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A Timeline of Inventions

  1. 287–212 BC, ARCHIMEDES: Many of the great minds of history not only invented machines but made important discoveries as well. The Greek, Archimedes, invented the simple, practical water screw for raising irrigation water short distances—and these screws are still in use in parts of the Middle East. However, it was also Archimedes who explained the principles of the lever and made the great discovery that since bodies of equal volume displace equal amounts of water, it is quite simple to find the relative density—and thus purity—of many substances. (One simply compares its weight with the volume of water it displaces.)

  2. 400 BC, THE NUT AND BOLT: The nut and bolt, two of the most important discoveries in the history of engineering, were not invented at the same time. Their origins are lost in antiquity, but it is certain that the bolt or screw came first. The Greek mathematician, Archytas of Tarentum, probably invented it about 400 BC. The first recorded securing with nuts seem to belong to the middle of the fifteenth century when they were used to secure parts of suits of armor. One of these bolted suits can be seen today in the Tower of London. All kinds of complex nuts and bolts are now commonplace, including explosive bolts fitted to the escape hatches of spacecraft.

  3. 500 BC, THE PLOUGH: Crude wooden ploughs were used in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 2000 BC, although it is likely they were known of a thousand years earlier. The first iron ploughshares were found in Palestine and in other ancient Mediterranean countries. Both the Romans and Greeks used them, and the Chinese used a wooden plough in about 500 BC. Surprisingly, the plough was not introduced into Europe until the twenty-second century AD. David Ramsey and Thomas Wildgoose patented an English plough machine in 1619. There are many types of modern ploughs, yet some of the ancient designs are still in use.

  4. 500 BC, THE WHEEL: The origin of the wheel is lost in the mists of time. However, it is reasonable to suppose that the first “'wheels” were roughly hewn tree-trunks used as rollers. The unknown builders of Stonehenge probably used this method to drag the huge stone blocks on to Salisbury Plain. Wooden disc wheels on axles were in use in Sumeria between 2000 and 3000 BC. Carved seals and painted clay models found in Mesopotamia, dated about 1600 BC, show spoke wheels. Celtic wainwrights in Europe made spoke wheels in 500 BC.

  5. NINTH CENTURY AD, HISTORY OF PRINTING: The oldest known printed book was produced in China about the middle of the ninth century AD. Early books were called “block” books because they were printed from letters carved of wood, in reverse, which were inked and stamped on cloth and paper. These block books first appeared in Europe about AD 1350, but printing as we know it today really began with the invention of movable type by a German named Johann von Gutenberg, born about AD 1400, whose printed Bibles are now worth a fortune. England's first printer was William Caxton of Kent, who learned the printing trade in Germany and returned to England in 1476.

  6. THIRTEENTH CENTURY, MEASUREMENT OF TIME: The first time measuring devices were sundials, water clocks (allowing water to escape at a fixed rate), and candle-clocks. In the thirteenth century came the first true mechanical clocks. Because reliable springs did not yet exist, weights were used for power. However, the early regulating mechanism—a “”foliot,”[2] or weighted arms rotating backwards and forwards—was still inaccurate by modern standards, and even good clocks of this type could lose ten minutes or so each day. Only with the invention of the pendulum and then the balance wheel was real accuracy attained.

    [2] Making for the first mechanical escapement clocks, a foliot mechanism consists of a crossbar with a weight on either end operating in conjunction with the verge, a vertical shaft upon which the foliot sits.

  7. 1452–1519, LEONARDO DA VINCI: Leonardo da Vinci has been called the greatest genius who ever lived. He was certainly a most remarkable man with an incredibly inventive and versatile mind. Apart from being a highly talented artist and producing such masterpieces as the Mona Lisa, he had one of the keenest minds in the realms of science and engineering. Drawings and sketches show that he had ideas for submarines, tanks, and other weapons of war, which did not come to fruition until some 400 years after his death. He designed a diving dress, a parachute, and a helicopter and produced superbly accurate anatomical drawings.

  8. 1495, FLOATING DOCK: A Floating Dock is in general appearance something like a huge box without ends or top. The bottom consists of a tank or pontoon; by filling this with water the dock is sunk sufficiently to allow the ship, which requires docking, to be floated in. The water is then pumped out from the bottom by means of powerful machinery, the dock rising until the ship is clear of the water. Some of these docks will raise a ship that weighs up to 36,000 tons.

  9. 1590, THE MICROSCOPE: The simplest microscope is merely a powerful single convex lens or magnifying glass. The compound or multi-lens microscope opened up an entire unseen world of microbes to Man. The first to achieve this was a spectacle maker of Middelbug, Holland, by the name of Zacharias Janssen in 1590. Dubbed the “father of micro-scopy,” Dutch scientist, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, not only created the first high definition instrument but also studied tiny life forms under it.

