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Groundbreaking Inventions of the 20th Century



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September 8, 2003

Positive or Negative Outcomes from 1900-1930

During the period of 1900-1930, there were many events or developments, which led to positive or negative outcomes. These events or developments occurred in three main areas: technology, revolution and the advent of World War I. These events and their outcomes will be discussed in greater detail in the following paragraphs.

A World Exhibit was held in 1900 in Paris (A People's Century, Episode 1[1]), in which several countries, especially European, showed to the world their latest inventions: light bulb, agricultural machinery, cinema, etc. Nevertheless, as is mentioned in this video, these inventions influenced the lives of very few people, mostly the rich or upper classes; the majority of the world's population could not afford them and did not even know they existed. However, as these inventions became less expensive (due to mass production), they became within the reach of almost everyone. According to A Survey of European Civilization[2] Chapter 59, a revolution in communications occurred through the inventions of the steamship and railway in the 19th century; and continued in the following century with the telegraph, telephone, light bulb and cinema. Similarly, numerous telephone cables were laid out by the late 1800's, dirigibles were invented by 1897, and the electric light bulb was perfected in 1879. In addition, on page 740 of A Survey of European Civilization we find the following information: The more recent devices of telegraphy, radio, and television are already accepted as commonplaces by people whose tastes are jaded by so many scientific wonders.; and also in page 742: The electric light, telephone, and radio, the steamship, train, and automobile are at the disposal of millions.

Furthermore, in 1894, the French built a four-wheeled vehicle, the ancestor of the modern car[3]; this remained a rich man's toy until 1907 when Henry Ford set up a production line for his Model T. Likewise, the great age of radio[4] started in the 1920's thus: The great age of radio had to wait for the 1920's. The principle of 'broadcasting' transmitting radio programmes to listeners at large, rather as farmers had for centuries sown their fields by scattering seed broadcast then at last took hold (some had hitherto through it a disadvantage of the new medium that people other than designated recipients might pick up and eavesdrop on messages). Millions of receiving sets were soon being sold worldwide. In addition, the invention of agricultural machinery, food refrigeration and canning led to a tremendous food supply used to reduced hunger worldwide[5].

Furthermore, these developments led to the creation of the proletariat or working class; which challenged the middle class in the trade unions in England, France, Germany and later Russia. In other words, wage earners organized into trade unions fought in the streets for better working conditions[6]. These developments in England and France are described in

