Witness Technological History in the Making


How did innovation and technology change life historically?

There were two technological innovations that profoundly changed daily life in the 19th century. They were both “motive powers”: steam and electricity.

Those who lived through these technological changes, felt them to be much more than technological innovations. To them, these technologies seemed to erase the primeval boundaries of human experience and to usher in a kind of Millennial era, a New Age.

Here’s a historical timeline of technological innovations;

DateInvention or discoveryArticles on Explain that stuff
4–5 billion years agoSun starts to produce energy.Solar cells
10 million years ago.Humans make the first tools from stone, wood, antlers, and bones.Tools and machines
1–2 million years agoHumans discover fire.Biofuels
Car engines
Jet engines
25,000– 50,000 BCEHumans first wear clothes.Biomimetic clothing
10,000 BCEEarliest boats are constructed.Ships and boats
8000– 9000 BCEBeginnings of human settlements and agriculture.Biofuels
6000– 7000 BCEHand-made bricks first used for construction in the Middle East.Bricks
4000 BCEIron used for the first time in decorative ornaments.Iron and steel
3500 BCEHumans invent the wheel.Tools and machines
Wheels and axles
c1700 BCESemites of the Mediterranean develop the alphabet.Digital pens
0– 1500 BCEAncient societies invent some of the first machines for moving water and agriculture.Tools and machines
1000 BCEIron Age begins: iron is widely used for making tools and weapons in many parts of the world.Iron and steel
600 BCEThales of Miletus discovers static electricity.Electricity
Static electricity
c.150– 100 BCEGear-driven, precision clockwork machines (such as the Antikythera mechanism) are in existence.Clockwork
c.50 BCERoman engineer Vitruvius perfects the modern, vertical water wheel.Turbines
62 CEHero of Alexandria, a Greek scientist, pioneers steam power.Steam engines
105 CETs’ai Lun makes the first paper in China.Paper
27 BCE–395 CERomans develop the first, basic concrete called pozzolana.Steel and concrete
~600 CEWindmills are invented in the Middle East.Wind turbines
700– 900 CEChinese invent gunpowder and fireworks.Bullets
1000 CE ??Chinese develop eyeglasses by fixing lenses to frames that fit onto people’s faces.Lenses
1450Johannes Gutenberg pioneers the modern printing press, using rearrangeable metal letters called movable type.Printing
1470sThe first parachute is sketched on paper by an unknown inventor.Parachutes
1530sGerardus Mercator helps to revolutionize navigation with better mapmaking.Satellite navigation
1590A Dutch spectacle maker named Zacharias Janssen makes the first compound microscope.Microscopes
Electron microscopes
~1600Galileo Galilei designs a basic thermometer.Thermometer
16th centuryAntoni van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke independently develop microscopes.Microscopes
Electron microscopes
1600William Gilbert publishes his great book De Magnete describing how Earth behaves like a giant magnet. It’s the beginning of the scientific study of magnetism.Magnetism
1609Galileo Galilei builds a practical telescope and makes new astronomical discoveries.Space telescopes
1643Galileo’s pupil Evangelista Torricelli builds the first mercury barometer for measuring air pressure.Barometers
1650sChristiaan Huygens develops the pendulum clock (using Galileo’s earlier discovery that a swinging pendulum can be used to keep time).Pendulum clocks
1687Isaac Newton formulates his three laws of motion.Motion
1700sBartolomeo Cristofori invents the piano.Pianos
1701English farmer Jethro Tull begins the mechanization of agriculture by inventing the horse-drawn seed drill.Tractors
1703Gottfried Leibniz pioneers the binary number system now used in virtually all computers.How computers work
History of computers
1712Thomas Newcomen builds the first practical (but stationary) steam engine.Steam engines
1700sChristiaan Huygens conceives the internal combustion engine, but never actually builds one.Car engines
1737William Champion develops a commercially viable process for extracting zinc on a large scale.Zinc
1757John Campbell invents the sextant, an improved navigational device that enables sailors to measure latitude.Satellite navigation
