The invention of steel-girder skyscrapers enabled architects to move away from the constraints of load-bearing walls and towards steel-framed structures that granted more freedom and creativity. The first of these buildings was architect William Le Baron Jenney’s ten-storey Home Insurance Company Building, completed in 1885. As soon as it was built -and proven a success — the technology proliferated rapidly and soon rival architects tried to outdo each other, designing ever taller and more complex buildings.
Taking over from steam-and horse-powered travel at the end of the Industrial Revolution, where would we be today without the car? First made in its current form in 1886 by German engineer Karl Benz, there are now more than 1 billion worldwide, and that number is set to keep growing. Newer designs are looking to solve the problem of pollution by using alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen.
The first device to be capable of recording and replaying sound, Thomas Edison’s 1877 phonograph laid down the foundations for today’s music industry, being quickly followed by the gramophone and, later, the turntable. Prior to this no audible moments could ever be captured or replayed. Today, radios and MP3 players allow us to listen to our favourite tunes all day long.
While not the inventor of the world’s first telephone (largely attributed to Antonio Meucci in 1849), Alexander Graham Bell achieved so much in its overall development — including taking out a patent for his own device in 1876 — that he is generally now credited as its inventor. Indeed, along with his assistant, Thomas Watson, Bell built a phone that enabled him to make the first-ever call, saying, ‘Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.’ He demonstrated its capabilities to many important societies and people — even to the US president — and eventually set up the Bell Telephone Company to make them on a mass-produced scale. Bell’s work in the field of telephony meant that by 1886 more than 150,000 buildings in the USA had installed a phone.
In 1856 British scientist Alexander Parkes created the first man-made plastic from cellulose treated with nitric acid. Trademarked as Parkesine, Parkes’ invention soon won him a bronze medal at the 1862 Industrial Exhibition in London and, as a result, he decided to ramp up production of the new material. Unfortunately, after beginning mass production of the plastic, a mixture of demand and high costs saw his company fail and, by 1868, Parkesine was no longer made.