Steampunk, before it became the full-blown sub-culture it is today, started out as a science-fiction sub-genre in the 1970s. Its fundamental inspirations go all the way back to 19th century Victorian writers, such as Jules Verne (author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and H.G. Wells (author of The Time Machine). Their tales of steam-powered dirigibles and Victorian-age settings have inspired, a century later, an aesthetically motivated and imaginatively driven alternative history in which the technology of the Victorian age reigns supreme over that of modern technology.
Steampunk also plucked from the feathers of a specific genre of Dime Novels from the 19th century. Dime Novels were very popular during this time because, as suggested by its title, these novels were very cheap. They were more often than not targeted at lower-income readers, those with a less sophisticated taste. Thus, the books were full of melodramatic romance and adventure, much like harlequin novels of today. There is evidence of Steampunk elements in the Dime Novels known as “Edisonades.”
An Edisonade, often appealing to a younger crowd, is an adventure of steam creatures and their inventors. One of the earliest examples of this type of Dime Novel is “The Steam Man of the Prairies” by Edward S. Ellis. This story would set many precedents of plot and theme for most others to come. It has been said by some that with this novel, “Steampunk was born.” One of the the more well-known examples is “The Steam House” by Jules Verne. Published in 1880, this story follows the travels of British colonists by way of a gigantic steam-powered elephant.
Like much having to do with Steampunk, its history has its debatable origins. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the sub-genre’s first authors truly got their inspiration. What is known, however, is that the inspiration was clearly taken from the Victorian Age (1837-1901). The Steampunk movement reaches directly into the pocket of Victorian England and predicts what the world would be like today had its inhabitants and inventors prevailed over modern technology.