10 technologies that shaped the 20th century
Now that we are well into the 21st century, I decided to look back upon the past century and list out the technologies that really set the century apart from the previous centuries. We take for granted much of what we have now, but it was really less than a hundred years ago that we wouldn't have gone to the garage, hopped in a car and sped off to work. At the beginning of the 20th century the horse was still the primary means of transportation. The telegraph was common, but the telephone, while invented was still not in practical use. I've set below what I believe were the primary technologies of that century, and what has gone into shaping our world today. Let me know if you agree with me that these are the top ten. What else should be included?
Airplane Flight Truly an invention of the 20th century. The Wright Brothers realized their dream in 1900 with their first manned glider flight. And then again in 1904 with the first powered manned flight. The advancement of the airplane is incredible. The possibilities for the military probably accelerated the development of this technology. World War One and Two utilized flight as powerful weapons that would shape the course of all future warfare.
Antibiotics (Greek anti, “against”; bios, “life”) are chemical compounds used to kill or inhibit the growth of infectious organisms.The first observation of what would now be called an antibiotic effect was made in the 19th century by French chemist Louis Pasteur, who discovered that certain saprophytic bacteria can kill anthrax bacilli.
The twentieth century produced a lot of advancements in health care. An argument could probably be made the the top ten inventions of the 20th century were in fact all related to health science. Antibiotics have eradicated many of the diseases that plagued mankind for centuries. Now we can live longer and with much less immunity health problems than before.
Automobile Henry Ford is often credited with the invention of the automobile. Actually Henry Ford made the automobile affordable for ordinary Americans. A number of German engineers were working on the invention of the automobile at the same time. Karl Benz is generally acknowledged as the inventor of the modern automobile. Again, not an invention of the twentieth century, but certainly the development and distribution took place in the twentieth century. 1914 was a banner year for the automobile. Henry Ford increased the wages by more than double to $5.00 a day enabling his employees to be able to afford a Ford auto in 4 and 1/2 months. Not only did it prevent employee turnover and increased moral but it was a good sales move. Shortly after that the automobile began to be a staple of the American family.
Computer The history of the computer isn’t so easy to document. It is hard to say at what point computing started. I would point to the transition from vacuum tube based computers to transistor based machines sometime in the 1960s as a benchmark in computing history. Once computers could reduced in size and more economical to produce, they began to become mainstream devices. By the end of the century nearly 50% of all American households owned a computer.
Phonograph Again another invention of the 19th century but really became a usable device in the 20th century. Thomas Edison was a the real brainchild of the phonograph. A device that could record and play back sound waves Edison demonstrated his machine on November 29, 1877. However, Edison was not very successful in making his phonograph a standard and Emile Berliner patented a disc recording version of the phonograph that eventually won out. He named his device the Gramaphone. By 1901 the 10 inch gramaphone record began to be marketed by the Victor Talking Machine Company. Today’s grammy awards are a nod to the success of the gramaphone.
Light Bulb Yet another invention of the 19th century that was made practical by Thomas Edison through the introduction of the carbon filament. In 1906, the General Electric Company patented a method of making tungsten filaments for use in incandescent light bulbs. Tungsten burned in such a way that didn’t blacken the inside of the bulb and burned brighter as well.
Electricity Discoveries in electricity go all that way back to 18th century. Benjamin Franklin attempted to harness electricity. Electricity has become such an essential tool much of the other innovations mentioned here are dependent upon it. Thomas Edison again was involved in making the current a staple that is available to the industry and population at large. In 1880 Edison founded the Edison Illuminating Company and established an investor-owned electric utility in New York City. Edison lost out on setting the electrical standard to George Westinghouse who established alternating current (AC) that became the standard distribution method throughout the country.
Refrigeration I placed this innovation at a level of importance that some would not have given it. But the convenience of refrigeration in our homes has improved the quality of life tremendously. Commercial electric refrigeration killed the ice harvesting industry. The Dupont Corporation really made home refrigeration a reality in the 1920’s with chloroflourocarbon chemicals. Recent discoveries have shown chloroflourocarbons to be harmful to the ozone.
Telephone The telephone was invented in the 1800’s and was patented in the United States by Alexander Grahm Bell. The telephone really became pervasive in the 1920’s. Bell’s Model 102 introduced in 1927 was a design that lasted and influenced most phone designs of the century. Edison again had an influence on the direction of the telephone as his carbon microphone transmitter.
Television Where would we be without television? Philo Farnsworth developed what he called the image dissector camera tube and demonstrated it to the world on August 25 1934 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. After a protracted legal battle over the U.S. Patent RCA paid Farnsworth 1 million dollars in order to license the technology. Color television followed quickly behind. I remember seeing my first color television broadcast somehwere around 1964. It was a Cleveland Browns game on my grandpa’s newly purchased television.
There you have it, 10 technologies that influenced the past century and shaped our current one. Most of the information here is based upon patents within the United States, and thus the inventors are based upon that. Most of the inventions had parallel discoverers in other countries and claims to the invention can often be disputed as to who was really first. It was not my intention to establish who invented the innovation, but merely to look at the effect of those inventions upon our society.