New Technology in American History

  • Period: Jan 1, 1400 to


  • Jan 1, 1492

    New Maritime Technology (Caravel and Sexton)

    New Maritime Technology (Caravel and Sexton)
    New maritime technology such as the compass, astrolabe, sextant, new sails, and caravel made navigation easier. These inventions gave explorers a farther range and led to Columbus discovering America, leading to colonization.
  • Jan 1, 1500


    Guns were first brought over to the New World by Spanish conquistadors in the late 1400s-early 1500s and gave them a supreme advantage over Native tribes in battle. The gun (known as the arquebus at the time), along with the introduction of diseases such as smallpox, allowed the Spanish to easily destroy the Natives of the Incan and Aztec Empires and conquer these areas for Spain.
  • Slater Mill

    Slater Mill
    The Slater mill, invented by Samuel Slater, was copied from British designs. It performed two operations: carding, or separating batches of cotton into fine strands, and spinning the strands into yarn. These mills sought to preserve tradition by keeping families together. Entire families were hired to work in the mills, and weaving was contracted to farm families.
  • Cotton Gin

    Cotton Gin
    In 1794, Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin, which made allowed the cotton seeds to be removed more quickly and easily than by hand. This furthered the South's dependence on slave labor until the Civil War and dictated its economy to almost exclusively growing cotton and other crops. The South's reliance on slaves and farming would cause it to lag in industrial capacity and make it dependent on foreign imports as well. Cotton became "King."
  • Lancaster Turnpike

    Lancaster Turnpike
    The Lancaster Turnpike was the first paved toll road in the United States, first used in 1795. It was built using a private company, and connected Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA. It allowed settlers to move into the Ohio River valley and connected the region to the coast cities, allowing them to trade their wheat and bread on the East Coast. It set up the system of public road building in the United States, and set precedent for future roads and later highways for transportation and commerce.
  • Interchangeable Parts

    Interchangeable Parts
    Invented by Eli Whitney in 1798, interchangeable parts would allow the North to become industrialized even more quickly and with greater output. Originally used in gun manufacturing, interchangeable parts saved time and effort, allowing products to be crafted quickly from the same parts using a machine instead of crafting them individually by hand. This greatly increased US industrial output and led to the US dominance in manufacturing, mostly in Northern states.
  • Steamboat

    The steamboat was invented in 1807 by Robert Fulton. These boats had powerful engines which enabled them to travel upstream, unlike previous boats. This lead to new opportunities in trade as towns and cities became even more connected by rivers. Robert Fulton traveled 150 miles from New York City up the Hudson River to Albany in 32 hours on his steamship, the Clermont. The steamboat made rivers even more essential and valuable to trade.
  • Lowell Mill

    Lowell Mill
    The Waltham and Lowell textile mills improved on the earlier mills designed by Samuel Slater. These mills produced cloth, so the only other step necessary to turn cotton into clothes was to stitch it. These improved mills popped up all over New England and created textile towns such as Lowell, Massachusetts. In addition, unlike the Slater mill, they mainly hired young unmarried women.
  • Power loom

    Power loom
    The power loom, invented in 1813, helped set off a textile mill boom in New England that would shape the Northern economy for manufacturing. Previously, factories had to buy cloth spun at home by women and then use it for clothing and other items. This allowed them to speed up and reduce the costs of transporting and making the cloth by making directly it in the factory. Thus, more mills were able to be built and employ more workers who previously worked on farms or at home.
  • Erie Canal

    Erie Canal
    The Erie Canal, built in 1825 using funding for internal improvements, also improved transportation and shipment of goods. Midwestern farmers could now ship their products more easily, cheaply, and quickly to New York or to Europe, since the canal connected the Midwest and the East Coast. The success of the Erie Canal touched off a spread of canal building (using internal improvements advocated by Henry Clay’s American System) that would quickly connect the country to Eastern ports.
  • Deere Plow

    Deere Plow
    Invented by John Deere, the Deere plow cut the labor required for tilling in half. This steel tipped plow mainly benefitted the Midwest because prairie soil was root-matted and difficult to break. Settlements in the Midwest spread rapidly because the Deere plow made it possible to farm. Finally, the Deere plow was another step towards mechanized farming.
  • McCormick Reaper