A Survey of European Civilization[7] thus: Dissatisfied and unemployed workingmen were among the first to raise the barricades in the Paris revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and they swelled the ranks of the Chartists in England. In England, as measures to appease the workers, the government established a Workingmen's Compensation Act in 1906, a state pension for the needy old in 1908, and a National Insurance Act for the unemployed in 1911. Yet, Germany was the most advanced country in its reform legislation for the workers; and a Sickness Insurance Law in 1883, and Accident Insurance Law (for Disability Compensation) in 1884 and an Old Age Pension Act in 1889; this is also mentioned in A People's Century, Episode 1.[8] Earlier, there had been a revolution in 1848 in Germany, inspired by the writings of Karl Marx; later, this man also inspired the Russian Revolution. Strikes broke out in 1917, the Tsar Nicholas II tried to suppress the rioters and dissolve the Duma; but the Duma refused to dissolve and the troops did not fire on the crowds; as a result, Nicholas II abdicated[9]. Russian women also participated in strikes: Inflation had driven up the prices of what little food was available. By January of 1917, bakeries in Petrograd were desperately short of bread, the mainstay of poor people's diet. Shopping was women's work; so it was women who stood in long lines waiting for bread in the dark early hours of frozen January mornings. Sometimes when they found that prices had risen again, or when the meager supplies sold out quickly, they rioted, shouting, shoving, and throwing stones through the shop windows.[10] A bourgeois, Alexander Kerensky established a provisional government, which aroused distrust after it announced that it would continue the war. Peasants and workers alike opposed this type of government, their leader Nicholas Lenin demanded 'all power to the people' and the promises of peace, land and bread greatly appealed to the masses[11]. Russia withdrew from the war and signed a separate treaty with Germany, declared illegal at the end of the war by the Allies. The Russian government took away the nobleman's land and gave it to the peasants; which they were forced later to give them up to be turned into collective farms established by Josef Stalin. Also, the workers were encouraged to take over the factories; which were later taken by the Council of Commissars, a division of the Communist Party under Stalin. Lenin set up a secret police, the Cheka, which in turn killed or sent to Siberia any opposition to the Communists. This reign of Terror led to many protests and even uprisings: By February 1921 larger segments of workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors are believed to have ceased supporting the Bolsheviks as evidenced by the strikes in Moscow, Petrograd, Khar'kov, and other cities in that month, and by the Kronstadt uprising.The sailor's change of attitudefollowed by an attempted rebellion in October 1918, rebellions in summer 1919, and mounting unrest in 1920 leading up to the explosion in February 1921.Bolshevik attempts to replace popular rulewith dictatorial state authority led to popular protests and uprisings, such as the uprising in the metal industry towns of Izhevsk and Votkinskpeasants uprisingsin the Ukrainebut the Izhevsk workers sided with the Whites.[12] Grain requisition and nationalization of the banks led to further uprisings: Grain requisition generated an escalating number of peasant rebellions in the summer and fall of 1918.Nationalization of the banks and disruption of credit, transport, and management all brought the Russian economy and industry to a severe crisis. Dissatisfaction among the workers was compounded by the Bolshevik's attempts to control them.Workers perceived the Bolsheviks as having departed from the principles of popular self-rule. The Bolshevik bans on strikes, independent unions, and on non-Bolshevik organizations amounted the establishment of the one party dictatorship. Labor unrest in 1918 included large segments of the working class[13] The unrests were summarily crushed by the Cheka, who used every means to its disposal in establishing what was considered by many Russians as Lenin's dictatorship. The Allies tried to overthrow his regime by an armed attack repealed by the Red Army, under the command of Leon Trotsky. In spite of its lofty ideals, the Russian Revolution failed in practice to grant land to the peasants, factories to its workers and freedom to its citizens.

In the late 1800's, nationalism triumphed in the unification of Italy by Giuseppe Garibaldi and the creation of the German Empire under the leadership Prussian Emperor William I and his chancellor Otto von Bismarck.[14] After these early victories, Bismarck set out instead to secure peace by various alliances: in the Three Emperor's League (1873) with Russia and Austria; and by establishing the Triple Alliance, originally formed with Austria-Hungary and Italy, which later resigned and was replaced by the Ottoman Empire. Opposite to these alliances, France started to secure its own allies: by promoting better relations with Russia and England; later designated as the Triple Entente.[15] Germany's actions are further explained in About.com under causes of WWI: Germany inspired by recent unificationsuffered both nationalistic and imperialistic tendencies, as they tried to expand their borders into French Morocco and threatened Great Britain with their naval prowess.[16] Nationalism was also rampant in the Balkans, manifesting itself in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13; when Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro supported by their Slavic brother Russia launched a campaign against Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.[17] According to About.com, one of the causes of WWI was: In Austria-Hungary, the Slavic people influenced by Russia and Serbiawere restless to become their own empire, free from the chains of Austro-Hungarian rule.[18] In 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Prince Francis Ferdinand was assassinated in Serbia; which prompted Austria's declaration of war. Russia, the protector of the Serbs, mobilized its troops; as a result, Germany declared war on both Russia and France. The Germans advanced on Belgian soil, and by September were thirty miles off Paris; however, this tremendous advance was halted at the First Battle of the Marne.[19]

The brutality of the war was shown from the beginning by the new weaponry and by the use of trench warfare: Both sides constructed intricate systems of trenches fortified with barbed wire entanglements and machine guns against which cavalry regiments were useless and infantry battalions hurled themselves in vain.[20] Trench warfare is further described in All Quiet on the Western Front: We are now in low spirits. After we have been in the dug-outs two hours our own shells begin to fall in the trench. This is the third time in four weeks. If it were simply a mistake in aim no one would say anything, but the truth is that the barrels are worn out. The shots are often so uncertain that they land within our own lines. Tonight two of our men were wounded by them.[21] In addition, trenches led to other hazards, recounted as: The rats here are particularly repulsive, they are so fat the kind we all call corpse-rats. They seem to be mighty hungry. Almost every man has had his bread gnawed.[22] And surprisingly: In the adjoining sector they attacked two large cats and a dog, bit them to death and devoured them.[23] Another hazard was the gas shells and what could happen if the masks did not work: These first minutes with the mask decided between life and death: is it airtight? I remember the awful sights in the hospital: the gas patients who in day-long suffocation cough up their burnt lungs in clots.[24]

