By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2001)
This page summarises
the important events and discoveries that changed the world, its societies,
populations and its environment. By restricting the events to important
discoveries, this page allows you to take note of the full development
of mankind while not wasting your time. When learning about the history
of Man, much emphasis is usually placed on nations, rulers and their military
exploits. However, the real development of human society follows a pattern
which is independent of its rulers, being entirely dependent on natural
resources, knowledge and technology.
Having evolved to an erect,
thinking and talking ape over millions of years of evolution, Man has found
ways of evolving at an even faster rate by extending his faculties by means
of technology. Ironically, the technology evolved following the same rules
as the evolution of species, but much faster and more profound. Having
given humanity the means to live longer, eat more and to live more comfortably
in any place on the globe, human populations have risen above sustainable
levels. At the same time, technology is causing lasting damage to the environment,
which may ultimately destroy human civilisation. Is this the predictable
path that intelligence takes? The predictable fate which has overcome all
intelligent civilisations everywhere else in the universe, before they
could seed themselves to other planets? Will humans be able to control
themselves by the very intelligence that is threatening to destroy them?
Previous civilisations have
risen and fallen, yet humanity has survived. But these were localised events.
Present civilisation on the other hand, ranges world-wide, causing world-wide
problems like the ozone hole, global warming, global pollution, weather
changes and so on. It has exploited the minerals and energies found world-wide
and changed the world environment profoundly. So this one is not a local
event, and it could well be the last one.
Here is a schematic overview
of the development of intelligence, be it on this planet or anywhere else:
-2 million years: among all
creatures, it must be an animal (which moves), which can develop intelligence.
It cannot be a grazer because grazers spend too much time eating on all
four feet. It cannot be a predator because they are higher up the food
pyramid, needing large territories, living singly or in very small groups,
and having too much armament in claws and jaws. It must be an omnivore,
capable of switching diets (plants&fruits, animals, insects) and living
in a multitude of environments. It must rely on experience rather than
instinct, so its children are born helplessly and have a long childhood.
Eventually this creature must develop dexterity, so it is not a
walking type, but a tree-living type. Being able to live in groups, it
develops group skills such as politics, altruism and communication. By
leaving the trees and by walking upright, its dextrous hands are freed
to become handy. It develops primitive tools from sticks
and stones. Learning is mostly by imitation.
-1 million years: the omnivorous
and opportunistic life style allows humanoids to live in groups,
finding food easily. They develop further social skills, resulting
in language. It harnesses fire by finding a way to carry
it along. Later it finds ways to make fire. Fire for cooking
allows it to eat a much larger range of food, enabling larger group densities.
-100,000 years: language
develops and extensive survival skills can be transferred from elders
to children. Learning is done by imitation, assisted by language. History
is taught. Hunting is done in groups, furthering social skills. Language
develops further. Humans will defend large territories. Within their
patches, they will promote plants and animals useful to them, while
eradicating those hindering them. Finding food becomes easier and their
groups become larger. Consensus behaviour (religion) becomes an
important survival instinct. Tribes develop. Habitat destruction
-50,000: hunting with
weapons has become an important source of protein. Language is complete.
painting, singing, weaving, clothing, develop fully and also ceremonial
rituals. Humans are now fully capable of spreading all over the
world, often necessitated by their growth in numbers. Important plants
and animals are reared at home and spread as tribes migrate.
settle down in fishing villages along the coast. They live in semi-permanent
housing. Shifting agriculture allows human population to grow
tenfold. Slavery develops, since human labour is the only form of
energy. Food storage is carried in living stock. New diseases come from
human wastes. Wars are waged for extended territories.
-10,000: development of settled
agriculture by ploughing, weed control and irrigation. Tribes can grow
sufficiently large to establish villages and to maintain a bureaucracy
and professional warriors. Houses become permanent. Capital
develops and a social hierarchy. Tenfold increase in population.
Division of labour: guilds and professionals develop. Organised religion.
-5,000: extensive domestication
of cattle, beasts of burden and crops. Horses and camels twice as energy
efficient as oxen. Invention of the wheel, projectiles, metals.
develops. Growing contact with domesticated animals introduces new human
-3,000: extensive ceremonial
buildings, temples, bridges, roads, iron and other metals. Nations
develop, replacing or unifying tribes. Land trade. Schools. Nations
wage war to one another.
-2,000: reliable agriculture,
crop rotation, philosophy, beginning of written science. Ships
and coastal trade. Money. Accumulation of capital. Building
canals, aqueducts, roads, cities. Hydro and wind power. Soil nutrients
no longer return to their origins, the land, but are wasted by cities.
Water pollution, soil erosion and degradation set in. Major communicable
diseases erupt in densely populated areas.
-1,000: scientific method,
experimentation, medical knowledge begins. Extensive trade and accumulation
-500: invention of book printing.
Rapid spread and storage of knowledge. World explorations, world trade,
world exploitation. Spread of biologically invasive species and aquatic
exchanges by ships and canals. Rapid growth of technology: ships, transport,
steel, other metals, etc. Medical technology to prolong life: hygiene,
surgery. Universities. Colonisation of other nations. Slavery. The
can now blossom in times of prosperity and peace.
-200: use of fossil fuel
for engines, industry, building, transport, war. With fossil fuel, bigger
projects could be done, and more transported, including fuel, minerals
and fertilisers. Public schools for everyone, leading to mass literacy.
and sanitation. Separating drinking water from waste water.
Sewers. Populations surge. Democracy as preferred form of
government, opening the way to scrutiny and public access to information.
Mining releases poisons, that were once stable underground. Soil erosion.
End of the slave trade and slavery.
-100: Extensive progress in
science and technology. Mass production. Immunisation and vaccination.
Air pollution over cities. Sewage treatment with bacteria. Longer lives.
Understanding of genetics leads to vastly improved crops. Beasts of burden
disappear from cities.
-50: Air planes. Invention of
the computer to extend the mind. Space technology. Birth control.
fertilisers. Crops selected for their response to fertiliser. Sewage
treatment plants. Massive accumulation of capital creates a capital speculation
economy. Development of global markets & global corporations. Free
movement of capital moves dirty labour-intensive industries to poor
0: civilisation peaks. Overpopulation
and overexploitation of our environment. Maximal production by mechanised
farming with fertilisers. Genetic engineering. Serious environmental
degradation. Some very large cities, stretching the limits of urban
metabolism. Populations increasing at maximal rates.
+50: A new era which won't resemble
anything in the past. Civilisation reaches an unsustainable level of complexity
and vulnerability? Limits of biosphere reached? Limits of cities reached?
Ecological collapses? Massive species extinctions? End of fossil fuel?
Energy-based systems collapse, and with it stored knowledge or access to
it? Agricultural land fatigues and produces less? Anarchy rules? Civilisation
collapses? End of the nation-state?
The above is but a schematic
time line, but notice how one invention could not have occurred without
the previous, thus making the whole development of civilisation predictable
(with hindsight). Most previously collapsed civilisations overextended
themselves in their war machines and bureaucracies, at a time that their
agriculture collapsed due to poor farming practices and sheer pressure
to deliver. Our present civilisation managed to bypass this trap by developing
world trade, exploiting other nations' agricultural and mineral resources
(colonisation) and by discovering fossil fuel to subsidise everything we
do. However, a new trap now presents itself. Will we be sucked in, is the
Warm and cool periods In
considering the history of mankind, often the most important influence,
that of temperature, is overlooked. Having come out of an ice age, only
12 millennia ago, the growth of civilisations was possible only by increasing
temperatures. The world of 18 millennia ago was very poor and very barren.
Only some 6 millennia ago the planet warmed sufficiently to sustain growing
populations, but even then some remarkable fluctuations in temperature
occurred, all with similar results: during the warm periods, societies
flourished while during the cold periods they suffered disease and famine.
The above chart was made
by climatologists Cliff Harris and Randy Mann. Click on the image for a
version and relate this to what follows below.
Philosophers often refer
to the three major transitions of mankind, the developments that changed
society profoundly. After three beneficial transitions, they are now seeing
the fourth as troublesome:
medical knowledge, immunisation, hygiene, sanitation give longer and better
lives: reduced death rates, increased birth rates (fertility), longer life
spans, lower disease risks. It has doubled the human life span but also
introduced new diseases of old age.
green revolution, giving
more food: fertilisation, irrigation, pest control, mechanisation and improved
crops gave more and better food, and has allowed populations to grow fourfold
in the twentieth century, also introducing unknown degrees of famine and
suffering and inequality. It has changed the way of life of tribes, previously
living in harmony with nature. It started the depopulation of the land
and the overpopulation of cities.
giving more material wealth and comfort: industrialisation, mass production,
mining and transport caused new health risks due to changed lifestyles,
like smoking-induced, obesity-induced and pollution-indused diseases. It
also led to distribution problems, the rich getting richer and the poor
poorer, but average world incomes quadrupled. The global economy increased
twentyfold. Tractor power displaced more people from the country to the
preventing further health risks due to an overload of the biosphere: humanity
is facing increased risk of epidemics due to population densities (tuberculosis,
cholera, typhus), spread of new diseases due to mobility (AIDS, Ebola,
Dengue, Marburg, rinderpest, foot-and-mouth, mad-cow), spread of old diseases
due to temperature change and irrigation (malaria, yellow fever), multiple-drug
resistant (MDR) diseases, collapse of civility (poverty wars, dictatorships),
deaths from wars and disasters, death and disease due to massive resettlement
(fleeing war, crop failures, drought), irreversible loss of species, and
Unlike the preceeding three
revolutions which happened by themselves, the fourth revolution is one
of prevention of serious risk, something which requires a co-ordinated
effort, motivated by the most humane of human qualities. What chance does
it have of succeeding in the face of so much injustice, disparity, dishonesty
and avarice, while time is also running out?
Read the history of mankind
below in this light, and be amazed at how much it accelerated in the most
recent fifty years.
Colours show the advances
in building, agriculture/food,
Important discoveries are
bolded. Note that discoveries were often
made in different places of the world at different times. Use the Edit/search
in page option of your browser to search for specific events.
Diamond, Jared: Guns,
germs and steel, the fate of human societies. 1997. W W Norton &
Hellemans, A and B Bunch:
timetables of science, a chronology of the most important people and events
in the history of science. 1988. Simon & Schuster.
McNeill, J R: Something
new under the sun, an environmental history of the twentieth-century world.2000.
WW Norton & Co.
Asimov, Isaac: Asimov's
chronology of science & discovery. 1990. Grafton Books
Harpur, Patrick (ed): The
timetable of technology, a record of our century's achievements. 1982.
Marshall Editions London.
Goat Island Sustainability Transition: a call for action by twelve
concerned scientists. (4 pages)
home -- Revised: 20010922,20011003,20011014,20020904,20170617,
civilisation or period
year and discovery
stone age: 2,400,000BC - 35,000BC
2,400,000BC: hominids in Africa
manufacture stone tools.
750,000BC ancient hearths in
France show that Homo erectus used fire.
of wholesale habitat destruction by fire.
90,000BC: Homo sapiens
79,000BC: stone lamps
with wicks are in use.
45,000BC: Early humans reach
modern Man: 35,000BC - present
35,000BC: Homo sapiens sapiens?
±25,000BC: Humans play
first music, using wind and percussion instruments.
20,000BC: first boomerang in
Poland; sewing needle; bow and arrow in Spain,
bones to count.
15,000BC: Retreat of terrestrial
ice sheets from last ice age, completed. Lascaux cave paintings show that
early humans could draw and paint.
13,000BC: end of the last ice
age, which began 2 million years ago. (The Antarctic ice sheet was formed
38 million years ago and is still there.) Humans reach North America over
Bering Strait. Within 2000 years they reach south America and have exterminated
most large mammals, without domesticating any.
thrower and harpoon invented.