  10. 1608, THE TELESCOPE: Although it is quite easy to magnify close objects with a simple lens, bringing distinct objects close baffled many minds—including that of the famous English scientist, Roger Bacon. Eventually, a Dutch spectacle-maker, Hans Lippershey, solved the problem with a practical two-lens telescope. The great Italian scientist, Galileo, quickly recognized the true value of this invention to astronomy and became the first man to see the craters on the moon and the moons of Jupiter. However, Galileo's telescope aided his then revolutionary theories about the universe to such an extent that eventually his church denounced him as a heretic.

  11. 1610, EARLY REFLECTING TELESCOPE: Telescopes were being made in considerable numbers in Holland around 1610 and were much improved by Galileo, Kepler, and other scientists. One telescope of notoriety was Sir Isaac Newton's (1642–1727): It was a reflecting telescope, the image viewed through a compound eyepiece placed at the side. It magnified from 50 to 800 times according to the size of the parabolic mirror. The mounting was of the “Equatorial” type.

  12. 1643, SYPHON BAROMETER: Torricelli first discovered the pressure of the atmosphere in 1643. The barometer is not really a weather glass but an atmospheric pressure measurer, the column of mercury in the tube rising or falling as the pressure of the air on the mercury at the open end of the tube becomes heavy (as in fine weather) or light (as in wet or windy weather).

  13. 1706–1790, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: More than 200 years ago, there was much argument as to the nature of lightning, and Benjamin Franklin, who about the year 1746 had begun to be interested in electricity, devised a simple way to “trap” some lightning. It was already known that certain materials when rubbed together would emit a spark. The question was, however, was lightning the same kind of energy? Franklin flew a kite into a thunderstorm and showed that by bringing his knuckles near to a key at the lower end of the kite string an electrical spark could be produced. It was a dangerous experiment. Some of those who later tried it were electrocuted.

  14. 1709, THE PIANO: A whole family of stringed instruments preceded the modern piano, but the two that most closely resembled it were the harpsichord and the clavichord. Both these instruments had keyboards, but they differed in that the harpsichord had strings, which were plucked by quills or pieces of leather, while the clavichord's strings were struck by brass wedges. Bartolommeo Cristofori, an Italian harpsichord maker, developed a keyboard action, which transmitted the player's true touch on the keys to the felt-covered hammers. Hence, the pianoforte was able to play PIANO (soft), or FORTE (loud) with so perfect an action that every shade of expression could be reproduced.

  15. 1712, THE STEAM ENGINE: Although Giambattista della Porta (1538–1615), Denis Papin (1647–1712), Thomas Savery (1650–1715), and other inventors produced suggestions on how steam could be used to work an engine, it is generally accepted that Thomas Newcomen built the first practical steam engine in 1712. His engine was the “atmospheric” type in which the condensation of steam created a partial vacuum in a cylinder so that the pressure of the atmosphere forced the piston down. These engines were used to pump water out of mines, and some were still in use many years after James Watt's pressure steam engine was invented more than 60 years later.

  16. 1714, PRATT'S TYPEWRITER: As early as 1714, Henry Mill invented a machine for impressing letters on paper, but the first machine to really demonstrate the possibility of producing writing by mechanical means faster than by the pen was that patented by John Pratt in 1866. In 1878 a firm of gun manufacturers in America called E. Remington and Sons brought out their Remington typewriter (the design having come from C.L. Sholes, an American journalist), and since then the use of typewriting machines in business houses has become almost universal.

  17. 1731, MARINER'S SEXTANT: After the compass this was the most important invention for navigation. It simply measures the altitude (number of degrees) of the sun above the horizon. Before reliable ships' clocks existed, this was done at midday when the sun was highest in the sky, and by checking from a table of the sun's altitude on each day, the Equator was quickly found. However, longitude East or West was still largely a matter of guesswork until Harrison, some two hundred years ago, produced a remarkably accurate chronometer unaffected by the motion of a ship. Only then did navigation become a science.

  18. 1734, THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER: It is possible that in very early times when humans first became aware of the danger of fire, they kept containers of sand or water near at hand when they kindled cooking fires. However, what might be called a true fire extinguisher did not appear until the eighteenth century when M. Fuchs of Germany invented the idea of glass balls filled with water, which could be thrown on the fire. Then, in 1762, a Dr. Godfrey of London used sal-ammoniac-filled round containers burst by gunpowder. Two Swedes, Von Ahen and Nils Moshein, designed a water-chemical extinguisher in 1792. Some of today's complex extinguishers are computer-controlled.

  19. 1763, CUGNOT'S TRACTION ENGINE: The first practical horseless vehicle was the steam “lorry” (or truck) built by Cugnot in 1763. Its success induced the French Government in 1770 to order a steam traction engine for the transportation of artillery, which could carry a load of 4½ tons at about 2¼ miles per hour on level ground. The traction engine had then become a familiar and almost essential part of the then modern road locomotion.

  20. 1768, THE SPINNING MACHINE: Until the invention of the spinning machine, yarn for the making of cloth had for centuries been spun by hand in people's homes. It was a “cottage industry.” By the time of the Industrial Revolution, the output was too small to meet the needs of weavers who made cloth. Sir Richard Arkwright's famous “Spinning Frame,” which he made at Bolton in Lancashire, was able to spin strong warp yarn or “twist” a better product than the slightly twisted yarn produced by a machine invented by Lewis Paul in 1738. In 1769, Sir Richard Arkwright patented his cotton-spinning frame and established factories at Cromford. He was the first to employ machinery on a large scale for textile manufacturers.

