You do not have to be a student of history to understand the impact that the internet has had on progress. Every aspect of our lives, from shopping, to learning, to entertainment has been enhanced and furthered by its existence. In fact historically, civilization has defined itself by industrial advances and national supremacy has been determined by the states that had the best and most modern and therefore most efficient industries. In this article we’ll take a look at the industrial innovations that had an impact on nations and moved civilization closer to today’s digital world. If you are expecting to see the skyscraper, airplanes, and the automobile, well that is another article. Here we’ll look at the advances that in combination with other innovations, made the invention of these modern marvels possible.
Historians have noted that by the 18th century the world came to a crossroads. Long an agrarian society, improvements to inventions such as the printing press and the cotton gin were enabling more middle class people to move up in society and to achieve greater status in their communities. Civilization became industrialized, and the focus among nations became weath accrual through industrial means. Wars were fought and won based on innovative weaponry forged in factories and laboratories such as cannon, guns, and later tanks, finally the atomic bomb. Below we present a list of the industrial innovations from the 18th and 19th centuries that drew on previous breakthroughs and served to catapult civilization to the dawn of the digital age.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell/Ignition/friction matches: Unintentional fires were rampant, but how could man create fire at will? In 1826 a British druggist named John Walker created the sulphur tipped match, out of curiosity, not a specific need. Everyone from smokers to Boy Scouts owe him a debt. At the same time in Wales, William Grove, a physicist and attorney combined assorted metals, porcelain plates, and an acid solution to produce the first fuel cell. Without controlled ignition, combustion, and fuel cell advances, inventions such as the electric car would not be possible.
Faraday Principle- Electromagnetic Generator/Electromagnetic findings: we could not drive today, the Panama canal would not have its superior switching system, even today’s hospital operating rooms would not exist had William Sturgeon not built upon developments from Faraday, Oersted, Ampere, and Arago to create the world’s first electromagnet. Later his design was improved upon by Joseph Henry who built a strong electromagnet capable of lifting 3,600 pounds.
Photography: Joseph Niepce is considered the father of modern photography. From an 8-hour exposure of the view from his window, over the next 15-years Niepce produced long-lasting images through his unique chemical development process. Magazines and even movies would not exist had he not persisted in refining his early imagery and techniques.
The Bessemer Process: the mass production of steel from molten pig iron that produces strong metal created a boom in industries such as building (skyscrapers would not exist without it), appliances, tools, gages, automobiles, ships, and anything that requires a sturdy infrastructure or height.
The tin can: the next time you open a can of beans on a camping trip appreciate that this experience would not be possible without Peter Durand. In 1810 he created the first thick-walled tin can to preserve food. This invention has positively impacted health, sanitation, exploration, and even brought about the invention of the can opener!
The first factory: history has all but forgotten an Englishman named Lombe who invented the factory. The structure was built as a silk processing mill that employed 300 persons and is remembered as the first fully mechanized factory in the world. Henry Ford and his innovative assembly line came much later!
Steam engine/steam powered locomotives: trains as we know them today owe their existence to James Watt who created a steam engine based on earlier, less successful inventions. With the integration of a crankshaft and gears, soon the Iron Horse became a reality. Modern transportation was born.
Modern batteries: arguably, the first batteries date to ancient greece, but modern, electric-charged batteries were the brainchild of Volta, improved upon my Cruickshank and Plante with the rechargeable nickel-cadmium battery invented by Junger at the turn of the 20th century. Flashlights would not exist without it!
The Arc Lamp/Gaslight: Using batteries, Sir Humphry Davy built the first arc lamp which was later refined with the development of electric generators several decades later.
The Telegraph: attributed to many, the telegraph made nearly instant communication across great distances a reality, and the future digital age possible.
Portland Cement/McAdam paving roads: Portland cement was invented in 1824 and the construction industry has never been the same. Every structure from subways to sewage systems includes precast concrete to retain their strength and structural integrity. While superhighways did not begin to bisect the landscape until after WWII, paved roadways owe their existence to John McAdam. It was McAdam who revolutionized road construction by inventing durable paving compounds.
Computers: did you think this article could be written without mentioning the computer? From room sized metal and wire calculators used to crack enemy codes in wartime in twenty years time the computer morphed to more powerful yet desktop-sized machines that revolutionized the way we work in offices. Even today’s tablets and smartphones would not exist without some of the innovations mentioned in this article including batteries, fuel cells, steel, and factories!
These innovations have been narrowed to the industrial realm and do not speak to medical breakthroughs, such as the development of penicillin in the 1930s, nor chemotherapy, or even x-rays. Perhaps we’ll cover the worldwide impact of those advances at another time. For now, it is enough to realize how one invention influenced the development of another and yet another until we have arrived at the Digital Age. What’s next? Oh, that is not one article, but an entire series!