Transportation is defined as the means of conveyance or travel from one place to another.
In this “Imagine Life Without” post, we’re “traveling” back to the invention that sparked transportation as we know it…the ship.
Around 4,000 BCE, the ancient Egyptians were making wooden sailboats and around 1200 BCE, the Phoenicians and the Greeks began to make even larger sailing ships. The advent of the ship was a huge step forward for humanity because it was one of the first forms of transport that enabled commerce to begin happening between different parts of the world.
The Wheel (3400 BCE)
The next significant step in the history of innovation came with the creation of the wheel, sometime between 3300 and 3500 BCE. This timing can be inferred from the discovery of the earliest known depiction of a wheeled vehicle on a clay pot in southern Poland.
The wheel made the transportation of goods much faster and more efficient, especially when affixed to horse-drawn chariots and carts. However, if it had been used only for transportation, the wheel wouldn’t have been as much of a world-changer as it was. In fact, a lack of quality roads limited its usefulness in this regard for thousands of years.
Compass (Between the 9th and 10th centuries)
The Chinese invented the first compass sometime between the 9th and 11th century; it was made of lodestone, a naturally-magnetized iron ore, the attractive properties of which they had been studying for centuries. Soon after, the technology passed to Europeans and Arabs through nautical contact. The compass enabled mariners to navigate safely far from land, increasing sea trade and contributing to the Age of Discovery.
The compass provided explorers with a reliable method for traversing the world’s oceans, a breakthrough that ignited the Age of Discovery and won Europe the wealth and power that later fueled the Industrial Revolution. Most importantly, the compass allowed for interaction—both peaceful and otherwise—between previously isolated world cultures.
Steam Engine (1712)
Cars, airplanes, factories, trains, spacecraft—none of these transportation methods would have been possible if not for the early breakthrough of the steam engine. The first practical use of external combustion dates back to 1698, when Thomas Savery developed a steam-powered water pump. Steam engines were then perfected in the late 1700s by James Watt, and went on to fuel one of the most momentous technological leaps in human history during the Industrial Revolution.
Throughout the 1800s, external combustion allowed for exponential improvement in transportation, agriculture and manufacturing, and also powered the rise of world superpowers like Great Britain and the United States. Most important of all, the steam engine’s basic principle of energy-into-motion set the stage for later innovations like internal combustion engines and jet turbines, which prompted the rise of cars and aircraft during the 20th century.
Internal Combustion Engine (1807)
In 1807 Francois Isaac de Rivaz of Switzerland designed the first internal combustion engine that ran inside the first automobile. This first experimental prototype was powered by hydrogen gas and oxygen. The Rivaz car stored compressed hydrogen gas in a balloon and it had an electrical Volta cell ignition.
In these engines, the combustion of a fuel releases a high-temperature gas, which, as it expands, applies a force to a piston, moving it. Thus, combustion engines convert chemical energy into mechanical work. Decades of engineering by many scientists went into designing the internal combustion engine, which took its (essentially) modern form in the latter half of the 19th century. The engine ushered in the Industrial Age, as well as enabling the invention of a huge variety of machines, including modern cars and aircraft.
Car Jack (1851)
Did you know that the portable hydraulic jack has been in existence for over a 150 years? On July 8, 1851, the Scottish-born mechanic and inventor Richard Dudgeon received the Patent No. 8,203 from the US patent office, for a “portable hydraulic press.” It was an immense improvement on the screw jacks that were in use at the time as they required a lot less effort.
Dudgeon immigrated to the United States with his family where he started a machine shop in New York. His shop was a huge success thanks to his brilliant inventions, and the business ‘Richard Dudgeon Inc.’ is still in existence today.
The invention of the Rover safety bicycle in 1885 led to paved roads and, eventually, technology used in cars. It also gave Western women unprecedented mobility. “I think [bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world,” suffragist Susan B. Anthony told the New York World in 1896. “I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”
Assembly Line (1901)
Cars, mobile phones, beauty products, processed food and even jewelry have something in common – they are all manufactured through an assembly line. The assembly line is a systematic, sequential method of production of goods which is cost-effective since it lessens mistakes and hastens production time. In 1901, the basic concept was introduced by Ransom Olds, through his motor vehicle company in Michigan. But the assembly line that has left a lasting influence on the manufacturing world was that of the production of the Ford Model T by Henry Ford’s motor company in 1908. Initially, the assembly line was composed of workers, later replaced with machines and most recently, more sophisticated robots.
The Airplane (1903)
In 1903, we saw the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, on the North Carolina coast with the first successful flight of a manned machine occurring on December 17.
Ford’s Model T (1908)
For the first time in history, the ownership of a motor vehicle became affordable and transformed the way people moved around towns and cities. Able to travel 25 miles on one gallon of gas, the Model T had a maximum speed of 45mph. In 1914, with mass production in full swing, 308,162 cars were built, and by 1924 the price of the Model T fell to just $260. In 1927, after the production of over 15 million Model Ts, production of the car finally ended, with Ford turning its attention to its new Model A.
Traffic Light (1912)
Managing the traffic of pedestrians and vehicles at intersections would be nearly impossible without the help of the traffic light. The modern electric traffic light was invented in 1912 by Lester Wire, a policeman from Salt Lake City. It was originally just red and green, for stop and go respectively.
Crash Test Dummy (1949)
The first crash test dummy was developed in 1949 by Samuel W. Alderson, an inventor from California. Information from research on animals and human cadavers is used to design the crash test dummies initially used to test aviation safety. Today, these crash test dummies are used in a wide array of situations to simulate human body response.
Space Travel (1961)
During Yuri Gagarin’s flight aboard Vostok 1, which lasted 108 minutes, Gagarin, just 27, seemed overcome with emotion. “I see earth! It is so beautiful,” he is reported as saying. Gagarin’s trip into space, at the height of the Cold War, ushered in a new era in space exploration. As well as pushing the U.S. on to put a man on the moon, the space race also helped spark a revolution in communications satellites, changing the way phone calls and eventually data traveled around the world.
Bullet train (1964)
Before the Hikari No. 1 was launched in October, 1964, traveling by train between Tokyo and Osaka – Japan’s two largest cities – would take the best part of a working day. But with a top speed of 210 kph, the world’s first bullet train reduced the journey to four hours. Today, thanks to further technological developments, the trip takes just over two hours, soon to be reduced to around an hour.
Seat belts (1964)
It seems normal to wear seat belts these days, but only 50 years ago hardly any cars had them, and next to no one wore them. It was research by Monash University scientists back in 1964 that led to the world’s first laws that seat belt anchorages be installed in all new cars. Think of all the lives that have been saved since.
GPS or more commonly referred to as the Global Positioning System first came into existence in 1978 when it was the navigation system for actual U.S. military warriors. The government opened up GPS for civilian use in 1983, after the Soviets downed a Korean airline in a no-fly zone. Magellan sold the first handheld unit in 1989. Using 32 satellites to help it in its operation, the GPS now points to your location with incredible accuracy.
From the ship to GPS and today, self-driving cars – we’ve certainly come a long way…
We hope our efforts to share some information inspired you to submit your next idea and who knows, maybe someday we’ll be wondering what life would be like without YOUR idea!