3Contact Lenses Existed in the 19th Century
Eyes are fickle and vulnerable things, so of course science has spent a lot of time poking them. However, in this particular case, their efforts bore wonderful fruit: Ever since contact lenses gained FDA approval in 1971, their science-magic has been offering us an alternative to nerdy eyeglasses. Unlike the optically challenged poor sods just a few decades ago, we can freely and easily disguise our bad eyesight with contacts instead of douche-y hipster frames. If that's not progress, we don't know what is.
"There. My last flaw, covered up."
Actually Invented In ...
1888, the year that Jack the Ripper roamed the crumbling heights of Victorian stuffiness and Germany went through three whole kaisers (presumably because they couldn't decide whose mustache was the manliest).
For the record, this guy won.
Apart from the troubled era he lived in, there are two things you need to know about German inventor Adolf Fick: He came from a family of geniuses, each with a heavy penchant for pioneering research, and his field of choice was ophthalmology, so he literally spent his days poking eyeballs with things. With that background, it was really just a matter of time before he wound up looking for new, non-spectacled ways to improve eyesight.
University of Maryland
"If it doesn't improve your vision, you can still use it to kill ants."
Fick's prototype lenses are to modern contacts what the Model-T Ford is to a Ferrari: bulky, clumsy, and insulting to the eye. They were essentially eyeglass lenses, made of heavy blown glass that covered the entire eye, and they could only be worn for a few hours before the screaming pain outweighed the benefits of being able to see.
But hey, at least you didn't look like a nerd.
Fick tested his invention on rabbits, then molds cast from the eyes of cadavers, and finally on himself. (We're assuming he washed them in between uses.) After a two-hour test run failed to explode his eyeballs, six volunteers became the first contact lens wearers.
While Fick's lenses absolutely did work, their cumbersome nature and the extreme discomfort this wrought made them impractical. He discontinued his research in 1902, and nobody picked it up until the 1930s. At that point, the technology was sufficiently advanced for further development. By 1937, there were already around 4,000 contact lens users in America alone. The only reason the rest of us had to wait so long to get a pair was that until recently, the lenses were expensive as hell.
2They Had Seismographs Around the Time of the New Testament
If you live in an area that's prone to earthquakes, volcanoes, or other ground-based forms of overkill that our precious planet likes to throw at us, a seismometer can be the only thing that stands between you and the lava-filled crevasse that just opened up under your house. Understandably, mankind's need to invent a device that could keep up with Earth's bullshit has always been pretty urgent. That's why seismometers and seismographs have been around for a while: The earliest designs date as far back as 1880.
Like every machine in the 19th century, it was powered by coal and whiskey.
That is, the earliest modern designs.
Actually Invented In ...
The year 132. No, that is not a typo.
Back then, Roman soldiers were lounging about Hadrian's Wall and the Greeks were busy building temples for Zeus. Meanwhile, in China, Zhang Heng was sciencing the hell out of the universe. Zhang was a scholar of the Han Dynasty and a borderline superhero: The list of his scientific and artistic achievements is positively Da Vincian, and he was a powerful politician to boot.
"No, dude, that topknot totally hides your bald spot."
Also, he invented a machine whose function couldn't be replicated for 1,700 years.
Zhang's seismometer was all the more impressive because earthquake studies weren't really a thing back in 132. People just kind of figured they happened because a deity was pissed off or something and there was not much to be done. Zhang Heng politely disagreed and started tinkering, because if a god was about to punish your country, you might want a warning system.
Zhang's machine was a delightful mix of science, art, and tripping balls: a big bronze pot with dragon statues watching in eight directions, each holding a bronze ball in its mouth. The dragon mouths were calibrated so that at the slightest tremor of the ground, the head closest to the source would drop its ball into the mouth of a toad at the base of the device, indicating not only the earthquake, but also the direction of the earthquake. Zhang called it his "instrument for measuring the seasonal winds and the movements of the Earth," and it fucking worked. The machine was said to be capable of sensing an earthquake that was happening hundreds of miles away.
Each of those frog mouths was just large enough to accommodate one Imperial Nut. Most history books leave that out.