1730s– 1770sJohn Harrison develops reliable chronometers (seafaring clocks) that allow sailors to measure longitude accurately for the first time.Quartz clocks and watches
Satellite navigation
1751Axel Cronstedt isolates nickel.Nickel
1756Axel Cronstedt notices steam when he boils a rock—and discovers zeolites.Zeolites
1769Wolfgang von Kempelen develops a mechanical speaking machine: the world’s first speech synthesizer.Speech synthesizers
1770sAbraham Darby III builds a pioneering iron bridge at a place now called Ironbridge in England.Bridges
~1780Josiah Wedgwood (or Thomas Massey) invents the pyrometer.Pyrometers
1783French Brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier make the first practical hot-air balloon.Hot-air balloons
1791Reverend William Gregor, a British clergyman and amateur geologist, discovers a mysterious mineral that he calls menachite. Four years later, Martin Klaproth gives it its modern name, titanium.Titanium
1800Italian Alessandro Volta makes the first battery (known as a Voltaic pile).Electricity
1801Joseph-Marie Jacquard invents the automated cloth-weaving loom. The punched cards it uses to store patterns help to inspire programmable computers.History of computers
1803Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier develop the papermaking machine.Paper
1806Humphry Davy develops electrolysis into an important chemical technique and uses it to identify a number of new elements.Electrolyzers
1807Humphry Davy develops the electric arc lamp.Xenon lamps
1814George Stephenson builds the first practical steam locomotive.Steam engines
1816Robert Stirling invents the efficient Stirling engine.Stirling engines
1820s– 1830sMichael Faraday builds primitive electric generators and motors.Electricity generators
Electric motors
Hub motors
1827Joseph Niepce makes the first modern photograph.Photography
Digital cameras
1830sWilliam Sturgeon develops the first practical electric motor.Electric motors
Hub motors
1830sLouis Daguerre invents a practical method of taking pin-sharp photographs called Daguerreotypes.Digital cameras
1830sWilliam Henry Fox Talbot develops a way of making and printing photographs using reverse images called negatives.Digital cameras
1830s– 1840sCharles Wheatstone and William Cooke, in England, and Samuel Morse, in the United States, develop the electric telegraph (a forerunner of the telephone).Telephones
1836Englishman Francis Petit-Smith and Swedish-American John Ericsson independently develop propellers with blades for ships.Propellers
1839Charles Goodyear finally perfects a durable form of rubber (vulcanized rubber) after many years of unsuccessful experimenting.Rubber
1840sScottish physicist James Prescott Joule outlines the theory of the conservation of energy.Energy
Great physics experiments
1840sScotsman Alexander Bain invents a primitive fax machine based on chemical technology.Fax machines
1849James Francis invents a water turbine now used in many of the world’s hydropower plants.Turbines
1850sHenry Bessemer pioneers a new method of making steel in large quantities.Iron and steel
1850sLouis Pasteur develops pasteurization: a way of preserving food by heating it to kill off bacteria.Pasteurization
1850sItalian Giovanni Caselli develops a mechanical fax machine called the pantelegraph.Fax machines
1860sFrenchman Étienne Lenoir and German Nikolaus Otto pioneer the internal combustion engine.Car engines
Cars, history of
1860sJames Clerk Maxwell figures out that radio waves must exist and sets out basic laws of electromagnetism.Radio
1860sFire extinguishers are invented.Fire extinguisher
1861Elisha Graves Otis invents the elevator with built-in safety brake.Elevators
1867Joseph Monier invents reinforced concrete.Reinforced concrete
1868Christopher Latham Sholes invents the modern typewriter and QWERTY keyboard.Typewriters
1876Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone, though the true ownership of the invention remains controversial even today.Telephones
1870sThomas Edison develops the phonograph, the first practical method of recording and playing back sound on metal foil.CD players
MP3 players
1870sLester Pelton invents a useful new kind of water turbine known as a Pelton wheel.Turbines
1877Thomas Edison invents his sound-recording machine or phonograph—a forerunner of the record player and CD player.Record players
1877Edward Very invents the flare gun (Very pistol) for sending distress flares at sea.Flares
