US History/Advancements

Rail and Transit


Several advancements were made to transportation in the United States between 1877-1913. Frank J. Sprague built an electric light rail system in Richmond, VA, for the Richmond Union Passenger Railway. This was to be the first large-scale electric trolley (tram) line in the world. It opened with great fanfare on Feb. 2, 1888[1]. The first interurban tram-train to emerge in the United States was the Newark and Granville Street Railway in Ohio, which opened in 1889[2]. The first non-experimental trolleybus system was a seasonal municipal line installed near Nantasket Beach in 1904[3]; the first year-round commercial line was built to open a hilly property to development just outside Los Angeles in 1910.[4] In 1912, articulated trams were invented and first used by the Boston Elevated Railway.

Powered Flight


Since the 18th century individuals had sought to leave the surface of the earth. This had earlier taken the medium of balloons. In France this had been pioneered by the Montgolfier brothers, and American experimenters included Benjamin Franklin. This trend had culminated in contemporary lighter-than-air craft such as Zeppelins. However, flight without the lift of a balloon was thought impossible: the experimental glider built by Samuel Pierpont Langley was seen as a failure.

The Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio made history when on December 17th, 1903 they were the first to document flight in an airplane. They first perfected glided flight, and moved onto powered flight. There was no automobile manufacturer who could make an engine light or powerful enough for their plane. So the brothers decided to make an engine of their own which eventually worked well enough for the flight of the first airplane.[6] The event took place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, chosen for its steady winds. After many failed attempts, Orville finally flew the brothers' airplane 359 meters over a time period of 12 seconds. The airplane would revolutionize trade and travel in the United States and the world over the next few decades. Once the Wright Brothers returned to Dayton they wrote a number of automobile motor builders stating the purpose for which they needed an motor for. Also asking if they could furnish one that would develop eight brake horse power(Very Fast) with a weight not exceeding 200 pounds. Most of the companies answered and said they were too busy with regular business hours to do a motor like that for The Wright Brothers.


Goddard posing with a rocket.
It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow

—Robert H. Goddard, Rocket Pioneer for whom the Goddard Space Flight Center is named courtesy of Mrs. Robert Goddard.

The father of modern rocket propulsion is the American, Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard. Along with Konstantin Eduordovich Tsiolkovsky of Russia and Hermann Oberth of Germany, Goddard envisioned the exploration of space. A physicist of great insight, Goddard also had an unique genius for invention. Robert Hutchings Goddard was born on October 5, 1882 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Early in his life, Goddard was inspired by works of science fiction, primarily "War Of The Worlds" by H.G. Wells and "From The Earth To The Moon" by Jules Verne.

In 1902, while a student at South High School in Worcester, Goddard submitted an article entitled "The Navigation Of Space" to "Popular Science News". The article speculated on the possibility of rocketry and space travel.A second submission to the magazine included speculation on multi-stage spacecraft along the same lines as those envisioned by Tsiolkovsky. Completely independent of Tsiolkovsky, Goddard realized that the reaction principle would provide a foundation for space travel.But rather than focus entirely on theory, Goddard set out at an early age to become equipped to build and test the hardware he believed was necessary to best demonstrate the reaction principle.

Goddard graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1908, then went on to study at Clark University in Worcester. He received a doctorate of physics at Clark University in 1911 and immediately began teaching physics there.

By 1926, Goddard had constructed and tested successfully the first rocket using liquid fuel. Indeed, the flight of Goddard's rocket on March 16,1926, at Auburn, Massachusetts, was a feat as epochal in history as that of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. Yet, it was one of Goddard's "firsts" in the now booming significance of rocket propulsion in the fields of military missilery and the scientific exploration of space.

Primitive in their day as the achievement of the Wrights, Goddard's rockets made little impression upon government officials. Only through the modest subsidies of the Smithsonian Institution and the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the leaves of absence granted him by Worcester Polytechnic Institute of Clark University, was Goddard able to sustain his lifetime of devoted research and testing. He worked for the U.S. Navy in both World Wars. Eighteen years after his successful demonstration at Auburn, Goddard's pioneering achievements came to life in the German V-2 ballistic missile.

Goddard first obtained public notice in 1907 in a cloud of smoke from a powder rocket fired in the basement of the physics building in Worcester Polytechnic Institute. School officials took an immediate interest in the work of student Goddard. They, to their credit, did not expel him. He thus began his lifetime of dedicated work.

