Looking Back

At the time, she was considered to be one of mankind's greatest achievements. With a simple blow by mother nature, however, turned her into one of the greatest shipwrecks in history. This technological and engineering brilliance wasn't the first of humankind's astounding achievements to try and conquer the natural world, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

She's been in the news again recently because the 100th anniversary is arriving in less than three weeks. The anniversary of the sinking of Titanic will be 100 years on April 15th, 1912 when the great mammoth ocean liner went down with the loss of 1,500 souls. Aside from just the wreck of one of the most legendary ocean liners in maritime history, let us take a look at our modern marvels of technological history on a whole.

Few individuals today really stop to think and examine the realities that befall our very society day in and day out. Everything from the simple cell phone to the automobile, from taxes (everybody hates, but has quite an interesting history) to the invention and use of emergency sirens. These simple, everyday instruments have quite an array of history that has endured more than 500 years for the majority of these inventions.

Let us take a look at the simplest things that we use every day and don't even give them a passing thought as to how they really got their start. How about the automobile for starters? Before we as a society were driving around in our fancy Rolls Royce motorcars or our hot shot Ford F-250, or perhaps our luxurious Mercedes Benz with more customized leather than a cowboy hat, let us go back to the first working steam-powered vehicle. This was likely to have been designed by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish member of a Jesuit mission in China around 1672. However, really, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is widely credited with building the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile in about 1769. In 1807, Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude probably created the world's first internal combustion engine which they called a Pyraolophore, but they chose to install it in a boat. Coincidentally, that same year, the Swiss inventor Francois Isaac de Rivaz designed his own internal combustion engine and used it to develop the world's first vehicle powered by an engine.

So for those of you who thought the automobile was created sometime in the early 20th century, ah ha, it was much earlier than that. How about the telegraph which lead to the invention of the telephone essentially, and much later, the cellular phone, (which many of us can't seem to live without these days). What about the poor boys pre-1900? Just picking up any type of telephone was not as clear cut then as it is today. The telegraph was invented in 1887 by American artist-turned inventor, Samuel F.B. Morse. But there really was no such thing as a standard telegraph even at the time. Of the two main categories, there were (optical telegraphs and mechanical telegraphs). Of the mechanical, there was two consisting of: (oceanic telegraph) and the (wireless telegraph), the latter being the most common at the time.

The telegraph would be used for almost thirty more years before eventually giving way entirely to the telephone. But the telephone has an even longer history compared to the telegraph. Developed in the mid-1870s, the telephone was created by Alexander Graham Bell and others. These original telephones were a kind of cumbersome invention held within a wooden box. By the First World War, telephones were used throughout the field, but it was here where telephones were changed for the better. If not for WWI, we probably wouldn't have advanced as quickly as we did with this invention.

The late 19th century was a grand age for technology, and speaking of hearing voices through electrical devices, this brings us to the invention of the radio. For those of you who may have thought that the radio was created some time during the early 1900s were slightly off. Radio was actually invented by David E. Hughes in 1878, but officially developed by Thomas Edison in 1885.

Of course this wouldn't be a complete article if I didn't speak about flight. This is always on the minds of readers everywhere when we talk about some of the most impressive inventions. Flight really was never invented so to speak. It has been around forever, it's really humankind who has had to learn to develop it for the benefit of our own kind. We've been indulging ourselves for centuries trying to master it and to say we have had amany accidents and mishaps along the way is truth to the fullest, we would be lying if we said otherwise. For instance, it has only been a little over 100 years since we have attempted to master flight and have come a remarkable way with its invention compared to those pilots pre-19th century.

Flight has been around since as early as the 9th century, (controlled-manned flight that is), where poet Abbas Ibn Firnos and the 11th century monk Eilmer of Malmesbury attempted it, and were injured. The first and official recording of manned flight by motor came with the legendary Wright Brothers in 1903, where even though their flight lasted a mere 22 seconds, it was the stepping stones to what was to come. Imagine how much has been developed in just over 100 years. "Looking back," we were simply in our infancy technologically speaking. Now, we have created jets that can accomplish Mach5 and space shuttles that can orbit Earth for up to three weeks at a time. Impressive, isn't it? To say the least.

Of course for those who have forgotten about television, this article wouldn't even be without mentioning it. Some probably say, "don't bother, it was invented sometime in the 1920s, right?" Wrong. Television was commercially invented in the late 1920s. Technically speaking, television was actually invented in 1884 by Paul Gottlieb Nipkow, a 23-year old university student in Germany. He patented the first electromechanical television system which employed the use of s scanning disc.

Really, the invention of television gave us the creation of video cassettes, laserdiscs, DVDs, and today Blueray discs which stemmed from the 1970s when television made an abrupt change. Today, TV is really only used to record for later viewing, as well as viewing broadcast material.