Agriculture: 12,000BC - present
of brick and mortar in Jericho
agriculture in the Nile valley. Human population estimated between
2 and 20 million.
6000BC-2000BC?: ocean waters
rising by 100m after last ice age.
continued at Bronze Age below.
Civilisations of Asia, China,
Indochina: 8000BC - present . The Chinese attitude towards nature was
different from other civilisations, in that they never separated matter
from the sacred world, and did not have the conviction that people dominated
nature. They were not interested in developing scientific method or theories,
relying instead on practical and empirical data. Science could therefore
not develop to the extent it did in Western Europe. Because of its religious
character, science was less pronounced in India, hindered by Buddhist philosophy,
which insists on rebirth of matter and creatures.
8000BC: rice in Indochina; floodwater
agriculture in SW Asia.
7000BC: the pig
and water buffalo domesticated in eastern Asia and China
6500BC: Modern-type domesticated
wheat and lentils in SW Asia.
cattle domesticated in Thailand;
domesticated in India; cotton cultivated in
culture in China.
culture of rice. Wooden plough.
1500BC: distillation of liquor.
1400BC: China invents multiple
cropping in a year.
numerals used in China.
1200BC: China casts bronze
1000BC: The compass
used in China
876BC: India invents the number
zero (0); Natural gas from wells is used in China.
600BC: whale oil lamps with
asbestos wicks in China.
540BC: Indians develop a geometry
based on stretching ropes.
is made in India. Chinese farming is
very advanced with hoeing weeds, planting crops in rows and fertilising.
(Europe follows 2300 years later, 1800AD)
310BC: The Chinese invent a
double-acting bellows, blowing air uninterruptedly. The chest
harness for horses invented. Lodestone used for compasses.
260BC-100BC: the Great Wall
is built in China
230BC: China develops the federal
bureaucratic system that runs China for the next 2000 years.
200BC: The Chinese
develop a malleable form of cast iron.
110BC: the chinese invent the
harness for horses, the most efficient harness to this day. The
West follows a thousand years later. Chinese invent the crank
handle for turning wheels. The Chinese invent negative
50BC: the Ayurveda details medical
treatise in India.
20BC: the Chinese invent the
belt drive, and methods for drilling deep wells.
1AD: the Chinese build suspension
bridges of cast iron, strong enough for vehicles. Wheelbarrow invented.
bellows for making steel.
70-1327: the 950km Grand Canal
of China, built in many stages over a millennium. The
chain pump for raising water from rivers or lakes. A grain winnow
operated by wind. The powder of dried Chrysanthemum
flowers (Pyrethrum) used to kill insects. Around
this time, also paper was invented,
first for packing but later for writing.
115: China's Zhang Heng scientist
and inventor develops a grid to locate positions on a map. Around this
time he also invents the seismograph for recording earthquakes.
190: the Chinese invent the
whippletree mechanism which allows two oxen to pull one cart. Stirrups
for horses. They also invent the decimal system
for representing all numbers. Invention of porcelain.
270: first use of compass in
China, pointing south. Around this time, using coal instead of wood for
making cast iron. The compass was not used for navigation until after 1000.
400: chinese invent steel
540: a wind-driven land vehicle.
Matches invented. Paper used as toilet paper.
printing in China, discovered 100 years earlier. Printed
newspapers. Gunpowder invented.
used for warfare.
810: use of paper
bank drafts, forerunner of paper money, 80 years later.
1000: extensively burning
coal for fuel. Spinning wheel invented. Movable
type book printing invented.
1107: the Chinese invent multicolor
printing, mainly to make paper money harder to counterfeit. Maps printed.
1180: a 213m long bridge across
the Yung-ting River (Marco Polo Bridge). Invent bombs
that produce shrapnel.
1403: the chinese issue a 22,937
volume encyclopedia in three copies.
1644: Li Zi-Cheng overthrows
the Ming dynasty, but the Manchus take over China.
1800: jute is cultivated in
1855: the third pandemic of
bubonic plague begins in China.
Civilisations of Middle America:
Peruvian and Chilean Incas, Central American Mayas and Mexican Aztecs.
and beans cultivated in Peru; pumpkins in Middle America
based on corn, squash, beans and peppers in the Tehuacan Valley,
Mexico. Chinchorro Indians produce mummies.
5000BC: the Llama
and Alpaca domesticated in Peru
2400BC: peanuts domesticated
in tropical Americas. Pottery.
1000BC: the city of Machu Pichu
in the Peruvian Andes, from the first Inca
800BC: The Olmec build byramids
300BC: the turkey is domesticated
1290AD: cable bridges across
deep canyons in the Andes
1325: Aztecs found Mexico City
bronze age 7000BC - 1400BC;
bronze was the main metal, until iron was used by the Hittites, 1400BC.
Extensive use of iron started around 1000BC; forging it around 1400AD.
Bronze consists of 90% copper and 10% tin, and can easily be cast. It is
not oxidised easily, and makes lasting, strong, objects of any form.
The stone age is sometimes
split in old stone age to 8000BC, new stone age (with agriculture) 8000-3000BC,
Bronze age 3000-2000BC, Iron age 2000BC-500AD when the middle ages begin.
4500BC?: stones are used to
construct buildings in Guernsey, England.
2900BC: Stone Henge in England
2200BC: further extensions to
Stone Henge with 80 bluestones.
350BC: Celtic chiefs build fortified
Maiden Castle in Dorsset, Britain.
mills for grinding corn (Yugoslavia, Albania)
510AD: the abacus
used for counting, although already for 1000 years in use in Greece
continued at the Middle Ages
in Europe, below.
Middle East, Asia Minor,
7000BC: Domesticated cattle
in Anatolia (Turkey)
wheat cultivation starts, leading to the world's most important food source.
in use in Mesopotamia.
and mules domesticated in (Israel); camels
2500BC: The Yak
is domesticated in Tibet.
2000BC: Alfalfa cultivated in
Iran. Wheels with spokes invented.
terraced the land to prevent erosion.
850BC: First arched
bridge built in Smyrna, Turkey.
(coins) invented in Turkey. Babylon becomes the largest city on
Earth, with an area of 100km2.
200BC: Philon uses bronze
springs in catapults.
600AD: earliest known wind
mills using a vertical shaft, to grind grain.
3500BC? - 525BC. ends with Persian conquest (General Cambyses, emperor
calendar of 365 days, 12 months of 30 days and 5 festival days.
±3500BC: Menes becomes
first Pharaoh, uniting Upper and Lower Egypt.
3200BC: Egyptians use hieroglyphs
for writing, and develop their number system, but requiring
new symbols as numbers grow larger. Using papyrus
to write on. alphabet?
ships used in Egypt.
The Egyptians and Babylonians
make extensive use of bronze, an alloy
of copper and tin.
Pyramid of Giza is built.
2000BC: Contraceptives used
in Egypt; Geometry well known.
1700BC: Phoenicians (on the
Algerian coast) writing with a 22 letter alphabet.
1600BC: Start of the New Kingdom.
Medical knowledge includes surgery, prescriptions, fasting, massage and
1500BC: Light two-wheeled
carts for warfare.
1400BC: Inventon of glass, also
1300BC: Moses leads the Hebrews
1250BC: Egyptions build a canal
to link the Nile with the Red Sea.
1000BC: Phoenicians terrace
agricultural land to prevent erosion.
950BC: Darius I builds another
such canal, effectively connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas.
5000BC - 2300BC by Sumerians; 2300 - 1600BC by Akkadians; 1600BC -
±5000BC: The plough?
& the wheel? Sailing ships.
and domesticated grapes in Turkestan; Beer in Mesopotamia; Olives
in Crete; Fired bricks invented in Mesopotamia.
3500BC: Pictograms with 2000
signs used for writing in sumeria. Egyptians and Sumerians smelt
silver and gold. Potters wheel introduced in Mesopotamia. Wheeled
vehicles in Mesopotamia.
3000BC: In Mesopotamia the Sumerians
are familiar with domes, columns, arches and vaults.
for length, weight (shekel and mina) and volume standardised.
for land taxation. Sexagesimal system (base-60) for position indication.
Aegean (Minoan) civilisation:
3500BC - 1640BC: In Crete, named after King Minos; destroyed by volcanic
eruption. Capital city of Knossos had plumbing and palaces. Minoans wrote
in Minoan Script.
1640BC volcano Santorini (Thera)
explodes, destroying the Minoan civilisation
Greek civilisation: 1150BC
- 529AD. Started by Mycenaean warriors from the North; ended by the Byzantine
776BC: First Olympiad
of science and natural philosopy begins, with advances in astronomy,
physics and the life sciences. Major improvements in mathematics, architecture,
technology, mechanics, navigation, health. Aqueducts,
canals and water tunnels for irrigation and drinking water.
Agricultural crop rotation as a soil conservation measure.
570BC: Xenophanes finds fossil
sea shells on tops of mountains, and concludes that the surface of the
Earth is in motion.
travel by ship around Africa.
530BC: Technology invents tools
like the bubble level, locks and keys, carpenter's square and the lathe
(in Samos). Extensive ore smelting and forming.
500BC: Pythagoras discovers
that Earth is a sphere. World
461BC: The age of Pericles begins,
a period of peace and prosperity. Many Greek philosphers flourish.
430BC: The great plague strikes
410BC: Invention of the catapult
and quadrireme (four rows of rowers) warships. It gives
advantage in sea wars, and conquering sea-bordering nations.
classifies 500 animals into 8 classes. Discovers that space is always filled
336BC: Start of the reign of
Alexander the Great, who spreads Greek culture from Egypt to India.
300BC: The Greek discover the
functions of animal and human organs. Euclid geometry proves helpful for
building. Dicaerchus constructs a world map on a sphere, correctly marking
meridians and equator.
240BC: Eratosthenes calculates
the circumference of Earth at 46,000 km; also the prime numbers.
invented for the ox-powered waterwheel. Accurate water clock
80BC: Greek engineers invent
has the largest library on Earth.
10BC: Herod the Great builds
the first open sea port.
40AD: De materia medica describes
the medical properties of ±600 plants and ±1000 drugs.
180: Galen compiles all medical
knowledge in one systematic treatment.
library at Alexandria is destroyed
Assyrians: 1350BC -
Roman civilisation: 350BC
- 470AD, A large empire, extending from Europe to Britain and down into
Africa, but short-lived. It was ended by German invaders after Rome having
been sacked first, in 455 by vandals. The Romans perfected infrastructure,
bureaucracy and transport (goods, people and information).
320BC: the Via
Appia along the Italian peninsula built. The
Aqua Appia, an aqueduct to bring water to Rome from 16km away.
100BC: Romans discover possolana
concrete from volcanic ash.
100AD: Peak of Roman civilisation.
agricultural irrigation practices to their conquered lands.
122AD: Romans in Britain build
Hadrian's Wall to protect Britain from northern tribes.
455AD: Roman civilisation ends.
0AD: Human population estimated
at 200-300 million. By this time, almost all the
productive land around the Mediterranean Sea had eroded into badlands.
iron age 1000BC -. Already
4000BC, iron was known from meteorites, and campfires lit over iron ore
soils. By 1000BC most civilisations had mastered the art of iron making.
Islamic/ Arab culture:
700-1300. Intensive commercial activity brought this culture in contact
with many others, which contributed to Arab thinking. Centres of learning
were established and 'houses of wisdom', and all known knowledge was compiled
and preserved. Under Arab influence, the Spanish cityof Cordoba became
the richest and largest cityin europe, with a library of 400,000 volumes.
840: Suleiman travels to China.
middle ages in Europe
early middle ages 530-1452:
the decline of science, suppressed by the might of the Catholic Church,
and adherence to the old ideas of Greek philosophers.
541: A serious bubonic plague
rages over Europe and the Middle East.
becoming used on a large scale. Waterwheels
used to drive industrial processes.
furnaces for making cast iron in Scandinavia.
1000: Vikings reach North America.
