Creating the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations of 1867-1914 and Their Lasting Impact

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Oxford University Press, Aug 25, 2005 - History - 368 pages
The period between 1867 and 1914 remains the greatest watershed in human history since the emergence of settled agricultural societies: the time when an expansive civilization based on synergy of fuels, science, and technical innovation was born. At its beginnings in the 1870s were dynamite, the telephone, photographic film, and the first light bulbs. Its peak decade - the astonishing 1880s - brought electricity - generating plants, electric motors, steam turbines, the gramophone, cars, aluminum production, air-filled rubber tires, and prestressed concrete. And its post-1900 period saw the first airplanes, tractors, radio signals and plastics, neon lights and assembly line production. This book is a systematic interdisciplinary account of the history of this outpouring of European and American intellect and of its truly epochal consequences. It takes a close look at four fundamental classes of these epoch-making innovations: formation, diffusion, and standardization of electric systems; invention and rapid adoption of internal combustion engines; the unprecedented pace of new chemical syntheses and material substitutions; and the birth of a new information age. These chapters are followed by an evaluation of the lasting impact these advances had on the 20th century, that is, the creation of high-energy societies engaged in mass production aimed at improving standards of living.

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1 The Great Inheritance
2 The Age of Electricity
3 Internal Combustion Engines
4 New Materials and New Syntheses
5 Communication and Information
6 A New Civilization
7 Contemporary Perceptions
Name Index
Subject Index

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Page 139 - Glorious, stirring sight!" murmured Toad, never offering to move. "The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here to-day— in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped— always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!
Page 270 - The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.
Page 246 - Rays of light will not pierce through a wall, nor, as we know only too well, through a London fog. But the electrical vibrations of a yard or more in wavelength . . . will easily pierce such mediums, which to them will be transparent.
Page 153 - But in our daily dealing With stone and steel, we find The Gods have no such feeling Of justice toward mankind. To no set gauge they make us,— For no laid course prepare— And presently o'ertake us With loads we cannot bear. Too merciless to bear.
Page 57 - gang" that ran., but, in this case, only to the end of the room, afterward said: "At the time it was a terrifying experience, as I didn't know what was going to happen. The engines and dynamos made a horrible racket, from loud and deep groans to a hideous shriek, and the place seemed to be filled with sparks and flames of all colors. It was as if the gates of the infernal regions had been suddenly opened.
Page 106 - A combustible mixture of gas or vapour and air is introduced into the cylinders, together with air or other gas that may or may not support combustion, in such a manner that the particles of the combustible mixture are more or less dispersed in an isolated condition in the air or other gas, so that on ignition, instead of an explosion ensuing, the flame will be communicated gradually from one combustible particle to another...
Page 188 - The fixation of nitrogen is vital to the progress of civilised humanity. Other discoveries minister to our increased intellectual comfort, luxury, or convenience ; they serve to make life easier, to hasten the acquisition of wealth, or to save time, health, or worry. The fixation of nitrogen is a question of the not far distant future.
Page 23 - My father was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse doctor, and I was both, along at first. Then I went over to the great arms factory and learned my real trade; learned all there was to it; learned to make everything; guns, revolvers, cannon, boilers, engines, all sorts of labor-saving machinery. Why, I could make anything a body wanted — anything in the world, it didn't make any difference what; and if there wasn't any quick newfangled way to make a thing, I could invent one — and do it as easy...

About the author (2005)

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba, and the author of 19 books, including Feeding the World (MIT Press, 2000), Enriching the Earth: Transformation of World Food Production (MIT Press 2001), and Energy at the Crossroads (MIT Press 2003).

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