World History 2 130 - 9.1.1 The Expansion and Transformation of Technology

Many developments of the Second Industrial Revolution built on or improved earlier technology. Mass production of steel, for example, had begun with the development of the Bessemer process in the 1850s. This innovation removed impurities from molten pig iron, producing stronger steel better suited to building rail lines and machines. Later engineers further improved the process. The open-hearth Siemens-Martin process, first developed in Germany in the 1860s, was slower than the Bessemer process, but it produced higher-quality steel that was less brittle. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Siemens-Martin process had become the most common way of manufacturing steel. The mass production of steel made possible the great engineering feats of the Second Industrial Revolution, such as the first skyscrapers and the expansion of railroads (Figure 9.4).

An image shows five long rows of buildings. Smokestacks project throughout the image, some coming out of the buildings and some standing alone, black smoke pouring out of all of them. The building on the left has some taller sections with a tall tower standing at the forefront. A flag waves at the top. Tall round containers run down the length of the building at the left with thin long projections coming off of them leading to triangular shaped items on the ground. To their right running all along them are small smokestacks in a long row with black smoke pouring out. To the right of that, two trains run in opposite directions along train tracks. Four more long buildings are shown at the right. At the forefront of the picture are shown small square objects, a rectangular shaped building, and various train tracks running in and out of the area. The background shows a river and clouds in the sky. The words “The Iron and Steel Works, Barrow.” are written across the bottom.
Figure 9.4 The Second Industrial Revolution was built on steel. Shown here in a British image made before 1877, the Barrow Hematite Steelworks in Lancashire, England, was then the world’s largest producer of steel. (credit: “Steelworks at Barrow-in-Furness, 1877” by Unknown/University of Strathclyde project/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Improvements in steel manufacturing enabled other innovations. As rust-resistant steel became less expensive, more could be used to manufacture rail lines, making them heavier, stronger, and able to support heavier locomotives pulling heavier loads. Railroads expanded across the United States and Europe, carrying more freight and passengers.

Other inventions also made railroads more efficient. The air brake, invented by George Westinghouse in 1869, sent compressed air through a line to enable the train’s engineer to apply brakes from the locomotive. Before this, trains had been braked by workers who jumped from one moving car to the next and applied the brakes manually. The method was obviously very dangerous, and if a train car broke free, there was no way of stopping it. Because trains could now be stopped more safely, they could also travel at higher speeds.

By the end of the nineteenth century, railroads had become a common way of transporting people and products over land across distances long and short. Two new modes of transportation vied with railroads for popularity. The first modern bicycle, the safety bicycle, was developed by John Kemp Starley of England in 1885 and sported two wheels of equal size, unlike earlier bicycles with oversized front wheels that required riders to perch far above the ground. The safety bicycle could be ridden by anyone, including women and children. Developments in rubber-production technology also improved the bicycle. The process of vulcanizing rubber, discovered by American inventor Charles Goodyear in 1839, made it stronger and better able hold its shape under extremes of temperature. (Non-vulcanized rubber melts in the heat and shatters in the cold.) In 1887, Scottish-born inventor John Boyd Dunlop made a pressurized air-filled pneumatic tire from vulcanized rubber, just in time for use by bicycle and automobile manufacturers. Although pneumatic tires had been invented earlier, Dunlop’s was the first practical tire to be mass produced, and he patented his invention in 1888. By the 1890s, bicycling had become popular in Europe and the United States, and tens of thousands of people rode daily.

Eventually eclipsing both the train and the bicycle in popularity in the United States and western and central Europe was the gasoline-fueled automobile, patented by the German Karl Benz in 1886 and marketed beginning in 1888 (Figure 9.5). Within a few decades, the automobile had transformed the world as few other inventions have. Cities and suburbs could expand beyond the reach of rail lines, leading city and national governments to raise taxes to pay for new roads. New businesses that sold and repaired cars replaced blacksmiths and stables. City traffic grew noisier and more dangerous, and autos added their exhaust to the emissions of factory smokestacks. The automobile industry also increased the demand for rubber and petroleum, which most industrialized nations needed to import. Even though the United States was initially able to satisfy its petroleum demands with domestic oil, it had to look elsewhere for rubber.