    McCormick Reaper
    The McCormick Reaper increased the production and efficiency of agricultural production, especially in the North. Previously, much physical labor was needed to harvest wheat using sickles, but the reaper slashed time and improved yield of crops by cutting the wheat using a horse-drawn carriage. This encouraged movement west, as wheat was the main crop on the prairie, and the reaper improved yield so that more land could be planted and harvested for wheat.
  • Electric Telegraph

    Electric Telegraph
    Invented by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1837 and powered by electric batteries, the telegraph was one of the first means of long-distance communication. Messages (written in Morse Code) were routed through miles of telegraph lines, which were expanded as the country moved westward. It allowed for intricate, national railroad systems during the Gilded Age, as telegraphers could collect and send out important transport information over long distances.
  • Singer Sewing Machine

    Singer Sewing Machine
    Invented in 1850 by Isaac M. Singer, the Singer sewing machine revolutionized the textile industry. The New England textile industry could easily produce cloth using earlier technologies, but they still had to hired women to stitch cloth together. The sewing machine reduced the time to stitch a pair of pants from 3 hours to 38 minutes. The invention of the sewing machine made clothing cheaper and more available, and it made the clothing industry wealthier.
  • Hydraulic Mining

    Hydraulic Mining
    First utilized during the California Gold Rush in the 1850s, this process used high-powered water cannons to dislodge minerals lodged deeply below the surface. This made mining more efficient and allowed for greater yields of precious minerals, which in turn stimulated the economy and foreign investment. However, it also put mining under corporate control, since prospectors could not afford the expensive equipment, and caused irreparable environmental damage.
  • Minie Ball

    Minie Ball
    Invented by Claude-Étienne Minié, the minnie ball became a prominent type of ammunition used during the Civil War. The minie ball was more dangerous than the previously used musket ball, and it often shattered bones. This led to the many gruesome gunshot injuries during the Civil War.
  • Bessemer Process

    Bessemer Process
    Created by English inventor Henry Bessemer, the Bessemer process made large-scale, high-grade steel making possible. The process involved shooting a blast of air through molten iron in order to burn off carbon and impurities from the steel, so that the steel could be used in various processes. Andrew Carnegie seized on this idea in order to mass-produce steel and create his steel monopoly, Carnegie Steel (later part of U.S. Steel), which turned out thousands of tons of steel for many uses.
  • Oil Well

    Oil Well
    The first crude-oil well was drilled in 1859 by Edwin L. Drake, near Titusville, Pennsylvania. This invention made oil used across America. It replaced animal tallow as the major lubricant, and kerosene became the most popular fuel source for lighting. It spurred the development of the oil industry, and John D. Rockefeller became rich from a monopoly on oil. The Standard Oil Trust greatly impacted American society by being one of the great monopolies.
  • Repeating Rifle

    Repeating Rifle
    The repeating rifle first became widely used in the Civil War. It could fire several rounds before reloading unlike the musket. This lead to the many deaths of the Civil War because leaders would use old tactics against new weapons. A defender could fire many rounds because an attacker closed the space, so bayonets were less valuable. In addition, cavalry became useless against a soldier with a repeating rifle. Finally, the element of surprise became valuable because new guns were so efficient.
  • Gatling Gun

    Gatling Gun
    The gatling gun was the forebearer of the modern machine gun, allowing both sides to rapidly fire multiple bullets at one time. It was one of many wartime inventions that made the Civil War one of the first modern wars and allowed for even more casualties on both sides than ordinary cannons and other artillery.
  • Ironclad

    The ironclad set the future standard for naval warfare and began the phase out of wooden ships. The first versions were covered with steel plate in order to provide great protection against enemy fire. They were used by both the North and South during the Civil War, and the Merrimack was used by the Confederates to attack the wooden Northern blockade. The first battle of ironclads occurred off the coast of Hampton Roads, VA, in March 1862.
  • Refridgerated Railcar

    Refridgerated Railcar
    The refrigerated railcar was patented in 1867. Although it was not well known by the public, Gustavus Swift's company used the cooling technology to ship slaughtered beef from Chicago to the east. In general, the refrigerated railcar gave food producers from the west better access to the east, but it affected the meat industry the most. Cowboys could drive cattle north to the railroads, and then they could safely ship it to the markets of the east.
  • Stock-Quotation Printer

