Gadgets and Gizmos

Humber Museums Partnership - Gadgets and Gizmos

About Gadgets and Gizmos


People have been inventing gadgets and gizmos since prehistoric times.

Technology has progressed in leaps and bounds since the early days of flint and stone tools, and we now live in a world where there seems to be a gadget or gizmo for every situation. This exhibition looks at some of the inventions that have improved everyday life during the last 200 years. We will be focusing on the Victorian period, the 1950s and the 1980s, and looking at some of the many gadgets and gizmos to be found in our homes.

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  • Neanderthal Camp

  • Space Shuttle and Mir Space Station

  • 1950s Housewife with Oven

The Victorians

The Victorian period was a time of great invention. Many objects that we take for granted today, such as cameras, music players and telephones, originated with the Victorians.

Until the 18th century, the majority of manufacturing was carried out by hand and on a small scale. The technological changes of the Industrial Revolution led to the development of intensive production in factories.

This mass production fed the demand for goods created by a growing middle class. Rather than craftsmen making items to order, large quantities of identical goods could be manufactured and sold in high street shops or advertised in catalogues.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 showcased the finest inventions the Victorians had to offer. These included an eighty bladed penknife, a folding piano, a defensive umbrella and a rubber cape which could be inflated to form a canoe.

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  • Crystal Palace 1851

  • Photography Studio 1893

  • The Great Exhibition Interior


During the 1950s, as Britain began to emerge from the rationing and austerity of the Second World War, consumers had more spending money and choice than before. Luxury items previously only available to the wealthy, such as televisions, refrigerators and cars, became more widespread. Teenage culture developed for the first time, leading to a demand for goods that would mark them out as different from the adult world.

The Festival of Britain was held in London in 1951. It was intended to promote a feeling of recovery and showcased Britain’s contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts. The Festival was located in a specially constructed site on London’s South Bank and featured sights such as the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon Tower.

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  • 1951 Festival of Britain Poster

  • Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock 1957

  • Teenager Party 1950s


Advances in technology during the 1980s saw cool new gadgets and gizmos appearing almost every week. The first personal computers and mobile phones were launched, although they were very different to their modern counterparts. Early mobile phones were the size of a brick and had no facility for texts or internet browsing, while computers such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum had less memory than a mobile phone of today.

The introduction of the Walkman made music portable for the first time and it quickly became popular with joggers, roller-skaters and teenagers.

Not all these new technologies survived. When videos were first invented, there were two competing systems, VHS and Betamax. By the late 1980s, VHS had come to dominate the market and Betamax had largely dropped out of use.

Humber Museums Partnership