An old photograph shows an automobile. It has two tall thin wheels in the back and one smaller thin wheel at the front with many very thin spokes on all three. A floor sits high off the ground and a two-person cushioned seat with a back rail and side arms sits on that floor. A crank is on the car’s right side in front of the seat. There is gadgetry between the seat and the floor. The car is on a road with a building, a wooden fence, and trees shown in the background.
Figure 9.5 This 1885 photo shows the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the first automobile sold to consumers. It was a few more decades before automobiles came to resemble the cars we drive today. (credit: “1885 Benz” by Alonso de Mendoza/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The automobile’s arrival depended on another crucial invention—the internal combustion engine. This engine generates power by burning fuel, often some form of petroleum, in the presence of oxygen in a chamber, to produce a gas whose high pressure exerts force on another component such as a piston, rotor, or turbine blade, causing it to move. Internal combustion engines powered automobiles as well as machinery in small workshops, offering an alternative where steam engines, which were large, could not easily fit.

Internal combustion did not become the sole source of energy that powered the Second Industrial Revolution, however. It did not completely replace steam or the horse. Indeed, the steam turbine, invented by Sir Charles Parsons in 1884, provided efficient power for river- and ocean-going vessels. Steam was also used to generate electricity, one of the great developments of the Second Industrial Revolution. Burning coal turned water to steam that moved the blades of turbines, which generated electric current. Parsons’s steam turbine served this purpose in Britain and the United States. Water power also generated electricity; in 1882, the first world’s hydroelectric plant opened in Appleton, Wisconsin. Wind turbines also generated electricity, and in 1911 Italy built a plant to produce electricity from geothermal power. By the end of the century, electricity was the dominant force powering the factories of industrialized nations.

Electricity ran machines in factories and lit streets, workplaces, and homes following the invention of the incandescent light bulb, by Joseph Swan in Britain in 1878 and Thomas Edison in the United States in 1879. The incandescent bulb’s bright light replaced the dim and often odorous illumination of oil and gas lamps that brought the risk of fire and, in the case of gas, of suffocation and explosions. Electric lighting made it possible for factories to operate far into the night.

Communications technology improved when the first transatlantic telegraph line between Great Britain and North America was completed in 1858, and by the end of the century all the world’s continents were connected except Antarctica. The telephone, patented by American inventor Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, spread throughout Europe and North America during the same time, greatly easing business communications. In 1901, the Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi successfully transmitted a wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean from Wales to Newfoundland, Canada. He then founded broadcasting stations in Europe and North America and used them to send communications to ships at sea. In the 1920s, once the vacuum tube and the triode had been developed, commercial radio that broadcast news, music, and radio plays became available as well.

Other discoveries transformed the factory and the home. Chemical experimentation produced synthetic aniline dyes yielding textile colors more intense and vibrant than those from plant dyes, transforming fashions. Along with combine harvesters, mechanical seeders, and horse-drawn machines that reaped, gathered, and winnowed grain in one operation, chemical fertilizers enabled farmers to grow ever-larger crops. Another invention, barbed wire, helped cattle ranchers protect their herds. Refrigerated rail cars were perfected in the 1870s by engineers working for U.S. meat packer Gustavus Swift. The meat and other foods being produced in increasing quantities could now be shipped great distances without spoiling.

Link to Learning

Manchester was one of the first cities in England to industrialize. The online exhibits of its Science and Industry Museum allow you to dive deep into the history of the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

Other inventions made office workers more productive. Typewriters and adding machines were common by the 1880s, and New York jeweler Willard Legrand Bundy patented the time clock in 1888. Upon arriving at or leaving work, employees inserted a card in the machine, which stamped it with the exact time and led to the expression “punching the clock.”

New technology also changed leisure activities. In 1877, Edison patented the phonograph, a machine that could record sound by tracing soundwaves with a stylus on a rotating disc or cylinder and then play it back. Although it had business applications, the phonograph was soon used for entertainment. Phonograph recordings were often combined with the projection of still photographic images to create audiovisual presentations, the forerunners of motion pictures (Figure 9.6).

