, Research Paper
Hundreds of individuals have had a great impact on American society in the 20th century but only few are considered by my standards to be the most influential people of the 20th century. The five people I am about to list in the following paragraphs are what I have concluded to be the people who have made the biggest impression on American life in the 20th century. These men have contributed a great deal in making this century the progressive century it was and still is.
The first person I chose to place on my list is Henry Ford because of his many great accomplishments that change America forever. Henry grew up in Dearborn, MI and almost all his life he had an interest in engineering and mathematics. He had several jobs and opportunities as a young man; being a machinist’s apprentice at the age of 16, working as a mechanical engineer and working as the chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company. While Henry was working for the Edison company he spent most of his spare time tinkering with the construction of an automobile and in 1893 Henry’s first automobile was up and running. Then in 1903 Henry began his own company known as the Ford Motor Company. This company would become one of the top three car automobile producers in America and revolutionize the entire industry. By 1914 the company was showing great signs of progress and achievement. Henry began to use standardized interchangeable parts in his cars and he began to use the assembly-line approach in producing these cars. Although Henry was not the first to use these techniques he was certainly the most successful at it of his time. Also Ford was responsible the adoption of these practices into American industry and as a result raising the standard of living. Soon cars became affordable to almost everybody, which meant that they were no longer just toys used by the rich. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment Henry had ever made was the creation of the Ford Model-T. This was the first car to be put into wide production and sold at a reasonable price. The Model-T was first put into production in 1908 and up too 1927 over 15 million were produced and sold. In 1927, however, the Model-T was discontinued because the car market had changed and people wanted new models each year. The Ford Motor Company was late to realize this and it cost them dearly. They did adopt the yearly change over though and they regained some power but Ford will never regain the position it once had.
All these achievements led up to great influences on American society. To begin, since Henry made the automobile affordable, several million Americans were purchasing one each year. This meant that roads had to be developed to meet the demands of the automobilist wanting to travel. As automobile owners pushed for roads the Federal Government as well as local governments recognized the need and roads began to spring up all over the country. By the 1950’s highways that stretched from one end of the US to other were up and running as part of a new infrastructure that served the public in two ways. One, by providing fast routes to almost any where in the US with no stops and two, by providing a path which military supplies and troops could travel in case of a foreign attack. These roads not only connected Americans with the rest of their country, but also they inspired the suburbia movement as well as the construction of thousands of shopping malls. Ironically the first shopping mall, NorthLand was constructed not to far from the original ford plant in MI. Also, with Henry’s adaptation of the assembly line industry in the US became infinitely more efficient. Henry Ford taught American industry how to assemble and create products with less time and less money, making the end product cheaper to the consumer. Henry did not invent the assembly line he was just the first person to use it in such a constructive manner. This change America because even today the assembly line is used as the most cost efficient and effective way to build products such as cars, planes and several other industrial items. This lowers the cost of the product and makes it available to a wide range of economic classes. Moving on, Henry’s invention of the automobile started one of the largest industries in America, the production of cars. This industry alone supplies millions of Americans with jobs today, especially here in Detroit. Along with the factories that produced cars other businesses began to spring up as a result of the automobile. Some of these businesses include gas stations, repair shops and car washes. Henry Ford, in my opinion is the most influential man on America in the 20th century due to his monstrous achievements listed above.
The next persons I put on my list of the top five influential people in the US during the 20th century are the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville. They were born in Millville, Indiana where they both built mechanical toys as children. In later years the boys built a large printing press and published the Dayton, Ohio West Side News, Orville ran the paper and Wilbur edited it. After being successful printers the two boys opened up a bicycle repair shop and showroom. It was here that the Wright Brothers became interested in the idea of flight and they enjoyed reading the works of Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute, both of whom experimented with gliders and flight. After studying the work of these two men Orville and Wilbur began to tinker with a glider of there own. The successfully built a working glider after realizing that a human and not mechanical instrument should control a glider. The boys tested this glider 1000 times at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and proved their assumption that man should steer the flying machine and not instruments as thought by Otto and Octave in their books. The Wright Brothers quickly patented their glider and got to work on a plane powered by its own engines not relying on the wind. Soon the two brothers had created a plane with dual engines and working propellers. Then on December 17th, 1903 the Wright Brothers flew the first powered airplane. Later in 1908 the two young men set the flight distance record at 10 minutes in France. Among other things the Wright Brothers received a contract to build better planes for the US and they founded the American Wright Company which continued to produce better and more efficient planes. As you can see the Wright Zworykin Brothers were the pioneers of flight and they made many wonderful accomplishments which led to further advancements in our society. This is why they are number two on my list of the 20th century’s most influential people.
