Steampunk!, Look It Up!

When asked a question, didn’t all mothers use to say, “Look it up!” It was either their way of getting us to use the dictionary and encyclopedia, or avoiding an incorrect answer. I have a challenge for “shirlandyou” readers, look up steampunk and tell me what you find. What makes it a challenge? If you don’t have a newer edition of Webster’s you won’t find it. It’s not in mine, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, and in fact, my computer keeps underlining the word in red.

Steampunk was new to my husband and I, until we were invited to bring “Shirl

These attendees dressed for the Victorian era, posed in front of “Shirl Belle” our Band organ. The gentleman sports a space-age arm contraption

Belle,” our band organ,  to The Watch City Festival, in Waltham, Massachusetts. When the Waltham factory began production of pocket watches, they sold for $12 to $16, a lot of money in that day and age. But today, tucked in my husband’s vest was a Waltham pocket watch complete with a gold chain, a watch he had completely refurbished years ago. (That’s when he was repairing watches and clocks as a hobby.) We toured “The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation,” where Waltham watches were made from 1851 to 1957 when the factory closed. The company’s innovative use of machinery to make watch parts inspired Henry Ford to incorporate similar techniques in his early automobile factory.

How did steampunk fit in here? Waltham is also the original “Steampunk City.” As we

This couple’s attire was appropriate for the Victorian era, but her cummerbund contained a clock, quite appropriate for the Watch City event.

visited there, I asked people what does steampunk mean? Once the “Watch City Festival” got going I had my answer. So now I’ll try to explain it to “shirlandyou” readers. The best description I heard was that steampunk is the blending of Victorian era fashion with science fiction gadgets. Since band organs represented this era, its old Victorian songs set the scene for the event.

Another description of steampunk is that it is a literary and artistic movement that melds elements of Victorian-era history with modern technology and fantastical fiction. When science fiction authors Jule Verne and H. G. Wells wrote of airships and sailing in submarines, in their Victorian-style speculative fiction, they described  the world as it is today. Science fiction author, K. W. Jeter, coined the phrase in 1987, as an alternative to the very high-tech futuristic style of “cyberpunk,” thus steampunk caught on and this was the second year the “Watch City” held a fun-filled weekend where the fantasy of steampunk and the real history of Watch City came together on the city commons, a beautiful park located in the center of old Waltham. ( I should note here that I am not recommending K.W. Jeter’s writings.)

Steampunk answers the question, “What would the world look like if modern technology were available when steam, was king, corsets were mandatory and man was just learning to fly.” So the thousands of people in attendance came dressed for the Victorian era, nearly all wearing the goggles like those worn while driving a Model T automobile, and similar to what the Wright Brothers wore. Many did carry with them gadgets, distinguished monocles, a mechanical arm, using gears of all shape and sizes they crafted antique looking apparatus, one with a digital camera hidden inside and gear filled boxes strapped to their backs appeared to be responsible for keeping them in motion. A model dirigible was pulled from behind in a wagon and some were dressed in the military dress of that era.

It was rather crazy, but allowed people to make a statement. I must tell you I’m not sure what that statement was. Some said it was an alternative to the very high-tech of today, where plastic reigns supreme and everything is streamline. I think it was mostly done for fun, and not one of those participating would truly want to live back in the age when modern technology was a dream. I’d love to hear your take on steampunk.

10 thoughts on “Steampunk!, Look It Up!

  1. I looked it up! In fact, my parents BOTH used to say that to me as a kid…but with technology today, it is so easy to get on Google and see what comes up!

    Steampunk doesn’t have to take place in the Victorian age…it can also take place in any alternate historical period, i.e. the Wild West in the USA. The most important thing is that it must relate steam-powered technology with an historical period. It was usually incorporated sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and horror.

    H.G. Wells and Jules Verne were way ahead of their time…but there was a revival of this type of literature and film media in the 1980s and early 1990s.

    As with all things in life, there’s nothing new under the sun…authors and film makers cannot improve on the great masters unless they imitate or remake with more up-to-date spectacular computer imaging.


  2. I found a web page called; and it seemed to describe steampunk exactly as you have above. I have never heard of this terminology before, but it certainly sounds interesting. It seems to be a coming together of many different things from different time periods. Either way, I think that the main idea of it is “just for fun”!!! Things that are unique and different always spark interest and intrigue. Having a computer sure makes research easy to do!! Thanks for another fascinating blog!!


    • Hi Colleen: Your comments on steampunk were fun and interesting. There is so much to learn, isn’t there? And the internet is so helpful. Thanks for looking up steampunk. You would look great dressed for the Victorian age.


  3. I would have done well living around the Victorian era. Not in an English setting, of course, but here or out West. And closer to the beginning of the era, around Davey Crockett’s time. Men still lived and thrived by their wits, rather than by their money or position.

    My favorite Punksteam themes are apocalyptic–Mad Max and Water World kind of movies. Sort of Jules Verne’ish, new-age-gone-bad science fiction, with lots of spontaneous invention and macabre resurrections of defunct modern machinery.

    I guess my current occupation belies this. I choose to work in remote places, with maximum technology around me but minimal technical help. I’m forced to push the limits of my skills, constantly having to learn to keep complex systems running with little outside intervention–I pack my own ‘chute.

    Add to that the thrill of knowing at any minute I could be eaten by bears, attacked by coyotes, or freeze to death! I love my life. I’m living out my fantasy as a steampunk!


    • Hi Steampunk: I mean Chuck. You’ve really got me interested in seeing where you live I know there is plenty of wilderness in Maine. Are you right in the middle of it? I can visualize you out west in the Victorian age. That would be tough. Loved your writing, keep commenting.


  4. Middle! (LOL) We’re on the far edge. We have to Steampunk it up here because our nearest technicians are a four hour drive south, in Portland. Necessity is the mother of invention.


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