Europe has many waterwheel-drive wheels. In
England one per 400 people. The iron plough share
invented in Europe.
1100: Italians learn to distill
wine to make brandy.
1277: The Pope issues a condemnation
of many scientific ideas.
1140: Norman king Roger II decrees
that only licensed physicians can practise medicine.
1189: First paper
mill in Herault, France. Magnetic compass
introduced in the West.
1250: The goose
feather quill is used for writing.
1260: Roger Bacon starts the
new tradition of science by experiment,
also William Ockham (Ockham's razor:"When several explanations are
offered, the simplest must be taken"). Spinning wheel in Europe.
1310: Mechanical clocks with
escapements. China still uses water to power its clocks.
1340: A small cannon firing
1340-1349 (1346-1352?): The
Black Death plague epidemic kills 25 million people, one third of its population.
During the next 80 years, it recurs frequently, killing 3/4 of Europe's
1370: The steel
crossbow invented. Rockets used for war.
Cast iron becomes generally available.
1400: Coffee introduced. Holland
uses windmills for pumping water and reclaiming land.
Alchemism, believing that one metal could be turned into another, ends.
Fossils are considered the remains of prehistoric organisms. The Dutch
use driftnets for fishing.
belts are being used in industry.
1440: Johann Gutenberg (1398)
and Lauren Janszoon Koster invent bookprinting
with movable type. Spectacles for the nearsighted. Gutenberg
prints the bible in 1454, 42 lines per page.
Human population estimated at
The renaissance and the
scientific revolution 1453 - 1659, starts with the invention of book printing,
the fall of Constantinople, and ends gradually as science takes flight.
It was a time of renewing knowledge about the Greek classics and Arabian
mathematics. Explorations to distant countries discovered new plants, animals
and minerals. Painting and architecture bloomed. The world was opened by
navigation and commerce and the further discovery of knowledge. "Science
is the enlarging of the bounds of human empire to the effect of all things
possible." Francis Bacon, 1603. But the Church fought back. Surgery and
medicine made huge strides forward.
1453: The Turks capture Constantinople,
forcing many Greek-speaking scholars to escape to
the West, bringing with them clasical Greek manuscripts and the ability
to translate them into Latin.
1473. Michelangelo paints the
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The firsst edition of Avicenna's Canon of
Medicine is printed in Milan. Leonardo da Vinci makes scientific discoveries
like the parachute, flying machine, clock with pendulum, roller bearings,
1493: Pope Alexander VI draws
a line on a map that gives Spain all the undiscovered lands to the west
of the line and Portugal those to the east. Later the line was altered
to give Brazil to Portugal. Tobacco and smoking introduced to Europe.
1498: Vasco Da Gama reaches
India via the Cape of Good Hope, rounding Africa. Columbus discovers America.
Capsicum peppers circle the world in 50 years, being accepted world-wide
in all continents.
1502: First spring-driven pocket
watch by Peter Henlein. Raw sugar is refined a year later.
1507: Maps show America, discovered
by Columbus and first explored by Americus Vespuchus (1497-1504).
+ and minus - signs in mathematical notations. Machiavelli's Il
Principe (The Prince) presents a study on how to rule and stay in power,
laying the basics for politics.
1517: Girolamo Fracastoro explains
fossils as the remains of actual organisms. Biology starts to recognise
the kinship between fish, reptiles and mammals.
1519: Portuguese explorer Ferdinand
Magellan starts the voyage around the world,
which is completed in 1521 by Juan Sebastian del Cano after Magellan was
killed by natives.
1520: A smallpox epidemic demoralises
the Aztecs, allowing Hernando Cortez to destroy them and take over the
Aztec empire. A few years later, smallpox would kill Huayna Capac, the
Inca ruler. Muskets and guns are used extensively.
also devastate wildlife through hunting.
1535-45: diving bells for underwater
work are invented. Science of ballistics. Metal
smelting, glass making. Nicholas Copernicus
publishes his De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, in which he describes
the revolution of the celestial bodies. Andreas Vesalius publishes De
humani corporis fabrica (On the structure of the human body), showing
the true structure of the human body. Sebastian Muenster's
is the first major compendium on world geography.
of the theodolite for surveying by Leonard Digges. The way blood
circulates in the body, discovered.
numbers for solving differential equations. Mercator introduces his map
projection. Knowledge about minerals, where to find them and how to process
them, accumulates rapidly. Also chemistry makes strides forward.
1589: Knitting machine invented
by Rev William Lee. 1592: Galileo's Della Scienza
meccanica (On the mechanical sciences).
a charcoal-like fuel produced by heating coal discovered. Coke would
allow engineers to reach higher temperatures and to use carbon chemically
in industrial processes.
builds the first telescope, which would introduce many new astronomical
discoveries. Rainbow explained. 1610: Galileo extends hydrostatics, Archimedes'
discovery of floating objects. Nature of logarithms discovered. 1617: Trigonometric
triangulation. The knowledge of optics increases.
Extinction of the Aurochs, wild ancestor of domestic cattle. Perhaps heralding
the beginning of the age of extinctions.
Renee Descartes argues for the correct use of deductive reasoning in science,
from metaphysical (philosophical) principles. 1643: Torricelli makes the
first barometer. Pascal invents a machine that can add and subtract.
Experiments with vacuum. 1659: Christaan Huyghens invents the chronometer
for use at sea. This instrument would be critical for determining the longitudinal
positions of ships. Huyghens also invented the microscope which would trigger
the science of microbiology.
The Newtonian Epoch 1660-1734.
this period starts with the foundation of the Royal Society (for science).
The period is largely dominated by the ideas of scientist Isaac Newton
and many others. Scientific academies followed in other countries. The
scientific method was formulated for analysis and synthesis. It requires
theories to be formulated from observations; these are then tested and
used to predict other phenomena. Observation and experimentation became
the pillars of science. This separated physics from metaphysics (philosopy)
and made scientists look for new things rather than the past achievements
of old masters. Many mathematical innovations by scientists like Newton,
Leibniz, Euler, Bernouilli, Fourier.
1660s - 1662: Boyle defines
the gas laws of volume and pressure. England is
producing 2 million tons of coal a year, over 80% of all world coal.
1665: cells and the nervous system described. Robert
Hooke publishes his microscopic discoveries in
The great plague in london kills over 75,000 people. mathematical calculus
1670s- 1673: Anton van Leeuwenhoek
makes microscopic discoveries like protozoa. Experiments with electicity.
1676: Robert Hooke invents the universal joint,
used in all moving vehicles. 1678 wave theory of light described
by Huyghens. Clocks are equipped with hands to show minutes. Newton's binomial
algorithm and complex numbers. Accurate clocks.
1687: Newton establishes the
three fundamental laws of motion in his Principia. Motion of celestial
bodies explained by gravity.
1690: Denis Papin is the first
to use steam pressure to move a piston, building the
first steam engine in 1698; the high pressure steam pump in 1707.
1694: male and female sex organs on plants identified and described. 1696:
Marquis Antoine discovers differential calculus.
Tull invents the machine drill for planting seeds. 1703: First western
seismograph (the Chinese did it first). 1708: Hard-paste porcelain discovered.
1709: Coke used for iron smelting. Jacob Christoph
Le Blon invents three-colour printing.
1713: Emanuel Timoni describes
the Turkish practice of inoculating young children with smallpox to prevent
more serious cases of the disease when they get older; laying the basis
1722: Renee de Reaumur describes
making of steel from iron. Jacob Leupold describes the theory
of mechanical engineering and making machines. 1728: advances
in dental treatment. 1729: Bernard Forest de Belidor in La science des
ingenieurs lays down
construction rules for
1730: Renee de Reaumur constructs
an alcohol thermometer with a scale from 0-80 from freezing to boiling.
Discovery of bacteria.
1731: Jethro Tull in Horse-hoeing
husbandry advocates the use of manure, pulverising
the soil, growing crops in rows and hoeing to remove weeds.
Human population estimated at
The Enlightenment and the
Industrial Revolution 1735-1819. In the enlightenment, rationalism
won over God or faith. Due to Newton's success in science, other faculties
followed suit, embracing the scientific method. Knowledge was to come from
experiment (empiricism) and reason (rationalism). Chemistry could make
no real progress because it was dominated by the incorrect 'phlogiston'
theory, but towards the end of this period, John Dalton made real progress.
The industrial revolution was driven by the invention of the steam engine
and the use of coal as fuel. Cottage industries made room for factories.
A new class, the capitalists emerged, who used capital, labour and machines
to create more capital. The use of fossil fuel to replace labour, enabled
them to acquire capital at an exponential rate, creating many millionaires
in the process. It also spurred the prospecting for minerals, needed by
the industrial processes. Guns and improved traps started to eradicate
wildlife. As people travelled to far away lands, they brought with them
invading species such as rats, goats and sheep, which caused major damage
to native wildlife.
1735: John Harrison made an
accurate chronometer for navigation and proved its worth for determining
longitude. This greatly improved the safety and accuracy of shipping. Natural
rubber discovered. Euler describes mechanics in terms of differential
1738: Bernouilli explains the
behaviour of liquids and objects in liquids. 1741: Steller's sea cow is
discovered living off the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula. Within 27 years
it has been hunted to extinction. 1742: Anders Celsius invents the Celsius
scale for temperature.
1750: Advances in electricity
and magnetism. Benjamin Franklin describes electricity as a kind of fluid
and distinguishes between positive and negative charges. Carolus Linnaeus
works on classifying plants, inventing the binnary nomenclature classification
system. The flying shuttle finds acceptance in cotton
weaving, and so does the spinning jenny, both invented decades earlier.
1754: The first steel rolling mill in England. Etienne Bonnet realises
that knowledge reaches humans only through the senses. First woman with
a degree of medical doctor (Germany). The beginning of quantitative chemistry
would herald a new age for chemistry.
1760: Euler invents the phi
function, which in the computer age would be used for 'open key' encryption.
Optical instruments developed, free from aberration. Conversion
of cast iron into malleable iron by the action of pit fire and
artificial blast, in Scotland.
1765: James Watt (Scotland)
builds an efficient steam engine in
which the condenser is separated from the cylinder so that steam acts on
the piston directly, resulting in a power source six times more effective
than the earlier invented Newcomen engine. This machine is rapidly accepted
as the driving force for industry.
1768-1771: Captain James Cook
leaves England to observe the planet Venus transit the sun on the 3rd June
1769, from Tahiti. It led to the discovery of New Zealand in 1769, where
he raised the British flag. On board were botanist Joseph Banks, the Swedish
naturalist Daniel Carl Solander and Charles Green, astronomer. He also
discovers that there is no 'balancing continent', except Australia.
1771: John Hunter lays the foundations
of dental anatomy and pathology. 1772 Johan Elert Bode discovers that the
distances of the planets to the sun are proportional to the series: 0,
3 ,6, 12, 24, 48, 96 (Bode's Law). 1775: Invention of the dipping-needle
compass. Pierre-Simon Girard invents the water
turbine. Equipment for boring cylinders and cannons improved.
1777: David Bushnell invents the torpedo. 1778: John Wilkinson invents
turning lathe. 1779: Oxygen discovered
by Lavoisier, which would lead to more rapid chemical discoveries.
1782: James Watt patents a double-acting
steam engine and converts the piston motion to a rotary motion. First
steam-engine powered paddleboat. 1783 Thomas Bell develops cylinder
printing for fabrics. Hot air and hydrogen balloons
invented. 1784 Benjamin Franklin introduces bifocal eyeglasses.
Henry Shrapnel invents the shrapnel shell,
which spreads pieces of steel around at explosion, designed to kill people.
1787: Fredrich Krupp establishes a steel plant at Essen, Germany. John
Wilkinson builds the first iron barge,
would change the face of shipping.
