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A History of American Technology Alan L. Schroeder Ashford University Instructor: Tara Ross HIS 204 October 1, 2012
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY A History of American Technology American technology has significantly advanced from 1865 through today, directly contributing toward the end of isolation in this country. Inventions like the railway system infrastructure, the atomic bomb, and modern computing devices have each changed the country in their own ways. Some were considered ‘good’ and some ‘bad’, but each one has allowed America to reach out further on its journey towards the world stage. This paper will briefly
discuss each of these significant milestones in technological advancement, and their effect on the people who lived with them. Thinking back, before 1865, America was a much different place than it is today. The civil war may have been necessary to decide some fundamental issues that Americans differed on. After the war, the Reconstruction period tried to place almost 4 million freed slaves. This search for order had to take place before the homeostasis was achieved which fosters the growth of innovation. The first invention that marked America’s transition out of isolation was the transatlantic cable. In our textbook, “American History,” Mark Bowles says, “The transatlantic cable shortened the window of communication between those in Europe and the United States from a 10-day ocean voyage to a telegraph transmission that would take a few minutes” (Bowles, 2011). This communication was eventually a key to the connectedness of global women’s rights initiatives. Railway expansion westward The invention of the railway system allowed quick expansion of the West while causing a complex mixture of people to co-exist. Mark Bowles says, “The railroad was also a symbol of
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY the new connectedness in America as it united various parts of the nation like never before”
(Bowles, 2011). With this new mode of transportation in place, people could easily move around the country, in ways like never before. The West was ripe for the picking. If you could build rails to it, people could now move there, and have access to the goods and services of other nearby establishments. The problem was that, people already lived in these areas, namely the Native Americans. The westward expansion displaced some natives, and the frontier remained a melting-pot for people of all races. Just building the railroads alone provided jobs and created demand for parts. In Railroads and American Economic Growth by Dr. Robert William Fogel says, “Perhaps the most persuasive theory of embodied consequences is the one which holds that the inputs required for railroad construction induced the rise of industries, techniques and skills essential to economic growth” (Fogel, 1964). Engineers needed to be trained, as well as people to work all the other aspects of running and maintaining trains and their tracks. The logging industry needed to mill wood for railroad ties, while the iron industry was already mature enough to handle the amount of metal that was needed for tracks. Although it did have an economic impact, Dr. Fogel posits that in the absence of a railway system, America would have continued to expand via an interconnected canal system in a similar way. The Atomic Bomb The invention of the atomic bomb brought along with it as much of an ethical debate, as the destructive force that it contained within. To demonstrate its global power, America would have to unleash ultimate destruction upon other human beings. The government had to find a
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY way to sell this idea to the American people, so that they could justify its use if necessary. In “Good Bomb/Bad Bomb”, Jacobs writes: It was clear that the military had a vivid grasp of the powers of this new weapon.
It saw that the atomic bomb was most effective as a radiological weapon, capable of poisoning vast areas beyond its immediate use for blast and heat. Further, it was obvious that the use of the atomic bomb as a terror weapon aimed at destroying the infrastructure of the civilian population of an enemy was also among the first possibilities considered by military planners. (Jacobs, 2007) The way that the military saw the atomic bomb, was clearly quite different than the way the government presented it to American citizens. The Eisenhower administration liked to think of our nukes as “clean” because they detonated much higher off the ground. Although using the same technology, the Soviet Unions were described as “dirty”, because they expected them to be detonated much closer to the ground, thereby causing more radioactive fallout to the American people. This was all speculation of course, but served to create definitive ‘sides,’ and attach moral stigma to the debate. By far one of the most important changes in technology started out as The Manhattan Project. The atomic weapon was described in the text as, ”the newest and most devastating weapon on the planet” (Bowles, 2011, p. 180). Working for three years, trying to beat the Germans to the finish, on July 16, 1945 they sent a huge mushroom cloud into the air as the results of a successful test. Robert Oppenheimer recalls, “A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent” (Rhodes, 1986).The atomic bomb can be considered the “Game Changer” of World War 2, and more like “Game Ender” for the use of nuclear weapons in wartime. They were the one, and only use of this technology, and have sparked ethical debates
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY ever since. Some say it was a rash, and uninformed decision, while others credit its massive
