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Everyday Items that Changed Your Life in the Past 100 Years

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Everyday Items that Changed Your Life in the Past 100 Years

Here we are. As we enter 2020, one can say that it’s kind of like we are in the Roaring Twenties again. In the spirit of learning and reviewing what has happened and developed over the last century, this is a review of the inventions that have unknowingly changed your life. This was completed with a seven-year-old with library books like Fifty Machines that Changed the Course of History and The Innovators. If we have had 100 years of progress and change, imagine what the next 100 will bring.

That Isn’t A Telephone

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If you are a child of the 90s, you’re familiar with Fisher-Price Chatter telephone. The one where the eyes moved when you pulled it along behind you. You could spin the wheel for the numbers to pretend to place a phone call. Do this experiment: show the above image to a child in your home. Chances are they will not know what it is. When you tell them it is a phone, they will probably doubt you or grab the nearest iPhone or Android device, proudly showing you what a real phone looks like. This may or may not have happened in real life...

1927: G.E. Monitor Top Refrigerator

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That’s right, within the last century, refrigeration became a thing. Prior to this, iceboxes kept food cool, whilst ice in it. (Thanks, Kristoff) Ice only lasts so long and had to be replenished often. While there were earlier refrigerator systems, the Monitor Top Refrigerator was the first affordable model with the total cost of eventually being $290. It was also the first to use a condenser that kept the cabinet cold and even had an icebox that made ice cubes! With three shelves, this was much bigger than its predecessor icebox, and could keep more food cool. Granted it wasn’t much bigger than a dorm fridge now, but this was the front of industry change. 

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In the 1930s, the toxic cooling agents of sulfur dioxide and methyl formate were replaced with what we use today–Freon. Beyond having cool drinks and ice, refrigeration decreased gastrointestinal illnesses and food poisoning. Food was a precious commodity, and everything was used even if it wasn’t cooled. In fact, prior to cooling, meats were salted copiously to prevent food spoilage; however, it also increased conditions like hypertension.

1938: Philco-York “Cool Wave” Air Conditioner

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Oh yes. Thank goodness for people like Willis Carrier (the head of Carrier company whose name is probably on your air conditioning unit) for inventing the air conditioner. While not all military housing has air conditioning (we’re looking at you Camp Pendleton), when the temperatures are in the 80s and rising, cool air in the home is the bee’s knees. This invention, purely for the quality of life, is a sign of the improvement that happens over years of progress.

Life was still sustainable without it, and certainly helped the fan industry, but comfort inside your home during hot months meant increased productivity and healthier lifestyles. While commercial air conditioners were invented previously, this was the first of its kind that could be plugged into an electrical socket in the home and moved from room to room. This invention had a hand in the building up of the south and increasing the economic development of the region, strengthening the economy of the United States. Maybe Walt Disney company should thank Carrier for the ability to build a theme park in hot central Florida.

1947: G.E. Automatic Top-Loading Washer

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You read that correctly. 1947. That was the year of the modern washer. A washer that would self-drain and spin to remove excess water. Prior to this, laundry took a day to complete–if not longer. Primitive washers would agitate clothes in soapy water but you still had to empty the water and hang it to dry. Maybe it wasn’t so bad doing laundry by hand; it limited what clothing was on hand. The two-hour or longer chore was now done in 30-45 minutes. This freed up significant time for the homemaker. Granted, clothes still had to be hung to dry, but the once-weekly chore that took a day now took significantly less.

1961: Unimate Robot

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The first industrial robot made its way to the production floor for automobiles. While this robot wasn’t in line with the animatronics created by Walt Disney or those described in science fiction novels, this robot did change lives. The production of cars with robots allowed for dangerous jobs like diecasting with blazing hot parts to be done quickly and efficiently, without risk to a human employee. In fact, the Unimation used at the G.M. plant in Ohio produced 110 cars an hour in comparison with the Japanese counterparts who did half that in an hour. Japenese company Kawasaki saw this progress and eventually licensed the Unimate robot and begin to sell the robots in Asia. These robots may not be C3-PO level, but their production brought progress and paved the way smaller robots to be made.

1979: Sony Walkman

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Don’t laugh. Starlord uses one. In all seriousness, this was the first movement for personal entertainment on-the-go. The Walkman allowed teens to listen to their mixed tapes of Billy Joel and Earth, Wind and Fire in peace. For those wanting to do Jazzercise to their own music, the Walkman allowed for personalized music. Surprisingly, the original inventor, Andreas Pavel, and the previously named Stereobelt, almost didn’t make it to production because companies felt “consumers would not want to be seen in public wearing headphones” (Chaline, 2012). Pavel had patents pending on the stereo belt when Sony released the Walkman and eventually they settled out of court in 2004, providing credit to the correct inventor. Without this invention, would we even have Air Pods?

1981: Hayes Smartmodem 300

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Prior to the 1980s, governments and universities across the United States and Western Europe utilized internets to connect their computers. This commercial scale is all that existed prior to Dennis Hayes and Dale Heatherington’s invention of the Smartmodem300. This device was the first of its kind that connected to the phone line to dial and connect easily. The ability for the personal use of the internet may be the single largest invention over the years of progress that has shaped our lifestyle. The internet allows us to e-mail family and friends around the world, Facetime, Skype, stream on Netflix, and share community-building articles on Daily Mom Military. This kind of connection has specifically enabled military families to quickly gather and share information about duty stations, schools, home searches, and life with each PCS.

1996: Motorola Startac

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Perhaps the invention with the biggest impact on society today is the cell phone. While the Motorola Startac isn’t what we have today, it was a step in that direction. This cell phone had both voice and basic SMS capabilities. The first phone weighed 2.2 pounds and had 35 minutes of battery power, of which 20 minutes was for talking. Oh, and it cost thousands of dollars. Not to mention, the mobile network service was very costly, yet not very expansive. This wasn’t what Zack Morris was talking on while walking the halls of Bayside High, but without this phone, Zack’s wouldn’t have existed. While cell phones have their good and bad sides as they have changed from pure phones to mini-computers, we can all agree that without this invention, 2020 would not be what it is today.


Whether the last 100 years of progress is seen as good or bad, it has happened. The developments of yesterday have directly impacted our lives today. Can you imagine life without a washing machine? And how many people have a “landline” today? Nope–just use that mobile phone as your telephone, computer, calendar, etc. 

It’s been amazing to review and reflect on just a small part of what 100 years of progress has brought us over the years. In the words of the song Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow from Disney’s Carousel of Progress, “There is a great big beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away.”

SPEAKING OF TECHNOLOGY…
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items that changed your life

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