As 2020 is closing out, it’s worth taking a moment to look back and reflect on the last 100 years of engineering achievements. When you think all the way back to the 1920s, it’s hard to believe where we are today. We’re advancing at such a rapid rate that it’s almost impossible to imagine what the next 100 years will bring! Let’s take a look at some of the engineering highlights over the past century:
Frequency multiplexing concept
AT&T develops the frequency multiplexing concept, in which frequencies of speech are shifted electronically among various frequency bands to allow several telephone calls at the same time. Metal coaxial cable eventually is used to carry a wide range of frequencies.
Synthetic rubber developed
Wallace Carothers and a team at DuPont, building on work begun in Germany early in the century, make synthetic rubber. Called neoprene, the substance is more resistant than natural rubber to oil, gasoline, and ozone, and it becomes important as an adhesive and a sealant in industrial uses.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike opens as the country’s first roadway with no cross streets, no railroad crossings, and no traffic lights. Built on an abandoned railroad right of way, it includes 7 miles of tunnels through the mountains, 11 interchanges, 300 bridges and culverts, and 10 service plazas. By the mid-1950s America’s first superhighway extends westward to the Ohio border, north toward Scranton, and east to Philadelphia for a total of 470 route miles.
Direct long-distance calling first available
In a test in Englewood, New Jersey, customers are able to make long-distance calls within the United States directly, without the assistance of an operator. But it takes another decade for direct long-distance dialing to be available nationwide.
Synthetic oils are in development to meet the special lubricating requirements of military jets. Mobil Oil and AMSOIL are leaders in this field; their synthetics contain such additives as polyalphaolefins, derived from olefin, one of the three primary petrochemical groups. Saturated with hydrogen, olefin-carbon molecules provide excellent thermal stability. Following on the success of synthetic oils in military applications, they are introduced into the commercial market in the 1970s for use in automobiles.
The first CD-ROM patented
James T. Russell, working at Battelle Memorial Institute’s Pacific Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Washington, patents the first systems capable of digital-to-optical recording and playback. The CD-ROM (compact disc read-only memory) is years ahead of its time, but in the mid-1980s audio companies purchase licenses to the technology. (See computers.) Russell goes on to earn dozens of patents for CD-ROM technology and other optical storage systems.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner introduced
The first commercial MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner arrives on the medical market.
Human Genome Project
Researchers begin the Human Genome Project, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, with the goal of identifying all of the approximately 30,000 genes in human DNA and determining the sequences of the three billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA. The project catalyzes the multibillion-dollar U.S. biotechnology industry and fosters the development of new medical applications, including finding genes associated with genetic conditions such as familial breast cancer and inherited colon cancer. A working draft of the genome is announced in June 2000.
100 million cellular telephone subscribers
The number of cellular telephone subscribers in the United States grows to 100 million, from 25,000 in 1984. Similar growth occurs in other countries as well, and as phones shrink to the size of a deck of cards, an increasingly mobile society uses them not only for calling but also to access the Internet, organize schedules, take photographs, and record moving images.
Apple Inc. launched the iPad
Its first tablet computer, which offered multi-touch interaction. The iPad became an immediate bestseller and only months after its release became the best selling tech product in history. By the mid-2010s, almost all smartphones were touchscreen-only, and Android and iPhone smartphones dominated the market.
It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come! What engineering achievements do you think will come in the next 100 years? Share this article and let us know what you think!