The giant leaps for mankind within the new millennium

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - July 31, 2014 - 12:00am

(Part II – “Catching-up to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal 2015”)

There is nothing as a strong imagination to inflame the child’s intelligence. One of the numerous Montessori lessons therefore that excites the child is the tall chart of the “Totem Pole of Civilizations.” Inspired by the American Indian or New Zealand Maori tribes’ carved wooden poles, the chart pictures nine men in different costumes standing on top of one another – the Primitive Cave Man at the bottom, with the Villager atop of him, the Ancient Civilized Man (representing the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indus, Aztec and Chinese civilization), the Medieval Man, the Renaissance Man, the Explorer, the Colonization Man, the Modern Man and the Spaceman at the very top. Written by Richard Walker, Richard Tames, John Man and Charles Freeman, the book “The Eventful Twentieth Century” is a special Reader’s Digest edition that details the chronological evolution of man’s basic needs in food, clothing, shelter, health, and communication during our transition to the New Millennium.

The 20th century inventions that changed the world

The 20th century inventions sprang from the achievement of a few famous inventors like self-taught Thomas Edison who discovered the light bulb, the phonograph, motion picture camera and the mimeograph. This led to a more disciplined team effort of highly trained and specialized scientists. One single breakthrough led to many surprising directions.

Preceding him in the 18th century was the printer Benjamin Franklin, who first discovered electricity with the key attached to a string of a kite powered by lightning, thus inventing the lightning rods, bifocal binoculars and winter stove. A philosopher, who wrote the popular book of wisdom the “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” helped bring the American Revolutionary War with England to its official end, pitched in the creation of the new nation’s Constitution, and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Electricity turns the massive change in daily lives

Ever since Edison’s first lamp in the 19th century, the better light bulb has been the quest for improved domestic lighting – from an incandescent bulb of 1929 to an ultra-modern filament-free light bulb lasting 60,000 hours. Neon was discovered by French chemical engineer George Claude, passing electric current through neon gas in a tube that could be looped into letters that glowed at night. Fluorescent lighting was a hit in the 1939 New York World’s Fair – when scientists coated the inside of a tube with phosphorous compound to give a safe visible fluorescent light costing just a quarter of the electric consumption of the incandescent lamp.

From the smoke, dirt and mess of the coal-fired range to the gas fed oven of the Victorian age, USA General Electric put together the first electric range with 30 plugs, switches embedded in a wooden table to power an oven, boiler, pots, pans and even an iron for making waffles. A primitive toaster, electric frying pan, electric mixer followed. With the lack of domestic servants, America raced ahead of Europe in pursuit of a “dream kitchen.” By the 1900, Josephine Cochrane, a housewife from the American Midwest commercialized a hand-cranked dish-washing machine. By 1932, the dishwasher detergent went into market. In 1936, the boxed-in dishwasher appeared and by 1940 it automatically added the rinse cycle. This was not introduced in Europe until 1960.

To cope with hot American summers, a door-to-door iceman delivered slabs from the ice-making plant. Domestic refrigerator developed slowly due to the use of hazardous ammonia or sulfuric acid until Swedish engineer, Balzar Von Platen, produced a quiet-running refrigerator with an electric motor to drive the compressor. Then came Albert Henne, who concocted Freon 12, a non-toxic refrigerant.

Looking good

In 1900, men shaved their beards with long “cutthroat“ razor blades and women suffered heavy hot tongs to keep their hair curly. In 1895, salesman King Camp Gillette thought of the disposable blade safety razor. With mechanical engineer William Nickerson, he filed a patent in 1901 and began manufacturing in Boston in 1903. Endorsed by the US Army with its ordering of 4 million safety razors for its troops when America entered the war, the shaving revolution was complete.

