Technology Development in 19th and Early 20th Century

Industrial revolution and engineering were the backbones of the 19th century, both in Europe and in United States. During this time, many advancements in many fields were made and new inventions were constantly being dream of and produced by people all over the world, including Germany. In 1835, English engineer George Stephenson introduced the 1435 mm gauge on the first German line between Nuremberg and Turth in Bavaria. In 1838, the first Prussian railway line opened, running from Berlin to Potsdam. In 1841, August Borsig, a young engineer from the Industry School under Beuth, built his first locomotive following an American model and designed his own locomotive in 1844. In 1848, Siemens & Halske, the company founded by Werner von Siemens and Johann Georg Halske, built 500 km telegraph line from Berlin to Frankfurt am Main, the first long-distance telegraph line in Europe. In 1858, Hamilton Smith invented and patented the rotary washing machine and less than a decade later, Christopher Scholes invented the first modern typewriter in 1867. In 1884, Charles Parson patented the steam turbine while Hubert Booth invented the first compact and modern vacuum cleaner in 1901. As an electronic appliances giant, AEG produced all the above-mentioned products in the consecutive years. During the same decades, Berlin developed into the center north German railway network. By the 1890s, Berlin was shaped by long-distance passenger and goods railways stations, the Ringbahn (Circle Line) and the U-Bahn, which was the newly developed electric underground railway. Machines represented progress and significantly improved German people’s living standards as the 20th century progressed.

Rathenau stayed at the front line of technology development through extensive traveling across different continents. He visited Philadelphia in 1876 to attend World Exhibition and was inspired by the newest inventions of the day. The most important American inventions that significantly changed the world were light bulb, electricity, and transmission systems. Rathenau was particularly inspired by the light bulb. In 1878, Edison started working on the improvement of electrical illumination to replace gas and oil based lighting.  Later that same year, Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City. After exploring numerous possible materials and going through endless trials, Edison obtained the patent of the first commercially practical incandescent light in 1880. In 1892, Thomas Edison’s Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady and Charles Coffin’s Thomason-Houston Electric Company of Lynn merged together and formed General Electric in New York. Rathenau later obtained the exclusive rights to use Edison’s light bulb in Europe. Machines and inventions defined the age.

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