The enormous achievements made by the Wright Brothers change and improved American society greatly in the 20th century. The glider first built by the two brothers can be pin pointed as the single most influential achievement in aeronautic history. If it was not for the these two boys tinkering with a glider, the world would have been way behind the stage its at now in all kinds of flight including transportation, shipping and even space travel. If it was not for Wilbur and Orville tinkering around in the early 1900’s no one would probably be able to catch a flight a different country or get an important package across the nation in less than a day. To continue, the Wright Brothers made it possible for the entire world to be connected through a system of flight paths. If the Wright Brothers did not start what the aeronautic industry had now created their world would probably not be so intermixed with different people from different countries. Think about it, a person would probably not go to another country soak up its culture if they had to take a long and rocky boat ride there. So in effect, the invention of the plane has made countries tons more friendly. To continue, huge advancements were made when the Wright Brothers crude idea of flight was put to use shipping goods. Trade has increased greatly since the adaptation of flight and its all thanks to Wilbur and Orville. Planes now ship goods around the country as well as the world with in a matter of days so that produce and meat products can stay fresh. Also, services such as FedEx and UPS are now using flight to provide customers with very fast delivery of almost anything. Business men can now send important documents and models to different branches across the world with in a matter of hours so that nearly no time is wasted in having the packages shipped and important information can be reviewed in as little time as possible. This helps make the production of new products into the market much more efficient in time as well as money. All the achievements that the Wright Brothers have made directly affect our 20th century lives in one way or another.
Moving down the list the third most influential person of the 20th century is Thomas Alva Edison for his great achievements in science and technology. Edison was born in Milan, Ohio where he spent the younger years of his child hood. He soon moved to Port Huron, MI and attended school for less than three months, quitting to sell newspapers on the Grand Trunk Railway and devoting much of his spare time to experimenting with mechanical apparatuses. Edison did this in an old freight car where he also published a weekly newsletter on a small printing press. While he was selling newspapers he happened to save the life of a station official’s son. As a reward Edison was trained to be a telegraph operator. He received a job in the field of telegraphy very quickly and at this time Edison made his first significant invention, a machine that automatically received telegraph messages with out an operator. Later Edison went on to work in Boston at the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company of New York City. This company produced and sold telegraph machines and as an employee Edison greatly improved the companies machine. As a result Edison received $40,000 dollars; this was to be the money that started his very own lab at Menlo Park, NJ. At Menlo Park Edison created a telegraph machine that could send simultaneous messages through the same wire. This invention was considered to be Edison’s best telegraph invention. Then Edison created a phonograph that at first recorded sounds onto a round cylinder and then was able to play them back and then later the sounds were recorded onto flat disks and the were played back much clearer with the use of a diamond needle. This device was known as the Phonograph and was first invented by Edison in 1877. Next, Edison developed what is probably his most important invention ever, the incandescent light bulb. Edison created the incandescent light bulb in 1879 and only after years of experimenting with different filaments. With the creation of the incandescent light bulb Edison was able light his entire Menlo estate with a small D/C power generator and a couple hundred light bulbs. Edison also installed a large D/C power generator in NY, but Nikola Tesla, another inventor experimenting with electricity, had developed A/C, which was put into wide spread public use instead of Edison’s D/C power. The next important invention that Edison and his workers churned out was the kinetoscope, which was a crude version of a motion picture. Edison took several pictures and put them together in rapid succession to create an image that appeared to be moving. Later Edison put the Kinescope and the phonograph together to form the worlds first motion picture with sound. These achievements made by Edison are only a few in thousands, but they are the most important achievements of his career as a scientist, inventor and technologist.
Edison’s inventions made a profound impact on how Americans live and have lived in the 20th century. To begin, the development of the incandescent light bulb made it possible to perform activities at night with out the dangerous use of candles and with the imitated brightness of daylight. The light bulb made it easy to shop, read, play sports and even drive a car at night. This world may have been a very dark place in Edison did not take the time and energy to invent the incandescent light bulb. Places of the night such as casinos and dance clubs that shape American society would have never existed in it wasn’t for this marvelous invention. The phonograph was also an extremely important invention because it led to the release of the recorded music that shapes our lives. This recorded music gave the general public a chance to express themselves and become aware of political attitudes like rock artists of the 60’s did by knocking the Vietnam War. Sometimes the recorded music represented the feeling of an era, for example rock and roll represented rebellion in the 50’s. Recorded music even express the feelings of a movement such as some of the sounds of the 60’s expressed and encouraged the hippie movement. The kinetoscope was also an extremely important influence on American society in the 20th century. The invention of the kinetoscope launch one of the biggest industry’s in the US, film production. The kinetoscope is single handedly responsible for supply thousands of jobs to the public, creating timeless idols and providing a fun and entertaining pastime for millions of Americans. The movie industry also influenced what Americans wore by starting fashion trends and even influencing how Americans acted. For instance if a popular movie depicted a young lady acting in a certain manner any young lady who saw the film would most likely want to be like the actress and imitate her behavior. The above information shows only a few ways that Thomas Alva Edison’s inventions shaped Americans lives in the 20th century.
