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The Greatest Engineering Achievements of The 20th Century

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National Academy of Engineering Reveals Top Engineering Impacts of the 20th Century: Electrification Cited as Most Important

In 2000, the National Academy of Engineering released a list of the greatest engineering achievements of the twentieth century.

Speaking on behalf of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), astronaut/engineer Neil Armstrong announced the 20 engineering achievements that have had the greatest impact on quality of life in the 20th century. The announcement was made during National Engineers Week 2000 at a National Press Club luncheon.

Achievements such as the automobile and the telephone were invented in the 1800s; these innovations made the list because their impacts were felt in the 20th century.

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The Achievements

Here is the complete list of achievements as announced today by Mr. Armstrong:

  1. Electrification

Thousands of engineers made this possible, as they developed fuel sources, power generating techniques, and transmission grids. Today, vast networks of electricity power the developed world. From streetlights to supercomputers, electric power makes our lives safer, healthier, and more comfortable.

  1. Automobile

Revolutionary manufacturing practices made cars more reliable and affordable to the masses, turning the automobile into the world’s major mode of transportation and a symbol of personal freedom. Even so many years later, automobiles remain a strong source of economic growth and stability. The automobile is a showcase of twentieth-century engineering ingenuity, with countless innovations made in design, production, and safety.

  1. Airplane

Flying made the world accessible, spurring globalization on a grand scale. From the Wright Flyer to autonomous military jets, engineering creativity and ingenuity have propelled the airplane’s evolution. This innovation has made the world more accessible, transporting both goods and people and spurring globalization.

  1. Water Supply and Distribution

Safe and Abundant Water for communities, farms, households, and industries, a simple turn of the tap provides clean water — a precious and necessary resource. Engineering advances in water treatment, supply, and distribution systems have prevented the spread of waterborne diseases in developed nations and increased life expectancy.

  1. Electronics

Electronics — from vacuum tubes to transistors and integrated circuits — continue to shrink in size and grow in power and efficiency thanks to engineers. They underlie countless innovations, from portable DVD players to your cell phone, iPad, and other electronics, making modern life more convenient and more connected.

  1. Radio and Television

Radio and Television dramatically changed the way the world received information and entertainment. These technologies have given us a window to other lives, different parts of the globe, and dramatic events that have defined the course of history. From the wireless telegraph to today’s advanced satellite systems, engineers have transformed how the world receives information and entertainment.

  1. Agricultural Mechanization

Farm machinery, including tractors, cultivators, and combines, have taken agricultural efficiency and productivity to a new level, leading to a vastly larger, safer, and more affordable food supply.

  1. Computers

The heart of the numerous operations and systems that impact our lives. A defining symbol of twentieth-century technology, the computer impacted businesses and lives on a global scale, eliminating many menial tasks and enabling new functions. Engineering ingenuity fueled this revolution and continues to produce faster, stronger, and more affordable computers every day.

  1. Telephone

This cornerstone of modern life has transformed the way the world communicates personally and in business. From switchboards and satellites to copper wire and fiber optics or the nearly instant Internet connections, engineers continue to answer the call for innovation.

  1. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration

Dozens of engineering innovations underpin this breakthrough. Delivering much more than convenience, it extends the shelf life of food and medicines, protects electronics, and plays an important role in healthcare delivery.

  1. Highways

The construction of 44,000 miles of U.S. highway in the twentieth century is one of the most impressive achievements of that era, allowing for the distribution of goods and personal mobility. Thousands of engineers built the roads, bridges, and tunnels that connect our communities.

  1. Spacecraft

Going to outer space vastly expanded humanity’s horizons and introduced 60,000 new products on Earth. Humanity’s horizons have been immeasurably expanded thanks to our forays into outer space. Further, the space program has inspired tens of thousands of new products and services on Earth, including medical devices, sophisticated weather forecasting, and wireless communications. From early test rockets to sophisticated satellites, the human expansion into space is perhaps the most amazing engineering feat of the twentieth century.

  1. Internet

Internet – a global communications and information system of unparalleled access. Developed through a series of engineering innovations, the Internet is now a global communication and information system of unparalleled access, redefining business practices, educational pursuits, and personal communication. What began as a tool to link research center computers is now a vital instrument of social change.

  1. Imaging

The imaging technologies have afforded us amazing new views inside the human body — revolutionizing medical diagnostics — and beyond, of the ocean floors, our planet, and distant galaxies.

  1. Household Appliances

Household Appliances eliminated strenuous and laborious tasks. Relieving much of the labor of everyday tasks, these devices, including electric ranges, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and dryers, have made such tasks easier, more efficient, and less time-consuming, leading to an increase in people working outside the home.

  1. Health Technologies

The mass production of antibiotics and artificial implants have led to astounding health improvements. Such engineered products — from artificial organs, replacement joints, imaging technologies, and biomaterials — can be credited with improving the quality of life of millions.

  1. Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies

The fuels that energized the 20th century. Propelled by engineering advances in oil exploration and processing, petroleum products have had an enormous impact on modern life. While petroleum provides fuel for cars, homes, and industries, of course, petrochemicals are used in products ranging from aspirin to zippers.

  1. Laser and Fiber Optics

The applications are wide and varied, including almost simultaneous worldwide communications, non-invasive surgery, and point-of-sale scanners. Pulses of light from lasers are applied to industrial tools, non-invasive surgical devices, satellites, and other products. Highly pure glass fibers now provide the infrastructure to carry information via laser-produced light. And a single fiber-optic cable can enable almost-simultaneous worldwide communication and media.

  1. Nuclear Technologies

The harnessing of the atom gave us a new source of electric power and new capabilities in medical research and imaging. Although controversial, the engineering work that went into the creation of nuclear technologies remains one of the most significant achievements of the previous century.

  1. High-performance Materials

From the building blocks of iron and steel to the latest advances in polymers, ceramics, and composites, engineers have customized and enhanced properties, creating higher-quality, lighter, stronger, and more adaptable materials for thousands of applications, including aircraft, medical devices, and computers.


Image by ikedaleo from Pixabay

References Accessed on November 8, 2020 Accessed on November 8, 2020 Accessed on November 8, 2020

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