  21. 1776, MODERN SUBMARINE: The first submarine to actually go into action was built by David Bushnell in 1776. In 1880–1887, several submarine boats were built; however, these proved to be unstable when submerged. In 1891, the Gustave Zede was built, displacing 266 tons and having a speed of 8 knots when submerged. The modern submarine has a displacement of nearly 1,000 tons and a submerged speed of over 10 knots.

  22. 1784, THE LOCK: No one is certain where the first locks were invented, but they are usually attributed to the Chinese. It is known that the ancient Egyptians used locks with movable tumblers. Some early ones were designed to chop off the hand of anyone who fumbled with them without having the right key. The Greeks also had tumbler locks that were opened with a key. A number of Roman locks have been found that had keys to raise levers or lift pins in order to release the bolt. The first modern compound lock was invented by Joseph Bramah of Britain and officially patented in the year 1784.

  23. 1785, LIFEBOAT: In 1785, Lionel Lukin, a London coachbuilder, fitted up a Norway yawl with air-boxes at the stem and stern and fixed a best of solid cork along the outside of the gunwale, thus making the first in submersible boat. In 1824, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution was founded, and its fleet later consisted of over 280 boats. The modern lifeboat is virtually unsinkable, is self-righting, and may even have its own radar.

  24. 1790, THE SEWING MACHINE: In 1790, Thomas Saint, a cabinet maker who lived in London, invented a machine for sewing leather that produced a chain stitch—a stitch that “locked” itself and prevented running—and so led the way to the modern sewing machine. It incorporated other features of the modern machine such as the vertical needle, the over-hanging arm that carries it, and the feed plate that moves the material along under the needle. Earlier attempts at a stitching machine had been made, such as Englishman Charles Weisenthal's device with its double pointed needle, but none were successful.

  25. 1795, HYDRAULIC PRESS: The credit of the invention of the hydraulic press belongs to Joseph Bramah and Henry Maudslay. Wherever an enormous sustained effort is required for lifting heavy loads, bending steel plates, or compressing metal, the hydraulic press was a potential solution. This huge press was also used for consolidating steel ingots for armor plating. It was 33 feet in height, weighed 1,280 tons, and exerted a pressure of 12,000 tons. Today, hydraulic power is indispensable.

  26. 1797, PARACHUTE DESCENT BY GARNERIN: In 1785, Blanchard lowered dogs and other animals from a balloon by means of a parachute, and a few years later he made a descent. It was, however, reserved for M. Garnerin in 1797 to make the first descent that attracted public attention. Ascending in a hydrogen balloon to a height of 2,000 feet, he cut himself adrift and descended in perfect safety. He afterwards made other equally successful descents, both in France and London.

  27. 1799, THE ELECTRIC BATTERY: Although scientists had known about the strange power of electricity for centuries, the first man to “'capture” it, so to speak, was an Italian chemist named Alessandro Volta. Volta, from whose name we get the term, “volt,” discovered that electricity could be produced by chemical means. He made his first electric cell—a “wet” cell—in 1799 by using a zinc plate for the negative terminal and a copper plate for the positive terminal, immersed in a solution of sulfuric acid. “Dry” cell batteries work on much the same principle today, known as the electrochemical generation of power.

  28. 1800, FIVE-NEEDLE TELEGRAPH INSTRUMENT: The discovery by Volta in the year 1800 of current or low-tension electricity resulting from chemical action and the introduction of the electro-magnet in 1824 led to the invention of the magnetic receiving instrument. The first needle telegraph was made between 1825 and 1832. Then in 1838, a line of galvanized iron wire, six miles in length, was laid and proven to be satisfactory for transmission purposes. Messrs, Cooke, and Wheatstone invented this five-needle instrument in 1837.

  29. 1801, ELECTRIC LIGHT: There are two kinds of electric lamps employed—the arc lamp and the filament lamp. Of the two, the arc lamp was invented first by Sir Humphry Davy in 1801. The filament (incandescent) lamp was developed in 1860.[3] In the arc lamp, two carbon rods are placed with their points almost touching. The electric current sparks across the gap, and an arc of glowing vapor is formed, the carbon points becoming white hot and a dazzling light produced. In the filament lamp, the electric current passes through an extremely fine wire, which creates so high a resistance as to become white hot, thus giving out light.

    [3] While the design of the filament was made in 1860, it was not until 1880 when Thomas Edison teamed with Swan that an operative lighting system was achieved.

  30. 1802, SPECTROSCOPE: When a beam of light passes through a glass prism it is broken up into a band of colors called the “spectrum.” Light from different substances will give different kinds of spectra, and the spectroscope is an instrument for studying and analyzing the spectra of luminous bodies. The dark lines in the solar spectrum were first observed by Wollaston in 1802, were mapped out by scientists in 1815, and numbered over 2,000.

