20th Century Major Innovations
The 20th century was the most exciting and innovative era of accomplishments
in the history of society. Those achievements were global and benefited all of
mankind filling fellow humans with awe, wonder, surprise, amazement, pride and
hope for a better future.
Historically, the early 20th century was a great time for theorists. Sigmund Freud wrote of
his psycho analytical theories which explored the mind and dreams and the
unconscious. Albert Einstein proposed his theory of relativity concluding that
everything was relative and that e=mc2. Quantum Physics became the foundation
science for many twentieth century achievements. Hubble illustrated that the
universe is constantly expanding.
Artists like Braque, Picasso, Salvador Dali and Dufy challenged conventional
views of art as did theatrical performers like Isadora Duncan. Birth control
advocates like Marie Stopes expounded theories on married sexual relations.
Fashion designers like Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Vionnet pronounced on style,
comfort and women's right to choose to tan, to behave like men and to become
One the major changes of the 20th century has been within food
production. Food production changed so dramatically in the twentieth
century that it brought better nutrition to many. So plentiful was the
food supply for some, that obesity has become the scourge of western
society. Even so much of the third world still remains
undernourished. The header image shows how Sugar beet harvesting
has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Today, self propelled
harvesting machines remove the leaves and lift the roots in a continuous
operation. The latest machines lift 12 rows in a single pass and have
almost totally removed men from the field. Image courtesy Associated
British Food Ltd.
Advances in science, medicine and creative inventions came at such a rapid
pace that society now complains of information and gadget overload. Innovative
advances that seem mysterious a hundred years ago, soon became commonplace. Society
in history absorbed them all, and everything subtly affected the lives we lead
At the start of the century in 1900 the Austrian, Felix Hoffman discovered
that the bark of the willow tree yielded Salicylic Acid. When prepared this is
called Aspirin. The pain relief tablet first produced by Bayer was revolutionary
at the time. Despite many discoveries of other pain relief tablets it is still
one of the most widely used drugs on earth. More recently it has been used in
the treatment of arthritis using aspirin injections at the site of pain.
Scientists continue to seek new uses for it. It was recently realised that
its potential had been underestimated and it was a very important drug of the 20th
At last in 1901 an understanding of blood group analysis and improved methods
of storage led to the start of blood transfusions. Many, many lives have been
saved with blood transfusions either after accident, during operations, after
illness or through
The Scottish Scientist Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic
penicillin accidentally in 1928. He was culturing bacteria and he went on holiday.
In his haste to go away he left the Petri dish lid ajar and when he returned a
mould had killed the bacteria in the same dish. It took 10 years for scientists
to extract the penicillin from the mould. The wonder drug was still rare at
the start of World War II, but where it was administered (to forces personnel)
it saved lives. Despite problems now with over administration of antibiotics to
people and animals, it is still one of the finest medical drug discoveries of
the 20th century, even though a small minority are allergic to it.
Intense research in the 1940s led to a greater understanding of cancer and
its aggressive nature. Experts began to realise that there was a body of
evidence such as smoking and metal ingestion suggesting causes for the disease.
Now early detection and an understanding of familial susceptibility, combined
with radical surgery, radium treatment and, or chemotherapy can give remission
in many cases.
James Watson and Francis Crick unravelled the mystery of the human genetic
coding called DNA in 1953. They discovered how the genes for recreating life
were arranged in a double helix and the sequence which creates the proteins
which give us our genetic traits.
In the 40 year span since the DNA sequence was recognised scientists working
on the genome have at last unravelled the human gene sequence.
After 1952 mass immunisation programmes using the Salk vaccine for
poliomyelitis, the BCG vaccine for Tuberculosis and the MMR (measles, mumps and
rubella) vaccine were used throughout the western world to reduce deaths from
disease aiming to eradicate such problems. Whilst there was huge success, nature
still has ways of creating mutations such as the new forms of tuberculosis that
are prevalent in inner cities today. When these statistics are reported alarm and shock
filters through a society used to being disease free.
