

6. The History of the Telephone- Alexander Graham Bell. Mary Bellis. Date of Access: May 5th, 2012. <>

7. Greater London, In London Population & Density History. Demographia. Date of Access: May 5th, 2012 <>

8. UK Telephone History.British Telecom Archives. December, 2010. Date Accessed:May 3rd, 2012. <>