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Technology and Inventions Facts

"And there's a dreadful law here ... if anyone asks for machinery, they have to have it and keep on using it." —Edith Nesbit, The Magic City

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Primitive batteries capable of producing ½ volt of electricity were made in Mesopotamia between around 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. They were likely used for electroplating silver onto copper. (source)

Among the important devices in naval technology developed by the Chinese are: the stern-post rudder, which appears on a pottery model of a boat dating from the first century A.D.; watertight compartments; and the paddle wheel, descriptions of which date from the fifth century A.D. (source)

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The umbrella was invented by the Chinese in the second century B.C. (source)

Glass mirrors were known in the Roman Empire, but the art of making them was lost and not recovered until 1300 in Venice. (source)

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Billiards were invented in France in 1471. (source)

Around 500 years ago, a typical clock would lose or gain up to 30 minutes daily. Until the invention of the pendulum clock, even the best mechanical clocks were highly inaccurate.

Looking through his telescope in 1609, Galileo saw that there were spots on the Sun, imperfections on the Moon, and that the Milky Way was composed of millions of faint stars. His most stunning (and controversial) discovery was of satellites orbiting Jupiter, dashing the concept that the Earth was the center of the Universe. (source)

View more facts about: Geniuses
[An explanatory drawing of the Newcomen pumping engine, drawn in 1717
An explanatory drawing of the Newcomen pumping engine produced in 1717.

James Watt did not invent the steam engine. In 1763, he hit upon an innovation to the Newcomen steam engine. The Newcomen engine was incredibly inefficient, wasting enormous amounts of steam because vapourization and condensation took place in the same chamber. Watt introduced a separate condensing vessel which greatly increased the work efficiency of the machine. (source)

Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair, the pedometer, a letter-copying press, a tilting table, a more effective plough, and several other items. He never patented any of his inventions, wanting people to have free use of them.

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The first patent for a fax machine was issued to British clockmaker Alexander Bain in 1843, over 30 years before the telephone. In 1865, Abbé Caselli introduced the first commercial facsimile system, between Paris and Lyons. Newspapers began to send photographs starting in 1902. Modern fax machines were developed by the Japanese due to difficulties in otherwise transmitting their written lang­uage. (source)

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In June 1935, Major Radiovision of London started to sell videodiscs. Each side of a disc offered six minutes of pictures and sound, which could be viewed using a device linked to a primitive television set. The discs were never commercially successful. (source)

It is possible that the science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke might have lost out on millions of dollars in royalties when he wrote an article about radio communication via satellite without taking out a patent first. (source)

The advent of the photo-finish camera in horse racing took the guesswork out of judging, and showed that human judges, while generally accurate, were not so on close calls. In 1935, before cameras, judges called only 20 dead heats, but in 1938, after cameras had been introduced at most tracks, cameras showed 264 dead heats. It would appear that, before cameras, judges had miscalled thousands of tied races due to a combination of human error and the desire to have a decision.

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The last person on the moon was Eugene Cernan. He and fellow explorer Harrison Schmidt left the moon at 5:40 A.M. GMT, December 13th, 1972. No humans have visited the moon since then.

View more facts about: Lasts | Solar System

On July 22, 1962, the Mariner I space probe was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, en route to Venus. Four minutes after lift-off, it began veering seriously off-course and was destroyed to prevent it from crashing into populated areas, resulting in an $18.5 million loss for the U.S. space program. An investigation found the cause of the crash to be the omission of a single hyphen from the instructions entered into the rocket's computer. (source)

The engineering division of British Rail applied for and received a patent for a flying saucer in 1972. It would be capable of transporting 22 passengers. However, the nuclear fusion technology used to power it does not exist, and it appears that by 1976 they lost faith in the practicability of the saucer, and allowed the patent to lapse. (source)

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On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, Earth's first artificial satellite. It was quite small, being about the size of a basketball and weighing 183 pounds. It took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical orbit. (source)

View more facts about: Exploration | Russia

In 1950, the Illinois Central Railroad operated 1,166 steam locomotives and 89 diesel locomotives. It had replaced all its steam locomotives with diesel locomotives by 1960. Despite the fact that it would take two or three diesels to replace a heavy steam locomotive, the Illinois Central was operating its railway in 1960 with only 600 diesels. This was possible because diesels could be utilized more heavily.

