History of Technology Heroes and Villains - A little light reading Here you will find a brief history of technology. Initially inspired by the development of batteries, it covers technology in general and includes some interesting little known, or long forgotten, facts as well as a few myths about the development of technology, the science behind it, the context in which it occurred and the deeds of the many personalities, eccentrics and charlatans involved.
You may find the Search Engine , the Technology Timeline or the Hall of Fame quicker if you are looking for something or somebody in particular. Scroll down and see what treasures you can discover. Background We think of a battery today as a source of portable power, but it is no exaggeration to say that the battery is one of the most important inventions in the history of mankind.
Volta's pile was at first a technical curiosity but this new electrochemical phenomenon very quickly opened the door to new branches of both physics and chemistry and a myriad of discoveries, inventions and applications. The electronics, computers and communications industries, power engineering and much of the chemical industry of today were founded on discoveries made possible by the battery. Pioneers It is often overlooked that throughout the nineteenth century, most of the electrical experimenters, inventors and engineers who made these advances possible had to make their own batteries before they could start their investigations.
They did not have the benefit of cheap, off the shelf, mass produced batteries. For many years the telegraph, and later the telephone, industries were the only consumers of batteries in modest volumes and it wasn't until the twentieth century that new applications created the demand that made the battery a commodity item.
In recent years batteries have changed out of all recognition. No longer are they simple electrochemical cells. Today the cells are components in battery systems, incorporating electronics and software, power management and control systems, monitoring and protection circuits, communications interfaces and thermal management.
At the end of the fourth millennium B. Bronze is a relatively hard alloy of copper and tin, better suited for the purpose than the much softer copper enabling improved durability of the weapons and the ability to hold a cutting edge. The use of bronze for tools and weapons gradually spread to the rest of the World until it was eventually superceded by the much harder iron.
Mesopotamia, incorporating Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria, known in the West as the Cradle of Civilisation was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers The name means "land between the rivers" in the so called Fertile Crescent stretching from the current Gulf of Iran up to modern day Turkey. See Map of Mesopotamia Unfortunately this accolade ignores the contributions of the Chinese people and the Harappans of the Indus Valley, Modern day Pakistan who were equally "civilised" during this period practicing metallurgy copper, bronze, lead, and tin and urban planning, with civic buildings, baked brick houses, and water supply and drainage systems.
From around B. Called Cuneiform Writing from the Latin "cuneus", meaning "wedge", it was developed as a vehicle for commercial accounting transactions and record keeping.
The writing was in the form of a series of wedge-shaped signs pressed into soft clay by means of a reed stylus to create simple pictures, or pictograms, each representing an object. The clay subsequently hardened in the Sun or was baked to form permanent tablets. For the first time news and ideas could be carried to distant places without having to rely on a messenger's memory and integrity.
Hieroglyphic script evolved slightly later in Egypt. Though the script appeared on vases and stone carvings, many important Egyptian historical scripts and records were written in ink, made from carbon black soot or red ochre mixed with gelatin and gum, applied with a reed pen onto papyrus. Produced from the freshwater papyrus reed, the papyrus scrolls were fragile and susceptible to decay from both moisture and excessive dryness and many of them have thus been lost, whereas the older, more durable clay cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia have survived.
Historians seem to agree that the wheel and axle were invented around B. Pictograms on a tablet dating from about B. Evidence from Ur indicates that the simpler potter's wheel probably predates the use of the axled wheel for transport because of the difficulty in designing a reliable mechanism for mounting the rotating wheel on a fixed hub or a rotating axle on the fixed load carrying platform.
Sumerian mathematics and science used a base 60 sexagesimal numeral system. The Mesopotamians thus introduced the minute hour, the second minute and the degree circle with each angular degree consisting of 60 seconds.
The calendar adopted by the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians was based 12 lunar months and seven-day weeks with hour days. Since the average lunar month is To keep the calendar aligned to the seasons they added seven extra months in each period of 19 years, equivalent to the way we add an extra day in leap years. Despite decimalisation, we still use these sexagesimal measures today. The Mesopotamians discovered glass, probably from glass beads in the slag resulting from experiments with refining metallic ores.
They were also active in the development of many other technologies such as textile weaving, locks and canals, flood control, water storage and irrigation. There are also claims that the Archimedes' Screw may have been invented in Mesopotamia and used for the water systems at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Sometimes known as the "Second oldest profession", soldering has been known since the Bronze Age Circa to B.
A form of soldering to join sheets of gold was known to be used by the Mesopotamians in Ur. Egypt was also home to Imhotep the first man of science in recorded history. He was the world's first named architect and administrator who around B. Papyri were unearthed in the nineteenth century dating from around B. The first outlines surgical treatments for various wounds and diseases and the second contains prescriptions and recipes for treating a variety of medical conditions making Imhotep the world's first recorded physician.
Other contemporary papyri described Egyptian mathematics. Egyptian teachings provided the foundation of Greek science and although Imhotep's teachings were known to the Greeks, years after his death, they assigned the honour of Father of Medicine to Hippocrates. The earliest evidence of the art of stencilling used by the Egyptians.