Fourth on my list of America’s most influential individuals of the 20th century is Alexander Graham Bell, mainly for his achievements in communication. Bell was born in 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh as well as the University of London. After he completed his studies Bell immigrated to Canada and a year later he crossed the border into the US. While in the US Bell followed in the footsteps of his father and taught deaf and mute people how to communicate. In 1872, Bell founded a school for the deaf and the mute which later became part of Boston University where he became the professor of vocal physiology. In the years to come Bell would tinker around with many machines having to do with voice and communication such as the telegraph. In 1874, Bell first got the idea of a telephone while toying with a multiple telegraph. After years of experimenting Bell and his associate Thomas Watson made their dreams and ideas come true. It was in 1876 that the first sentence was transmitted through a telephone. Bell softly spoke into the receiver, “Watson come here: I want you”. Watson responded and history was made. Bell went on to invent more items such as the photophone which transmitted speech through rays of light, but none of his other inventions had even close to the significance that the telephone did.
The telephone was the only invention Bell put out that had any great significance on America in the 20th century, but that one invention changed America forever. The telephone strengthened America’s infrastructure in a way that had never been done before. After its invention people could simply pick up the phone and dial up nearly any one in the country and eventually the world. This single tool helped connect America and strengthen ties between the opposite coasts and far away cities. It also helped foreign relation because people from different countries could communicate freely without the boundaries of oceans and mountains getting in their way. Also, the invention of the telephone opened up one of the first jobs dominated by women, telephone operators. This helped the women’s movement a great deal for now women broke into the work force and could start earning their own wages. Lastly, the telephone provided away for people to make fast emergency calls. For instance if someone had broken their leg or gotten seriously injured they could call for help at the touch of a button. Although the telephone advanced American society in many ways it mostly was a break through in the way Americans communicate. The telephone was a much more personal way to express your self and unlike in letters important news could be spread throughout the nation with in hours. By now you should realize the importance of the telephone on the American society in the 20th century.
The final person I placed on my list of people that changed America in the 20th century is Vladimir Kosma Zworykin. Zworykin was born in Murom, Russia and he was educated at the Institute of Technology of Saint Petersburg, the College of France, and finally the University of Pittsburgh after he immigrated to the US. Then in 1929 he became the director of the Electronic Research Laboratory of the Radio Corporation. It was here that Zworykin became interested in working with the transmission and reception of Television and he made great improvements on how television was transmitted and received. Later, many experiments were performed by Zworykin and he had finally developed a version of the modern television camera and picture tube. This was done during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s and soon after the boom of TV hit America leaving a lasting impact.
In the 1930’s people had a hard time imagining that the toy introduced at the Worlds Fair would have any impact on their lives but today every American knows how much TV effects their lives. The main use of television, after it was widely distributed, was to have viewers receive information as well as entertainment at home. For the first time people could experience talking and moving pictures in their homes with a wide variety of programs to choose from. TV shows were mainly news shows at first but a market for entertainment soon developed and several hours of fun and interesting shows were aired each day. With the development of the TV came the downfall of radio along with motion pictures. When TV was introduced to the public popular radio shows were canceled because people would rather watch and listen to an entertainment or news show than just listen to it. Radio did not completely die out though, the programming just changed from entertainment shows and news shows to radio shows that transmitted popular music. The popularity of motion pictures also greatly decreased with the adaptation of the TV into America because people were staying at home and watching there own personal motion picture machine, the TV, instead of going with a huge crowd to watch a movie. The movie industry did no completely die out either, the audiences and ticket sales just greatly decreased. TV changed the way Americans viewed their country. Now people could receive important news across the country within hours of it happening. Also, political candidates used the TV to appeal to the public. One example of this is when JFK went on the first aired debate and won simply because he had a better “TV image”, or he looked younger, handsomer and just plain better than his opponent Richard Nixon did. To continue, TV watching is now one of the biggest pastimes in America. More than 98% of homes here in America have a TV set. This means that Americans are soaking up what ever kind of information the studios put out. This is known as mass media because enormous amounts of people are receiving the same advertisements and information, possibly persuading their opinions on many subjects like what to eat, where to go and what to think about certain topics. In all Television has been one of the greatest influences on American society in the 20th century.
By now you should fully understand why I have chosen Henry Ford, The Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Vladimir Kosma Zworykin as the top five individuals who shaped the way Americans lived in the 20th century. All these men contributed greatly to the way America progressed and became the country that it is today. If even one of these persons did not exist then America would be a very different place in the past 100 years. In summation, the men I have discussed in the previous paragraphs all have changed our country in drastically different and momentous ways.