A Brief History
On July 5, 1946, the bikini swimsuit went on sale after being debuted at the Molitor Pool of Paris, France. Ever since, continued developments in this fashion icon have kept the interest of men over most of the globe, and provided Sports Illustrated Magazine with an annual blockbuster issue. Here we list 10 of our (subjective) favorite 20th Century inventions.
10. Napalm and Silly Putty, 1942, 1943.
Napalm came to us in 1942 courtesy of Harvard University, a jelly like gasoline concoction designed to burn people and objects to cinders. The use of Napalm against civilians was banned in 1980. Meanwhile the burning stuff usually dropped from airplanes or sprayed from flame throwers has provided us many thrilling moments on film. The same mighty nation that gave us such a fiendish invention also gave us Silly Putty (an inconsistency often referred to by the late George Carlin), invented either by Dow Corning or General Electric (disputed) in a search for a wartime replacement for rubber in 1943. Just about the coolest stuff on earth, kids can roll it up and bounce it, transfer cartoons and printing from newspapers and comic books, stretch it, snap it, and generally play with the stuff that has no commercial use other than as a toy. It hit the commercial market in 1949 and went into lunar orbit with Apollo 8 in 1968.
9. Photo Copy Machines, 1907.
Yes, I was surprised to find out the invention had taken place so early in the century. Invented by Oscar Gregory, and also developed by the company that became Xerox in 1961 (originally founded by George Beilder in 1907), this wonderful time saver replaced carbon copies as an easy way to make copies of documents for distribution. The reason this invention was so much better than the mimeograph and Ditto machines was that it could copy any sort of picture or page of a book, etc. The original machines and their electrostatic photocopy process gave way to laser printer/copiers and ink jets, and the introduction of color copiers by Canon in 1973 took the technology to a new level. Now we can copy our receipts, documents, and favorite photos right in our own homes. (Honorable mention to digital photography.)
8. Powered Flight, 1903.
Thank you, Wright Brothers, for getting mankind off the ground. The 20th Century saw the development of the airplane, the helicopter, the jet plane and space travel. My life was saved by a Life Flight helicopter ride in 2012, which all by itself makes this invention worthy of the list! Crossing oceans and continents is now much faster and safer than ever thanks to the advances in powered flights.
7. Electronic Music Recordings, 1982.
The Compact Disc (CD) became commercially available in 1982, and quickly replaced the vinyl record and magnetic tape (reel to reel, 8 track, and cassette) as our main method of recording and listening to music. This technology provided much clearer sound in a cheap and compact format, and was later superseded by the use of MP3 players and recording music on flash drives. Now, a tiny flash drive can be plugged into your car’s stereo system and you have access to hundreds and hundreds of songs of your own choosing, accessible by voice commands so no more fumbling with cassettes or CD’s. You could even listen to E-Books or to the entire audio track of a movie as you drive along.
6. Cell Phones, 1973, 1983.
From the first 2 kilogram model demonstrated in 1973 to the first commercially available (barely) service in 1983, we have come an enormous way to the point where the cell phone is an indispensable part of everyday life. Cell towers are scattered over the globe in such profusion that finding yourself in a place with “no service” comes as an unwelcome shock. Even young children are given phones by their parents to better keep in touch, and these wonder devices make it that much easier to narc on other people to the authorities, whether it is drunk drivers, child abusers, or whatever. Throw in the camera and video capability and internet access, video games and an electronic calendar and Rolodex and you have a seriously powerful personal assistant at your fingertips. Just do not text and drive, and never put anything on that phone you would not want the world to see or hear!
5. Electronic (digital) Computer, 1936.
First created as a hypothetical device by Alan Turing, the electronic computers replaced the early analog electric variety that had been developed from mechanical devices that had evolved over hundreds of years. The first such devices had a military application in computing solutions for torpedo attacks and decoding enemy secret codes. The first of what we would recognize as a programmable modern computer was Colossus (British) in 1944 used to break German codes. Using vacuum tubes was supplemented by resistors, capacitors and inductors (no, I do not understand this stuff) and the US had developed ENIAC by 1945, a 30 ton monster with 18,000 vacuum tubes! Those went to good use, as its computing speed and power was 1000 times faster than any other computer. Of course, improvements have been constant, with size going down to teeny tiny size and power (memory and speed) increasing by leaps and bounds, resulting in all sorts of commercial computers giving us all kinds of products designed by computers, built by computers, and run by computers. Our cars each have several computers apiece, and not only do we have our own versions at home, many “smart” phones have computer capability as well. Modern living would not exist without this wonderful invention. (Trivia: When I was in college in the 1970‘s, we still used IBM punch cards and HP perforated tape to run programs, no floppy discs, CD’s, DVD’s, flash drives, etc.)
4. Microwave Oven, 1946, 1955.
First sold commercially as the “Radarange” in 1946 and then to home consumers in 1955, these modern wonders have become so popular many people no longer use conventional stoves at all. Its origins actually go back all the way to 1933 when Westinghouse demonstrated a primitive example at the Chicago World’s Fair. Prior to the widespread use of the microwave, reheating left-overs such as mashed potatoes, spaghetti, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and pizza was a major hassle, usually with no good outcome. The incredible convenience and versatility of microwave cooking and reheating has revolutionized the frozen food industry and you can even get portable 12 volt models for use in your car or truck! To people that are as food-centric as myself, this is a solid choice to make this list.
3. The Internet (World Wide Web), 1991.
An alternate date for “The Internet“ could be 1992 when Congress basically authorized it, and once that was done citizens around the globe had access to each other via the web using the first browser (Mosaic). Obviously the development of the Internet was an ongoing process over many years, but in the form we know of as a user friendly information superhighway we go to the early 1990’s. Today, it is estimated a third of all people in the world have access to and utilize the Internet regularly. Cool features such as this website would not exist without the Internet! (You might be tempted to make this #1, but we are talking about my favorites here.)
2. The Bikini, 1946.
Named after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, a remote speck of land used as a target for testing nuclear bombs, you might be tempted to think this is a sexist choice. Well, women are certainly enamored enough of this fashion statement to buy them up in a frenzy each season and show them off when possible. The “string” and crocheted varieties get our special attention. Louis Reard and Jacques Heim both deserve credit for its invention, earning them a special place in heaven. Oh, and that is sexist! And to think, the century started with women wearing idiotic dress like beach wear.
1. Cable Television, 1948.
Invented by John and Margaret Wilson in Pennsylvania for mountainous areas that suffered poor television reception, the early 1980’s were when cable systems became largely available across the US. When I was a lad, we had 3 VHF channels in Cleveland, ABC, CBS and NBC. This was followed by UHF channels, at first just PBS. Now, we get hundreds of stations, clear as can be, and with rentable features as well, even the Internet coming over the same cable and on the same TV set. Even though the early hype about “no more commercials” turned out to be false, it is hard to imagine living without this modern “necessity.” The main problem is keeping track of all the shows you want to watch. DVR to the rescue!
Question for students (and subscribers): What are some of your favorites? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Yeager, Bunny. Bikini Girls of the 1960s. Schiffer Pub Ltd, 2003.