It was of course long before the introduction of television that people obtained their entertainment by going to the theater, which brings us to film. As early as the 1860s, where mechanisms for producing two-dimensional drawings in motion were demonstrated with devices such as the zoetrope, mutoscope and the praxiscope. In 1878, an experiment by English photographer Eadweard Mybridge in the United States using 24 cameras produced a series of stereoscopic images of a galloping horse. This is arguably the first "motion picture." It wasn't until the late 19th century and early 20th century when film was used in viewing studios, when viewers would pay five cents and receive a musical ensemble, a few short flicks and then the movie. All this for a mere five cents and now we can't even get a matinee and popcorn for $5.

Between 1910 and 1930 was the true age of film development though. Such films as the legendary "Birth of a Nation" and even "Nosferatu" is what paved the way for some of the more notable films later on, such as "Casablanca." The movie reel eventually gave way from the original "moving picture" to the "flicker show" to the "motion picture," and eventually what we know today as the "movies."

With all modern technologies, however, society developed enough over centuries for the induction of sadly to say, "Income tax." Income tax was officially created in 1913 by the federal government, but taxes have really been around since the Roman Empire, where emperors and statesmen illegally collected taxes, and if you didn't pay, you were dragged through the streets until you died.

Even the simple devices that we hear around us on a daily basis we seem to forget about. Take for example the "emergency siren." This of course is not referring to the mythical Greek seductress who lures men to their deaths, but rather a very simplistic instrument developed in Ancient China by Knights on horseback. The original device called a siren was a wood staff about 6 ½ feet tall, at the top was a metal box that had small slits carved into and around it, and inside this box was a whistle. The top of this box was a lid that also had slits in it. The lead knight would support this staff in the crook of his arm raised off the ground while he rode on horseback. The remaining knights rode behind him carrying the territorial pendants for the local constabulary authority. This was essentially the police force. As the lead knight rode on his horse, the staff would move up and down at a high rate of speed, and the wind would whistle through the metal box and against the cylinder inside, producing a high-pitched whistling sound. Here, is where the original siren was born.

How about something else our society sometimes forgets about and overlooks. All areas of the world have them, and they are invaluable to our very existence. Fire departments have an unfathomable history that some of us probably didn't even realize. Of course an actual fire station as we know it today wasn't really used, but the firefighting system has been in use since Ancient Rome. The very first fire brigade was formed by Egnatius Rufus in Ancient Rome, he used his slaves to provide free fire service. These men fought fires using bucket chains and also patrolled the streets with authority to impose corporal punishment upon those who violated fire-prevention codes. The Emperor Augustus established a public fire department in 24BCE, composed of 600 slaves distributed amongst seven fire stations in Rome. The first official fire departments (known as fire brigades in the United Kingdom) were formed as late as the 1500s. In fact, most fire departments were again formed by property insurance companies beginning in the 17th century after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The first insurance brigades were established the following year. Others began to realize that a lot of money could be made from this scheme, and ten more insurance companies set up in London before 1832: The Alliance, Atlas, Globe, Imperial, London, Protector, Royal Exchange, Sun Union and Westminster. Each company had its own fire mark, a durable plaque that would be affixed to the building exterior-(sadly to say, in some parts of the United States today, some states still have some fire regulations like these). A company's fire brigade would not extinguish a burning building if it did not have the correct fire mark. Here in the United States, our first fire department was forged in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Benjamin Franklin in 1736 naming it the Union Volunteer Fire Company, as well as establishing the first fire insurance company here in Pennsylvania, naming this, the Philadelphia Contributionship.

While we're on the topic of emergency services, what about ambulances. This is about as simple as it comes. The first "emergency" transport was in 1487 and organized by the Spanish.

Policing has been around even longer. Maybe longer than even fire protection. Police have been around since Ancient China and it's believed by this culture that long before them, policing existed as well. Originally, police officers were called "prefects" for their expert knowledge on ancient law. Prefects were more commonly used on a magistrate level, while "Subprefects" were used on a common law level for simple crimes and investigations.

So as we look back as to how things were, we seem to forget just how lucky and blessed we are to have what we so commonly take for granted. When we find ourselves putting down certain ways of society, such as "why is our system this way or that way," or maybe, "why do we have to do things this way?" we should stop and think about how things once were, long before our culture developed into a pretty sophisticated society. We should also stop and take a look at other countries around the world and see just how unfortunate and how lucky we are to be able to live relatively in peace. We have technology, medicine, we are protected by local and state police, local fire and emergency medical services. We even have national security and military protection, while some nations are still trying to figure how to develop roads for their cities and fight off their own military, we have a generally stable nation for the most part.

Take for instance Sudan. This country has been in existence longer than many European nations. Since 3500 BCE was when Sudan was founded and in 1504, this region became a dynasty. To this day, however, there are still no recognized forms of a solid government, medical care is non-existant, national security, well, there is none.

Look around you, all around, we are technologically advanced in many ways, but still very primitive in others. As we lay quest for medical and technological improvements, we have to still truly appreciate what we have, and how far we've come as a country, and how far we have yet to go.