Inventing the 20th Century: 100 Inventions That Shaped the World

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Imagine your average day without zippers, airplanes or vacuum cleaners, without your clock radio or your personal stereo, without photocopiers. All of these devices were invented within the last hundred years and have since transformed our daily landscape.

Drawing on The British Library's vast and comprehensive collection of patents, this handsomely illustrated book recounts the history of 100 of the most significant inventions of the century, decade by decade.

From the photocopier to the Slinky, from genetic fingerprinting to the Lava Lamp, from the ballpoint pen to the fuel cell, Inventing the Twentieth Century is an informative, illuminating window onto the technology of the twentieth century. It's the perfect gift book for every inventor and tinkerer in your life!

"A wonderful book"
—L.A. Daily Breeze, Oct. 19, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A fascinating compendium for trivia seekers."

-Publishers Weekly

“A wonderful book”

-L.A. Daily Breeze,Oct. 19, 2001

"Highly entertaining . . . In addition to being able to tell a good story, van Dulken . . . easily assembles complex ideas from chemistry and engineering and makes them palatable for the lay person. Van Dulken has assembled a panoramic snapshot of the century. By giving us a picture of our past, van Dulken also presents our future."

-Boston Globe

Los Angeles Daily Breeze
A wonderful book.
Boston Globe
Highly entertaining. . . . In choosing his 100 inventions, van Dulken has assembled a panoramic snapshot of the century. In moving from the story of the fliptop can to that of genetic fingerprinting, he gives us a social history by way of everyday objects.
Kirkus Reviews
A fascinating, though flatly presented, illustrated catalogue of inventions, arranged by decade. "The process of invention is a mysterious one," observes van Dulken, who then proceeds in lockstep fashion to demystify it. Following a stuffy introduction by Andrew Phillips (who establishes some rather obvious"family groups" of inventions—e.g., air, sea and space technology; synthetics and substitutes), van Dulken begins his breezy tour through 100 inventions chosen, he says,"for their stories." He introduces each decade with a brief historical essay, never longer than two pages, admitting that such accounts are"necessarily very selective." They are also more superfluous and superficial—and often patently political—than useful: the essay preceding the 1970s, for example, observes that"the USA withdrew at last from its moral and military morass in Vietnam." Far more substantial, fortunately, are the two-page discussions of each invention, beginning with the airplane and ending with sildenafil citrate (Viagra). Van Dulken writes the history of each invention, then provides either an illustration or a narrative from the original patent application. The latter vary in effect. Most, like the 1916 rendering of the"self-service supermarket," are clear and self-explanatory; others, like the drawing of the first bread-slicing machine, are merely confusing. Still, there is much to learn here—and much that is truly wonderful and amusing. One use of Willis Carrier's first air-conditioner (1904) was"drying off newly made macaroni." The zipper (1914) was not used on clothing until 1935. In the background of the Beach Boys' song"Good Vibrations," listeners can hearaTheremin(1924), the first electronic music producer. The inventor of the Slinky (1945) joined a cult and emigrated to Bolivia. There are 600 different sets of Lego building blocks (1958) with 2,069 elements. Van Dulken even finds room for an interesting discussion of"the major invention that never was"—cold fusion at the University of Utah (1989). Engaging content desperately needing of a more inventive, less procrustean presentation. (100 b&w illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814788127
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 246
  • Sales rank: 1,518,826
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

The author of Inventing the 20th Century: 100 Inventions that Shaped the World and American Inventions: A History of Curious, Extraordinary, and Just Plain Useful Patents (both available through NYU Press), Stephen Van Dulken is an expert curator in the Patents Information Service of The British Library.

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Table of Contents

Author's Preface vii
Acknowledgements ix
Introduction 1
1900-1909 16
1910-1919 38
1920-1929 60
1930-1939 82
1940-1949 104
1950-1959 126
1960-1969 148
1970-1979 170
1980-1989 192
1990-1999 214
Further Reading 239
Index 243
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