1789: The USA introduces its
first patent law. The first steam-driven
cotton mill in Manchester. James Watt invents the governor, a centrifugal
device that controls the rotational speed of steam engines. Many
factories become powered by steam after these inventions. Abraham
Bennett invents a simple electric induction machine, which would lead to
1790: Bloodletting as a treatment
for disease denounced by Marshall Basford. 1791: the
metric system of units is proposed in France. It would become the world
standard of measures in 1875. 1792: coalgas
lighting invented. 1793: parachute jump from a balloon.
1795: Physician Sir Gilbert
Blane introduces lime juice to prevent scurvy during sea voyages. Preservation
of food by bottling or canning, heating and sealing, invented
by Francois Appert, in response to a prize offered by Napoleon. It would
enable armies to foray far away from home, and assist shipping and trade.
1796: Edward Jenner uses cowpox
to vaccinate against smallpox, but the Royal Society rejects his
technique. 1797: Engineer Henry Maudslay (England) perfects the slide bed
for lathes, permitting the lathe operator to operate the lathe without
holding the metal cutting tools in his hands. It led to precision
tooling. 1798: Henry Cavendish measures the mass of Earth indirectly
from the attraction between two known masses. 1798: the first four-person
submarine (earlier attempts date a century back). Mathematicians
Gauss, Wessel, Lagrange, develop complex numbers.
1799: Napoleon's soldiers uncover
the Rosetta Stone in Egypt, which became the key to deciphering Egyptian
hieroglyphs. Joseph-Louis Proust finds new rules for chemical reactions.
1800: William Herschel discovers
infrared radiation. Johann Ritter discovers ultraviolet radiation. Thomas
Young describes the wave theory of light. Alessandro Volta invents the
battery. John Dalton formulates the law of partial pressures within
gases, and proposes that atoms must exist. Evolution of species becomes
discussed (Jean-Baptiste Lamarck) but several mechanisms for evolution
are in vogue. It was also assumed that 'The Creator would not admit extinctions'.
James Finney builds the first suspension bridge.
John C Stevens builds a propeller-driven steamboat,
which would herald the era of steamships.
1804: A D Thaer introduces the
concept of crop rotation. Nicolas Appert
opens the world's first canning factory, also inventing the meat stock
cube. Richard Trevithick invents the steam locomotive,
running on iron rails. It would herald the age of the train.
1805: Joseph-Marie Jacquard invents the punched-card
operated loom. The punched card would later be used as an input-output
medium for computers.
1805: Georges Cuvier establishes
the science of comparative anatomy, and in 1812 comparative vertebrate
paleontology. Austrian pathologist Karl Rokitansky describes the symptoms
of many diseases, based on dissecting over 30,000 cadavers. Proteins and
amino acids discovered as building blocks for animal tissues. Also discovery
of the three sugars in plant juices: glucose, fructose and sucrose. Science
of geology established. Thomas Young introduces the concept of energy.
is used extensively to pipe energy to homes in cities. 1808:
Humphrey Davy discovers the electric arc light, which will be used in cinemas.
1810: Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier
presents his mathematical series, which would later revolutionise radio
transmission and communication. Fourier analysis is an important scientific
tool today. Amedeo Avogadro does many discoveries on gases and molecules.
Pierre-Simon Laplace establishes probability theory,
only to be used 75 years later!. William Hyde invents the camera lucida
for projecting an image on a flat surface, in order to draw it. 1813: Augustin
de Candolle publishes a 21-volume plant encyclopedia.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck produces a similar encyclopedia
on invertebrate animals. Frederick Scott Archer uses negatives
for making photographic prints. William Smith identifies rock strata
on the basis of fossils, allowing comparisons between places in the world
which are far apart. Carl Reinhold uses a thermometer for diagnosing fevers.
1815: Scotsman John Loudon McAdam
uses crushed rock to pave roads. A
century later, the concrete-slab roads would be named after him. This greatly
enhanced road traffic. The first steam-powered
warship is built in the USA. William Prout discovers that the
chemical elements weigh a multiple of that of hydrogen. 1818: Augustin
Fresnel demonstrates that light is a transverse wave, rather than a longitudinal
wave. The stethoscope is used for listening to murmurs originating from
inside the body.
Human population estimated at
1 billion. Economic growth starts to outrun population growth.
The nineteenth century, the
age of science 1820-1894: the understanding of electricity and magnetism
takes off, resulting in its practical use in motors, light and communication.
The nineteenth century ends with the discovery of electrons, and the use
of plastics. During this period, all sciences made great strides forward,
also since the occupation of scientist became a paid profession. Scientists
started to travel to national and international conferences. Emperor Napoleon
Bonaparte saw the benefits of science and supported it wholeheartedly.
Science and technology started in the USA. Darwin's theory of evolution
attracted much criticism but became widely accepted towards the end of
the century. Major advances are also made in anthropology and archaeology,
with the discoveries of ancient Egyptian, Maya and Peruvian civilisations.
The discovery of photography and spectrography greatly spurred Astronomy.
Biology made major strides with Darwin's theory of evolution, heredity,
cell biology and the work of Louis Pasteur. Chemistry received a proper
foundation and organic chemistry emerged, and the age ended with the first
plastics. Earth sciences, physics, mathematics, medicine and technology
all made great strides. War technology benefited from the discovery of
nitrocellulose (guncotton) and nitroglycerine (dynamite).
1820: Hans Christian Oersted
discovers electromagnetism, opening the way
for electricity generation, transmission and electric motors. Many other
scientists are involved: Dominique-Francois Arago, Andre-Marie Ampere,
Michael Faraday, etc. Guano is being used as natural
fertiliser. 1821: Electric motor
invented by Faraday, but Joseph Henry describes a practical electric motor
in 1831. Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier shows that any continuous function
can be composed as the sum of sine and cosine curves.
1825: Candles made from fatty
acids rather than from tallow. Aluminium discovered by Oersted, but it
remains the most expensive element on earth. First
steam engine for both passengers and freight. George Simon Ohm
defines electric circuit analysis.
1830: Charles Lyell discovers
that earth must be hundreds of millions of years old. 1831: Charles Darwin
starts his famous world voyage aboard the Beagle. James Clark Ross
reaches the magnetic North Pole. 1832: Charles Babbage conceives of the
first computer, the Analytical Engine, driven by external instructions,
but the device was too complicated to work. 1833: Karl Friedrich Gauss
and Wilhelm Weber build an electric telegraph
operating over 2km, improved by Joseph Henry in 1835, and Samuel Morse
in 1837-1846. Electrolysis used to make aluminium. Amalgam is used as a
filling for teeth. Revolver firearm.
1835: Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis
describes the Coriolis effect, caused by Earth's rotation. 1836: the
combine harvester introduced in the US. 1838: Faraday discovers
phosphorescence in vacuum. 1839: Louis Jacques Daguerre makes silver photographs
on a copper plate (daguerrotypes). Fuel cell invented by William Robert
Grove, but these would not be used until late in the 21st century. William
Talbot Dosetshire invents photographic paper
for making negatives.
screw thread invented. 1842: First use of ether in surgery for
anaesthesia. John Lawes applies sulfuric acid to phosphate rock and makes
artificial fertiliser. 1843: first tunnel
under the Thames river. 1844: discovery that all cells in an organism
originate from divisions by the egg cell.
1845: Robert William Thomson
invents the rubber tyre. Guncotton discovered.
1846: the lock-stitch sewing machine. Use
of chloroform in surgery. 1847: George Boole invents symbolic
logic, later used in logic circuits and computers. 1847: doctors
start washing their hands to prevent transmission of diseases, and sterilise
their equipment. 1847: James Prescott Joule and Mayer discover
law of conservation of energy and that various forms of energy
1848: The revolution in France
restores the republic. 1849: Hippolyte Fizeau measures the speed of light.
Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) and Sadi Carnot form the thermodynamics
theory of heat, one of the most important physical laws. Carnot
was intrigued why British steam engines were more effective than the French,
and used thermodynamics to explain how heat engines
1850: End of the Western slave
trade. Lord Kelvin proposes the absolute temperature scale to -273 degrees
Celsius, at which point molecules stop moving. London and Paris build sewer
systems, but sewage plants have to wait till 1915.
1851: The Great International
Exhibition in London, showcase for technology and industry. 1852: The origin
of spermatozoa explained. First steam-powered dirigible (balloon). Steelmaking
improved. 1855: invention of the mercury vacuum pump,
opening the way to produce cathode ray tubes, and leading to the discovery
of the electron. Aluminium becomes cheaper to make. 1856 Henry Bessemer
invents the Bessemer process for producing inexpensive
steel from pig iron, by blasting air through the melt to remove
impurities like carbon.
1857: Gregor Johann Mendel experiments
with peas to discover laws of heredity (1860,1865). The
positions of nearly 500,000 stars are known and catalogued. 1859:
Darwin On the origin of species. Edwin Laurentine Drake
the world's first oil well in Titusville USA, through deep rock.
He invented drill bits to do so. Kirchhoff and Bunsen explain the chemical
nature of spectral lines. Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir develops the first
internal combustion engine which works on coal gas.
1859-1869: the Suez
Canal is dug by Ferdinand de Lesseps. It allowed marine species
to migrate between seas that were once separated. 1860: The Frenchman Lenoir
builds the first car with internal combustion
engine. 1862: new telescopes with refracting lenses. Eye glasses
correcting astigmatism. The beginning of iron-clad
warships. Louis Pasteur discovers microorganisms
as the source of decay of food and wine. 1864: Agricultural
chemist George Washington develops techniques for
regenerating the fertility of land by growing sweet potatoes and peanuts.
James Clerk Maxwell publishes a mathematical theory
for electric and magnetic fields, based on Michael Faraday's concept
of a field. It proves to be a unifying theory with considerable importance.
1865: Joseph Lister introduces
as a disinfectant in surgery, reducing surgical death rate from
45% to 15%. 1866: Beginning of the science of ecology. Telegraph
cable across the Atlantic Ocean. Torpedo invented.
1867: Karl Marx writes Das
Kapital, the theory that society evolves as a result of conflict between
classes. Dating from tree rings. First commercially practical generator
for alternating current. George Westinghouse (USA) invents the
air brake for trains, solving a major problem, allowing all wheels to brake
with equal strength.
1868: Robert Scott reaches the
North Pole. First skeletons of modern humans, 35,000 year old in the Cro
Magnon caves, France. Discovery of helium from a spectral line in sunlight.
Beginning of acoustic engineering. Harpoon cannon with explosives for whaling,
which would start global whaling.
1869 Dmitri Mendelev and Julius
Lothar Meyer publish the Periodic Table of Elements,
with 63 of the 90 naturally occurring elements, putting chemistry on a
firm basis. First commercially practical generator for direct current.
First trans-USA railway completed.
tunnel through the Alps. 1872: Roald Engelbregt Amundsen reaches
the SouthPole. Ferdinand Cohn classifies bacteria into genera and species.
Charles Darwin argues that human emotions stem from the behaviour of animals.
Start of the first major oceanographic expedition on the Challenger.
First US national park, Yellowstone. 1873: beginning of psychology.
1874: DDT insecticide discovered. George
Stoney estimates the charge of the electron.
1875: The official kilogram,
a bar of platinum, becomes the official standard for weight. Medical knowledge
discovers enzymes and their functions. Liquid helium made by cooling air.
First practical refrigerator, running
on liquid ammonia gas. Birth of the science of bacteriology. Louis Pasteur
discovers that some bacteria kill others, which would lead to the discovery
of antibiotics. First glider with arched
wings. Nikolaus August Otto develops the four-stroke
internal combustion engine. 1878: discovery that microbes
convert ammonium compounds into nitrites and nitrates, which can be absorbed
by plants. Invention of rayon fibre made from cellulose. Physiologist
Paul Bert discovers caisson disease (the bends) in divers, caused by nitrogen
gas, and its cure of gradual decompression. First commercial
telephone exchange. Discovery of saccharin, a sugar substitute
made from tar. Louis Pasteur discovers immunity to cholera by a weakened
cholera virus, paving the way to immunisation
by vaccination, an effective cure against the major communicable
diseases of the time: cholera, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphteria, rabies.