The black and white image includes seven different images shown in a collage. In the top left is a table with an early phonograph sitting on top. A man on the left in a suit and striped pants is turning a crank that leads to a long projection going through a barrel and leading to a tube. A man sitting at the table is talking into that tube. Behind him two ladies in dresses and a man in a suit with a large moustache are watching. People behind them are standing and watching what is happening. The image is labeled “the Phonograph.” In the middle top of the drawing a man in a dark suit, beard, and small round glasses is standing, reading from a long flowy piece of paper. The image is labeled “the Address.” In the top right a large table is shown with a “L’ shaped item with a long projection coming out of the bottom of the “L.” A man with a beard dressed in a black suit stands at the end of that projection and talks into it. Two women in dresses and large hats and a man with a beard and suit stand at the top of the “L” item listening. In the background behind them twelve men and women in dresses, suits, and hats stand around talking to each other. The drawing is labeled “The Phoneidoscope.” In the bottom right, a tall cabinet with drawers is shown. At the left stands a man in a dark suit holding a rectangular shaped item with lines and circle on it. It has a tube attached to the bottom that runs to an oval shaped object sitting on the cabinet. A man with a beard in a dark suit and a woman in a dress and a large feathery hat stand behind the cabinet looking at the man. Two people are shown standing in the background. The image is labeled “The Syren.” In the middle bottom of the drawing a large rectangular table is shown with three primitive microscopes. Three women in long dresses and large feathery hats lean over the table, observing what is happening. Two men in dark suits lean over and table and one man sits at the far end looking into a microscope. Many people are in the background talking to each other. Under the drawing are the words “The Microscope.” To the left of that scene a man is drawn with a moustache and beard, wearing a dark suit. He holds a stick in his right hand that is pointing to a drawing of two glass bottle connected with a tube at the top. He is holding a paper in his left hand. Behind him is a table with various circular items on it and under the table are the words “Liquifaction of Oxygen.” The drawing in the bottom left shows a man in a black suit sitting at a table holding an open book. The table has five stacked flat rectangular objects on it with two wires running from their top to a circular container another man holds to his left ear. He is standing next to the seated man. Behind them five men and women stand around and talk with each other. The words “The Microphone” are written under the table. The words “Conversazione of the Royal Society.” run along the bottom of the drawing.
Figure 9.6 Only a year after Thomas Edison patented the phonograph, residents of Melbourne, Australia, flocked to see a demonstration of the new machine, as this wood engraving from an 1878 newspaper shows. (credit: “Conversatione of the Royal Society of Victoria” by State Library of Victoria/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Photographic technology advanced in the first half of the nineteenth century, enabling people to permanently record images with a camera. In the late nineteenth century, a number of people began taking multiple photographs of objects or people in motion and replaying them quickly to give the impression of movement. A patent for a machine to do this was filed by English inventor Wordsworth Donisthorpe in 1876, and a variety of photographers and inventors tried to perfect the process in the following years. The most famous experiment was made in 1878 by English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who photographed running horses and replayed the images on a machine he called the Zoopraxiscope. Following the invention of photographic film by New York native George Eastman in 1884, light-sensitive cameras captured images on strips of paper coated with gelatin. In 1887, French inventor Louis Le Prince patented a motion-picture camera that relied on photographic film and used it to record the first movie still in existence: a scene, only a few seconds long, of people walking in a garden in England. The age of cinema had been born, but it was some time before recorded sound and moving images were synchronized.

Beyond the Book

The First “Action” Movie

Of all the inventions of the Second Industrial Revolution, movies are likely the most beloved.

The French were pioneers in the film industry. Many film historians date cinema’s beginning to the first paid public screening by the Cinématographe Lumière, an apparatus developed by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière that both recorded and projected moving pictures. At this event, held on December 28, 1895, at the Grand Café in central Paris, ten one-minute films were shown, including La Sortie de l’usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory), Le Repas de bébé (Baby’s Breakfast), and L’Arroseur arrosé (The Sprinkler Sprinkled), a comedy about a gardener watering his garden. One of their most successful early films was L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat). Only fifty seconds long, it shows a train pulling into the station of a small French town near Marseille.

In attendance at the early demonstrations of the Cinématographe were engineer and inventor Léon Gaumont and his secretary Alice Guy, who became the world’s first female filmmaker, producing more than four hundred films at the Gaumont studio. Georges Méliès also attended; his short film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902) is considered the first science fiction movie. At the start of the twentieth century, the French company Pathé Frères produced more films than any other company in the world.

Thomas Edison was a pioneer in the U.S. film industry, and his studios turned out many silent short films in the early twentieth century. One of them was an action picture called The Great Train Robbery that was made by Edwin S. Porter in 1903. Just over eleven minutes long, it was based on a stage play and is one of many early films featuring trains.

  • Why do you think trains were a favorite subject matter in early films?
  • What would people have found most interesting about Porter’s movie?
  • Why might Porter have thought a movie about the West would appeal to audiences?
  • Why do you think the film ends with one of the robbers firing at the camera?

Link to Learning

Watch the short film A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès. Its film techniques were considered quite inventive at the time.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax