The year 1914 was momentous for many reasons, most of which had to do with the beginning of World War I and the death and devastation it caused across Europe and much of the world.
But a look back 100 years ago also reveals some of the changes that were afoot in the engineering, science and technology world. Here’s a look at five significant milestones in the world of engineering and technology that would change the world.
1) The Panama Canal is inaugurated with the passage of the SS Ancon
One of the biggest engineering projects of all time, begun in 1881 by France and completed in August of 1914 by the U.S., the Panama Canal opened in 1914. The canal dramatically shortened the distance for maritime traffic between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and meant that ships no longer had to use the far southern passage around the tip of South America.
2) Robert Goddard begins building rockets
Goddard had been working on and developing the mathematics for rockets and flight trajectories for a number of years, but in 1914 he began the serious work of attempting to construct a flying rocket. This would lead ultimately to the first flight of a liquid-fueled rocket in 1926, shown in the photo.
3) First electric traffic light installed in Cleveland, Ohio
On August 5th 1914, the first electric traffic signal was installed in Cleveland, Ohio on the corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue. It had two colors, red and green, and a buzzer to provide a warning for color changes. This was a significant first step in the eventual adaptation of traffic lights all over the U.S. and the world.
4) Radiation treatment of cancer
Also in 1914, Irish physicist John Joly developed a method of extracting radium and applied it in the treatment of cancer. In collaboration with others, this paved the way for the so-called “Dublin method” of using a hollow needle for deep radiotherapy, a technique that would later be used around the world.
5) Ford Motor Company announces an eight-hour workday and a wage of $5 for a day’s labor
Though not strictly an engineering milestone, it is a significant event in the history of labor and, one could argue, for the beginnings of the making of America’s middle class. The nearly doubling of wages that Ford instituted meant that workers now had the buying power to purchase the flood of consumer products that would largely come to characterize the 20th century and America’s rising economic dominance.