What Are the Most Important Inventions of the 20th Century?


The 20th century saw more changes in the way people lived their lives than any other century. Among the century’s many new inventions were television, computers, the Internet, and nuclear power. The century began with the first aeroplane flight, lasting just 12 seconds, in 1903. By 1969, US astronauts had flown to the Moon and walked on its surface.


World War I (1914-18) left 20 million dead, mostly young soldiers. Military air power during World War II (1939-45) made cities vulnerable to attack. Around 60 million people died, many of them civilians. This was followed by the Cold War, a long stand-off between the USA and communist Russia.


Radios were invented at the beginning of the century, and the 1920s saw the arrival of radio broadcasts. In the 1930s and 1940s, going to the cinema was the most popular leisure activity. In the 1950s and 1960s, the popularity of cinemas waned, as people stayed at home to watch the new invention, television.


Many new labour-saving devices were invented for the home, including refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners. The ability to stop food decaying by freezing it enabled food to be transported greater distances and allowed people to buy and store it in bulk. Shortly after, pre-cooked frozen meals emerged, changing mealtimes for ever.


The world’s population rose from 1.65 to 6 billion people during the century, with a widening gap between rich and poor nations. There was inequality between men and women and people of different races.


The developments in transport in this century allowed people greater freedom to travel. Millions of families bought cars, and new motorways were built to make journeys faster. The air travel industry really took off from the 1930s. Journeys, which before the aeroplane would have taken days by rail or sea, could now be completed in a matter of hours.


The role of women in the workplace greatly changed during the century. Women had limited career options in the early decades, but gained more employment rights and opportunities as the century progressed. The workplace was also transformed by new methods of communication, including the computer and Internet. New technologies led to automated factories, reducing the need for manual labour.

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