Before that, he persuaded French army surgeons to sterilise
their equipment and patients wounds. First electric railway
demonstration in Berlin. Thomas Edison (USA) and Joseph Swann (England)
invent the carbon-thread incandescent electric bulb.
cause of malaria discovered. Chlorination of drinking water.
Piezo-electricity discovered, which would lead to precise crystal oscillators,
grammophone pickups, etc. London's first electric
generation station. 1881: Vector analysis
discovered, a major contribution to science. The science of aerodynamics
begins, leading to the design of aircraft. First electric streetcar in
Berlin. First colour photograph. The motion picture camera is used to study
motion in people and animals. Invention of the self-regulating electrical
generator. 1882: use of photography to map stars. Discovery of chromosomes.
Edison patents a three-wire system for transporting
electrical power, which is still in use today. The Maxim
machine gun invented. 1883: The quagga, a close relative of
the zebra, dies out. The volcanic island of Krakatoa explodes, killing
40,000. Synthesis of antipyrene, a pain killer. Cocaine was already in
use. Daimler develops a high speed internal combustion
engine for a boat; two years later for a motor cycle and in 1887
for a car. Manganese steel, a super hard steel
discovered. 1884: Greenwich becomes the prime meridian. Otto Wallach systematically
isolates terpenes from essential oils, laying the basis for the perfume
industry. The Linotype typesetting machine
invented, and the roll film and fountain pen.
1885: Sigmund Freud develops
his theories of psychoanalysis. James Dewar invents the thermos flask or
Dewar flask for retaining heat. William Stanley invents the electric
transformer. Britain starts the largest
irrigation project on the Indus River in India's Punjab, the size
of Greece (14 million ha). It leads to salinisation
problems in 1960. 1886: Hermann Hellrigel discovers that legumes
fix nitrogen from the air for growth. Later it is proved that
this is done by bacteria in their roots. Alfred Bernard Nobel discovers
a non-smoking nitroglycerine explosive,
called ballistite. Sound recording on wax discs (Bell) differing from the
phonograph rolls of Edison. Charles Hall makes aluminium
from alumina ore using electric power, heralding the way for
cheap aluminium. Electric welding invented.
1887: Vito Volterra founds functional analysis,
which would become the mainstay for engineering, later expanded by Henry
Lebesgue. Einstein discovers that the speed of light is constant and that
light has both particle and wave properties. Discovery of haploid sex cells
with half the number of chromosomes. Contact lenses invented and celluloid
photographic film. 1888: Fridtjof Nansen crosses Greenland by land.
Radio waves detected by Heinrich Hertz. Invention of the adding
machine, air-filled rubber tyres
(Dunlop), a commercial roll-film camera (Eastman). 1889: Ivan Petrovich
Pavlov shows that stomach juices can be conditioned to the sounding of
a bell. James Dewar invents cordite, a smokeless
gunpowder. Francis Galton formulates the statistics
for correlation and the standard error. First hydrolake
and electric hydro power generator.
tower 303m. Only 550 live bison remain in
the USA, out of millions living there before.
1890: Oliver Heaviside invents
the operational calculus, highly important
to technology. Paul Ehrlich establishes the field of immunology,
also discovering passive and active immunity. Sterilised rubber gloves
used during surgery. Hollerith develops a punched-card machine for counting
the census. First aircraft to fly under its
own power. 1891: Stock exchange collapse in the UK, followed by a deep
economic depression (1891-1893). Carborundum (silicon carbide) discovered.
Nikola Tesla invents high frequency high voltage electricity, which produces
spectacular auroras, believed by many to have supernatural properties.
1892: Tobacco mosaic disease identified as caused by a virus, too small
to be seen under a microscope. Fingerprints used for identification. Viscose
India inoculated against
cholera, reducing death rate by 70%. First open heart surgery. The
four function mechanical calculator. Diesel engine
invented. Homo erectus fossils found in Java (Java Man).
The double life cycle of mosses and ferns discovered. Baden-Powell uses
kites to lift human beings into the air. Marconi builds the first
transmitter and receiver, which will ring a bell at 10m distance.
Human population estimated at
First half of the twentieth
The discovery of X-rays, radioactivity, subatomic particles, relativity
and quantum theory had a profound effect on many disciplines of science,
marking the beginning and ending of a remarkable period in which the major
foundations for all sciences were laid. The end of this period is marked
by the world war, the atom bomb in 1945, and the invention of computers.
The number of scientists grew profusely, influencing society. Industries
founded their own research laboratories. After European scientists fled
Hitler Germany, the USA became the leading country of science. Germany
on the other hand, focused on research for the military, resulting in its
supremacy at war. The politics of the first decades of this century were
inspired by laissez-faire capitalism, leading to the Great Depression of
the thirties. Experimental biology made major strides, leading to the new
discipline of biochemistry. The understanding of electricity and electrons
opened a new branch of technology: electronics, which changed society profoundly
in almost every way.
1895: Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
publishes the first scientific papers on space flight. Chromosomes
identified as the carriers of heredity. Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen
discovers X-rays. First manned glider
able to gain height. 1896: Svante Arrhenius discovers that the amount of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere determines the global temperature and
theorises that ice ages occurred because of reduced atmospheric CO2. Charles
Guillaume discovers Invar, a nickel-steel alloy which does not expand
nor shrink with temperature. It proves to be of major benefit. First diagnostic
X-ray photograph. Herman Hollerith founds the Tabulating machine Company,
which later becomes IBM. First steam-driven flying machine flies 1.2km.
1897: The jet stream discovered. Turbine powered
steamships prove to be superior over conventional steamships. Casein
plastics discovered. 1898: thermite discovered, a mix of aluminium powder
and iron, that burns at high temperature, leaving iron behind. it is used
for welding. Discovery of foot-and-mouth disease virus. A vaccine against
1900: Gregor Mendel's work on
heredity rediscovered. Emil Wiechert invents the inverted pendulum seismograph,
still in use today. Electricity in metals explained. Invention of the nickel-alkaline
accumulator. Gamma rays discovered. Count
Ferdinand von Zeppelin flies his first dirigible (navigable balloon). 1901:
insemination used in agriculture (Russia), after it was invented
in 1785. Inventions: electric typewriter, motorbicycle, vacuum cleaner,
crystal radio detector, safety razor, mercury vapour arc lamp, motor-driven
airplane (Whitehead). 1902: Mount Pelee on Martinique erupts, killing 38,000.
Heaviside predicts the ionosphere to reflect radio waves, and Kennelly
confirms this. Four human blood groups discovered. Rutherford and Soddy
explain radioactivity and its associated rays. Inventions: lightbulbs with
osmium filaments, the spark plug, the airconditioner, high
voltage ignition for internal combustion engines, electric hearing
aid, the drum brake. 1903: A method for producing nitric acid from atmospheric
nitrogen. A method for making artificial silk (Viscose). Proposal
to use X-rays to treat cancer. First successful airplane
launched by Wilbur and Orville Wright, flew for 59 seconds. 1904 Panama
Canal started. Stanley Hall argues that the child, in its development,
recapitulates the life history of the race. Inventions: ultraviolet lamps,
flat disc phonograph, photoelectric cell, vacuum
tube (diode), offset printing.
1904-1905: Japan fights Russia
with an army vaccinated against infectious diseases, for the first time
claiming more deaths from battle than from disease. Antarctic whaling started.
Invention of hydrogenation of fatty acids, allowing whale oil to be turned
into margarine and soap. Whale glycerin is used to make nitroglycerine
1905: Zoological classification.
The structure of DNA is being unravelled. Female mammals have two X chromosomes;
males one X and one Y. Hormones being studied. Adolf von Bayer has discovered
many organic dyes. Discovery of cellophane and chlorophyll. Development
of the intelligence test. Direct blood transfusion. Einstein submits his
paper on the theory of relativity and
the famous relationship between mass and energy. Inventions: safety glass,
submarine, Cottrell dust remover, directional radio antenna,
dial telephone, first airplane factory in France. 1906: A mysterious explosion
near Tunguska in Siberia, the cause of which has never been identified.
Frederick Hopkins discovers essential food substances,
the vitamins. The great San Fransisco earthquake kills 700.
The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy. Inventions: tungsten
filament lightbulb, freeze-drying, music
and voice transmission by radio waves. 1907: Discovery that
can affect the physical functioning of the body. Uranium used for
dating rocks. John Scott Haldane develops the diver decompression tables.
Inventions: radio amplifier, paint
spray gun, first helicopter flies for 20 seconds, amplifier vacuum triode.
Louis Lumiere invents colour photography.
1908: 1.5m Hale reflecting telescope at Mt Wilson. Fritz Haber develops
the process for making cheap ammonia from nitrogen
gas, which would lead to the agricultural revolution with artificial
fertilisers. It would also give the Germans an inexhaustable
suply of explosives. Student test for probability in experimental
data. Sulfanilamide discovered, but its bacteria-killing properties would
not be known until 1936. Inventions: first tractor
with moving treads, rock drilling bit for oil drilling, gyroscopic compass,
cellophane, Geiger counter, Orville Wright flies for one hour, Model T
Ford. 1909: Robert Peary and Matthew Hensen reach the North Pole.
Andrija Mohorovic discovers the earth's boundary between crust and mantle.
Invention: the electric toaster, bakelite insulating
plastic which solidifies on heating (replaces wood, ivory, hard
rubber), Louis Bleriot flies across the English Channel in 37 minutes,
1910: Paul Ehrlich introduces
(an arsenic compound) as a cure for syphillis, the forerunner of chemotherapy.
Discovery that some animal cancers are caused by viruses.
of iodine used for disinfecting wounds. Inventions: electric
washing machines, rayon stockings for women, neon street lights. Eugene
Fly takes off in an airplane from the deck of a ship, showing that aircraft
carriers are possible. Charles Proteus warns about
air pollution from burning coal, and water pollution from sewage discharges.
Less than 1 million motor vehicles worldwide.
1910-1920: Mexican revolution,
developing the Mexican oil fields. By 1919 Mexico is second-largest oil
producer until Venezuela takes over in 1928. The
era of cheap oil begins.
1911: Roald Amundsen reaches
the south Pole. Genes are being mapped on chromosomes. Thermal
cracking of oil for refining petroleum. William Hill develops
the first gastroscope. Superconductivity discovered in mercury. Owen Richardson
explains the Edison Effect, whereby electrons boil out of a heated cathode.
This would later give rise to electron tubes and the science of electronics.
Rutherford presents his theory of the atom. Frederick Soddy
discovers more about isotopes and radiation.
Inventions: escalators, self-starter for automobiles,
1912: The Titanic sinks on its
maiden voyage, killing 1500. Robert Falcon Scott dies in Antarctica after
reaching the South Pole, and finding that Amundsen had beaten him by a
month. Alfred Lothar Wegener proposes the theory of continental drift and
the super continent of Pangea. It will take another 60 years before being
accepted. Inventions: gas regulator,
heating pad which becomes the electric blanket.
1913: Theory of stellar evolution.
Muscle cells use oxygen after a contraction has finished. Friedrich Karl
Bergius discovers how to make gasoline from coal,
by hydrogenation at high pressure. This would later power Hitler's war
machine. Niels Bohr describes atoms and electrons in detail. Inventions:
transmitter with vacuum tubes, mammography for breast cancer,
Igor Sikorski flies a multi-engined plane.
1914: The assassination of Austrian
archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo (Yugoslavia) precipitates
World War I. The role of ATP (adenine triphosphate) discovered as the energy
molecule in cells. Beno Gutenberg discovers the boundary between Earth's
mantle and core at 3000km depth. Ernest Rutherford discovers the proton.
The Passenger Pigeon, only 50 years earlier living in billions, dies out.
