In this lesson, we explore just a few of the numerous advances and innovations made in the worlds of sciences and technology, from automobiles and televisions to computers and phones that can fit in the palm of your hand.
Science and Tech Since 1945
Have you ever watched a cartoon snowball roll down a hill? It usually picks up snow on its way down, getting larger and larger, before inevitably running over someone. In many ways, the advancement of science and technology since World War II (WWII) has acted a lot like that snowball – out of a few small technological developments and breakthroughs has come even more innovation and new devices which seem to come to market at a faster pace every day.
It’s how we can go from adding machines the size of an apartment to handheld computers in barely a half century. This lesson will detail some of these mind-boggling advances in the world of science and technology since WWII.
Communications and the dissemination of information is so ubiquitous now that we hardly even realize the constant flow of information hitting us. Prior to WWII, the main form of household communications devices most people had in their homes was the radio. Televisions existed, but they were generally very expensive and the programming options were very few. The television exploded in popularity in the 1950s, allowing people to watch important events as they happened in real time.For example, many Americans watched Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969 from the comfort of their own couch.
Likewise, the televised 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II allowed many British residents to see the pomp and circumstance surrounding a royal coronation for the first time.As the decades wore on, television technology became better and better as color televisions largely replaced the original black-and-white sets in the 1970s. Accessories such as video cassette recorders (VCRs) proliferated as screens got larger and the definitions became crisper. In the 1990s, high definition (HD) televisions hit the market which produced a markedly more crisp and vibrant picture than before, though it took approximately a decade before HD televisions became household items in the United States.Telephones also experienced a similarly accelerated increase in use and technological development after WWII. From its invention by Alexander Graham Bell in the late 19th century, the telephone grew increasingly popular and largely replaced the telegraph by WWII, with approximately 30 million phones in service by 1948. After WWII, telephone use continued to expand quickly and by the 1970s over 100 million phones were in use.
The next major advancement in telephone communication came in the 1990s with the proliferation of the cellular phone. Though portable and in-vehicle phones had been experimented with since the 1940s, the first true cellular phones (that is, one that pedestrians could carry with them) did not arrive until the 1980s, and even then they were relatively large, clunky objects and were too expensive for the average person. This changed in the 1990s as cell phones got smaller, faster, and cheaper.The proliferation of text messaging in the early 2000s turned the cellular phone into a multi-use tool. The creation of the smartphone, and most notably Apple’s iPhone, which essentially turned the cell phone into a computer as well, has completely changed the cell phone, putting access to a world of information on a device which only a couple decades ago was used merely for making telephone calls.
The world of transportation has seen similar improvements in technology since WWII, though not nearly the same level of innovation. Indeed, our main modes of transportation – automobile, airplane, train, or ship – are still the same, though they have all undergone serious transformations to improve safety and efficiency.
The world of automobiles, for example, remained largely unchanged for the first century of its existence, but in the past quarter century, environmental awareness and the high price of oil and gasoline has spurred research and development in cars fueled by alternative sources of fuel. All major auto companies now either have an electric car being developed or on the road, and all have successful gas/electric hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius or the Ford Fusion Hybrid.Air travel has made more significant advances since WWII with the advent of the jet engine in the 1950s. Prior to the jet engine, all planes were prop-engines, which used large propellers to generate the speed and air flow over the wings necessary for flight. The jet engine provided enormous amounts of thrust, which made the propeller obsolete, though it should be noted many prop planes are still in service today.
With the jet engine, planes could now fly farther and faster and carry larger loads. Since WWII commercial air travel has exploded in popularity and safety on airlines has gotten increasingly better – as of this writing in early 2014, the United States’ domestic airlines (think Delta, United, or American Airlines) have gone over four years without a major crash.
While all of these innovations are certainly important, arguably the most significant innovation of the 20th century has come in computing. The advances in computing are all the more impressive when you consider that prior to WWII automated computing devices were virtually nonexistent! Indeed, when the first computers were created in the 1940s and 1950s, they were routinely as large as entire rooms and could only complete very simple tasks like basic arithmetic.Once computer scientists got going though, innovation came quickly. In 1953, IBM unveiled the first commercially available computer, the IBM 701.
In 1964, Douglas Engelbart created the mouse to help ease onscreen manipulation, and in 1971 the first microprocessor was invented. The invention of the increasingly powerful microprocessors allowed for more and more information to be stored on smaller and smaller amounts of space, making computers smaller and faster. By the 1980s, both Apple and their rival Microsoft had created the first in-home computers with a graphic user interface meant for the lay-user.As public use of computers grew and corresponding microprocessors got smaller and more powerful, computer companies began innovating portable computers that users could take on the go, the laptop. Though laptop computers were first created in the 1980s, they became less expensive and increasingly used in businesses and in the home in the 1990s. Corresponding devices – the Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA – were created utilizing computer and microprocessor technology that allowed people to keep entire schedules, address books, and other information on a device that could fit in their pocket.
Increasingly in the past 20 years, computers have become a part of our everyday life and have merged with nearly every other technological device we have. Computer and internet access now comes with nearly every cell phone, and many new cars are either run by computers or come with some form of internet access. Computers are also in our walls, from our home alarm systems to new-age thermostats, which track your activity to save energy, and fire alarms which can differentiate between smoke from a kitchen stove and smoke from a house fire.
The technological advancement in the nearly 70 years since the end of the WWII is truly daunting.
Whether its safety advancements in airplanes or the proliferation of information sources and tools, many of these advances can be traced to the development of computers and the computing process of increasingly small microprocessors. Computers are indeed everywhere and in nearly everything today. As innovation has sped up in the past couple decades, we can only assume it will beget even more innovation; it will truly be exciting to see where the computer age leads us in the coming years.
When this video lesson is done, you could:
- List the various scientific and technological improvements since WWII
- Recall some of the changes in communications
- Recognize advances in transportation
- Identify computing as the single greatest change and growth since the 1940s