  31. 1802, THE CAMERA: The principle of photography was acknowledged as early as the sixteenth century. In 1802, Thomas Wedgewood wrote a paper on “An account of a method of copying paintings upon glass and making profiles by the agency of light upon nitrate of silver.” In 1824, Daguerre commenced his experiments, and in 1839, Mr. Talbot published a method of producing prints from a negative. Dry plates were introduced in 1874 and, in 1893, Lumiere produced photographs in natural colors.

  32. 1804, JACQUARD LOOM: The credit of introducing the Jacquard Loom and of making it a commercial success, if not of actually inventing it, belongs to Joseph Jacquard, a native of Lyons. This apparatus is one of the most ingenious and important appliances used in the art of weaving, for by its aid the most complex and intricate patterns can be produced with as much certainty and almost as rapidly as plain cloth.

  33. 1804, STEVENS' SCREW PROPELLER: Colonel John Stevens built a vessel propelled by twin screws that navigated the Hudson River and attained a speed of nine miles per hour, but for many years, the idea of screw propulsion was abandoned by engineers in favor of the paddle-wheel. The first large sea-going screw steamer was the ARCHI-MEDES of the 232 tons register. The vessel was built in 1838 and proved to be a complete success.

  34. 1815, SAFETY LAMP: Although it was well known that the air of coal mines contained gas, which caused explosions upon coming into contact with naked lights, it was not until 1815 that a practical safety lamp for miners was invented. Sir Humphry Davy found that a tube of wire gauze so cools a flame attempting to pass that it prevents the ignition of inflammable gas on the other side, and this principle is embodied in the “Davy” lamp. Only when battery lamps were introduced were the Davy lamps superceded.

  35. 1816, HOBBY HORSE: Amazingly, what may have been the first bicycles appear on bas-reliefs from Babylon and Egypt: two-wheeled machines with no pedals and no means of steering. The Hobby Horse—or Dandy-Horse—the forerunner of the modern bicycle, was introduced by J.N. Niepce, a Frenchman, in 1816 and Karl von Drais, a German nobleman in 1817. With the ability to steer, the rider propelled it by a tiptoe running action. The pedal-driven “velocipede” was invented in France in 1865. In 1888, Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire, and the introduction of the free wheel and two and three speed gears finally gave us the bicycle of today. Simple though it may seem, the bicycle is one of the most efficient machines created by man.

  36. 1829, GEORGE STEPHENSON'S “ROCKET”: The Stephenson's—George and Robert, his son—were undoubtedly the fathers of the modern efficient steam train, although engineers such as Trevithick had had some success earlier. In 1814, George Stephenson's first locomotive pulled several trucks at four mph. His second engine marked a milestone: It forced the exhaust steam up the chimney and thus greatly increased the draught for the fire. His engine, “Locomotion No. 1,” opened the world's first fare-paying railway for freight and passengers between Stockton and Darlington. Four years later, his “Rocket” easily won the important Rainhill Trials. One of the Rocket's competitors was disqualified, as it's “engine” was a horse on a treadmill.

  37. 1829, READING FOR THE BLIND: Blindness is a condition that can lead to a terrible sense of isolation. Little had been done to help the blind until the nineteenth century, when Louis Braille, a Frenchman, invented the first specially designed reading system for the sightless in 1829. His system of raised dots, read by touch, is still used today, and automated printing processes now produce Braille books. A new method of blind “reading” utilizes a TV camera, which scans every letter and is linked to a small panel of studs. By placing a palm on the panel, the blind person can feel each letter pattern being raised as it is scanned.

  38. 1830, HOWE'S SEWING MACHINE: In 1830, a successful chain stitch sewing machine was invented and constructed by Thimmonier, who started a factory in which many of these machines were employed. In 1845, Elias Howe constructed the first lockstitch sewing machine, using an eye-pointed needle and an independent shuttle, each of which was threaded. In 1851, Singer patented his first machine and did much to accelerate the commercial introduction of this most useful invention.

  39. 1831, THE DYNAMO: Although it was known that moving a coil of wire across the force field between the poles of a magnet could produce an electrical current, it was not until 1831 that Michael Faraday set about making practical use of the knowledge. Faraday experimented with a copper disc that could be turned between the poles of a horseshoe magnet, with thin pieces of metal connecting both the center and outer edge of the disc to a galvanometer. When the disc was spun an electric current was generated. Faraday had designed the first dynamo—today it is the world's main source of power.

  40. 1834, THE REFRIGERATOR: For many centuries, large numbers of country houses had specially built “ice-houses,” which were low buildings with thick walls where ice from frozen winter ponds was stored and covered with layers of straw until it was needed in summer for cooling drinks. By the early nineteenth century, methods had been found to make ice artificially with huge, if rather crude, refrigeration plants, and this ice was sold to householders with ice-boxes, helping to keep fresh vegetables crisp in the summer's heat. It was not long before a home refrigerator was on sale—by Jacob Perkin of America.

