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The superhero as we know it arrived on the scene during the 1930s and exploded into a rabid fanboy inducing genre. According to Wikipedia a Superhero is “a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.” Thus said, it is usually understood that most superheroes did not obtain status from formal education. Usually, it was a result of a freak accident or birth or intense public-good-sort-of-hobby (such as fighting crime, a la Batman). Big emphasis on “freak,” for if you think about it, people of unusual size or physical prowess of the 19th century were often ushered into circus Side Shows. People who had telekinetic powers did not join forces with other usual people and create leagues to bring awareness to their uniqueness or a larger greater cause. If anything, such people laid low and tried to make a life least should society find out and set out on a witch hunt to kill them for their differences, non-conformity, and blasphemous ways.

Using the list from Wikipedia on the types of Superheroes, I can speculate about the 19th century version, but it is up to you to provide names of know individuals who lived during the 1800s that possessed these qualities; even if that includes your Great-Grandmother Alice who could read minds.

Acrobat: Lots of 1800s performers could fall into this category. Think tight-rope walkers and obviously contortionists.

Aerial: While flight of the comic superhero type has yet to happen, the closest thing the 19th century people had were similar to modern hang gliders. Such experiments were short lived and not widely used for anything other than amusement or the basis of something more extraordinary for future scientists.

Armored Hero: Military scientists. Warfare always brings out some pretty incredible inventions. The armored trains of the 19th century were the grandfather of modern tanks. The men who conceived and built those weapons and subsequent uniforms/protection could fall into this category.

Aquatic: While there are no amphibious beings of the 19th century that I am aware of, save for mermaids, the creators and modifiers of the diving suit and submarines would fall into type.

Brick/Tank: This could be anyone! There were many strong/muscle men in the 19th century who could fall under this heading. He was usual a staple of the circus, but equally there were 19th century women who also shocked the world, mainly because it was such an unfeminine endeavor/grotesquely masculine appearance.

Elementalist: Depending on your beliefs people who might be considered modern day Wiccians could be the 19th century version of elementalists. Back then, they would just have called them witches.

Energizer: There is a slight Eastern Medicine aspect to this one. Chi and chakras manipulators and that sort of thing have been around for thousands of years many Asian cultures which continues to this day. So, of course, there would be 19th century energizers.

Feral: Ah, the bestial nature. So many of us have that although not in the Wolverine-sense, per se. There were (and are) people who have hypertrichosis which causes them to look like a “wolf man.” These people were side show spectacles. We all know some one who has a real set of fangs or pronounced cuspids. And everyone has that one friend who has freakish cat-like reflexes. Maybe it was your great-great-grandmother, Alice?  One would surmise the same was true in the 19th century.

Gadgeteer: Let us be realistic, most of the 19th century versions of superheroes are scientists.

Ghosts: Lots of these during the 19th century! There are no shortage of 19th century ghosts, let me tell you!

Government Agent: The spy or turn-coat has been around almost since the dawn of time. This category is one of the few with a learned skill, excluding scientists).

Healer: Doctors a plenty existed during the 19th century and the medical world was booming! Germs were a thing! Imagine that! Although it took a long time to convince people there are things they cannot see that are killing them. 19th century alchemist, pharmacists, and chemists, also fall into this category.

Mage: This has a more magical bent to it. Herbalists, witches, and medicine men would go here.

Marksmen: The wild west was known for this kind of hero, as were ex-military. A sniper is still a sniper in any century. A good hunter would also be a 19th century equivalent.

Martial Artist: Eastern influence for sure, but 19th century boxers could play into this role as well. Anything with a deadly punch, really.

Mecha/Robot pilot: On a point of technicality, any train conductor, submarine or early version of the automobile driver could be placed here.

Mentalist: The category everyone likes in theory, but not many acknowledge in the real world. Psychic, mediums, and telekinetics have always been around. The 19th century was no different.

Possessed: If hysteria is considered a legitimate condition; possession was one step away and there are certainly tales that have been passed down and documented of possession.

Rider: Only if a horse counts, or maybe a surfboard. A deft rider or superior horseman would be the closest equivalent.

Shapeshifter: No Mystique, I am afraid. However, masters of disguise were usually criminal geniuses.

Slasher: Any expert swordsmen, be it fencing or of a Samurai school.

Speedester: Yes, they existed in the 19th century; they were very, very slow by todays standards, if the first modern Olympic record is any indication.

Super Genius/Mastermind/Detective: The formally educated or self-taught person falls into this category. Like Ironman of today’s fame, there were billionaire playboys of the 19th century whom were also obsessed with gadgetry, science, and other reckless hobbies.

Yeller: Any child from the dawn of time. Or anyone with a serious set of lung capacity.

While there are many 19th century people who harbored such talents the biggest difference between Superheroes and people with amazing abilities, is their desire to use their uniqueness to help and protect the greater good. A tight-rope walker is impressive in every sense of the word. A person who continuously uses their tight-rope walking talents to rescue people from a burning building or catch a thief; that is a superhero.

Who do you know and what category or categories would they fall into?

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