In the 1950s the birth control pill was developed and gave women the control
necessary to decide on controlled families or the option to remain childless.
'The pill' is the only drug called simply by that name without qualifying it
with the word birth or its particular brand name. The pill gave women liberation
and greater freedom of choice enabling them to wear more liberal fashions and live their
lives like men.
Lasers give out concentrated beams of energy. When they were first discovered
in 1960 they had limited uses, but today they are used extensively in the
medical world. They are used too for laser pop entertainment spectacular
shows and media devices such as CD's. Two interesting uses are the correction of
eye defects and the burning away of malignant cells.
In 1967 the world stood transfixed at the news that in South Africa Dr.
Christian Barnard had successfully transplanted the first human heart into
another human being. Many types of organ transplants are now done worldwide.
Kidney transplants have been particularly successful.
The way the brain worked was easier to understand when scientists in 1972
first gained access to imaging through CAT scans, MRIs and later PET scans.
Many lives have been saved using this technology which picks up brain disorders
through images shown on computer screens.
In 1983 the world became aware of a new disease called Auto Immune Disease or
AIDS caused by HIV, a retrovirus, passed on by unprotected contact with the virus
through body fluids such as might occur between drug users of shared needles,
sexual relations or accidental medical situations. Twenty years on it is clearly
understood that both sexes of any race anywhere in society can contract the
disease. Medical research work continues to find a vaccine in the near future.
On 12th December 1901 Marconi sent his first ever message via radio air waves
creating wireless communication. The wireless was the single biggest 20th
century means of communication to herald change in a changing world.
Audiences were thrilled in 1903 to see moving picture at cinemas. The music
hall slowly died. Initially motion pictures were in black and white and were
jerky because fewer frames were used per second than today. After moving pictures
came talking pictures, finally followed by coloured movies in the late 40s.
Radio educated millions and brought communication to far flung places. It
made listeners actively participate as news and events as they happened.
Thousands of radio stations now exist across the world. One famous radio service
is The BBC World Service a standard for information in oppressed countries. It
has been used by individuals to learn to speak the English language.
Television was invented by John Logie Baird in 1923. It was only in the 1950s in the UK that televisions were bought by the masses after people
marvelled at seeing Queen Elizabeth II and her coronation. Such spectacles still
entertain people around the world whether they are royal ceremonies, film Oscar
nights, Olympic games or live news.
Initially televisions had black and white pictures, but many people replaced
their TVs in the 1970s and embraced colour pictures. Later developments
included satellite television with hundreds of channels, interactive TV and wide
flat screen digital TVs. Now in the 21st century a similar trade up is occurring
as people upgrade TVs to wider 32'' screens or models called home cinemas.
Television has educated and entertained masses of people and improved global
communications. People saw other people's lands and wanted to travel to them
because television gave the first glimpse of a country.
We have watched wars as
they happened and seen man's inhumanity to men and women whilst trying to
understand the politics of other nations. We have watched history good and bad being made
when news footage of the Berlin Wall showed it first going up and many years
later the wall being torn down. People have watched presidents and politicians assassinated.
People have been traumatised by events such as the catastrophe of September 11th
2001 unfolding before their eyes. They have also been thrilled by
momentous occasion such as seeing the first black President Barack Obama
TV enabled the world to witness man land on the moon and
globally feel a surge of great privilege, insignificance, awe and pride at man's
achievement all at the same time.
We have shared great sports events. We have
been mesmerised by the beauty of nature and wildlife and seen spectacular eclipses
that rain prevented us from watching in our
home towns. We have laughed at great entertainment and been spellbound by the
folk heroes of our time. We have enjoyed quality costume drama productions and
films of every era from ancient Egyptian and Roman spectacles to fantasy space
worlds. All this through the medium of television in
the comfort of our own homes.
Television is so important to our lives that in first world countries it is
classified by governments as an essential household item. Most homes in the UK
own a minimum of two television sets. Often there is a set for every individual
in the household.
The inventors out there might enjoy this
Updated Feb 2009.
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