  41. 1835, THE REVOLVER: For centuries, man tried to develop a small, fast-firing gun, and Samuel Colt was the first to effectively solve the problem. The story goes that the inventor of the famous Colt revolver ran away to sea at the age of 16. His ship was going to India, and while on the voyage, Colt carved a wooden revolver. Realizing its possibilities, Colt then had a number of metal models made between 1831 and 1835 and worked on his idea until he could construct a patent. The American government ordered a thousand Colt revolvers for the Army when the U.S.–Mexican War broke out in 1846, the age of the revolver had arrived.

  42. 1837, MORSE CODE: Samuel Finley Breese Morse left his home in America to study art in London when he was 24 years of age. He returned to America on board a ship in 1832, and during this voyage, he spent some time discussing electricity and magnetism with other passengers. Suddenly, Morse thought of the idea of what he called “transmitting intelligence by electricity.” He sat on the deck of the ship and worked out the details of his idea, but it was five years later before he was able to apply for a patent. Contrary to general belief, the famous “S.O.S.” signal does not mean “Save Our Souls” but was adopted because of its unmistakable character in Morse Code.

  43. 1838, STEAM HAMMER: James Nasmyth, a Manchester engineer, invented the Steam Hammer in 1838. Robert Wilson, his partner and successor, improved upon his invention in 1853. While these immense machines can give a blow of enormous energy, so delicately are they adjusted and so perfectly controlled, that they can by made to tap the shell of an egg without breaking it, and some of these hammers can deliver a blow equivalent to 4,000 tons.

  44. 1842, ELECTRIC LOCOMOTIVE: The first attempt to use electric power for railways was in 1842 when an electric locomotive was constructed, weighing five tons, which attained a speed of four miles per hour. The powerful Electric locomotive was used for conveying trains throughout the Simplon Tunnel—connecting Iselle, Italy, to Brig, Switzerland. It could draw a train of 300 tons throughout a tunnel in 18 minutes at an average speed of 42 miles per hour.

  45. 1845, THE PNEUMATIC TIRE: Although R.W. Thomson, a Scotsman, is credited with inventing the pneumatic tire, it was a fellow Scot, John Boyd Dunlop, who first made it a successful commercial proposition in 1890. Thomson's tires consisted of tubes of rubber protected by an outside casing of leather, and many of these were used on early bicycles. Solid rubber tires were widely used before the arrival of the pneumatic tire. The greatly increased comfort of the pneumatic tire was a great stimulus to the sales of bicycles, and, in fact, this kind of tire with its built-in “shock absorber,” is much safer than solid tires.

  46. 1847–1931, THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Anyone who worries about not doing well at school may feel encouraged by what happened to Thomas Alva Edison, who was perhaps America's most prolific inventor. His teacher considered him stupid—he had only three months' official schooling. His mother knew he was far from stupid and so took him away from school to teach him herself. Young Edison went on to invent not only the forerunner of the gramophone, but even a successful electric filament lamp in 1880. He also invented an early form of a radio tube and a method of telegraphy between moving ships or trains.

  47. 1852, RENARD AND KREBS' DIRIGIBLE: The first airship to be propelled by an engine was built by Giffard in 1852 and attained a speed of about six miles per hour, but the first really successful dirigible was that constructed in 1884 by Captains Renard and Krebs of the French Army. This was of a more scientific design than any of its predecessors and traveled at the rate of 14 miles per hour, overcoming winds of considerable strength.

  48. 1860, AUTO-PIANO: As early as 1860, a patent was filed in the United States for a keyboard piano-player, and the first pneumatic keyboard was made in France in 1863. With its many ingenious contrivances for bringing out the melody of a piece, regulating the time and expression, and accentuating any notes desired, the modern Piano-player can be made to exactly reproduce the playing of a master, even though the operator himself be entirely ignorant of piano technique.

  49. 1860, THE WASHING MACHINE: The laborious washing of clothes by hand is still the only laundering method available in many parts of the world. Many methods have been used, from banging the clothes on flat stones by a river's edge to an old seaman's trick of dragging them behind the ship to force water through them. Modern washing machines evolved from an idea that appeared in the 1860s when the British firm of Thomas Bradford built the first working model, a hand-turned device. It was made of wood and quite primitive, but modern machines still use much the same principles of mechanical agitation, freeing women from backbreaking labor.

  50. 1863, WILDE'S DYNAMO: In 1863, Dr. Wilde invented the first separately excited Dynamo, demonstrating that the feeble current from a small magneto-electric machine could be made to produce currents of great strength from a large dynamo. Wilde's Dynamo weighed 4½ tons, and when driven at 1,500 revolutions per minute, the current fused 15 inches of round iron ¼ in diameter with an expenditure of about 10 horsepower. This machine was used for electro-plating purposes, depositing 20 ounces of silver per hour.

  51. 1865, ROCK DRILL: The Rock Drill differs from most other Rock Drills in that it really bores and does not merely peck its way into the rock. The hollow drill stem, furnished with three or four splayed-out teeth, is driven by means of high-pressure water. The drill is pressed against the face of the rock by a hydraulic ram with a force of 10 tons. To sink a hole 39 inches deep took from 12 to 15 minutes with this method.

