TECH 393 Technology in World Civilization
Many technologies prior to 1919 have had huge impacts on society that are still visible today, like electricity, firearms, and petroleum-based fuels. Though these and many other innovations have been impactful on us as a collective group, I believe there is something that absolutely changed history as we know it: the printing press. This innovation helped people quickly transfer more information, ideals, and beliefs than hand writing, as well it helped people learn to read easier.
Nobody really knows the exact date the printing press was first developed; however, experts have dated the oldest known printed text. Dating back to 868 A.D., The Diamond Sutra from Dunhuang, China was a Buddhist religious book printed using ancient block printing, where the panels used to press ink onto paper were fixed texts hand carved from wood. It wasn’t for another 150 years or so till individual movable letter (made of baked clay) printing plates were developed, by Bi Sheng of Yingshan, Hubei, China. This development let to the first known mass produced book: Nung Shu. About 400 years after this era, in 1450 a German man named Johannes Guttenberg revolutionized the printing press, using a metal, (iron and brass) design that printed perfectly horizonal text lines. Though this may be a huge part of his life, the most important thing Guttenberg did was produce one book: a Bible. He produced over 180 copies, 1300 pages each. Guttenberg’s workers also started producing and teaching the art of printing. The press moved throughout Europe, starting in Italy, France, and Spain. Many universities produced their own books for their students. Though education was important, what was more influential was the ideas and knowledge printed books brought to people. This brought individual power to each person that could interpret these texts. Books from men like John Calvin and Martin Luther showed the people the true corruption of Pope Alexander VI, sparking revolt and revolution in the early 1500’s The first ever widely available newspaper, The Relation, started production in 1605 in Strasbourg, France. It sparked the minds of many people in Europe, and many more newspapers popped up, giving the right of literacy, education, and formal information to ordinary people.
Though seeming overlooked, the printing press has made a huge, perhaps the biggest impact upon the world throughout history. It helped transfer ideas and ideologies that otherwise would be lost in history if they weren’t written down. The craziest part is that a thousand and a half years later, we are still using industrialized versions of the humble printing press for our books and newspapers.
Every April here in eastern Washington, the small farming town Colfax hosts “Old Time Farm Days”, were one can see ancient farming techniques in live action. What you might notice is the lack of big green, red, or yellow diesel tractors lugging along 60 foot field cultivators, rather you will see horse drawn disks, harrows, and planters. This spectacle is seen as a quaint session of entertainment to us, but it was the reality before the invention of self-propelled tractors. In the last 100 years, nothing has quite changed how we live than these behemoth iron workhorses.
Until the mid-19th, century, all farm labor was done by human or animal (horse, oxen, donkey, etc..) labor. This slow and hard work was time consuming and detrimental to the long-term life of both man and animal. In 1859 a British inventor by the name Thomas Aveling came up with the first known self-propelled field machine, powered by steam. He and others soon found that these early steam powered machines were slow, heavy, and not cost effective for farmers, however it was a step in the right direction. In 1917, Henry Ford introduced the Fordson, the first ever mast produced, lightweight and affordable gasoline powered tractor. These early tractors made a huge impact on farmers’ production, multiplying their efficiency while lowering cost, both on the body and pocketbook. Many other innovations ensued not long after. Companies in the early ‘30’s like Caterpillar and Ails Chalmers created tracked tractors (like a tank) known as “crawlers” that offered more traction and less ground compaction. The ‘60’s brought 4-wheel drive wheeled tractors, and diesel-powered engines. Since then, the overall style and configuration hasn’t changed, rather the size, horsepower, comfort, and availability has improved.
Long gone are the days of horse drawn plows in the blistering sun, were today you can sit in a comfortable 68° dust free cab, working the field 50’ at a time. The self-propelled tractor has made such a huge impact on agriculture, it has improved the quality of life for consumers, by lowering the cost of food. And with the big diesel-powered monsters’ farmers are able to keep up with growing farms and faster lifestyles.
Bonnett, Harold (1975). Discovering Traction Engines. Shire Publications Ltd. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-85263-318-2.