In 1918, the Germans were driven slowly back starting at the Second Battle of the Marne, its allies then collapsed: the Ottoman Empire with the British entering Jerusalem (1917) and Austria-Hungary capitulated after its new Emperor Charles I resigned. The cost of the war was immense: ten million dead and another 20 million wounded and 50 million dollars lost in property. [25] Then, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States drew up his Fourteen Points, in order to promote peace among the belligerent powers. However, nationalism was only victorious in the case of the Balkan countries; as it was stipulated in Points X and XI but the Slavs winning most disputed areas at the expense of the Germans and Magyars.[26] In addition, as was pointed out earlier: The Allied governments interfered repeatedly in Russia (1918-20) in their efforts to overthrow the Soviet regime.;[27] and therefore violated Point VI. Belgium and France were restored, but the readjustment of the Italian frontier under Point IX led to Germans and Yugoslavs being held under the Italian flag. The Polish state was restored and given access to the sea, but at the expense of Prussia and Danzig taken from the German Empire. Another violation occurred with Point XII when Turkish colonies were denied self-rule by the French and British.

In the period 1900-1930, many events or developments led to positive or negative outcomes. As was mentioned earlier, technology led to many positive outcomes, but Revolution and WWI were not always successful in delivering people to freedom or even to a better future. The reparations imposed on Germany and its Allies after the war, were so tremendous that undoubtedly, pushed their populations on utter economic depression and poverty.[28]


[1] KCET, 1970. A People's Century, Episode 1. Produced and directed by KCET. 10 hrs. Videocassette.

[2] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 739-753.

[3] Roberts, J. M. 1999. Twentieth Century: The History of the World 1901-2000. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. page 127.

[4] Roberts, J. M. 1999. Twentieth Century: The History of the World 1901-2000. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. page 132.

[5] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Page 742.

[6] KCET, 1970. A People's Century, Episode 1. Produced and directed by KCET. 10 hrs. Videocassette.

[7] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Page 748.

[8] KCET, 1970. A People's Century, Episode 1. Produced and directed by KCET. 10 hrs. Videocassette.

[9] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 844-853.

[10] Clements, Barbara E. 1994. Daughters of Revolution: A History of Women in the U.S.S.R. Arlington Heights: Harlan Davidson Inc. Page 28.

[11] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 844-853.

[12] Brovkin, Vladimir. 1990. Slavic Review, Volume 49, Issue 3: Worker's Unrest and the Bolshevik Response in 1919. Internet. Available from http://www.jstor.org/russianrevolution.html. Pages 350-373.

[13] Brovkin, Vladimir. 1990. Slavic Review, Volume 49, Issue 3: Worker's Unrest and the Bolshevik Response in 1919. Internet. Available from http://www.jstor.org/russianrevolution.html. Pages 350-373.

[14] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 695-714.

[15] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 794-804.

[16] Grey, Edward. 2001. Military History, World War I: An Overview. Internet. Available from http://www.about.com/worldwarI.html.

[17] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 800-802.

[18] Grey, Edward. 2001. Military History, World War I: An Overview. Internet. Available from http://www.about.com/worldwarI.html.

[19] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Page 810.

[20] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Page 810.

[21] Remarque, Erich Maria. 1929. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Fawcett Crest. Page 100.

[22] Remarque, Erich Maria. 1929. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Fawcett Crest. Page 102.

[23] Remarque, Erich Maria. 1929. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Fawcett Crest. Page 103.

[24] Remarque, Erich Maria. 1929. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Fawcett Crest. Page 68.

[25] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Page 817.

[26] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 821-831.

[27] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 821-831.

[28] Ferguson, Wallace K. and Geoffrey Bruun. 1958. A Survey of European Civilization: Part II, since 1660. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge. Pages 821-831.

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