  52. 1866, TRAFFIC SIGNALS: The first traffic signals were invented by a man named Hodgson and were of the semaphore type. However, they were actually copied from railway signal-arms. A set of traffic signals was first erected near Westminster Abbey in London in 1868 as an experiment. They had two semaphore arms, one for Stop and one for Go, with red and green gas lamps for night use. The modern type of light signal was not introduced until early in the 20th century, the first ones being in use in New York about 1918. They are now sometimes linked to tubes in the road and to computers so that the signals take into account the traffic requirements for the time of day.

  53. 1874, VACUUM BRAKE: By means of the communication cord, a train can be stopped from a compartment. Under each carriage is a cylinder in which a vacuum is created from the engine by an air-ejector. When the cord is pulled, air is let into the cylinder under the piston. This pushes the piston up, and by means of levers immediately puts on the brakes, automatically stopping the entire train.

  54. 1874–1937, GUGLIELMO MARCONI: Marconi was interested in anything electrical when he was a young boy. At Bologna, Italy, he watched Professor Righi doing experiments with electromagnetic waves. In 1895, the young Marconi began his own experiments and soon was able to send Morse code messages more than a mile with a tapping device but with no wires connecting transmitter and receiver. In 1897, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company was formed, and in 1899, a wireless message was sent across the English Channel. Strangely, even before this, an article in The Strand Magazine in London had discussed the possibility of television.

  55. 1876, THE TELEPHONE: The first words ever to be spoken over a telephone were, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.” They were spoken by the inventor himself, Alexander Graham Bell, in a hotel in Boston, Massachusetts, where he had been conducting experiments with the help of Thomas Watson, his assistant. Bell was born in Edinburgh in 1847 and studied at both Edinburgh and London Universities. His father was a teacher and elocutionist, and Bell came to realize that the pressure of sound waves in a thin plate held the key to the electrical transmission of sound. Yet even he was surprised by the high quality of sound reproduction he quickly achieved this way.

  56. 1877, EDISON'S FIRST PHONOGRAPH: In 1877, Edison held the patent for an instrument capable of automatically registering sounds, known as the phonograph. This consisted of a grooved metal cylinder covered with tinfoil on which the sounds were registered and afterwards reproduced by means of a steel needle. A conical mouthpiece was attached to concentrate the reproduced sounds.

  57. 1879, CASH REGISTER: The modern cash register, now to be seen at work in almost every store worldwide, has taken the place of the old-fashioned open till. This marvelous mechanism keeps a record of all transactions, indicating the value of the purchase and printing the figures and nature of business done on a ticket for the customer and also on a roll of paper tape for the proprietor.

  58. 1882, ELECTRIC TRAM: The electrically driven car entirely superseded the old-fashioned horse-drawn tram. The first electric tramcar was operated at Leytonstone, Essex, in 1882. The trolley pole at the top of most electric cars during this period had nothing to do with the actual driving of the car but simply conducted the electricity from the overhead wire, through the motorman's switchbox, to the motor beneath the car.

  59. 1884, STEAM TURBINE: Invented by Charles Parsons, the steam turbine engines were at first used for driving electric-dynamos at very high speeds and generating electric power. Pressure from steam of boiled water is used to turn a turbine. This mechanical action is converted into an electrical energy through the use of a dynamo.

  60. 1885, THE MOTOR CAR: Like many great inventions, the motor car was not the result on one man's effort. Nobody can be certain who built the first working petroleum engine road vehicle, but the credit is usually given to two Germans—Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. Benz used a tricycle to which he fitted a ¼ horsepower engine in 1885; while in 1887, Daimler built the first four-wheeled road vehicle with a more powerful four horsepower petroleum engine. Daimler's invention was the more successful of the two, and his machine incorporated many of the features of the modern car.

  61. 1888, PLATE AND ROLL-FILM CAMERA: During the first half-century of photography, pictures were made on plates—originally metal Daguerreotypes, but later glass. The early glass plates, even in such processes as the collodian method, had to be coated with the light-sensitive material just before the photograph was taken—a tremendously complicated task. Obviously, anyone who could invent a simple method of photography could command a huge market for his method, and the honor fell to George Eastman, whose early Kodak roll-fill cameras—at first using a paper roll-film with room for 100 negatives—in 1888 gave photography to us all.

  62. 1889, THE MOVIE CAMERA: The origin of motion pictures is obscure, and a number to men were working at more or less the same time on the idea of taking a continuous series of photographs on one length of film. There seems little doubt, however, that an Englishman, William Friese-Green, was the first man to project a film onto a simple screen. He achieved this success in January 1889 after a number of experiments. The American inventor, Alva Edison, also designed an apparatus called a “kinetoscope,” a kind of moving-picture viewer. However, Friese-Green's invention had gone even further and featured an attempt at 3-D movies.

  63. 1889, STEEL-FRAME BUILDING: Owing to the high cost of building sites in the large cities of the United States, the method of the steel-frame building has been adopted. The skeleton of the building consists of steel girders, the walls being comparatively thin, and inserted like panels in a door. Brick and stone buildings cannot be taken more than 12 to 14 stories high, owing to the thickness of the walls required, but steel-frame edifices allow people to produce buildings of astounding heights.

