1914. A year that resonates across time as almost a living memory, irrespective of the fact that none of us were there. And yet through our families* and our cultures (especially in Europe) we were there.
The War would, by necessity, be the catalyst for a massive surge in invention and innovation. But 1914 offered surprisingly few startling discoveries and inventions. It was a year of quality not quantity. So here are seven of the years most interesting inventions and firsts, the spectre of War of course still dominates.
To begin with, let’s start with the humble Traffic Cone, which was invented in 1914 by Charles P. Rudabaker, made from concrete, for use on the streets of New York. It wasn’t until 1961 that the stackable PVC cones were created (in the UK by David Morgan in Oxford.)
Charlie Chaplin made his film début in February the comedy short Making a Living.
The Panama Canal, the 48 mile ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean officially opened on August 15, 1914. It had taken 33 years and cost, in today’s money, nearly $9 billion, shifting 204,900,000 m3 (Over 25 times more earth than in the Channel Tunnel) and had a loss of life of over 5000 people (mainly due to disease).
American Frank Shuman invented a process for making two types of Safety Glass: laminated (where two layers of glass are separated by a plastic coating) and wire mesh glass (where a mesh of wire is embedded in the glass). Safety glass was not immediately adopted by car manufacturers, but laminated glass was used in the eyepieces of gas masks during World War I from 1915.
The first Fighter Plane, described as a two-seater aircraft with sufficient lift to carry a machine gun and its operator as well as the pilot (as opposed to an aircraft where the pilot fired a revolver at his enemy), first flew in 1914. The first fighter was the British biplane Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus of 1914. It first flew on 17 July 1914 and was powered by a single 100 hp (75 kW) Gnome Monosoupape nine-cylinder rotary engine driving a two-bladed propeller, capable of 100 mph. It was built with a wooden frame, covered with fabric. A total of 224 were produced, 119 in Britain by Vickers, 99 in France and six in Denmark.
On June 28 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria triggered the war that would become the First World War. The term was first used in September 1914 by the German philosopher Ernst Haeckel, who claimed that “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the first world war in the full sense of the word.” More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilised. 17 million were killed and 20 million were wounded. Dubbed as ‘The war to end all wars’ it became instead the first modern war and led to the invention of almost all of the accruements of death on a massive scale as well as the technology to defend against them.
But the most important invention of the year, that went almost uncelebrated at the time, must be responsible responsible for saving the lives of many millions of people. After the invention of the blood anticoagulant a few years earlier, the first non-direct Blood Transfusion was performed on March 27, 1914 by the Belgian doctor Albert Hustin.
* My Granddad was 18 when he went off to fight at the start of the war.
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