    Stock-Quotation Printer
    The stock-quotation printer was Edison's first invention. It earned him enough money to open his first invention factory in Newark, which would eventually move to Menlo Park in 1876. Without the success of this invention, Edison may not have gone on to make other, more important inventions like the light bulb.
  • Transcontinental Railroad

    Transcontinental Railroad
    The first transcontinental railroad, stretching from Sacramento, California and Omaha, Nebraska to Promontory Point, Utah, allowed for rapid development of the Trans-Mississippi West. Products could now be shipped from the West to markets back East or overseas; more settlers could move West in a shorter amount of time, and the U.S. Army could send in men and supplies more quickly to defeat the Indians and kill the buffalo.
  • New Farm Technology

    New Farm Technology
    New farm technology such as efficient steel plows, specially designed wheat planters, improved grain grinders, threshers, and windmills were invented around the 1870s. These inventions, along with improved strains of wheat and corn, boosted production of crops dramatically. While this may have seemed good, the farmers suffered. New equipment was very expensive, and farms had to risk part of their crops or their land to keep up with competition. In addition, overproduction kept food prices low.
  • Barbed wire

    Barbed wire
    Patented in 1874, barbed wire made farming significantly easier. It kept livestock away from crops, preventing part of a farmer's yield from being eaten. Barbed wire also helped farmers mark their land, but it upset ranchers who wanted their livestock to graze on the farmers' land.
  • Telephone

    Patented by Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone revolutionized modern communication. It allowed for long-distance, voice-to-voice communication, which gave a better expression of feelings than writing or the telegraph.
  • Phonograph

    Using cylinders wrapped in tin foil, the phonograph mechanically recorded sound and played it back. It was another invention made by Thomas Edison. It revolutionized the music industry and allowed for the sale and consumption of music in public and at home, instead of just listening in person.
  • Electric Light Bulb

    Electric Light Bulb
    Invented by Thomas Alva Edison, the electric light bulb made life easier for thousands of working class people, who could now shop after work in the dark and have leisure at home. It freed them from dependence on daylight. The lightbulb was also cheapear and more efficient than other sources of light. In order to spread his idea to the masses, Edison also developed a system of electricity, powered by power plants, that could send electricity back and forth over long distances.
  • Flush Toilet

    Flush Toilet
    The toilet was one of the major innovations in sanitation. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and yellow fever created demand for a waste removal system. Most Americans used filthy chamber pots and outhouses. Despite its usefulness, the toilet was not widely used at first due to the price of plumbing and need for water. The toilet impacted American society, especially cities, by creating a new standard for cleanliness while dramatically reducing disease along with hand washing.
  • Electric Power Plant

    Electric Power Plant
    The Edison Illuminating Company opened a power plant in 1882 in the financial district of New York. It was financed by J.P. Morgan and it gave light to eighty-five buildings. The electric power plant had to be easy to install and repair while being cheaper than kerosene and natural gas. This complex invention represented a milestone in the adoption of electricity and it gave new light to New York.
  • Safety Bicycle

    Safety Bicycle
    The safety bicycle defined the "new women" of the 1880s and 90s. It allowed them to not only get exercise but also made them more independent. They could now meet men in public, away from their parents. It also challenged Victorian ideals about female exercise and clothing, since women who rode bicycles sweat (considered not "lady-like") and wore either shirtwaists or "split" skirts (instead of full covering).
  • Motion Picture

    Motion Picture
    The motion picture, invented in the late 1800s became an essential part of the mass culture of the 1920s. Movies were used to reinforce conservative values. Further innovations, such as talkies, contributed to the constant popularity of movie. The Jazz Singer, about a singer who sings jazz, was the first talkie. They portrayed a glamorous lifestyle and contributed to the consumerism of the Roaring 20s. The movies also made actors such as Charlie Chaplin idols in the eyes of the public.
  • Tractor