demonstration as an ultimate show of American might, and even the reason for the lack of world wars since. America had flexed its way out of isolation with this demonstration of global military might. Computers and the Internet The invention of the computer ushered in the technological age of America that we are still experiencing today. In the Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Michael Mahoney describes the multiple histories of computing: The first electronic digital computers were variations on the protean design of a limited Turing machine, which described not a single device but a schema, and which could assume many forms and could develop in many directions. It became what various groups of people made of it. The computer thus has little or no history of its own. Rather, it has histories derived from the histories of the groups of practitioners who saw in it, or in some yet to be envisioned form of it, the potential to realise(sic) their agendas and aspirations. (Mahoney, 2005) The closest we can come to naming an ‘inventor’ would have been Alan Turing, whose ideas came to influence the many computer designs. The original and innovative atmosphere of the computing frontier was one of the greatest times of American invention. This environment of experimentation is what has led to the computing industry of today with our ever-faster devices and affordable competition in the market. The different computer designs and machine purposes created an industry. From Hollerith developing a solution to count census votes, to IBM inventing those “clacking, noisy electromechanical contraptions that sorted counted and manipulated data” (Maney, 2003), the
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY computing industry exploded exponentially after this time. From simple calculating devices, to Silicon Valley, interconnected computers evolved to now span the globe. There are now companies that create hardware, software applications, custom parts, robotics, and spacecraft. Isolation is all but banished for those who have access to the Internet, or World Wide Web today. Since 1989, electronic mail, instant messaging, and social networking sites have helped people stay connected and up-to-date on each other’s statuses. It took the telephone 75 years and television 13 years to acquire 50 million users. It has taken the Internet five years. Today, more than 500 million people around the world are connected to the Internet.
On the downside, many criminals have also embraced the internet. Identity theft is on the rise as well as scamming, unauthorized access attempts, and even state-sponsored cyber warfare branches. Where there is money being transacted, there will always be a problem with crime, and this holds true for online commerce, as well. Credit card theft and abuse is rampant on the Net today. Many of the laws designed to prevent terrorism can also be used to crack down on online crimes. In the interest of national security, in 2001, the United States passed into law the PATRIOT ACT. The purpose, written in the Bill, was “To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes”(Congress, 2001). These “other purposes” turned out to include such controversial topics as incidentally intercepting private communications of American citizens, through wiretaps, or other electronic surveillance. In exchange for protection against terrorist threats, and online thieves Americans have forfeited some of their right to privacy. One result of coming out of disconnected isolation for the individual is that a person is now ‘connected’ to many more people than they have ever been.
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY
Conclusions Technology has directly attributed to America’s rise to global-power status. Regardless of how the results may be judged, the inventions themselves are indeed amoral. The Westwardexpanding railways spurred the economy, while causing the frontier to become a cultural melting-pot. The use of nuclear weapons on Japan thereby put a swift end to World War 2 but killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese people in the process. Lastly, the Internet helps millions of people, at home or on the go, stay in touch like never before but opens the door to an entire new wave of identity theft and cybercrime. Each of these technologies has done its part to bring America, and its people, out of isolation and onto the world stage.
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY References
107th Congress. (2001). Uniting and strengthening America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) act of 2001. Text of H.R. 3162 (107th). Retrieved from http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/107/hr3162/text Ceruzzi, P. E. (2003). A history of modern computing. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Jacobs, R. (2007). Good bomb / bad bomb: Talking about atomic tests in Nevada. Interdisciplinary Humanities, 24(1), 65-82. Mahoney, M. S. (2005). The histories of computing(s). Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 30(2), 119-135. Doi: 10.1179/030801805X25927 Maney, K. (2003). The maverick and his machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. and the making of IBM. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. Plowman, E. G. (1966). Were Railroads Vital to 19th Century American Economic Growth?. Transportation Journal (American Society Of Transportation & Logistics Inc), 6(1), 4246. Rhodes, R. (1986). The making of the atomic bomb. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/BioFaAreS/the-making-of-the-atomic-bombrichard-rhodes Serber, R. (1992).The Los Alamos primer: The first lectures on how to build an atomic bomb, edited with an introduction by Richard Rhodes. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
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