The idea of people being killed by robots is not just science-fiction; it has happened at least twice. On January 25, 1979, Robert Williams, a worker at a Ford Motor Company casting plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, was taking a part out of a storage bin when a robot whose job it was to retrieve parts from that same bin hit Williams in the head with its arm. He was killed instantly. On July 4, 1981, Kenji Urada, an engineer at a Kawasaki Heavy Industries factory, was fixing an industrial robot that had malfunctioned. He neglected to open the fence around the robot, which would have shut off the robot's power, and he then accidentally touched the switch turning the robot on. The robot then did the actions it was designed to do; with Urada in the way, the result was that he was pinned against a machine processing automobile gears and killed.

In 1967, Keuffel & Esser, a maker of slide rules, commissioned a study of the future. The report predicted that, by the year 2067, Americans would live in domed cities and watch three-dimensional television. Unfortunately for the company, the report failed to predict that slide rules would be obsolete in under ten years, to be replaced by the pocket calculator. By 1976, Keuffel & Esser, who were now selling Texas Instruments calculators much faster than the slide rules that made up only 5% of their sales, mothballed its slide rule manufacturing equipment and sent it to the Smithsonian Institution. (source)

View more facts about: Strange Predictions

The Bluetooth technology is named after a tenth-century king of Denmark and Norway, Harald Bluetooth. Harald was known for uniting various warring tribes in Denmark and Norway, as the technology is intended to unite various other technologies.

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On March 16, 1926, Dr. Robert H. Goddard successfully launched the first liquid fueled rocket. The launch took place at Auburn, Massachusetts, and is regarded by flight historians to be as significant as the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk. (source)

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Data from satellite instruments are used by fishermen to find areas where fish are most likely to be found. Fish find food in zones where cold and warm water mix. (source)

A geostationary satellite travels at an altitude of approximately 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) above the Earth and at a speed of about 11,000 km/h (7,000 mph). (source)

In the mid-1960s, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed digital image processing to allow computer enhancement of Moon pictures. Similar technology is now used by doctors and hospitals on images of organs in the human body. (source)

View more facts about: Medicine and Health

The main engine of the Space Shuttle weighs one seventh as much as a locomotive but delivers as much horsepower as 39 locomotives. (source)

The Space Shuttle speed goes from 0 mph to 17,500 mph in 8.5 minutes (this is when the external fuel tank separates from the Shuttle). Two minutes after launch the solid rocket boosters separate; at this time the speed is 3,438 mph and increasing rapidly. The speed of the gases exiting the Solid Rocket Booster motor is 6,000 miles per hour—three times the speed of a high-powered rifle. The Space Shuttle travels at a rate of about 17,500 miles per hour when orbiting the Earth. When reentry or blackout happens, the Shuttle is traveling at 16,700 mph. After reentry the Shuttle uses Earth's atmosphere to slow down. Landing speed ranges from 213 to 226 miles per hour (343 to 364 kilometres per hour). (source)

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched by the U.S. on April 24, 1990 and is named after Astronomer Edwin P. Hubble. It is a Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite, located about 375 miles (600 km) above the surface of the Earth. Hubble completes an orbit around the Earth every 97 minutes. (source)

Every day, the Hubble Space Telescope archives 3 to 5 gigabytes of data and delivers between 10 and 15 gigabytes to astronomers. (source)

The first typewritten manuscript was Mark Twain's manuscript of Tom Sawyer, in 1875. (source)

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