20th Century inventions

A year-by-year list of inventions made during the 20th Century, including some analysis of societal changes during the 100 years between 1900 and 2000.

DECADE: 1900-1909

1900: the Zeppelin is designed, a rigid dirigible airship
1901: King Gillette invents the safety razor; radio telegraph service is instituted for the first time in Hawaii
1902: neon lights invented
1903: the Wright Brothers first flight in a heavier-than-air craft on Dec. 17 near Kitty Hawk, NC
1904: Holt's first treaded tractor
1905: Einstein's Theory of Relativity published
1906: Will Kellogg introduces cornflakes
1907: the Lumiere brothers invent color photography
1908: gyrocompass invented by Sperry
1909: instant coffee invented

DECADE: 1910-1919

1910: Edison shows the 1st talking motion picture
1911: Kettering invents the 1st automotive ignition system
1912: LifeSavers candy introduced
1913: the modern brassiere and crossword puzzle are invented
1914: gas mask invented in time for WWI
1915: Pyrex invented
1916: Model T Ford prices fall to $360 -- half the 1911 price
1916: stainless steel invented
1917: modern zipper invented
1918: Armstrong's core design for super heterodyne radio circuit -- which eventually becomes universal
1919: short-wave radio invented

DECADE: 1920-1929

1920: Band-Aid invented
1921: 1st robot designed
1922: insulin invented
1923: Garrett Morgan granted patent for the traffic signal
1923: Clarence Birdseye introduces frozen food
1924: spiral-bound notebooks first appear
1925: Baird's mechanical TV demonstrated
1926: Robert Goddard's first liquid fueled rockets tested in Auburn, MA
1927: Farnsworth's electronic TV demonstrated
1928: Fleming discovers penicillin; Schick patents the electric shaver
1929: Zenith Radio starts year as lowest priced stock on NYSE -- ends year as highest priced stock due to demand for its radios; Paul Galvin (later president of Motorola) invents the car radio

DECADE: 1930-1939

1930: Scotch tape invented at 3M; first jet engine designs
1931: electron microscope invented
1932: Good year for photography: Land invents the Polaroid process; zoom lens and light meter are also invented
1933: stereo records developed
1934: first magnetic tape recorders for broadcasting
1935: Dupont invents nylon; radar first developed; and beer is canned for the first time
1936: Colt's revolver patented
1937: photocopier invented
1938: ballpoint pen and Teflon invented
1939: Sikorsky's first helicopter flown

DECADE: 1940-1949

1940: Jeep designed
1941: aerosol spray cans developed
1942: turboprop engines designed
1943: synthetic rubber invented, along with the Slinky and Silly Putty; Jacques Yves Cousteau co-develops the aqualung
1944: synthetic cortisone developed
1945: atomic bomb developed and used
1946: microwave oven invented by Percy Spencer after he melts chocolate bar in his pocket
1947: Schockley-Brattain-Bardeen invent the transistor
1948: Velcro and the jukebox invented
1949: prepared cake mixes introduced

DECADE: 1950-1959

1950: Diner's Club introduces first credit card
1951: Super Glue invented; so is first video tape recorder
1952: first bar code patent issued; first diet soft drink developed
1953: transistor radio invented at Texas Instruments (TI); radial tire developed
1954: oral contraceptives invented; Ray Kroc starts franchising McDonald's
1955: tetracycline & optical fiber invented
1956: first use of computer hard disk
1957: Fortran computer programming language developed
1958: Noyce (at Fairchild Semiconductor) and Kilby (at Texas Instruments) both submit patents for integrated circuits
1959: important to generations of girls -- the Barbie Doll is introduced

DECADE: 1960-1969

1960: halogen lamp invented
1961: valium invented
1962: audio cassettes developed
1963: pop-top cans
1964: BASIC computer language developed; permanent-press materials
1965: Astroturf; Kevlar; soft contact lenses
1966: electronic fuel injection developed for cars
1967: first handheld calculator invented by Texas Instruments under the code name "Cal Tech"
1968: Douglas Englebert invents the computer mouse
1969: ATM machine invented; Arpanet also appears and bar code scanners developed

DECADE: 1970-1979

1970: Alan Shugart, later chairman of hard drive supplier Seagate, invents the floppy disk
1971: Intel's 4004 is first microprocessor design; dot-matrix printer, VCR and LCD displays also invented
1972: first video game -- Pong -- invented
1973: gene splicing invented; Ethernet networking invented at Xerox; BIC develops disposable lighter; Black-Scholes pricing model developed for options
1974: Post-it Notes and liposuction invented
1975: laser printer developed
1976: ink jet printing invented
1977: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) invented
1978: Visicalc spreadsheet introduced for PCs; first PC models appear from Heathkit, Apple, Radio Shack
1979: Walkman invented by Sony; roller blades developed; Seymour Cray designs the supercomputer