  64. 1892, EDISON'S KINETOSCOPE: The cinematograph is really a development of the “zoetrope,” or “wheel of life.” In 1877, E. Muybridge obtained successive pictures of a running horse by means of a row of cameras, but Edison invented the first practical moving picture apparatus in 1890. In 1892, Edison brought out the kinetoscope, a combination of photography and electricity, by means of which the voice of a phonograph worked synchronously with the action of the figures on the screen.

  65. 1894, LEVASSOR'S MOTOR CAR: The first important motor car race took place in July 1894, from Paris to Rouen (France), and in 1895 the Automobile Club de France was established. The famous race from Paris to Bordeaux and back, a distance of some 732 miles, originated in 1895 and was won by M. Levassor, who covered the distance in 48 hours and 48 minutes, at an average speed of about 15 miles per hour; the highest speed in the race being about 20 mph.

  66. 1895, MARCONI TRANSMITTING APPARATUS: The outstanding figure in the realm of wireless telegraphy is Guglielmo Marconi. He commenced experimenting in 1895, and when only 22 years of age, he sent wireless messages across the Bristol Channel. In 1901, the first wireless telegraph was sent across the Atlantic, and messages can now be sent from 2,000 to 3,000 miles. Almost all large liners, battleships, and cargo boats are now fitted with wireless apparatus, and the distress call of “S.O.S.” has been the means of saving numerous lives.

  67. 1895, THE SAFETY RAZOR: Razors with crude guards to prevent deep cuts have been tried out for many centuries past, but the man who gave the world a razor that was not only safe, but also had a separate disposable blade, was an American named King Camp Gillette. Gillette is said to have gotten the idea while shaving with one of the dangerous old “cut-throat” razors one day in 1895. His American Safety Razor Company was formed in 1901, and by 1904, it had sold 90,000 razors and 12,400,000 blades. Today, this kind of razor has hardly changed and is still the most popular shaving method in the world.

  68. 1895, X-RAY APPARATUS: X-rays were discovered in 1895. Their discovery has given a great impetus to the progress of science and surgery and has had far-reaching effects in saving human and animal life and the alleviation of pain. Initial descriptions said that the bones of the living body could be seen (or photographed) by means of these rays, flesh being almost transparent to them, while bones being almost opaque.

  69. 1902, THE VACUUM CLEANER: Dirt not only makes carpets filthy but also sinks into the carpet backing and cuts the fibers. In the past, the only way to get rid of this dirt was to hang the carpet up and give it a hard beating—a tiring and dirty business. It occurred to inventors a long time ago that the best solution was to collect the dirt up and out of the carpet, where it laid flat, via principals of vacuum. The solution—the vacuum cleaner—began life as a much different machine from the trim “Hoover” of today. It was actually a huge piece of equipment that sat outside the house, and hoses were put through windows to collect the dirt via the vacuum.

  70. 1906, SANTOS-DUMONT'S AEROPLANE MOTOR: M. Santos-Dumont built a small flying machine fitted with an Antoinette motor, and on August 22, 1906, he made the first flight in Europe to be officially recorded. On October 23, he made a flight of 25 meters, and on November 12, succeeded in flying 200 meters, winning the prize offered for the first flight of 100 meters.

  71. 1920, MODERN LIGHTHOUSE LANTERN[4]: In the earliest types of lighthouses, open wood or coal fires were used as lights for the guidance of navigators. In due time, these were replaced by tallow candles, but as their range was extremely limited, attempts were made to intensify their light by means of reflectors. The modern lighthouse is illuminated by huge “hyper radiant” lanterns, lit by means of incandescent petroleum vapor, sometimes exceeding 1,000,000 candle power, and weighing as much as 20 tons.

    [4] Although the signaling strength of a lighthouse advanced mostly during the 20th century, lighthouses have been in use as far back as 280 BC.

    [4] Although the signaling strength of a lighthouse advanced mostly during the 20th century, lighthouses have been in use as far back as 280 BC.

  72. 1923, THE HEARING AID: Humans probably discovered at a very early stage that they could hear distant sounds better by cupping a hand to their ear, which may later have led them to use animal horns as ear trumpets. Specially made metal horns were later used, but no electronic device appeared until the Marconi Company produced the valve-operated otophone in 1923. It was cumbersome and weighed 16 pounds, including its sturdy case. Some modern hearing aids, far more efficient, weigh only one-thousandth of this.

  73. 1925, TELEVISION: A number of men contributed to developing a practical method of transmitting pictures by wireless. Dr. L. Weiller, a German, invented a drum of mirrors used to “scan” the scene to be viewed, and an Englishman, A.A. Campbell Swinton, thought of using electronic tubes for transmission and reception. However, it was a Scotsman named John Logie Baird (1888–1946) who began experimenting in 1922, who built the first practical TV system. Baird used a disc scanning system and saw his first TV picture, a Maltese Cross, in 1925. The picture was very blurred—but it was true television. And a few years later Britain had the world's first TV service.