    The tractor was one of many inventions during the 1920s that led to the demise of the farmer. The tractor allowed for more crops to be produced, since there was not as much time-consuming manual labor, but it decreased the price of crops produced. Also, farmers had to buy the tractor, along with other technologies, on credit, making their debt woes worsen during the era.
  • Electricity

    When Thomas Edison's General Electric and George Westinghouse's Westinghouse Company agreed to share patents in 1896, it marked the beginning of the national AC electricity system. Many devices including elevators, electric motors, water pumps, and X-Rays were powered from power stations. This allowed for the creation of huge transportation systems in cities, which moved thousands daily. Also, factory work could be extended for longer hours without natural light.
  • Radio

    Patented in 1896, the radio revolutionized modern communication and entertainment in the home, and contributed to an American mass culture. Families around the country could now sit down around the radio after a long, boring day at work and listen to news, sports, or entertainment shows. Since Americans everywhere listened to the same programming, they shared a mass, national culture that revolved around the shows they heard on the radio.
  • Steam-Powered and Steel Navy

    Steam-Powered and Steel Navy
    Advocated for by Alfred Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt, and other imperialists, this idea made the U.S. Navy the most powerful navy in the world. Powered by steam, these ships offered better protection and gave the U.S. Navy a major advantage in fighting the outdated Spanish fleet during the Spanish-American War. Because they were powered by coal, it encouraged the United States to acquire overseas territories in order to get naval bases for refueling, thus making America an imperial nation.
  • Airplane

    The airplane was first flown in 1903 by Orville and Wilbur Wright. It was one of the major new technologies of WWI, used to scout, bomb trenches, or destroy enemy planes. It also became part of the culture of the 1920s when Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic to Paris, becoming a hero while demonstrating its power.
  • Model T (Automobile)

    Model T (Automobile)
    The Ford Model T, first produced in 1908 by Henry Ford, dictated the economy and social life of the 1920s. Other industries such as rubber, gasoline, and tourism depended on the automobile for business. It was the first mass produced car that many middle-class families could afford, since the assembly line produced hundreds of cars a day. It allowed families to travel to new, farther destinations on vacation and gave household women and teenagers a sense of independence.
  • Assembly Line

    Assembly Line
    The assembly line greatly increased production of consumer goods (especially the automobile) and made them cheaper so that many people could purchase them. Henry Ford first used it in 1913 to produce his Ford Model T, making each worker do the same task for each car. He developed “Fordism” (a term for mass production) that became idolized worldwide; however, it also made work repetitive and monotonous, decreasing worker satisfaction and sense of pride.
  • Trench Warfare

    Trench Warfare
    New technological innovations defined WWI as a brutal, modern conflict. The combination of new aircraft, machine guns, trenches, bunkers, barbed wire, mustard gas, and artillery caused thousands of more casualties than necessary. These new efficient ways of killing made the war develop into a stalemate, and it made America’s involvement in the war even more crucial to the Allied cause. The brutality caused by these new innovations led to the creation of the “Lost Generation.”
  • Houshold Innovations

    Houshold Innovations
    New household products such as the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, dishwasher, and refrigerator made a woman’s role as housekeeper easier. They allowed her to clean more efficiently in a shorter amount of time. The refrigerator kept food fresh for longer and reduced the risk of eating spoiled food. These new products were marketed specifically towards women.
  • Supermarket & Department Store

    Supermarket & Department Store
    Supermarkets and department stores became important parts of 1920s consumerism as they let consumers access many products. Smaller stores began to disappear as these new, larger stores became popular. For example, A&P had 17,500 stores. These stores also became more popular with new interiors and displays and the invention of air conditioning, as people could shop on hot summer days. Trucks could bring food products from farther distances, allowing stores to carry fresh food year round.
  • DDT

    The United States used DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) on islands in the Pacific where they fought the Japanese. DDT killed typhus-carrying lice and mosquitos that spread malaria. It reduced the threat of typhus and malaria for the military and civilians on these islands, and later was used as a pesticide on farms. After Rachel Carson discussed the toxic environmental effects of it in her book Silent Spring, the US banned the use of DDT for agriculture in 1972.
  • Atomic Bomb