Designs were cut into a sheet of papyrus and pigments were applied through the apertures with a brush. The technique was reputed to have been in use in China around the same time but no artifacts remain. The Xia dynasty in China perfected the casting of bronze for the production of weapons and ritual wine and food vessels, reaching new heights during the Shang dynasty B.
The process for making wrought iron was discovered by the Hittites, in Northern Mesopotamia and Southern Anatolia now part of Eastern Turkey , who heated iron ore in a charcoal fire and hammered the results into wrought worked iron. See more about wrought iron B.
Fine wire also made by the Egyptians by beating gold sheet and cutting it into strips. Recorded in the Bible, Book of Exodus, Chapter 39, Verse 3, - "And they did beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it. Around this date, after his escape from Egypt, Moses ordered the construction of the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets of stone on which were written the original "Ten Commandments".
Its construction is described in great detail in the book of Exodus and according to the Bible and Jewish legend it was endowed with miraculous powers including emitting sparks and fire and striking dead Aaron's sons and others who touched it. It was basically a wooden box of acacia wood lined with gold and also overlaid on the outside with gold.
The lid was decorated with two "cherubim" with outstretched wings. In Nikola Tesla , in an essay entitled "The Fairy Tale of Electricity" promoting the appreciation of electrical developments, proposed what seemed a plausible explanation for some of the magical powers of the Ark. He claimed that the gold sheaths separated by the dry acacia wood effectively formed a large capacitor on which a static electrical charge could be built up by friction from the curtains around the Ark and this accounted for the sparks and the electrocution of Aaron's sons.
Recent calculations have shown however that the capacitance of the box would be in the order of pico farads and such a capacitor would need to be charged to , volts to store even 1 joule of electrical energy, not nearly enough to cause electrocution. It seems Tesla's explanation was appropriately named. The magnetic properties of the naturally occurring lodestone were first mentioned in Greek texts.
Also called magnetite, lodestone is a magnetic oxide of iron Fe3O4 which was mined in the province of Magnesia in Thessaly from where the magnet gets its name. Lodestone was also known in China at that time where it was known as "love stone" and is in fact quite common throughout the world. Surprisingly although they were aware of its magnetic properties, neither the Greeks nor the Romans seem to have discovered its directive property.
Eight hundred years later in 77 A. In it, he attributed the name "magnet" to the supposed discoverer of lodestone, the shepherd Magnes, "the nails of whose shoes and the tip of whose staff stuck fast in a magnetic field while he pastured his flocks".
Thus another myth was born. Pliny was killed during the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Pompeii in A. The Greek philosopher and scientist, Thales of Miletus B. He travelled to Egypt and the city state of Babylon in Mesopotamia now modern day Iraq and is said to have brought Babylonian mathematics back to Greece.
The following rules are attributed to him: Any angle inscribed in a semicircle is a right angle. Known as the Theorem of Thales it was however known to the Babylonians years earlier. A circle is bisected by any diameter. The base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal.
The opposite angles formed by two intersecting lines are equal. Two triangles are congruent equal shape and size if two angles and a side are equal. The sides of similar triangles are proportional Using the concept of similar triangles he was able to calculate the height of pyramids by comparing the size of their shadows with smaller, similar triangles of known dimensions.
Similarly he calculated the distance to ships at sea by noting the azimuth angle of the ship from a baseline of two widely spaced observation points a known distance apart on the shore and scaling up the distance to the ship from the dimensions of a smaller similar triangle. In this way he was able to calculate the distance to far off objects without measuring the distance directly, the basis of modern surveying.
Thales also demonstrated the effect of static electricity by picking up small items with an amber rod made of fossilised resin which had been rubbed with a cloth. He also noted that iron was attracted to lodestone. Thales left no writings and knowledge of him is derived from an account in Aristotle 's Metaphysics written nearly years later and itself subject to numerous subsequent copies and translations.
Pythagoras of Samos B. Like Thales , he had travelled to Egypt and Babylon where he studied astronomy and geometry. His cult-like followers, were enthralled by numbers such as prime numbers and irrational numbers and considered their work to be secret and mystical.
See examples of The Divine Proportion. None of Pythagoras writings have survived and knowledge of his life and works is based on tradition rather than verified facts. Cast iron was produced for the first time by the Chinese during the Zhou dynasty B. Prior to that, it had not been possible to raise the temperature of the ore sufficiently to melt the iron and the only available iron was wrought iron created by heating iron ore in a furnace with carbon as the reducing agent and hammering the resulting spongy iron output.
By a combination of the addition of phosphorus to the ore which reduced its melting point, the use of a bellows to pump air through the ore to aid the exothermic reduction process and the use of improved high temperature refractory bricks forming the walls of the furnace to withstand the heat, the Chinese were able to melt the iron and cast it into functional shapes ranging from tools and pots and pans to heavy load bearing constructional members as well as fine ornamental pieces.
Cast iron was not produced in Europe till around A. Gun-barrels and bullets were the first cast iron products to be manufactured but it was not until when Abraham Darby introduced new production methods that low cost, volume production was achieved. See more about Chinese Inventions. Another Greek philosopher Democritus of Abdera developed the idea that matter could be broken down into very small indivisible particles which he called atoms. Subsequently Aristotle dismissed Democritus' atomic theory as worthless and Aristotle's views tended to prevail.
It was not until that Democritus' theory was resurrected by John Dalton.