1880Thomas Edison patents the modern incandescent electric lamp.Incandescent lamps
1880Pierre and Paul-Jacques Curie discover the piezoelectric effect.Piezoelectricity
1880sThomas Edison opens the world’s first power plants.Power plants
1880sCharles Chamberland invents the autoclave (steam sterilizing machine).Autoclaves
1880sCharles and Julia Hall and Paul Heroult independently develop an affordable way of making aluminum.Aluminum
1880sCarrie Everson invents new ways of mining silver, gold, and copper.Copper
1881Jacques d’Arsonval suggests heat energy could be extracted from the oceans.OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion)
1883Charles Eastman invents plastic photographic film.Digital cameras
1884Charles Parsons develops the steam turbine.Steam turbines
1885Karl Benz builds a gasoline-engined car.Car engines
1886Josephine Cochran invents the dishwasher.Dishwashers
1888Friedrich Reinitzer discovers liquid crystals.LCD screens and displays
1888Nikola Tesla patents the alternating current (AC) electric induction motor and, in opposition to Thomas Edison, becomes a staunch advocate of AC power.Electricity
Electric motors
Induction motors
Power plants
1899Everett F. Morse invents the optical pyrometer for measuring temperatures at a safe distance.Pyrometers
1890sFrench brothers Joseph and Louis Lumiere invent movie projectors and open the first movie theater.Camcorders
Projection TV
1890sGerman engineer Rudolf Diesel develops his diesel engine—a more efficient internal combustion engine without a sparking plug.Diesel engines
1895German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X rays.X rays
1895American Ogden Bolton, Jr. invents the electric bicycle.Electric bikes
1901Guglielmo Marconi sends radio-wave signals across the Atlantic Ocean from England to CanadaRadio
1901The first electric vacuum cleaner is developed.Vacuum cleaners
1903Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright build the first engine-powered airplane.Airplanes
Jet engines
1905Albert Einstein explains the photoelectric effect.Photoelectric cells
1905Samuel J. Bens invents the chainsaw.Chainsaws
1906Willis Carrier pioneers the air conditioner.Air conditioners
1906Mikhail Tswett discovers chromatography.Chromatography
1907Leo Baekeland develops Bakelite, the first popular synthetic plastic.Plastics
1907Alva Fisher invents the electric clothes washer.Clothes washer
1906-8Frederick Gardner Cottrell develops the electrostatic smoke precipitator (smokestack pollution scrubber).Air pollution
Electrostatic smoke precipitators
1908American industrialist and engineer Henry Ford launches the Ford Model T, the world’s first truly affordable car.Car engines
Cars, history of
1909German chemists Fritz Haber and Zygmunt Klemensiewicz develop the glass electrode, enabling very precise measurements of acidity.pH meters
1912American chemist Gilbert Lewis describes the basic chemistry that leads to practical, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries (though they don’t appear in a practical, commercial form until the 1990s).Lithium-ion batteries
1912Hans Geiger develops the Geiger counter, a detector for radioactivity.Geiger counters
1919Francis Aston pioneers the mass spectrometer and uses it to discover many isotopes.Mass spectrometers
1920sJohn Logie Baird develops mechanical television.Television
1920sPhilo T. Farnsworth invents modern electronic television.Television
1920sRobert H. Goddard develops the principle of the modern, liquid-fueled space rocket.Bullets
Space rockets
1920sGerman engineer Gustav Tauschek and American Paul Handel independently develop primitive optical character recognition (OCR) scanning systems.OCR
1920sAlbert W. Hull invents the magnetron, a device that can generate microwaves from electricity.Magnetrons
Microwave ovens
1921Karel Capek and his brother coin the word “robot” in a play about artificial humans.Robots
1921John Larson develops the polygraph (“lie detector”) machine.Polygraphs
1928Thomas Midgley, Jr. invents coolant chemicals for air conditioners and refrigerators.Air conditioners
1928The electric refrigerator is invented.Refrigerators
1930sPeter Goldmark pioneers color television.Television
1930sLaszlo and Georg Biro pioneer the modern ballpoint pen.Digital pens
1930sMaria Telkes creates the first solar-powered house.Eco homes