Inventions: a sewage plant operating on bacteria,
red and green traffic lights, the brassiere, experimental rockets, teletypewriter.
1915: formal opening of the
Canal. Inventions: the radio tube oscillator, Pyrex heat-resistant
glass, transatlantic and transcontinental radiotelephone,
aircraft with machine guns able to fire through the propellers, semiconductor
germanium diode, tractor trailer, sonar for detecting ice bergs.
1916: discovery of cobalt-tungsten
steel magnetic alloys. Inventions: windshield wipers, washing machine.
1917: beginning of the Russian
revolution as communists assume control of government. Black holes predicted
from Einstein's equations. Freezing as a way of
preserving foods. it will change agriculture and trade, and
eventually permeate every household. Power chain
saw, would become popular after World War 2, allowing men to
cut trees up to 100x faster.
1918: World War 1 ends when
the Germans surrender. The mass spectrograph becomes an important scientific
tool. Inventions: radio crystal oscillator, electric beater for foods,
superheterodyne radio receiver allowing for precision tuning and low noise
reception, high speed hydrofoil boat (Bell). 1918-1919 a world influenza
pandemic kills over 30 million people, about as many as WW1 and 2 combined.
Double-cross hybrid maize.
1919: Eccles & Jordan discover
the flipflop circuit, the basic element for computer information storage.
1920: Walter Nernst completes
the theory of thermodynamics. Existence of the neutron proposed. Inventions:
gun, a submachine gun. Working farm animals
require 25% of crop production in USA. Creosote oil preserves timber,
requiring less replacement.
1921: Alexander fleming discovers
bacteriocidal properties of mucus. Thomas Midgley invents tetraethyl lead
to prevent knocking in gasoline engines, making high compression and more
efficient engines possible. In 1930 he would invent Freon (a CFC), earning
him the reputation of making the largest impact on the atmosphere. A tuberculosis
1922: Benito Mussolini takes
power in Italy. Discovery of vitamin-D in cod liver oil. Sonar
for measuring the depth of the oceans.
1923: Theodor Svedberg develops
the ultracentrifuge, which becomes an essential tool in biochemistry. Inventions:
photoelectric cell, autogiro, continuous hot-strip rolling of steel which
requires precise machine control. A diphtheria vaccine.
identified from a fossilised skull. Galaxies are distant Milky Ways. Willem
Einthoven invented the electrocardiograph. Inventions: spiral bound books,
celluwipes tissues, self-winding watch, photographic radio transmission
(forerunner of faximile), iconoscope (forerunner of TV).
1925: Ronald Aymler Fisher publishes
Methods for Research Workers, which becomes a standard work on statistics
for science. Karl Bosch invents a method
for producing hydrogen. Experiments begin in colliding atoms
to study their composition. Half-integer quantum numbers for electron spin.
Inventions: the analogue computer for solving differential
equations. First whaling factory ship with rear ramp, 'seagoing
1926: Erwin Schroedinger discovery
that X-rays cause genetic mutations. Inventions: talking
movies, pop-up toaster, liquid fuel
rocket reaches 56m height.
1927: Big flooding of the Mississippi
River, evacuating half a million and killing hundreds. Georges Lemaitre
proposes the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe. Rudolf
Geiger founds the study of microclimatology. Inventions: the iron lung,
pentode vacuum tube, negative feedback in amplifiers,
thus reducing distortion.
1928: Richard Evelyn Byrd establishes
a camp on Antarctica and begins an extensive program of exploration. Invention
of the Diels-Alder reaction for combining atoms into molecules, useful
for synthetic rubber and plastics.
Adolf Windaus studies cholesterol. Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin,
which will be used clinically in World War II.
1929: New York sharemarket crash
(Black Thursday) starts the Great Depression (1929-1939), but the entire
1920s after World War 1 were times of economic turmoil. Swiss astronomer
Fritz Zwicky proposes that red shift of distant galaxies is caused by photon
'fatigue', by which photons lose potential energy, a theory which is not
generally accepted. M Matuyama shows that rocks of different strata have
their magnetic fields changed, even reversed. This technique would later
prove plate tectonics and the magnetic pole reversals. Hans Berger develops
the electro encephalogram (EEG). Detection of cosmic
rays. Inventions: FM radio, Empire State Building
construction (1929-1931), foam rubber (Dunlop), quartz crystal clock, Wankel
1930: Andrew Ellicott Douglas
establishes the use of tree rings for dating (dendrochronology),
discovered in 1863. Arne Wilhelm Tiselius invents electrophoresis for separating
proteins with electric currents. Inventions: polystyrene,
polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Freon as a gas for refrigerators, frozen foods
being marketed, sliced bread, tape recorder, jet engine. 50
million motor vehicles worldwide.
1931: Experiments by Karl Janski
led to the founding of radioastronomy. Inventions: neoprene,
the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River
spanning 1066m. Last sturgeon fish caught in the river Rhine.
1932: Gerhard Domagk discovers
the sulfa drug Prontosil, hailed as
a wonder drug, which he tried on his own daughter in 1935. In 1936 it is
discovered that Prontosil breaks down to Sulfanilamide,
the active ingredient (see the discovery of sulfanilamides in 1908). The
second sulfa drug, sulfapyridine will
be discovered in 1937. Neutron and positron discovered. Neutrons change
Bohr's view of the atomic nucleus. Auguste Piccard enters the stratosphere
by balloon. Publication of Thomas Hunt Morgan's The scientific basis
of evolution. Inventions: television receiver
with a cathode ray tube (CRT).
1933: Adolph Hitler rises to
power by being appointed chancellor of Germany. The Tasmanian Wolf dies
out in a zoo. Discovery of deuterium and heavy water, and tritium. Ernst
Ruska builds the first electron microscope,
able to magnify 12,000 times. Van de Graaf develops a static
electricity generator capable of producing 7 million volts. Clarence
Zener explains the quantum tunnelling effect and the breakdown of insulators.
The Zener diode is named after him. Inventions: artificial
vitamin C (ascorbic acid), high-intensity mercury vapour lamps.
diffraction photography to determine the nature of proteins. Isolation
of progesterone, a female hormone. Arnold Beckman invents the pH
meter for measuring acidity and alkalinity. Jesse Beams develops
an ultracentrifuge that works in vacuum. William Beebe descends to 1001m
below the ocean's surface in the tethered Bathysphere. Inventions:
the first streamlined car (Chrysler Airflow), Wernher von Braun
develops a liquid-fuel rocket that achieves a height of 2.4 km.
1935: Sydney Chapman determines
the lunar air tide, the effect of the moon's gravity on the atmosphere.
Charles Francis Richter develops a scale for measuring the strength of
earthquakes. Discovery of the last essential amino acid, threonine. Testosterone,
a male hormone isolated. The four-step Krebs cycle
discovered, by which animals and plants produce energy (respirate). Isotope
separation by centrifuge, which would become important for making nuclear
weapons. Inventions: bioflavin vitamine B2, vitamin K, the beer can, nylon,
1936: DNA is isolated in its
pure state. Artificial heart in use during cardiac surgery. Development
of the field-emission microscope which makes individual atoms visible on
a fluorescent screen. Inventions: synthesised vitamin B1, fluorescent
lighting, paperback books (Penguin), regular public
TV transmissions, Colorado River Boulder
Dam, German engineer Heinrich Focke develops the first practical
A digital computer using relays.
1937: Japan invades China. Discovery
of RNA in tobacco mosaic virus. William Cumming Rose discovers the 10 essential
amino acids (out of 20), essential to rats, and 8 essential to humans (have
to be part of our diet). A V Kazakov explains the origins of phosphate
rocks related to ocean upwellings causing abundant sea life. The magnetic
resonance method discovered for studying the atomic nucleus. Inventions:
vitamin A, sulfapyridine, antihistamine,
vaccine against yellow fever,
1938: Nuclear fusion, the energy
source of the Sun, explained. Claude Elwood Shannon lays the basis of the
theory of information. 1024 genes of the Drosophila fruit fly
mapped. First living Coelacanth caught. G S Callendar detects increases
in CO2 due to human activities. Total artificial hip replacement using
stainless steel. Otto Hahn splits the uranium atom,
opening the possibility for nuclear energy and bombs. Inventions:
lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), radio altimeter, ballpoint pen, Nylon
goes on sale, Porsche introduces the Volkswagen Beetle, Perlon synthetic
fibre. To stop Japanese advance in the Sino-Japanese war, Chinese Nationalists
destroy the dykes in the Yellow river, drowning several hundred thousand
people, flooding 11 cities, 4000 villages and destroying millions of hectares
1939: German and soviet forces
begin occupying Poland, starting World War II. Albert Einstein writes to
President Roosevelt, which will lead to the US developing an atomic bomb.
Several scientists make progress on the fission of uranium and the possibility
of a chain reaction. DNA and RNA are always present in bacteria. Inventions:
(ICI), DDT insecticide, sulfathiazole
(3rd sulfa drug), electric knife, the complex number calculator, regular
commercial flights across the Atlantic Ocean (PanAm), precooked frozen
foods, first Sikorski mass-produced helicopter, fully automatic transmission,
electron microscopes 50 times more powerful than light microscopes.
1940: Use of C14 for carbon
dating, the most useful of radioactive tracers. Rhesus factor in
blood discovered. Development of the gas-diffusion method to enrich uranium.
collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge leads engineers to consider aerodynamic
stability in bridges and buildings. Inventions: biotin/vitamin H,
drying for food preservation, colour TV broadcasts. St.Louis USA
first to adopt smoke abatement policies for cleaner air. Most industries
would follow after 1966.
1941: Japanese attack on Pearl
harbour. One gene one enzyme hypothesis. Inventions: aerosol spray for
insecticides, terylene or dacron,
1942: Solar radio emission detected.
First radio maps of the universe. First images of a virus. Louis Fieser
develops napalm, jellied petroleum,
which burns viciously while sticking to victims. Enrico Fermi's team creates
the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.
John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry invent the Anatoff-Berry
Computer (ABC), which works with capacitor storage on a rotating
drum. It could berform operations with 8-digit decimal numbers (16 bits).
This is now recognised as the first binary digital computer. Inventions:
LORAN Long Range Air Navigation system along the US Atlantic seaboard.
1943: The proton synchrotron
proposed for accelerating atomic particles. Inventions: silicones
(Dow Corning), kidney dialysis machine, antibiotic
streptomycin effective against gram-negative bacteria, first
operational nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge, Jacques Yves Cousteau underwater
lung, continuous casting of steel,
first vacuum tube computer (Colossus) used for cracking German encryption.
Washington DC builds its first sewage plant.
1944: German forces begin operating
V1 flying bombs, and V2 rocket-propelled bombs. Radio waves at 21.1cm predicted
from interstellar hydrogen. Discovered that DNA is the hereditary material
for almost all living organisms. Paper chromatography
discovered as a tool to identify biochemical compounds. The theory
of games and economic behaviour discovered. Aureomycin,
the first tetracycline extracted from soil organisms. Inventions: the Automatic
Sequence Controlled Calculator with vacuum tubes and punched papertape
for programming, made by IBM, but is not very reliable.
1945: Germany surrenders to
the Allies. Hiroshima bombed with a uranium-based
nuclear fission bomb. Nagasaki bombed with a plutonium-based fission bomb.
Japan surrenders. Salvador Luria shows that bacterial mutations are closely
related to those of their predators, viral bacteriophages. It would open
the path to genetic engineering. The synchrocyclotron particle accelerator
proposed. Inventions: herbicide 2,4-D,
fluoridation of water supplies, ENIAC computer (Electronic Numerical Integrator
and computer), the first all-purpose stored-program electronic computer.
It had 18,000 vacuum tubes and worked with decimal numbers. A vaccine against
Human population estimated at
2.5 billion. 75 million motor vehicles.
The age of reconstruction.
