20th century's greatest engineering
In the 20th century, widespread electrification gave us power for our cities, factories, farms, and homes -
and forever changed our lives. Thousands of engineers made it happen, with innovative work in fuel
sources, power generating techniques, and transmission grids. From street lights to supercomputers,
electric power makes our lives safer, healthier, and more convenient.
The automobile may be the ultimate symbol of personal freedom. It's also the world's major transporter of
people and goods, and a strong source of economic growth and stability. From early Tin Lizzies to today's
sleek sedans, the automobile is a showcase of 20th century engineering ingenuity, with countless
innovations made in design, production, and safety.
Today you can go from Europe to America in 4 hours on the Concorde. In 1900, the same trip took 7 to
10 days by boat. Modern air travel transports goods and people quickly around the globe, facilitating our
personal, cultural, and commercial interaction. Engineering innovation - from the Wright brothers to
supersonic jets - have made it all possible.
4. Water Supply and Distribution
Today, a simple turn of the tap provides clean water - a precious resource. Engineering advances in
managing this resource - with water treatment, supply, and distribution systems - changed life profoundly
in the 20th century, virtually eliminating waterborne diseases in developed nations, and providing clean
and abundant water for communities, farms, and industries.
Electronics provide the basis for countless innovations - CD players, TVs, and computers, to name a few.
From vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits, engineers have made electronics smaller, more
powerful, and more efficient, paving the way for products that have improved the quality and
6. Radio and Television
Radio and television were major agents of social change in the 20th century, opening windows to other
lives, to remote areas of the world, and to history in the making. From the wireless telegraph to today's
advanced satellite systems, engineers have developed remarkable technologies that inform and entertain
7. Agricultural Mechanization
The machinery of farms - tractors, cultivators, combines, and hundreds of others - dramatically increased
farm efficiency and productivity in the 20th century. At the start of the century, four U.S. farmers could
feed about 10 people. By the end, with the help of engineering innovation, a single farmer could feed
The computer is a defining symbol of 20th century technology - a tool that has transformed businesses
and lives around the world, increased productivity, and opened access to vast amounts of knowledge.
Computers relieved the drudgery of simple tasks, and brought new capabilities to complex ones.
Engineering ingenuity fueled this revolution, and continues to make computers faster, more powerful, and
The telephone is a cornerstone of modern life. Nearly instant connections - between friends, families,
businesses, and nations - enable communications that enhance our lives, industries, and economies. With
remarkable innovations, engineers have brought us from copper wire to fiber optics, from switchboards to
satellites, and from party lines to the Internet. Truly, the telephone has brought the human family together.
10. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
Air conditioning and refrigeration changed life immensely in the 20th century. Dozens of engineering
innovations made it possible to transport and store fresh foods, and to adapt the environment to human
needs. Once luxuries, air conditioning and refrigeration are now common necessities which greatly
Highways provide one of our most cherished assets - the freedom of personal mobility. The story of their
construction is one of the most remarkable of the 20th century. Thousands of engineers built the roads,
bridges, and tunnels that connect our communities, enable goods and services to reach remote areas,
encourage growth, and facilitate commerce.
From early test rockets to sophisticated satellites, the human expansion into space is perhaps the most
amazing engineering feat of the 20th century. The development of spacecraft has thrilled the world,
expanded our knowledge base, and improved our capabilities. Thousands of useful products and services
have resulted from the space program, including medical devices, improved weather forecasting, and
Initially a tool to link research center computers, the Internet has become a vital instrument of social
change. Created via a series of engineering innovations, the Internet is changing business practices,
educational pursuits, and personal communications. By providing global access to news, commerce, and
vast stores of information, the Internet brings us together and adds convenience and efficiency to our lives.
From tiny atoms to distant galaxies, 20th century imaging technologies have expanded the reach of our
vision. Probing the human body, mapping ocean floors, tracking weather patterns - all are the result of
engineering advances. Coupled with the computer, imaging gives us incredible new views, both within
and beyond the human body and environment.
15. Household Appliances
Household appliances dramatically changed the 20th century lifestyle by eliminating much of the labor of
everyday tasks. Engineering innovation produced a wide variety of devices, including electric ranges,
vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and dryers. These and other products give us more free time, enable more
people to work outside the home, and contribute significantly to our economy.
16. Health Technologies
Advances in 20th century medical technology have been astounding. Armed with only a few instruments
in 1900, medical professionals now have an arsenal of diagnostic and treatment equipment at their
disposal. Artificial organs, replacement joints, imaging technologies, and biomaterials are but a few of the
engineered products that improve the quality of life for millions.
17. Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies
Petroleum has been a critical component of 20th century life, providing fuel for cars, homes, and
industries. Also critical, petrochemicals are used in products ranging from aspirin to zippers. Spurred on
by engineering advances in oil exploration and processing, petroleum products have had an enormous
impact on world economies, peoples, and politics.
18. Laser and Fiber Optics
Pulses of light from lasers are used in industrial tools, surgical devices, satellites, and other products. In
communications, highly pure glass fibers now provide the infrastructure to carry information via laser-
produced light - a revolutionary technical achievement. Today, a single fiber-optic cable can transmit tens
of millions of phone calls, data files, and video images.
19. Nuclear Technologies
The harnessing of the atom changed the nature of war forever and astounded the world with its awesome
power. Nuclear technologies also gave us a new source of electric power and new capabilities in medical
research and imaging. Though controversial, the engineering achievements related to nuclear technologies
remain among the most important of the 20th century.
20. High-performance Materials
From the building blocks of iron and steel to the latest advances in polymers, ceramics, and composites,
the 20th century has seen a revolution in materials. Engineers have tailored and enhanced material
properties for uses in thousands of applications. In aircraft, medical devices, computers, and other
products, high-performance materials have a great impact on our quality of life.
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