During his studies at Clark University in 1909, Goddard began to make detailed calculations regarding liquid-fueled rocket engines. Again independent of Tsiolkovsky, he too theorized that a combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen would make an ideal propellant.

These theories were refined by Goddard during a year of research and teaching at Princeton University between 1912 and 1913. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Goddard kept detailed records on his research, most of which survive today.

In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents. One was for a rocket using liquid fuel. The other was for a two or three stage rocket using solid fuel.


The USS Los Angeles, built by the Zeppelin company.

Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin mostly called Count Zeppelin) (July 8, 1838 – March 8, 1917) was a German aircraft manufacturer, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship company. He was born in Konstanz, Grand Duchy of Baden (now part of Baden-Württemberg, Germany). He was the inventor of the Airship which was made in the 1900s. Zeppelin flew the world's first untethered rigid airship, the LZ-1, on July 2, 1900, near Lake Constance in Germany, carrying five passengers. Although air ships had been flown for almost 50 years, this was a special airship. This was the very first of the rigid airships. It is the first aircraft to have a skeleton built around bags of lifting gas. The cloth-covered dirigible, which was the prototype of many subsequent models, had an aluminum structure, seventeen hydrogen cells, and two 15-horsepower (11.2-kilowatt) Daimler internal combustion engines, each turning two propellers. It was about 420 feet (128 meters) long and 38 feet (12 meters) in diameter and had a hydrogen-gas capacity of 399,000 cubic feet (11,298 cubic meters). During its first flight, it flew about 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) in 17 minutes and reached a height of 1,300 feet (390 meters). However, it needed more power and better steering and experienced technical problems during its flight that forced it to land in Lake Constance. After additional tests conducted three months later, it was scrapped. One of the main reasons zeppelins were built with an aluminum skeleton is to be able to fly in ideal weather conditions that other planes couldn’t.

Zeppelin continued to improve his design and build airships for the German government. In June 1910, the Deutschland became the world's first commercial airship. The Sachsen followed in 1913. Between 1910 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, German zeppelins flew 107,208 (172,535 kilometers) miles and carried 34,028 passengers and crew safely. Three years after the demise of LZ129 Hindenburg, the LZ127 and LZ130 were dismantled in 1940; Ending the golden era of the great passenger ships. Most of them have never been forgotten. Members of their crews and their passengers diminish yearly but what they did then as well as what they experienced lives on. Today, the Zeppelins have returned. In 1997, the Zepplin Luftschifftechnik built a new airship ;the LZ NT. And yes the ship is certified. A report out of Germany in September says the ship is growing by about 6.5 meters to an approximate length of 75m.[7]

Guidable Balloons


Ferdinand von Zeppelin visited the balloon camp of Prof. Thaddeus S. C. Lowe during the Peninsular Campaign of the American Civil War. The balloons were placed off limits to civilian riders and Lowe was not to entertain the curious von Zeppelin. He sent him to another balloon camp where the German aeronaut John Steiner could be of more help to the young man. In 1839 von Zeppelin returned to America to meet and learn from the experienced Prof. Lowe to gain all the knowledge he could in ballooning.

From the 1880s onward, Zeppelin was preoccupied with the idea of balloons that can be guided. In 1899, he started constructing his first guidable rigid airship, following an overall system he had outlined in 1874, designs he had detailed in 1893, that were reviewed by committee in 1894, and that he patented in 1895.

Legends later arose that Zeppelin had used the patent and design of David Schwarz's airship of 1897, but these were rejected by Eckener in 1938 and by later reviewers. Zeppelin's design was "radically different" in both its scale and its framework from that of Schwarz.

Zeppelin made three flights with the LZ 1 over the Bodensee. The flights became more and more successful, igniting a public euphoria which allowed the Count to pursue the development of his vehicle. In fact, the second version of his airship was entirely financed through donations and a lottery. The final financial breakthrough only came, ironically, after the Zeppelin LZ4 crashed in 1908 at Echterdingen. The crash sparked public interest in the development of the airships. A subsequent collection campaign raised 6.5 million German marks and the money was used to create the 'Luftschiffbau-Zeppelin GmbH' and a Zeppelin foundation.