Solar cells
1930sWallace Carothers develops neoprene (synthetic rubber used in wetsuits) and nylon, the first popular synthetic clothing material.Kevlar
1930sRobert Watson Watt oversees the development of radar.Radar
1930sArnold Beckman develops the electronic pH meter.pH meters
1931Harold E. Edgerton invents the xenon flash lamp for high-speed photography.Xenon lamps
1932Arne Olander discovers the shape memory effect in a gold-cadmium alloy.Shape memory alloys
1936W.B. Elwood invents the magnetic reed switch.Reed switches
1938Chester Carlson invents the principle of photocopying (xerography).Photocopiers
1938Roy Plunkett accidentally invents a nonstick plastic coating called Teflon.Gore-Tex
Nonstick pans
1939Igor Sikorsky builds the first truly practical helicopter.Helicopters
1940sEnglish physicists John Randall and Harry Boot develop a compact magnetron for use in airplane radar navigation systems.Magnetrons
1942Enrico Fermi builds the first nuclear chain reactor at the University of Chicago.Nuclear power
1945US government scientist Vannevar Bush proposes a kind of desk-sized memory store called Memex, which has some of the features later incorporated into electronic books and the World Wide Web (WWW).Electronic books
World Wide Web
1947John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invent the transistor, which allows electronic equipment to made much smaller and leads to the modern computer revolution.Amplifiers
History of computers
1949Bernard Silver and N. Joseph Woodland patent barcodes—striped patterns that are initially developed for marking products in grocery stores.Barcodes and barcode scanners
1950sCharles Townes and Arthur Schawlow invent the maser (microwave laser). Gordon Gould coins the word “laser” and builds the first optical laser in 1958.Lasers
1950sStanford Ovshinksy develops various technologies that make renewable energy more practical, including practical solar cells and improved rechargeable batteries.Batteries
Electric bicycles
Electric cars
Solar cells
1950sEuropean bus companies experiment with using flywheels as regenerative brakesFlywheels
1950sPercy Spencer accidentally discovers how to cook with microwaves, inadvertently inventing the microwave oven.Microwave ovens
1954Indian physicist Narinder Kapany pioneers fiber optics.Fiber optics
1956First commercial nuclear power is produced at Calder Hall, Cumbria, England.Nuclear power plants
1957Soviet Union (Russia and her allies) launch the Sputnik space satellite.Satellites
1957Lawrence Curtiss, Basil Hirschowitz, and Wilbur Peters build the first fiber-optic gastroscope.Endoscopes
1958Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, working independently, develop the integrated circuit.History of computers
integrated circuits
1959IBM and General Motors develop Design Augmented by Computers-1 (DAC-1), the first computer-aided design (CAD) system.Computer graphics
1960sJoseph-Armand Bombardier perfects his Ski-Doo® snowmobile.Snowmobiles
1960Theodore Maiman invents the ruby laser.Lasers
1962William Armistead and S. Donald Stookey of Corning Glass Works invent light-sensitive (photochromic) glass.Photochromic lenses
1963Ivan Sutherland develops Sketchpad, one of the first computer-aided design programs.Computer graphics
1964IBM helps to pioneer e-commerce with an airline ticket reservation system called SABRE.E-commerce
1965Frank Pantridge develops the portable defibrillator for treating cardiac arrest patients.Defibrillators
1966Stephanie Kwolek patents a super-strong plastic called Kevlar.Kevlar
1967Japanese company Noritake invents the vacuum fluorescent display (VFD).Vacuum fluorescent displays
1968Alfred Y. Cho and John R. Arthur, Jr invent a precise way of making single crystals called molecular beam epitaxy (MBE).Molecular beam epitaxy
1969World’s first solar power station opened in France.Solar cells
1969Long before computers become portable, Alan Kay imagines building an electronic book, which he nicknames the Dynabook.Electronic books
1969Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith invent the CCD (charge-coupled device): the light-sensitive chip used in digital cameras, webcams, and other modern optical equipment.CCDs
Digital cameras
1969Astronauts walk on the Moon.Space rockets
1960sDouglas Engelbart develops the computer mouse.Computer mouse