    Atomic Bomb
    The Manhattan Project, which was led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, was in charge of developing the atomic bomb. It had the potential to destroy cities through the energy released during the splitting of uranium atoms, and it was used successfully during WWII on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force Japanese surrender. The atomic bomb shaped the future history of the world by allowing mutually assured destruction to be possible during the Cold War.
  • Aircraft Carrier

    Aircraft Carrier
    First used exclusively in the Battle of Coral Sea between Japan and the US in May 1942, the aircraft carrier revolutionized naval warfare and played a major role in Pacific naval battles. Instead of two ships firing directly on each other in battle, each side would now send planes to destroy each other’s ships, which helped the US slow down Japan's advance. Also, it allowed the US Navy to bomb Japanese islands from sea, greatly increasing range of bombers.
  • Television

    Television became a hallmark product for the middle-class in the 1950s. Like the radio before it, it contributed to conformist, white, middle-class American culture that consumed the same types of programs, shared the same middle class values (owning a home and car, housewife, lots of kids, etc.), and purchased the same types of consumer products advertised on TV. It also allowed politicians to make appeals to the American people during campaigning.
  • Hydrogen bomb (H-bomb)

    Hydrogen bomb (H-bomb)
    The hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, further escalated the Cold War arms race between the Soviet Union and US because of Republican charges on Truman that he was “soft on communism.” When tested, it proved a thousand times more destructive than the atomic bomb dropped in 1945 during WWII, and gave the US a better sense of security and technological superiority. The Soviet Union later tested one in 1953, causing the possibility of greater destruction than with only atomic bombs.
  • Polio vaccine

    Polio vaccine
    The first polio vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk in 1955, saved many children and infants from the threat of polio, which often led to paralysis (like what happened to FDR) and/or death. Before the vaccine, polio plagues in the US were extremely common for many people, especially children. This decreased infant mortality and increased life expectancy, helping to contribute to the “baby boom” from 1945-1960.
  • Interstate Highway System

    Interstate Highway System
    The Interstate Highway System, built in the 1950s and 1960s, allowed for the connection of the entire country using an interlocking system of highways and became the most expensive public works project in US history. This enormously improved the transportation of goods and military equipment; connected suburbia with cities; allowed for easier tourist travel; and spurred new and existing industries based off of highways, such as fast-food drive thrus, automobiles, trucking, and construction.
  • U-2 Spyplane

    U-2 Spyplane
    The U-2 spyplane was invented in response to a need to secretly gather intelligence. Its ability to fly at 70,000 feet meant that it was hard to detect. In 1960, a crisis erupted when Gary Power's U-2 was shot down in Soviet terrority, causing embarrassment for the United States.
  • Sputnik

    Sputnik was a Soviet artificial satellite that became first one launched into space by any country. The launch of Sputnik worried Americans that they were lagging behind the Soviets in technology and launched the Cold War space race. In response, Eisenhower created NASA in order to fund and create American space technology and Congress passed the National Defense Education Act to provide additional funding in technological and science fields.
  • NASA

    New advances in rocketry led to the Space Race. Building on early designs pioneered during WWII, both the US and the USSR competed to achieve various milestones in space exploration. NASA, America’s space agency, demonstrated its superiority to the Soviets by eventually landing a man on the moon in 1969. Other technological feats include sending a man to space, docking, EVAs, and building a space station.
  • "The pill"

    "The pill"
    First available in 1960, the pill became essential to the sexual revolution. This oral contraceptive freed women from the threat of pregnancy. In 1970, 10 million women were using it. In addition to restricted regulation, the Roe v. Wade decision, and more prevalence in media, the pill helped made America more sexually tolerant by the 1970s.
  • New Cold War Technology

    New Cold War Technology
    New Cold War military technologies made the conflict have higher stakes. ICBMs and nuclear submarines made it possible for both sides to annihilate each other from home. This led to Mutually Assured Destruction; because of technological advances, both sides could destroy each other if one side attacked the other.
  • Personal Computer

    Personal Computer
    The personal computer was of the most important inventions in the 1980s. Pioneered by companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and Apple, the PC made the power of computers available to the average consumer. Computers became a valuable industry, and it fueled the 1980s stock market boom. The PC also changed society. The computer became used in the workplace for word processing, calculations, and even gaming. Other industries such as books, music, and newspaper had to adapt to the usage of electronics.