How old is the concept of time travel?

How long have people been hypothesizing about the idea of traveling backwards or forwards in time? Did this idea come about in the late 1800s with the futuristic writing of people like Jules Verne, or were there writers even earlier who were using time travel as a literary device? When did physicists first start discussing the idea?

The first conception of time travel was in the year 2525.:smiley:
H.G.Wells published The Time Machine in 1895 and coined the term “time machine”.

ETA Time travel.

Well, before Verne, there was Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”.

For traveling forward in time, there are proto-time travel stories like Rip Van Winkle, who fell asleep for 50 years. Or the story ofOisin, who travels to the fairy realm of Tir na Nog, but when he returns to Ireland he finds that 300 years have passed. His fairy wife warns him not to touch the ground, but when he does he ages 300 years instantly

So far as I know, the first story involving true time travel (where the traveler can influence the past, or bring back information from the future) was Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in 1843. The first story where the time travel was accomplished by means of a machine was “The Clock that Went Backwards”, by Edward Page Mitchell, in 1881. But many of the key ideas of time travel stories also apply to stories with accurate prophecy, and date back at least to the ancient Greek myths of the Oracle.

In Greek mythology (and others I may not be aware of), the past was absolutely carved in stone; the Gods couldn’t undo what had been done. The idea of altering the past is AFAIK completely modern.

This was asked an a previous thread with similar answers but a bit more information.

I posted a link to the Mitchell story, which you can read but be disappointed in since it’s not really time travel as we know it, but more of a fantasy device that uses a magic clock. That makes it like the stories mentioned in the Wiki link above.

Wells seems to be the first to have a machine take a person from time A to time B without living day by day through the interim.

Finding the first story to use a machine to explore the past is oddly much more difficult. The scholarly Pilgrims Through Time and Space by J. O. Bailey doesn’t list any until 1934’s "Before the Dawn’ by John Taine, the pseudonym of Cal Tech prof Eric Temple Bell. The machine there is a time viewer only, though. He never does mention a true past time machine, from the index at any rate.

Grant Allen’s The British Barbarians is an 1895 satire depicting an anthropologist from the 25th century visiting contemporary England. Bailey doesn’t describe how he got there. Apparently he just sort of appears. Since he was an anthropologist, presumably some sort of scientific device for his travels is logical.

Yes, but given the infallibility of the Oracle in the myths, the future is apparently set in stone as well. It’s only we mortals who labor under the delusion that we can change the future and foil prophecy, but as often as not, it’s our very attempts to do so that bring that future about.

This is slightly off-topic, but this concept of “destiny” in ancient storytelling IMO finds its revival in modern time-travel stories.

Destiny provided for many interesting dramatic possibilities, but it would be hard for modern audiences to accept the explanations for it given by ancient storytellers (e.g. oracles, the capriciousness of gods, a fatalism regarding the universe that’s in direct conflict with modern notions of individuality). But give it a pseudo-scientific veneer (have a machine developed by a scientist, well-developed rules regarding time travel, and some possibility for believing destiny can be altered–even if it becomes futile in the end), and this ancient storytelling device finds a modern audience.

Which is pretty much the same as what I said, that a lot of the ideas in modern time travel fiction date back to the ancient Greeks.

How do you want to define time travel. The whole “go to the future” thing has been around for a good while. Urashima Tarou, for instance, where a fisherman ends up going to an undersea palace for a few days, but when he leaves it’s 300 years later in the outside world. I think Circe’s island played out similarly in the Odyssey as well.

Of course, that sort of “distorted time” scenario may or may not count, depending on your definitions of time travel.

Only in the Hallmark TV adaptation of it. There’s no hint of this in the original poem.
It’s true that time travel-like ideas show up prior to the science fiction-like “time machines” There are lots of “If Only I Hadn’t Made That Wish” -type stories where at the end things get reset to the situation before the wish. And there are cases where people go to sleep in a cave and wake up a long time later (The Seven Sleepers long predates Rip Van Winkle). I can’t think of any examples of people looking into the past (or future) , outside of special mystics and visionaries, prior to A Christmas Carol, though.

Wells’ Time Machine , despite what Heinlein curiously wrote about it, didn’t really explore any of the time travel paradoxes. I really don’t know where that started. But it almost was the first “multi-media ride”. wells and another fellow looked into projecting scenes from the past and future into a box that viewers would sit inside, and watch the spectacle. AFAIK, they didn’t realize this item, which might have been quite a hit if they had.

I was wary of posting that part, I haven’t read it or seen the movie for a long, long time so it tends to blend together. Oh well, what’re ya gonna do?

Rip Van Winkle was only asleep for 20 years, wasn’t he? He falls asleep before the American Revolution and wakes up in the USofA. Makes the mistake of asuring people he is a loyal subject of King George, etc. While not really time travel, it’s a parable to show how much the world changed in 20 years.

If we want to go that way, there’s Sleeping Beauty. Not sure how early that one popped up.

Not being able to find the early time machine into the past stories is driving me crazy.

I went to Paul J. Nahin’s Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction.

The very first page quotes a letter in the December 1931 Astounding Stories.

That would seem to indicate that such stories were common. So I start flipping through pages. Dozens, hundreds of pages. And this is what I found pre-1931.

And that’s it. I don’t mean it’s the only grandfather paradox. It is the single mention of any pre-1931 story about a machine going into the past of any kind or variation whatsoever. Several are mentioned in the early 1930’s, none as anything new or special.

Ironically, there is no timeline of stories in the book. There is a 58-page bibliography, but it includes nonfiction as well as fiction.

I turned to Nahin, who works by theme and so has no chronological organization, only after I looked at all my other books on the history of pre-pulp sf and found nothing that hasn’t been mentioned.

This is a huge, odd, hole in the history of the field.

Maybe we can use a time machine and go back to look for the origins of Time Paradoxes.

How old is the concept of time travel?

Probably started about five seconds after young Thag dropped his father’s favorite flint axe, and chipped the blade, after receiving the warning of “AXE NOT TOY, BOY!”.