The 1950s saw a number of significant inventions that greatly improved the quality of life. We owe all those people big for giving us the comfort, technology and advancement which we enjoy today.
The human race has always made consistent efforts to invent things that have helped to make life easier. Many of these inventions have reduced the amount of physical work. Mechanization has greatly improved standard of living. The 50’s saw a number of important inventions that have substantially changed our lives. Here is a brief account of some of the inventions of the 1950s.
Inventions of the 1950s:
Optical Fiber- Original Paper: A flexible fibrescope, using static scanning – Nature, 1954
Optical fiber was invented in 1956. Harold Hopkins and Narinder Singh Kapany, of Imperial College, London invented it. It is used in fiber-optic communication, which is superior to other forms of communication, and operates on the principle of total internal reflection. Optical fiber transmitters are capable of sending up to 10 billion bits of information per second! Optical fiber is used for illumination in the medical field. They are used in medical and industrial endoscopes.
Video Cassette Recorder- Model Name: Ampex VRX-1000, Cost: $50,000
The video cassette recorder was invented in 1956. Technically, the Vision Electronic Recording Apparatus (VERA), trialed by the BBC, is the first VCR to be invented. However, the model introduced by Ampex overrode the VERA and became the most popular VCR to be used. This was obviously unaffordable for the ordinary people and only television networks used it. The primary function of the video recorder is recording and replaying video and audio signals.
Hovercraft- Also called: Air-Cushion Vehicle (ACV)
Christopher Cockerell invented the Hovercraft. The Hovercraft moves over water surface floating on a layer of air, which would reduce friction between the vehicle and water. It is an amphibious vehicle. Hovercrafts have also been used for military purposes. Hovercrafts are still in use in some parts of England.
Oral Contraceptive- Consumer Base: 100 million women worldwide
Gregory Pincus and Min Chueh Chang together invented the first oral contraceptive pill. These are synthetic hormones that simulate the action of progesterone and estrogen in a woman’s body. OC pills are widely used all over the world as a popular method of birth control.
Credit Card- Conceptualization and Invention by: Ralph Schneider and Frank McNamara
Diner’s Club introduced credit cards in 1950. Later American Express issued them in 1958. The Credit card is a plastic card that eliminates the need to carry cash. One can use the Credit card to withdraw cash from automated teller machines, or one may simply ‘swipe’ the card to register a particular purchase so that they can pay for it at a later date. Credit cards are used universally in this age.
Barcode- Did you know that earlier prototypes of the barcode use ultraviolet ink and Morse code?
Barcode is found on almost all items now. It is a code, which is unique for each item. A barcode scanner reads the code. Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver invented it in 1952. It was initially used to identify railroad cars. In 1966 they were bought in commercial use. However it was only in the 80s that barcodes were commercially successful.
Black Box Flight Recorder- Earliest Attempt: François Hussenot and Paul Beaudouin (1939)
The first prototype meant for a civilian aircraft was designed by Dr. David Warren of the Defense Science and Technology Organization’s Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne, Australia. In case of flight accident, the investigators search for the black box flight recorder first. It could continually store up to four hours of speech, prior to any aircraft accident, as well as record flight instrument readings.
Power Steering- Earliest Attempt: 1876 by a man with the last name Fitts
One of the best inventions with respect to cars, I’ll say; and people who need to drive everyday will agree with me! The first modern power steering system was invented by Francis W. Davis in 1926. However, it came into everyday use in the 1950s, with Chrysler Corporations ‘Hydraguide’.
Musical Synthesizer- Did you know that the earliest Synthesizer did not produce sounds in real time?
The Electronic Music Synthesizer manufactured by Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1951-52 was much different from the synthesizers in use now, the major difference being the fact that the earliest model did not produce sounds in real time! It was used more as a composition machine. The 1957 model, however, was largely used by many famous composers.
Photovoltaic Cell- Inventors: Daryl Chapin, Calvin Souther Fuller and Gerald Pearson
Though the photovoltaic effect had been realized by Becquerel as early as in 1839, the first practical modern photovoltaic cell did not come into existence well over 100 years after. Earlier photovoltaic cells were used only for toys, since the electrical energy they produced cost almost $250 a unit, as compared to that produced using coal (only $2 to $3). Now, however, photovoltaic cells are in common use.
Teflon Coated Pan- Chemical Name of Teflon: polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
Dr. Roy Plunkett invented the Teflon material in 1938. It was used in the Manhattan Project and was initially regarded a military secret. Later however, DuPont company (Whom Dr. Plunkett worked for) found commercial application for Teflon in bread and cookie making. Finally, a French couple – Colette and Marc Grégoire – brought Teflon to the common man.
Tetracycline antibiotics should not be taken with milk since calcium ions inactivate tetracycline. Benjamin Minge Duggar was the one to originally discover tetracycline. However, the chemical structure of a related compound (oxytetracycline) was illustrated by Professor Robert Woodward of Harvard University. As far as ‘invention’ aspect of tetracycline goes, it is Woodward who patented a fermentation process to
manufacture the drug on a large scale.
Other Inventions of the 1950s
● Mr Potato Head (the toy) was patented
● Laser, invented by Gordon Gould
● Hula Hoop, by Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin
● Pacemaker, by Wilson Greatbatch
● Microchip, by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce
● “Peanuts”, the comic strip, by Charles M. Schulz
● Telephone Answering Machine, by Bell Laboratories and Western Electric
● The first McDonalds started by Ray Kroc
● Car seat belts were introduced in the 1950s
● Jonas Salk developed a vaccine against polio myelitis
● The Barbie Doll (1959)
Many of the inventions of 1950s have made our life safe, secure, easy and enjoyable. We definitely owe a lot to these people!