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  • Writer's pictureSimone Skopek

Trailblazing inventions fueled by necessity, driven by innovation

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

The 19th-century spirit of the Industrial Revolution was contagious

In our family tree resides an eccentric ancestor, Eugene Pertuiset, famed as a "great white hunter" and a professional wrestler. Eugene also wore a lesser-known hat as an amateur chemist, crafting dubious health and beauty elixirs and pioneering explosives including a horrible explosive bullet (later banned by the St. Petersburg Convention 1868).

Pertuiset wasn't alone in this inventive spirit. During the mid-19th century, being an inventor was a trendy pursuit as the Industrial Revolution ignited an unprecedented spirit of innovation. Thousands of tinkerers and amateur chemists often from the lower middle class, cobbled together gadgets in their workshops and garden sheds. Then, with folders crammed with papers and drawings, they applied for patents in the hope of attracting an investor - preferably one who might own a factory. Just like today’s start-ups!

Riding the technological wave: Three timeless pillars of progress

The spirit of inventors is fueled by boundless enthusiasm for progress. According to historian Yuval Harari, technical development tends to ride the wave of advancements in three areas that have shaped the course of human history and societal progress: energy, transportation, and communications.

Steam and sparks: 19th-century innovation - A leap into mechanization

In the 19th century, innovators harnessed steam-powered energy, sparking an era of mechanization. This also enabled the development of powerful furnaces to smelt steel which revolutionized construction and infrastructure - especially railroad tracks, transforming transportation and fueling economic growth. Meanwhile, electricity, wood pulp paper and mechanized printing technologies brought a quantum leap in communications and the spread of knowledge.

During this era, as always, necessity acted as the catalyst for groundbreaking inventions. Steam power was an efficient energy alternative to horses, revolutionizing transportation, mining, port dredging, steel production, spinning, weaving and all manner of manufacturing. Samuel Morse recognized the critical need for swift communication and harnessed electricity for the telegraph and created the Morse code, which revolutionized long-distance communication and was pivotal on the battlefields of World War 1. These advancements and those that ensued reflect the enduring connection between necessity and pioneering technologies.

As in the past, today's inventions fueled by necessity, driven by innovation

Fast forward to the 21st century, where modern innovators are harnessing traditional and renewable energies, energy storage and smart grids to reshape our energy habits, including how we travel on earth and in space. In communications, codes, circuits, and a sprinkle of artificial intelligence are redefining how we chat and power up, pushing the innovation ball further into the future.

As in the past, solutions are also being driven by everyday needs and empowered by cutting-edge technology. Consider the monumental contributions of visionaries like Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Branson's hyperloop, Musk's Tesla electric vehicles and SpaceX's rockets and Starlink, along with Bezos' Blue Origin space exploration endeavors are responses to the need to revolutionize transportation, explore new frontiers and transform communications. These inventions fueled by necessity, driven by innovation, underscore once again the impact of innovative solutions powered by contemporary foundational technologies of energy, transportation, and communications.

As a baby boomer navigating this transformative era and being acutely aware of the immense challenges to human survival and wellbeing, a glimmer of hope remains as I witness younger generations leveraging these foundations. Your time is now, fellow innovators, and the needs are many — onward and upward!

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