  74. 1930, THE JET ENGINE: Jet engines and rocket engines work basically the same way—a high velocity gas stream is emitted, which produces a thrust in the opposite direction. While a rocket carries all its combustible materials with it, a jet engine sucks in air at the front and mixes it with a suitable fuel. The first man to successfully produce an efficient engine of this type was Sir Frank Whittle, whose early turbojet engine powered the famous Gloster E 28/39 jet in 1941. However, the German designer, Heinkel, had already flown a jet plane in 1939—the He178. Whittle's engine, however, was superior in design, and modern jet engines are based on it.

  75. 1934, CATS EYES: Percy Shaw, the inventor of those tiny reflectors that are sunk into the center of roads, was born in Yorkshire. He used to run a road repair business, and as a young man he realized how dark and dangerous unlit country roads could be at night. On his way home one night, he noticed reflectors on a poster by the roadside. This gave him the idea for “cats eyes” in the road. His first road reflectors were used in 1934, and the design has barely been altered in 40 years, including the simple, effective, automatic collapse of the reflector system when a wheel runs over it.

  76. 1935, RADAR: Radar is one of those inventions that came about largely by accident, but which nature had already created in a slightly different form—in this case, the bat's method of avoiding obstacles in the dark. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, a member of a British scientific team studying radio reflections from the upper atmosphere in 1934, noticed a strange echo on his cathode ray tube. It turned out to be from a distant building. Once it was realized that distant objects could be found, located, and “ranged” by radio waves, the idea was used to track enemy aircraft and then to make air and sea navigation much safer.

  77. 1947, THE POLAROID CAMERA: The Polaroid camera does not actually use polarized light. It gets its name from the fact that Edwin H. Land, its inventor, created the company that made Polaroid sunglasses. However, his camera is an achievement photographers had dreamed about for a whole century—instant pictures without the trouble of separate developing and printing. In fact, these processes are carried out not in the Polaroid camera itself, but in its film pack. After exposure, the negative, in contact with the positive, is drawn through rollers, which break a pod of developing chemicals, squeezing them on to the sensitized surfaces. In ten seconds, the print appears—developed and fixed.

  78. 1947, THE TRANSISTOR: Three Americans are jointly credited with the invention of the transistor—William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain. Their invention was first demonstrated in 1948 at the Bell Telegraph Laboratories in the United States. Transistors have brought about a revolution in radio and electronics and have almost completely replaced the old radio valve because of their remarkable reliability, toughness and incredibly small size. In fact, without the transistor, the computers used in manned spacecraft would have been so heavy that the rockets might never have been able to get off of the ground.

  79. 1954, THE HOVERCRAFT: In 1953, Sir Christopher Cockerell became interested in the problem of 'drag' on ships' hulls as they travel through water. He experimented unsuccessfully with air films under model boats to give a kind of lubricated surface. In 1954, he tried using fixed sidewalls with water-curtains and also hinged end-doors with air pumped into the center. This led him to consider using air-curtains, and one Sunday he made a model out of two empty coffee tins and a small industrial fan-dryer. It worked, so in December 1955, Cockerell applied for his first “hovercraft” patent. The full-size SRN-1 soon showed that the craft could easily travel over land and marshes as well as over water.

  80. 1958, HYDROFOIL SHIPS: The idea of building small vessels that used underwater “wings” to lift the hull above the surface of the water, seems to have originated in France around 1850 when a priest named Ramus demonstrated a model hydrofoil. It failed because he had no way of moving it fast enough through the water. An Italian named Enrico Forlanini built the first successful hydroplane in 1905. It was moderately successful because he used a petrol engine for power. Hydrofoils today offer a simple way to achieve high speed with small vessels without excessive “'wash,” which can damage riverbanks and wash levees away.

  81. PRESENT, A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE: It's an intriguing thought—what inventions would a “Famous Inventions” picture card series published in AD 2075 include? Or one published in AD 2975? Matter transmitters? Faster-than-light spaceship drives? Tele-transporters? Instant health dust? Certainly, some inventions of the future will be as far beyond our present understanding as the transistor would have been even to a keen mind like Faraday's. However, the steps along the way will be marked with the useful, everyday products of inventions—like a shaving cream that dissolves whiskers, perhaps, or a cheap, truly pocket-sized color TV set. One thing is certain: The future holds inventions galore—just waiting to be invented.

In 1899, Charles Duell, head of the U.S. Patents Office, suggested that his office be abolished, stating that “everything that can be discovered, has been discovered.” Clearly, Duell's recommendation was premature, but his statement reflects the attitude from much of society during his time in office. Life expectancies were rising thanks to the development of better public health practices. Incomes throughout the U.S. were rising due to the increased production afforded by industries. Electricity was being made available throughout the country as a “utility,” further symbolizing the increased quality of life for the newly affluent country. Very soon, the Internet will be delivered as a broadband solution from our utility companies through the power plugs in our walls. We will (no doubt) then somehow be billed according to our “utility” use of the Internet. We can suppose, then, there is more to be invented.



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