By Tim Lambert

In the early 20th century vehicle technology advanced rapidly. In 1934 Percy Shaw invented the cat's eye. Carlton Magee invented the parking meter. The first one was installed in the USA in 1935.

In 1931 an American called Rolla N. Harger invented the first breathalyzer. It was first used in Indianapolis USA in 1939. A Swede named Nils Bohlin developed the three-point seat belt in 1959.

Meanwhile the hovercraft was invented in 1955.

Antibiotics were discovered too. Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming but it was not widely used till after 1940.

Meanwhile the iron lung was invented in 1928. The electronic hearing aid was invented in 1935. In 1943 Willem Kolf built the first artificial kidney machine. (The first kidney transplant was in 1963).

In 1953 Dr Jonas Salk announced he had vaccine for poliomyelitis.

Meanwhile surgery made great advances. The first pacemaker was made in 1958. The first heart transplant was performed in 1967. The first artificial heart was installed in 1982. The first heart and lung transplant was performed in 1987.

The laser was invented in 1960. In 1964 it was used in eye surgery for the first time.

Meanwhile the invention of fiber optics in the 1950s made possible the development of endoscopes in the 1960s.

Contraceptive pills became available in Britain in 1961. Treatment for infertility also improved in the late 20th century. The first test tube baby was born in 1978.

In 1909 Bleriot flew across the English Channel. In 1919 Alcock and Brown became the first people to fly across the Atlantic. In 1919 planes began carrying passengers between London and Paris. Jet passenger aircraft were introduced in 1949.

In July 1915 the Germans used the first flamethrowers. In 1916 the British introduced the tank.

Meanwhile in 1918 the Germans introduced the first sub-machine gun, which could be operated by one man. In 1920 the Thompson sub-machine gun or Tommy gun was produced.

In 1944 jet engines were introduced and planes became still faster. In 1947 a plane flew faster than sound for the first time.

During the Second World War tanks continued to play a dominant role despite the development of anti-tank guns. However during World War II there were two new developments. The Germans began using rockets. On 13 June 1944 they launched the first V-1 flying bomb. More dangerous was the V-2 rocket. It had a range of 200-220 miles. It rose to a height of 50 miles and traveled at over 2,000 mph.

In 1954 the Soviet Union made the first ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile).

The other development was the atomic bomb. On 6 August 1945 one exploded over Hiroshima. On 9 august another exploded over Nagasaki. Each killed tens of thousands of people. The Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949.

In 1952 American scientists invented the much more powerful hydrogen bomb. The USSR exploded a hydrogen bomb in 1954.

During the Vietnam War the Americans experimented with laser guided missiles. However they were not used on a large scale until the Gulf War of 1991.

The first nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus was launched in 1955. However peaceful use was also made of nuclear power. The first nuclear power station opened in Russia in 1954. The first one in Britain opened in 1956.

Great progress was made in inventing plastics. Bakelite was invented in 1908. So was cellophane. PVC was first used in the 1940s. By the 1960s all kinds of household goods from drain pipes to combs were made of plastic.

Nylon was first made in the 1935 by Wallace Carothers and polyester was invented in 1941. It became common in the 1950s. Vinyl (a substitute for leather) was invented in 1924.

The first steps were taken into space. The first artificial satellite Sputnik I was launched in 1957. Telstar, the first communication satellite was launched in 1962. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. In 1963 Valentina Tereskova became the first woman in space. In 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first person on the Moon.

A history of space exploration

Meanwhile in 1901 Marconi sent a radio message across the Atlantic heralding a new age of mass communications. The BBC began broadcasting radio in 1922. In 1925 John Logie Baird invented television. The BBC began broadcasting television in 1936. Meanwhile in 1927 the Jazz Singer the first film with sound was made. The transistor was invented in 1948.

Perhaps the greatest invention of the 20th century was the computer. In the 1930s and 1940s electronic calculators were built. However the first computer program was written in 1948. The first commercial computer was sold in 1951. Computer technology proceeded very rapidly and computers rapidly became quicker and much smaller. The first pocket calculator was sold in 1971.

The internet was 'born' in 1969 when 4 computers were linked. by the beginning of the 21st century the internet had become one of the most popular way to exchange information and ideas.

At the end of the 20th century genetic engineering became possible. In 1997 Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be successfully cloned was born.

Life in the 20th century

More about life in the past