1946-1959. The world war vastly accelerated scientific discoveries.
Many scientists and their laboratories were conscripted for war research,
results of which remained classified for many years, some even today. As
many countries rebuilt themselves, the progress in technology was used,
causing a period of prosperity and rapid economic growth. In pure science
as well, the unexpected continued to occur. Few scientists in the brief
optimistic period between the end of the World War and the start of the
Cold War would have predicted that before the end of the century our evolutionary
history would be revealed in the test tube instead of in fossils; people
would walk on the moon; the beginnings of the universe would be explained;
the secrets of heredity would be unravelled; the discarded theory of continental
drift would resurface as the most vital part of earth sciences; many famous
conjectures in mathematics would be resolved; the elementary particles
would almost make sense; and solid-state devices would replace vacuum tubes
in most applications. As the cost of science soared, nations would pool
together and scientists would work together in interdisciplinary teams
of specialists. Initially optimistic about the benefits of science, some
people become critical about scientists' apparent immorality, leading to
armaments, nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, industrial and agricultural
chemicals, bacterial and insect resistance to biocides, genetic experiments
and genetic engineering.
1946: The first meeting of the
United Nations (UN). International Whaling Commission established. Genetic
material from two viruses can combine to make a new virus. Discovery that
carbondioxide can cause water vapour to condense in the atmosphere. First
synchro-cyclotron at Berkeley. High pressure physics.
research becomes a new discipline. Inventions: First Soviet
nuclear reactor, ENIAC computer,
1947: Synthesis of ADP and ATP,
used by cells to convert energy. Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) to explain
new subatomic particles. Discovery that radiation is produced when charged
particles change path. Discovery of the muon, pion, meson nuclear
particles. Inventions: tubeless tyre (Goodyear).
1948: 5m Hale reflecting telesope
at Mt Palomar USA. The Big Bang theory gains credibility. Protons and neutrons
in the nucleus occupy shells, like the electrons outside. Effect of DDT
on insects understood. Norbert Wiener develops the mathematical
theory of feedback systems and automation. Inventions: cortisone
against inflammations, atomic clock, the computer term 'bug', Velcro,
long-playing record, polaroid camera, the cinematograph of Louis Lumiere,
1949: The German state is split
into East and West. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is created.
A rocket testing ground is created at Cape Canaveral, the place in the
USA closest to the equator. A 2-stage V2 rocket reaches 400km height. F
M Burnett proposes that immune response is not inborn, but develops as
a person grows. Derek Barton will discover that the
shape of molecules is important to their properties. Structure
of penicillin calculated. Claude Shannon publishes his work on information
theory, and symbolic logic, which would herald the way to communication,
error detection and correcting codes and provide a basis for many scientific
disciplines. Inventions: X-rays in medical diagnosis, EDSAC computer, BINAC
1950: Troops from North Korea
invade South Korea, starting the Korean War. Jan hendrik Oort discovers
the Oort cloud of comet material. Inventions: embryo
transplants for cattle, cyclamate artificial sweetener, Diners
Card, commercial colour TV in the USA,
Baltic Sea and Black Sea eutrophied and smelly. Nile Perch released in
Lake Victoria, would extinguish over 200 endemic cichlid species within
1951: Computers used in astronomical
calculations and mapping the Milky Way. Alpha-helix structure of proteins
discovered. Nikolaas Tinbergen publishes The study of instinct,
an important study of animal behaviour. Nikolay Vavilov
in The origin, variation, immunity, and breeding of cultivated plants
finds the evolutionary basis of immunity in various strains of wheat.
Synthesis of the steroids cortisone and cholesterol. Erwin W Mueller develops
the field ion microscope. Walter Henry Zinn USA develops an experimental
breeder reactor. Inventions: 3-D motion pictures, power steering
(Chrysler), the zebra street crossing, first commercial
1952: Joseph Stalin dies in
the USSR. A Polio epidemic in the USA affects 47,000. Hodgkin and Huxley
explain how nerves work. Rapid Eye Movement in sleep detected. Douglas
Bevis develops amniocentesis, a method of examining the genetic heritage
of a fetus while still in the womb. Jean Dausset discovers that repeated
blood transfusions cause antibodies to be formed. James Alfred van Allen
invents the rockoon, a rocket launched from a balloon, to study the physics
of the upper atmosphere. First nuclear accident causes the core of a nuclear
reactor to explode. Inventions: First sex-change operation, a killed-virus
vaccine against polio (vaccination started in 1954). Later a live-virus
vaccine would be used, developed by Albert Sabin. Development of the H-bomb,
based on nuclear fusion. Antabuse, a drug preventing alcoholics
from drinking; the heart-lung machine, the universal reaction blood test,
UNIVAC computer used in election prediction, transistor hearing aid, pocket
transistor radio. 4000 people die of a London fog.
1953: Elizabeth II crowned Queen
of the UK. Sir Edmund Percival Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reach the summit
of Mount Everest. Flooding of Holland when sea dykes are breached in a
rare storm with high tides, killing 1500. Super clusters of galaxies discovered.
Radio emissions from the Crab nebula explained as synchrotron radiation
(caused by charged particles changing course). Alfred C Kinsey produces
a landmark study of the sex practices of US women. It reveals that half
have sex before marriage, a quarter are unfaithful and a quarter have had
homosexual relationships. Second Coelacanth discovered. Watson
& Cricks unravel the double helix structure of DNA. Tars
from tobacco smoke cause cancers in mice. Structure of insulin protein.
Inventions: phase-contrast microscope, radial tyres (Pirelli), the MASER
(Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) with ammonia
gas, for amplifying weak microwaves from the universe and in communication.
1954: France's occupation of
Indochina ends. Humans have 46 instead of 48 chromosomes. Fossils of bacteria
and blue-green algae discovered in Canada. Chlorpromazine (Thorazine) introduced
for the treatment for mental disorders. CERN (Centre Europeen de Recherche
Nucleaire) founded in Geneva. Liquid hydrogen bubble chamber for detecting
nuclear particles. Inventions: Soviet Union first
nuclear reactor for peacetime use, TV dinners in USA, Nautilus
atomic powered submarine, photovoltaic
cell produces electric power from sunlight. A vaccine against
polio. First international accord against dumping oil at sea.
1955: Formation of the Warsaw
Pact against NATO. 76.2m radio telescope dish at Jodrell Bank, England.
Radio interferometry to join radiotelescopes into more accurate observers.
Various forms of RNA discovered. Vitamin D. The field ion microscope pictures
individual atoms. Inventions: domestic deep freezers,
artificial diamonds for industrial use, hovercraft, optical fibres. Over
100 million motor vehicles worldwide.
1956: Hungarian uprising against
Soviet domination. Israeli, British and French forces invade Egypt to prevent
nationalisation of the Suez canal (the Suez Crisis) but had to retreat.
Hydrogen bomb test in Bikini Island. William Clouser Boyd identifies all
13 human races by their blood groups. Human Growth Hormone isolated. Mid-Oceanic
Ridges discovered. Inventions:
birth coltrol pills,
electric watch (Lip), transatlantic telephone cable, FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslator)
computer language, LISP (LISt Program) computer language, MANIAC1 chess
computer. London proclaims the Clean Air Act. Minamata disease (Japan)
due to pollution from methyl-mercury. Soviet planners begin to divert the
water flowing to the Aral Sea for cotton cultivation. By 1960 this land-locked
sea shrinks by 60 million cubic km per year, leading to its death by 1990
and extinction of 20 endemic fish species.
1957: The Common Market (EEC/
EEG) established in Europe. Sputnik 1 and 2 artificial
satellites launched by the USSR. G E Hutchinson reasons that
an ecological niche may exist both in space and behaviour of an organism.
Discovery of interferon, a natural substance produced by the human body
to fight viruses. Albert Sabin develops a live polio vaccine. Tunnelling
in semiconductors. Discovery that the highly poisonous Dioxin may contaminate
herbicides. Inventions: 2,4,5-T herbicide,
speed painless dental drill,
1958: Solar 'wind' detected.
Earth is slightly pear shaped with a 15m bulge in the Southern Hemisphere.
Enzymes correspond to genes. Discovery of an all-female lizard species.
The brain's hypothalamus identified as a centre for the production of hormones.
James Van Allen discovers the Earth's radiation belts
named after him. Inventions: bifocal contact lenses, ultrasound to examine
unborn children, first nuclear electric power station in the USA, a chess
program on an IBM704 computer, cyclotron for particle acceleration. USA
starts building its Interstate Highways.
1959: The Antarctic Treaty keeps
Antarctica free from military activity and exploration (later, in 1988
it would be amended to allow for exploration). Radar contact made with
the sun. The soviets launch Lunik1 but instead of orbiting the moon, it
orbits around the sun. Lunik2 hits the moon. Lunik3 passes the moon, taking
the first photographs of its far side. G E Hutchinson defines more principles
of ecology. Inventions: the THI (Temperature
Humidity Index) as a measure of discomfort, XEROX photo copier, the
Lawrence Seaway is opened, connecting the St Lawrence River and
the Great Lakes, first artificial diamond (De Beers), COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented
Language) computer language.
1960: Project OZMA starts the
search for extraterrestrial life (SETI= Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).
Dolphins use echo sound for locating objects. Jacques Piccard descends
to 10,900m, the bottom of the Challenger Deep, in his Trieste bathyscaphe.
(Light Emission by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).
Inventions: Astroturf plastic grass, ruby laser,
Echo passive communications satellite.
During the 1960s more than one large dam will be completed every year.
1961: Discovery of Homo
habilis (Handy Man). USSR tries a Venus probe but loses contact. Yuri
Gagarin (USSR) becomes the first human astronaut, orbiting Earth 1.8 hours
in Vostok1. Alan B Shepard (USA) becomes second astronaut in space
in a 15 minute sub-orbital flight. Soviet cosmonaut G Titov orbits Earth
17 times in 25.6 hours. Further progress with various forms of RNA. Transfer-RNA
builds one amino acid at a time, starting at one end, to produce a given
protein. Murray Gell-Mann develops a theory to unite new subatomic
particles. A core is drilled in the ocean floor at 3.5km depth, leading
the way to conclusive proof of continental drift
theory. Birth of chaos theory. Frank L Horsfall announces that
all forms of cancer result from changes in the DNA of cells. Inventions:
IUD Intrauterine Device for birth control.
1962: Cuban missile crisis caused
by USSR installing guided missiles in Cuba. Radar contact with the planet
Mercury. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring
alarms the public of the dangers of the release of chemicals in nature.
Linus Pauling suggests that changes in genetic material over time may hold
the key to how one species relates to another. X-ray emission detected
other than from the sun. Astronaut Scott Carpenter completes three orbits
of Earth. Inventions: lasers used in eye surgery, first industrial robot,
nuclear powered ship Savannah, Telstar communications satellite, a vaccine
1963: President John F Kennedy
assassinated. Satellite to study X-rays from space. Inventions: Syncom2
first geosynchronous communications satellite, friction welding, audiocassette
(Philips), tunnelling semiconductor diodes for amplification of high frequency
signals. High-yielding dwarf wheat.
1964: Completion of the Aswan
Dam on the river Nile, causing profound ecological
changes. Start of Vietnam War. US spaceprobe Ranger7 takes close-range
photographs of the moon. Start of the green revolution
with new strains of rice with double yield. Birth of sociobiology
as a controversial offshoot of ecology. Inventions: the Verrazano
Bridge opens in New York, containerships.
1965: the great 14 hour power
blackout in New York. Cosmic MASERs discovered, interstellar gas producing
coherent microwave radiation by stimulation with light. Venus turns in
the opposite direction to all other planets, but only just so: a venus
day is 247 earth days. A day on Mercury is 56 earth days. Radio wave remnants
of the Big Bang found. Many space excursions with manned and unmanned satellites.