1960sJames Russell invents compact discs.CD players
1971Electronic ink is pioneered by Nick Sheridon at Xerox PARC.Electronic ink and paper
1971Ted Hoff builds the first single-chip computer or microprocessor.History of computers
1973Martin Cooper develops the first handheld cellphone (mobile phone).Cellphones
1973Robert Metcalfe figures out a simple way of linking computers together that he names Ethernet. Most computers hooked up to the Internet now use it.Computer networks
1974First grocery-store purchase of an item coded with a barcode.Barcodes and barcode scanners
1975Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman invent public-key cryptography.Encryption
1975Pico Electronics develops X-10 home automation system.Smart homes
1976Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs launch the Apple I: one of the world’s first personal home computersHistory of computers
1970s– 1980sJames Dyson invents the bagless, cyclonic vacuum cleaner.Vacuum cleaners
1970s-1980sScientists including Charles Bennett, Paul Benioff, Richard Feynman, and David Deutsch sketch out how quantum computers might work.Quantum computers
1980sJapanese electrical pioneer Akio Morita develops the Sony Walkman, the first truly portable player for recorded music.CD players
MP3 players
1981Stung by Apple’s success, IBM releases its own affordable personal computer (PC).History of computers
1981The Space Shuttle makes its maiden voyage.Space Shuttle
1981Patricia Bath develops laser eye surgery for removing cataracts.Lasers
1981– 1982Alexei Ekimov and Louis E. Brus (independently) discover quantum dots.Quantum dots
1983Compact discs (CDs) are launched as a new way to store music by the Sony and Philips corporations.CD players
1987Larry Hornbeck, working at Texas Instruments, develops DLP® projection—now used in many projection TV systems.DLP® projectors
1989Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web.Internet
World Wide Web
1990German watchmaking company Junghans introduces the MEGA 1, believed to be the world’s first radio-controlled wristwatch.Radio-controlled clocks
Quartz clocks and watches
1991Linus Torvalds creates the first version of Linux, a collaboratively written computer operating system.Computers
1994American-born mathematician John Daugman perfects the mathematics that make iris scanning systems possible.Iris scans
1994Israeli computer scientists Alon Cohen and Lior Haramaty invent VoIP for sending telephone calls over the Internet.VoIP
1995Broadcast.com becomes one of the world’s first online radio stations.Streaming media
1995Pierre Omidyar launches the eBay auction website.E-commerce
1996WRAL-HD broadcasts the first high-definition television (HDTV) signal in the United States.HDTV
1997Electronics companies agree to make Wi-Fi a worldwide standard for wireless Internet.Wireless Internet
2001Apple revolutionizes music listening by unveiling its iPod MP3 music player.MP3 players
2001Richard Palmer develops energy-absorbing D3O plastic.Energy-absorbing materials
2001The Wikipedia online encyclopedia is founded by Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales.Electronic books
2001Bram Cohen develops BitTorrent file-sharing.BitTorrent
2001Scott White, Nancy Sottos, and colleagues develop self-healing materials.Self-healing materials
2002iRobot Corporation releases the first version of its Roomba® vacuum cleaning robot.Roomba
2004Electronic voting plays a major part in a controversial US Presidential Election.Touchscreens
2004Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov discover graphene.Graphene
2005A pioneering low-cost laptop for developing countries called OLPC is announced by MIT computing pioneer Nicholas Negroponte.Computers
2007Amazon.com launches its Kindle electronic book (e-book) reader.Electronic books
2007Apple introduces a touchscreen cellphone called the iPhone.Cellphones
2010Apple releases its touchscreen tablet computer, the iPad.Computers
20103D TV starts to become more widely available.3D Television
2013Elon Musk announces “hyperloop”—a giant, pneumatic tube transport system.Pneumatic transport tube
2015Supercomputers (the world’s fastest computers) are now a mere 30 times less powerful than human brains.Supercomputers
2016Three nanotechnologists win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for building miniature machines out of molecules.Nanotechnology