The same year the military administration bought the LZ3 and put it to use as the renamed Z1. Starting in 1909, Zeppelins also were used in civilian aviation. Up until 1914 the German Aviation Association (Deutsche Luftschiffahrtsgesellschaft or DELAG) transported 37,250 people on over 1600 flights without an incident.

Count Zeppelin died 1917, before the end of World War I. He therefore did not witness either the provisional shutdown of the Zeppelin project due to the Treaty of Versailles or the second resurgence of the zeppelins under his successor Hugo Eckener.

The Age of the Transatlantic Steamship


In a epoch of economic expansion, and increased international trade the rise of the steamship hushed the death of the Clipper-ship.


To do:
Expand, economic reasons, trade routes, emigration pressures, WAR etc behind the issue and link it to the still surviving trend, the appeal of the Cruise ship

As if heralding the decline of run for bigger and larger Steamships and prompting the development of new alternatives and technologies the accident of the R.M.S. Titanic in 15 April 1912, an Olympic-class passenger liner that struck an iceberg a few miles south of Newfoundland, can be seen as milestone.

The Movies

A poster for Edison Films Great Train Robbery

At the beginning of this era of silent movies, the vast majority of films came in from overseas, mainly from Great Britain and France. Thomas Edison had a monopoly on the American film industry. From his New Jersey film studio, The Black Maria, came any number of movies, showing boxers, lovers, comic interludes, and what we would call documentaries, though they were often staged. In 1903, Edison's studio released several movies, including "The Life of An American Fireman" and "The Great Train Robbery," two of the first great American fictional movies. In France, in contrast, George Melies created elaborate pageants, often hand-tinted, and Ferdinand Zecca produced and directed a Life of Jesus Christ which was shown as a special event, in legitimate theaters across America.

In 1905, the first Nickelodeon was opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before this movies had either been seen in "peep show" arrangements or onstage as part of Vaudeville shows. A viewer could now pay a nickel to see a variety of movies projected on a screen in an atmosphere which was respectable, if not quite fireproof. (Early movie houses had a lackadasical attitude toward the fire code, and the nitrate base of film stock was very flammable.)

Movies had became a money-making proposal. Increased demand begged for increased supply. A competitor to Edison Studios had arisen in 1893, and in 1903 Biograph Studios started making fictional movies, films often more complex than Edison's. In 1910 it moved as far away as possible from Edison and its lawsuits, to Hollywood, California. Other studios followed, and the American film industry began to gain momentum.



During the 1890's the introduction of the safety bicycle popularized their use. In 1897 Hosea Libbey of Boston invented the first e-bike.

Early Automobiles


Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. By using an assembly line to more easily produce more cars, the Model T became very affordable compared to prior automobiles.

Consumer Innovation

A 1918 photo of the first Piggly Wiggly, the first modern self service grocery store.

In 1900 Kodak introduced the Brownie, an inexpensive camera that became one of the first cameras affordable to the general population. Built with simple controls and sold for $1, it became widely popular.

The first modern self service grocery store opened in Memphis, Tennessee in 1916. Unlike previous food stores, customers could simply pick out items and take them to the cashier, instead of requiring employee assistance to measure and package many items. This saved time and became the default way of shopping for most food items in the United States.

In the 1890's the Sears Roebuck Catalog was established, and quickly become a popular way for rural Americans to shop.

In the late 1890's and early 1900's, Rural Free Delivery was introduced in many areas. Before this, in rural areas Americans needed to go to the post office to pick up their mail. By delivering mail directly to the houses of Americans, rural areas became more connected to the rest of the nation.


  1. Post, Robert C. (1987). "America's Electric Railway Beginnings: Trollers and Daft Dummies in Los Angeles". Southern California Quarterly. 69 (3): 203–221. doi:10.2307/41171270. ISSN 0038-3929.
  2. "Before Interstates, America Got Around on Interurbans" (in en). 2021-10-06. 
  3. "THE NEW-HAVEN RAILROAD." (in en-US). The New York Times. 1895-10-06. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  4. Pierce, C. C. (Charles C. ) (1909), Two images of a trackless trolley in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, ca.1909, retrieved 2024-04-22
  5. "Los Angeles trackless trolley -- in Laurel Canyon, early 1900's C.C. Pierce No. 7177". Retrieved 2024-04-22.

Progressive Era · The Nadir of American Race Relations