A Brief History
On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This spacecraft would take 3 American astronauts to the Moon, landing 2 on its surface and return all 3 safely to Earth, less than a decade after the first manned space flight. The US and Americans have achieved many great things, and here we list 10 of them. Not all significant inventions or achievements are necessarily for humanitarian purposes, some of them are for war. Some, like DDT and the polio vaccines saved millions of lives. We list 10 that we think you will find interesting, and invite you to let us know what other American accomplishments we should have listed. (America bashers beware! This list is by definition US-centric.)
10. The Internet, circa 1985.
Although no official opening date exists, the Internet was an American concept actually put forth by the US Government in the 1960’s, interlinking thousands of public and private computer and communication systems, going into effect in the mid-1980’s. During the first few years, almost all Internet use was by government and academic users, with the 1990’s seeing enormous expansion in use by businesses and private individuals. About 100 times more people use the Internet today than in 1995 and well over 90% of US classrooms have Internet access. Al Gore did not invent the Internet, nor did he say he did, but he and others were advocates that made it happen. Thanks, Al. Here are 10 Other ways the Internet has changed our lives.
9. Cell Phones, 1973.
First shown to the world in 1973 by American television and radio manufacturer, Motorola, the cell phone has become a world wide device that makes communications in most civilized places oh so easy. It is hard to even remember what teenagers did before this invention.
8. Machine Guns, 1862, 1884.
Dr. Gatling invented his hand cranked multi-barrel gun in time for limited use during the Civil War, and his guns were still in service until 1911. Hiram Maxim, born in Maine, immigrated to England at age 41 and perfected his automatic machine gun, the first modern such weapon, which was used from then until the 1950’s. The Maxim Gun is the basis for other machine guns that have followed.
7. Panama Canal, 1914.
A project that dwarfed the problems in building the Suez Canal (or any other canal), the US accomplished what the French could not, and provided easy access between the Atlantic and Pacific. Facing incredible engineering obstacles and especially disease, this US achievement accommodates close to 15,000 ships passing through per year and is approaching its millionth customer. The canal and canal zone were turned over to Panama on December 31, 1999. Modifications to accommodate much larger ships are being undertaken at this time.
6. Modern Submarine, 1900.
Invented by John Holland, an Irish-American who sold his idea to the US Navy, which commissioned their first submarine, the USS Holland in 1900. Other attempts at undersea craft go back a few hundred years, including the US Turtle and theCSS Hunley, but these were limited range hand powered craft. In the 19th Century attempts were made at producing steam powered subs, but no practical model appeared until Holland invented a sub that ran on a gasoline internal combustion engine on the surface and on powerful electric batteries and motors under water. Unfortunately, Holland was allowed to sell his designs to other countries and the US Navy failed at a big chance to have a monopoly on modern submarines.
5. Trans-Oceanic Cable Communication, 1858.
American Cyrus West Field masterminded the massive project of laying a telegraph cable from North America to Europe, producing the first trans-Atlantic electronic communication, featuring a message between Queen Victoria (United Kingdom) and President Buchanan (US). An improved version was completed in 1866, and later telephone and other electronic data transmission cables were laid across other oceans as well as the Atlantic. Before this project, communication from Europe to North America took 10 days by boat, but with the cable it would take only a few minutes.
4. First Nuclear Reactor, 1942.
Built in Chicago as part of the Manhattan Project, Chicago Pile-1 became the first man-made nuclear reactor with a controllable self-sustaining nuclear reaction. This led to the production of nuclear electricity producing plants, a potential source of energy for human-kind without burning fossil fuels, if only we could design and supervise enough safety measures into such plants. (Note: Scientists from other countries contributed to this project, but there is a reason it was done in the US, where money, safety, and freedom made it possible.)
3. Model T Ford, 1908.
Built from 1908 to 1927 this was not the first practical car, but it was the first mass produced practical car thatnormal people could afford, costing as low as $260. At one point in the 1920’s, almost half the cars in the world were Model T Fords, truly the car that put the masses behind the steering wheel. 15 million were built.
2. First in Flight, 1903.
Many inventors around the world were working on controlled, powered, manned flight projects, but the Wright brothers from Ohio were the first to make it reality. Unfortunately, they also invented the airplane crash fatality.
1. Men on the Moon, 1969.
The US moon landing in 1969 and subsequent lunar forays made the US not only the first to the moon, but also the only country ever to accomplish a manned moon landing. The Apollo program also provided some really neat photography.
Question for students (and subscribers): What other American accomplishments should we have listed? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Corte, Robert. They Made It in America: A Celebration of the Achievements of Great Italian Americans. William Morrow & Co, 1993.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by James L. Long of the Apollo 11 liftoff, was originally posted to Flickr by State Library and Archives of Florida at https://flickr.com/photos/31846825@N04/8678167050. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the No known copyright restrictions. This work is from the Florida Memory Project hosted at the State Archive of Florida, and is released to the public domain in the United States under the terms of Section 257.35(6), Florida Statutes.