Karl Nessler’s creation was the “everlasting hair wave” machine, made up of hot gas pipes with asbestos tubes suspended over the head like a giant spider. Electricity replaced the gas pipes in 1909. Although patented in England and patronized by royalty, it provided little protection in the USA. When he returned to America, he found more than 600 imitators established.

Rhinoplasty (nose reshaping) had been tried in the USA and Germany in 1890. Plastic surgery was already a big business in 1825 with Dr. Suzanne Noel performing facelifts. Silicone gel was formulated in 1943 by Scottish engineer Gilbert Wright. It was only in 1960 when silicone gel implants for breasts were used.

Liposuction was perfected by Yves Gerard Illouz of France in 1977. France also led the way in the chemistry of hair color. In 1909, Eugene Schueller, founder of L’Oreal, succeeded in developing a chemical hair dye. But the organic dye Imedia invented in 1927, led to the development of a wide range of natural shades of hair color for home application introduced two years later. Hair transplant using a follicle-transfer technique made its debut in 1960 in the USA by Dr. Norman Orentreich.

Faster food

Convenience food, like the convenience kitchen, was an American invention dating from the early 1900s. Although the portable, pre-ground hamburger had evolved from a sandwich popular with German immigrants, it was not until the invention of an electric meat grinder in 1900 that commercial production became a possibility. The new food was an instant success at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, in the heart of America’s beef-raising country. The hamburger was born on the American prairies. By the 1990s – through the efforts of McDonald’s and Burger King – it had conquered the world.

To wash down the hamburger, there was cola, first bottled by the Coca-Cola Company in 1899. The World’s most popular soft drink was invented in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, by Dr. John Pemberton as he was seeking a means of making his cough medicines more palatable. When he added fizzy water to sweet syrup, spiked with caffeine and flavored with coca leaves, he discovered that the concoction made a refreshing drink. A colleague gave it a name, Coca-Cola.

Coke’s conquest of the world followed its introduction overseas by American forces in World War II. Global politics were reflected in the fight for market share. Pepsi stole a march when it was first to penetrate the Iron Curtain. And because Coca-Cola was sold in Israel, Pepsi enjoyed a monopoly in much of the Arab world.

Ice cream cone was invented in 1903 by an Italian living in New Jersey, and the hotdog soon joined the hamburger in 1908, its name inspired by a cartoonist who depicted a dachshund trapped in a bun. Heinz and Campbell brought hygiene to industrial food processing of instant canned soup.

By now, the ‘fast-food’ menu was almost complete; all that was lacking was a factory-fast means of retailing it. The diners evolved in the American Midwest from those restaurants which served quick meals to train passengers. The first recognizably modern fast-food outlets were the White Castle hamburger-and-coffee restaurants, devised by Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson.

The preparation of home meals also speeded up, with the invention of pre-prepared baby foods in 1929. Spam (SPiced hAM), the world’s most successful canned meat preparation, was devised by the Hormel company in 1936, and it soon achieved fame – or notoriety – by sustaining Allied forces through World War II.

After some 70 years of failures, the successful instant coffee was formulated in Switzerland by the Nestle Company in 1937; they called it Nescafe. Frozen food was developed in 1924 by adventurer-inventor Clarence Birdseye, almost ten years after he had first had the idea from watching the Inuits of icy Labrador preserve fish and caribou meat. The first precooked frozen food went on sale in 1939, and frozen ‘fish fingers’ appeared over a decade later in 1955.

Who could have foreseen such unimaginable changes?

The Stone Age lasted 2 million years; the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages spanned 5,000 years; the age of water and wind power occupied a further 1,000 years until it was completely shaken apart by the coal-fired, steam-powered Industrial Revolution in the space of mere 150 years.

Into the subsequent 100 yeas were crammed two discernible ‘ages’, electric and electronic, as well as the beginning of a third – our current era – whose limits seem boundless. Now, we find ourselves at the forefront of the Information Age, where the most precious commodity is data – capable of being processed into an infinity of new ideas and devices.

(For feedback email at precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

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