Variable genes discovered to explain the many forms of antigen. Artificial
pheromones (sex hormones in insects) synthesised. Chloroplasts
in algae have their own DNA. A self-reproducing virus synthesised. Monkeys
reared in total isolation show great emotional impairment for the rest
of their lives. Inventions: a vaccine against measles, soft contact
lenses, estrogen 'replacement' therapy, continuously
tunable laser, BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code)
computer language is particularly suitable for interactive programming
and easy to learn.
1966: Surveyor1 soft-lands on
the moon. Aflatoxins from the mould Aspergillus flavus, growing
on peanuts (and elsewhere) cause liver damage and cancer. Inventions: ESSA1
satellite, live-virus vaccine for rubella (German measles),
injection for automobile engines.
1967: Discovery of Aegyptopithecus,
a 30 million year old primate in the hominid line of Man. A ground test
of an Apollo spacecraft kills 3 astronauts. A Soviet cosmonaut is killed
during an emergency reentry. Data from classified US Navy navigation satellites
made available to the public. Surveyor3 soft lands on the moon. Soviet
space probe Venera4 parachutes down into Venus' atmosphere, discovering
its density and that it consists mostly of carbondioxide. Soviet union
lead from fuel. 10,000 year old frozen arctic lupine seeds prove
still viable and germinate. Clomiphene used to increase fertility, also
increases multiple births. Mammography for breast
cancer. First human heart transplant. Coronary bypass operation.
Inventions: keyboards for computer data input,
overseas direct dialling, food irradiation for
conserving it, antibiotics in animal food
may leave traces in meat, computer with parallel processors, Dolby
noise reduction in sound. Extensive use of antibiotics leads to drug resistant
strains of bacilla and bacteria.
1968: Uprising in Czechoslovakia.
First Apollo mission lasting 260 hours. Astronauts orbit the moon and return.
Erie is so polluted that it is essentially dead. Most enzymes
and codons found, that take part in replication of DNA. Glomar Challenger
ocean core drilling ship goes into operation for the next 15 years. Amino
acids from life discovered in 3 billion year old rock. People move back
to Bikini Atoll, after radioactive contamination from H-bomb tests in 1956,
has subsided (They'll move out again in 1978). Tooth decay caused by streptococcal
bacteria. Inventions: regular hovercraft
service across the English Channel, first supertankers,
luxury liner Queen Elizabeth2 launched, first supersonic airliner Tupolev
TY144 looks similar to Concorde.
1969: First humans on the moon,
with Apollo 11 and 12. Inventions: scanning electron microscope, bubble
memory devices for computers.
1970: China and Japan launch
artificial satellites. Apollo 13 is aborted because of equipment failure.
Human Growth Hormone synthesised. (Re-)discovery that viruses can cause
cancer. Inventions: carbon dioxide lasers, the Boeing
747 jumbo jet, floppy disk for computers,
1971: UN launched its Man and
the Biosphere programme. Completion of the Aswan
High Dam in Egypt, creating Lake Nasser, 150km3 water, over two years of
Nile flow storage. It would later cause major ecological disaster.
Apollo14 brings back 44kg of moon rocks. Apollo15 lands a vehicle on the
moon, the Lunar Rover. Soviet space probe Mars3 lands on Mars. First water-cooled
nuclear power station (Canada). Inventions: holography
with lasers, produces 3-D images, first microprocessor
(Intel), pocket calculator (Texas Instruments) weighs 1.1kg, Computer language
1972: Foundation of UN Environment
Programme (UNEP), headquartered in Nairobi. First earth
resources satellite Landsat 1. Soviet Venera8 soft lands on
venus. Apollo16 lands on the moon as fifth crew. US space probe Pioneer
10 launched. It will eventually leave the solar system. Use
of DDT restricted. Fermilab accelerates particles to 400GeV.
Inventions: Computerised Axial Tomography (CAT scanner), diamond-bladed
1973: The America-Vietnam war
ends. US Bombers left 20,000,000 bomb craters. Completion of the New York
Trade Centre buildings, 110 storeys tall; destroyed by suicide bombers
in 2001. The UK joins the Common Market. OPEC raises oil prices and enforces
oil embargoes to selected countries, which leads to the first Oil Shock.
Skylab missions start to obtain medical data from people in space.
calf produced from a frozen embryo.
Magnetic Resonance (NMR) scanner used for medical diagnosis. Inventions:
barcoded product labels, the push-through tab on drink cans,
1974: 'Lucy' sekeleton discovered
Australopithecus afarensis. A halt called to Genetic Engineering
until implications are better understood, but research continues. F Sherwood
Rowland and Mario Molina warn that CFCs can damage the ozone layer. Inventions:
programmable pocket calculator,
1975: End of the South Vietnam
War. The Milky Way galaxy moves at 500km/s. First pictures from the surface
of Venus by Soviet Venera 9 and 10. Discovery of endorphins, morphine-like
substances produced by the body. Inventions: LCD
displays, personal computer (Altair8800) with 256 bytes memory.
1976: More understanding of
the high variety of antibodies produced by very few genes. Inventions:
inkjet printer (IBM), the supersonic Concorde starts passenger services,
which would end in 2000 after a tragic mishap at Paris.
1977: A 40,000 year old frozen
baby mammoth recovered. Most neurons contain several different neurotransmitters,
not just one. Deep-sea ocean vents surrounded by specialised communities
discovered. Discovery of AIDS. Incinerator wastes may be contaminated by
dioxins which can cause cancer. The smallpox virus is declared extinct
(Somalia), but officially 3 years later. Inventions: public-key encription
codes, Apple2 personal computer, fibre-optics
trialled for communication.
1978: The complete genetic structure
of a virus. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) banned as spray propellants. Bikini
Atoll islanders moved off the island after their return in 1968. It was
discovered that radioactive Cesium-137, caused by H-bomb tests, had entered
the food chain. Inventions: the first human test tube baby conceived outside
1979: End of Egyptian-Israeli
war. A human-powered aircraft, the Gossamer Albatross, crosses the
English Channel. The nuclear reactor Unit2 of
Three Mile Island undergoes a partial meltdown of its reactor core.
Inventions: VISICALC computer 'language' first spreadsheet,
ADA computer language for the US armed services.
1980: Mount St Helens erupts,
killing 61. Walter and Luis Alvarez discover the metal iridium in the Cretacious-Tertiary
(KT) layer, speculating that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused
by a large meteorite. The VLA Very Large Array radiotelescope in Socorro
USA, begins operation. Soundwaves used to break kidney stones. Inventions:
hepatitis B vaccine, scanning tunnelling microscope,
1981: The space shuttle Columbia.
The Chinese clone a carp fish. Gene
transfer from one animal to another. Primates with large testes for their
body size, are promiscuous. The element Boron is important for bone development
and sex hormones. Inventions: Solar One, the largest solar-powered
electricity station generates 10MW of electricity, the IBM
Personal Computer with DOS operating system.
1982: The Mexican volcano El
Chichon erupts, sending dust and gases into the stratosphere, where they
remain for 3 years. First deployment of a satellite from the space shuttle
Columbia. Human insulin produced by bacteria. First artificial human heart.
Inventions: compact-disc players,
1983: The second space shuttle
Challenger starts service. Aspartame approved for use as a sweetener in
soft drinks. Immuno-suppressant cyclosporine for organ transplants. Inventions:
a solar cell with 9.5% efficiency, Apple's LISA operating system introduces
the mouse and pull-down menus.IBM
PC-XT with freely imitable architecture.
Moratorium on whaling; in 80 years the whale biomass reduced from 43 to
6 million tons.
1984: First un-looted Maya tomb
from 500BC discovered. An unbroken tree-ring chronology
based on Irish oak trees, dating back 7272 years. Alec Jeffreys
discovers the technique of genetic fingerprinting.
First cloned sheep. Inventions: optical disks for computer storage, the
one megabit RAM, IBM's PC AT
1985: Mud torrents from erupting
volcano Nevada del Ruiz kills 21,000. The hole in the ozone layer detected.
Construction begins on the Keck, world's largest telescope at Mauna Kea
Hawaii, with a mirror of 10m. Nuclear X-ray laser test underground proves
successful. Over 500 million motor vehicles world-wide. UNEP Vienna Convention
on ozone depletion.
1986: The soviets launch Mir,
a permanently manned space station. The space shuttle Challenger blows
up 73 seconds after launch, killing 6 astronauts and a teacher. A 35 million
year old frog found, preserved as a fossil in amber resin. Superconductivity
now detected at up to 30 degrees above absolute zero. Chernobyl
nuclear reactor No4 near Kiev, explodes and releases radioactivity, killing
12 and forcing mass evacuations of all families within 30km.
Inventions: a hepatitis B vaccine, the 32 bit chip 80386, the two-pilot
airplane Voyager flies around the world in 9 days without refuelling. Muammar
al-Qaddaffi of Libya completes the 'manmade river', drawing water from
desert aquifers (40 days by camel) to the coast, supplying 80% of fresh
water. Accidental introduction (by ballast water) of the zebra mussel from
the Black Sea to the Great Lakes (US/Canada), becoming a real nuisance,
together with over 100 other alien species. A comb jellyfish travelled
the other way, destroying the Black Sea fisheries.
bans lead from gasoline. The Clovis people believed to be the first
Americans at about 9,500BC. Human growth hormone works also in fish. The
last wild California condor is trapped for a captive breeding programme.
The last dusky seaside sparrow, previously found all over Florida, died
in captivity, as its saltmarsh habitat also disappeared.The Brundtland
Report urges for economic restraint and sustainable development. A single
gene on the Y chromosome is responsible for maleness. Implanting cells
from a person's adrenal gland into the brain can cure or alleviate Parkinson's
disease. Inventions: Apple Macintosh,
IBM PS/2 computer. 2000 people die from smog in Athens Greece. Montreal
Protocol to lower CFCs by 70-100%.
1988: The 1959 Antarctic Treaty
is modified to allow for mining minerals and drilling for oil. 92,000 year
old Homo sapiens fossils found in Israel. First
US patent issued for a genetically modified mouse. Chemists
estimate a total of 10 milllion recorded compounds, increasing with 400,000
each year. The number of new book titles increases by 800,000 each year.
The world had about 10,000 languages but many of these are disappearing.
1989: Start of the building
of the Three Gorges Dam in China, damming the YangTze River.
1990: First Earth Day. Human
populaton 5.3 billion. Energy use increased 80-fold since 1800. Energy
use averages 20 'energy slaves' per human being, but in the USA alone,
about 100. Over 700 million motor vehicles worldwide. Irrigated land
ruined as fast as engineers can irrigate new land. Over 25,000 antibiotics
exist. 500 million people fly from one country to another and back every
year. Humans account for 0.1% of total biomass and 5% of animal biomass,
almost equal to cattle. CO2 emission grew 17x this century. Large cities
like Mexico City generate over 10,000 tons of garbage each day. In USA,
Europe and Japan, roads occupy 5-10% of all land. Cars kill 400,000 people
1991: End of the Cold War. Non-communists
gain control over most East-Block nations. The American weapons complex
involves some 3,000 sites with 10,000 war heads. Nuclear waste cleanup
may take 75 years. USSR has 45,000 warheads and unknown waste dumps. Most
nuclear waste dumped at sea. In the Gulf War, the Irakis ignite huge oil
fires that darken the sky and spilled oil into the fragile Persian Gulf.
European Union and monetary system established.
1992: First UN Conference on
Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Fist salmon caught in the
River Rhine, after its massive cleanup effort lasting forty years. Tests
for detecting HIV (AIDS) become widely available.
1993: USA ends the plans for
the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI).
1996: Adoption of the nuclear
test ban treaty.
1997: Mars Pathfinder puts a
roving vehicle on Mars, which sends images and does experiments.
1998: 30 million people infected
2000: Human population 6.0 billion.
2001: Anti-pollution laws for
the Baltic Sea. World Trade Centre towers in New York destroyed by terrorist