Inventions and Innovation: A recent development
Sixty years ago, on September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech about the space race at Rice University. In the following portion, he reflects on the exponential growth rate with which mankind has progressed:
“No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half a century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then, about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago, man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.
“Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month, electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.”
I wasn’t alive in 1962, but I can attest to the marvels that have come into being during the time I’ve spent here on earth, and looking at man’s innovations from Kennedy’s perspective, I can also appreciate the wonder those living during the Regency Era must have felt.
In honor of the last 250 years of technology, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some items on the cutting edge from Jane Austen’s day. Can you figure out how the following items were used? After you’ve guessed, have a look at the modern-day equivalent. Did these items change in the ways you imagined they would? I was surprised by how much these tools changed in terms of size over time.
Note: If you’re not sure what they were for, the photo labels are listed at the very bottom of this post.
And the Modern Day Equivalents:
What are they for?
A) Hearing trumpet/ hearing aid: the first mention of a hearing trumpet was found in the writings of Jean Leurechon which dates back to 1634, but the one pictured is a style you might find from around the Georgian period, B) Washing Dolly (used to agitate clothes when laundry was done by hand): long before Jane was born, people were using some form of this type of tool to do this job. I don’t know when the pictured design was first invented, but this seems to be similar to what was used during Jane’s life. C) Tin Can: Peter Durand 1810, D) Battery: Alessandro Volta 1800, E) Ambulance: Dominique Jean Larrey 1792, F) Flush toilet: Alexander Cummings 1775, G) Paper mill, Louis-Nicholas Robert 1798 H) Submarine: David Bushnell 1776, I) Spinning Mule (used to spin cotton into thread), Samuel Crompton 1779