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The 20th century featured more engineering discoveries in a shorter period of time than in any other century in the world's history. This makes it very difficult to choose five that have changed the world more than the others up for consideration. Below is the list, not definitive by any means, in reverse order.
Number 5: Radio/Television
Radio, which actually made its' debut broadcasting the America's Cup in 1899, instantly made the world a smaller place. After this initial broadcast, the discovery of the diode and the vacuum tube made live vocal broadcasting possible. Almost every home in America had a radio by the 1930s and televisions soon followed in the 1940s. No longer did people have to wait days to hear important news. It could also be said that radio and television changed the world socially (and continue to do so today) more than any other invention.
Number 4: Airplanes
Almost every great engineering discovery has helped make our world a smaller place, and airplanes are no exception. We can now travel from the United States to Europe in under seven hours, where by boat before flight took about ten days. Invented by the Wright Brothers in 1903, the technology developed quickly, just in time for World War I. By the late 50s air travel overtook railways as the most popular way of traveling for Americans. Planes also allow us to receive goods from overseas very quickly, where before it would take months.
Number 3: Telephone
This is a technology that is still developing now with mobile and cell phones gaining more and more popularity every day. Before the telephone it would take days to send news to a loved one in the next state; the telephone made this possible almost instantly. As technology got better through the 20th century more and more telephone lines went up in even the remotest areas. Today's mobile technology using satellites makes communication in even the remotest locations on earth possible. Imagine your life today without your cell phone.
Number 2: Computers
Computers are a very important part of almost everyone's lives today, but only 35 years ago these machines could take up a whole room and couldn't do more than add up numbers quickly. Today we use them as sources of information, to surf the internet, to communicate with friends and business associates, to write papers for school, and much more. Computers have allowed people from all over the world in vastly different cultures to meet up and share their experiences and learn from each other. Was there ever really a time when Google didn't exist?
Number 1: Electricity
No other engineering discovery even really comes close to the harnessing of electricity. None of the other technological engineering discoveries on this list would've even been possible without it. In fact, the rapid succession of inventions in the 20th century is almost completely attributable to the invention of electricity. Imagine your world without electricity. You would have no refrigerator, no air conditioning, and no lights. The world would be a different and much less comfortable place. We are healthier, our food lasts longer, we are safer, we are more connected, and all of this can be directly attributed to the engineering discovery we call electricity. Nothing has changed the world in quite the same.
Robin Tyler is an electrical engineer and guest author at Engineering-Management.net, a site with helpful information for prospective students about choosing a school to get an online masters in engineering management.