DECADE: 1980-1989

1980: vaccine for hepatitis-B invented
1981: IBM introduces the PC and MS-DOS appears for the first time
1982: human growth hormones genetically engineered
1983: soft bifocal contact lenses introduced
1984: Apple Macintosh popularizes the graphical interface; CD-ROMs invented
1985: Microsoft brings out Windows 1.0
1986: Microsoft's initial public offering (IPO); first disposable camera introduced
1987: disposable contact lenses invented
1988: Doppler radar invented; first patent issued for genetically-engineered animal issued
1989: first HDTV broadcasts in Japan

DECADE: 1990-1999

1990: Tim Berners-Lee develops protocol for both World-wide web (WWW)and the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)
1991: first digital answering machine
1992: smart pill invented
1993: Intel introduces Pentium family of 32-bit microprocessors
1994: first Internet audio broadcast from Interop
1995: DVD invented; Java language launched by Sun Microsystems; RealAudio broadcasting introduced
1996: WebTV introduced
1997: gas-powered fuel cells developed
1998: Viagra developed
1999: Google.com is formed and the search engine goes into beta test publicly
2000: mapping of human DNA completed


The population of the United States and the industrial world has dramatically changed in these 100 years. Indeed, the United States wouldn't hit a population of 100 million until April, 1915 -- but in 2020 has a population of more than 331 million.

In 1900, the median age was 22 but in 2020 with longer life spans it has risen to more than 38 years old, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Families average 3.5 children in 1900 (down from 7 in 1800) and have continued to shrink, averaging only 1.93 children under age 18. At the beginning of the 20th Century, most people lived on farms but cities have continued to grow in size and percentage, and farms and ranches have only about two of every 100 people.
The last Statistical Abstract of the United States (2011)
2011 Population Section

In these 100 years, cities AND farms have both seen the horse disappear from daily labor. Electrification became universal, meaning that among other things indoor plumbing came to millions of farms and that daily deliveries of block-ice in cities came to a halt.

In a Google Answers essay on what daily life looked like over centuries, Missy-GA quotes a pair of Americans -- including Pres. Jimmy Carter about life in the first two decades of the century:
"We drew water from a well in the yard, and every day of the year, we had the chore of keeping extra bucketfuls in the kitchen and on the back porch, combined with the constant wood sawing and chopping to supply the cooking stove and fireplaces. In every bedroom was a slop jar (chamber pot) that was emptied each morning into the outdoor privy, about 20 yards from our back door. This small shack had a large hold for adults and a lower and smaller one for children…" Google Answers
"24 hours" by Missy-GA, April 7, 2003

Polio, diptheria, diptheria, tuberculosis and smallpox have all but disappeared (and smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s); trains are no longer the principal means of transportation. Coal was a primary source of central heat at the start of the century (so you can tell how old a house is by whether or note it has an old coal chute.)

Just since the middle of the century, we've seen colonialization all but disappear. Apartheid has ended; black-and-white TV is gone; so too are vinyl records as the principal music recording media. Typewriters are obsolete, as are phone booths, slide rules, LORAN navigation, IBM punchcards (unit record equipment to the techies), the Soviet Union, Checker cabs and drive-in movies. Very few people use in-home milk delivery, though an older house might still have a milk box built into the wall. And there's no longer a mandatory draft for military service in the U.S.

If it all makes you uncomfortable, take reassurance in some things that are little-changed:
* Jack Daniels bourbon
* Levi Strauss & Co. makes the same blue-denim work clothes, even if they've added some other clothing lines
* Baseball is played with basically the same rules
* Teenagers are still rebellious
* There's still no cure for the common cold -- or the hangover


ThoughtCo (formerly About.com) has an "Inventors" timeline for the first half of the 20th Century with a nice outline and links for technology from 1900-1949:
"The Greatest Inventions That Transformed the Early 1900s" (Mary Bellis)

Wikipedia is an interesting resource for looking at inventions during the 20th Century, again because links to more details are helpful in finding more detail:
"Timeline of historic inventions"
The 1900s

Also from Wikipedia:
"20th Century in Science"

"Timeline of U.S. Inventions"

"Timeline of U.S. Inventions"

"Timeline of U.S. Inventions"
After 1991


The majority of this essay was originally written in 2003 for Google Answers, a Google service that appeared and disappeared in the first decade of the 21st Century. Looking back, what innovations appear more important since then? The original essay cited little in terms of DNA research, even missing the Watson and Crick model created in 1953. Also absent, many of the advances in astrophysics.

One might also expect that within 20 years of a discovery, not enough time had passed to assimilate the changes made by an invention, so innovations since 1980 might have been under-rated.

Going back through lists of innovation, I've added with an asterisk (*) some significant items that were missed on the first pass.



Last updated: 12/17/2020

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A collection of material written by Andy Czernek, of Mukilteo, WA.

Other websites maintained the author include:
* Mooney Events, a calendar and other resources for owners of Mooney Aircraft

* Fry Family of Ashland County, Ohio, a family genealogy site

* Sinking of the SS Golden Gate, the story of the fire and sinking of the steamship off Manzanilla, Mexico in 1862


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