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20 Top Engineering Feats of the 20th Century

When you look around your world, and you see all the tools, gadgets and utensils you have that make your life less complicated and more convenient, what one thing could you not live without today?

I ask this question many times to my clients and my students and I get varying answers depending on gender and age. The older person may say their television or their microwave oven, or their washing machine, whilst the younger person will usually respond with their computer or tablet, but more usually, their “smart phone”.

So, for you, what is that one thing you could not live without and you are indebted to science and engineering for creating?

What would it be? Let me know in the comments.

"Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been" - Albert Einstein


Huge networks of electricity power the developed world, from streetlights to supercomputers, electricity makes our lives safer, healthier and more comfortable. This was made possible through the development of power generation techniques & grids.

Water supply and distribution

Clean water provides communities, farms, households, and industries a vital resource and source of growth. A simple turn of the tap provides clean water — a precious and necessary resource. Advances in water treatment, supply, and distribution systems have prevented the spread of waterborne diseases in developed nations and increased life expectancy.

Household refrigeration

The lives of people and, in particular, the life of the primary care-giver at home has been unburdened by the advent of the refrigerator. Refrigeration has allowed for more freedom in our lives. Refrigeration has also provided us with a means of storing important medicines, thus providing a means to fight many diseases.

The washing machine

As with the refrigerator, the invention and widespread availability of the washing machine unburdened the primary care-giver at home and allowed them more free time to pursue alternative interests. The washing machine also stemmed the spread of parasites by providing clean clothes made readily available.

The vacuum cleaner

Again, the vacuum cleaner has enabled an additional uptake of free time and an increased health benefit to the home users. Modern, improved vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters have cut the risk of dust allergies to children and adults in the home.


The invention of the radio began to open the world to the general public and offered an alternative and new view on the world around them. The radio allowed the general public insights in the world around them on a quicker scale than before. As knowledge brings power, people were able to think more independently than prior to the advent of the radio.

“Science can amuse and fascinate us all, but it is engineering that changes the world.” - Isaac Asimov

The television

The radio made the first steps in shrinking the world, and the television made it even smaller. The television brought news, views and opinions into an ever-increasing number of people’s homes. Television and the engineers have been at the cutting edge of this technology through telecommuniction technology and satellite systems.

The personal computer

When you think about the twentieth century it is nigh on impossible to not think about computers and more importantly, the personal computer.

In business, computers have made mundane tasks obsolete, while the personal computer has shrunk the world even further and allowed people the ability to work from home and receive evermore work-life balance.

The automobile

Throughout the 20th Century and even into the 21st Century, manufacturing practices have made cars more reliable and affordable to the masses. The car isthe world's major mode of transportation and a symbol of personal freedom. Automobiles still remain a strong source of economic growth and stability. The Automobile opened up countries to the free movemnet of people and goods.

The airplane

In less than 100 years we have gone from a 12 second, 40 meter nerve-jangling flight to autonomous From military jets, The airplane truly set people free and shrunk the world beyond comparison. The movement of people and goods around the world in less than a day is down to engineering creativity and ingenuity. Thanks to the airplane, we have been globalized.

Agricultural machinery

The tractor, the cultivator, and the combines have propelled agricultural efficiency and productivity to new, before-unseen new levels providing the world with a larger, safer, and more affordable food supply.

The telephone

The telephone, synonymous with Gen X, and a cornerstone of modern life has transformed the way the world communicates, both personally and in business. From the days of the switchboard, to satellites, copper wire and fiber optics, and the near-instant Internet connections, the telephone continues to ring in the changes with innovation.

"The scientist discovers a new type of material or energy and the engineer discovers a new use for it" - Gordon Lindsay Glegg


Imagine a summer day, no breeze, the room temperature increasing, becoming unbearable. Your life before the air-conditioning unit. Hot, and difficult. Today we have air-conditioners to cool us, they can extend the shelf-life of food & medicine, protect electronics and support healthcare delivery.


Electronics — from vacuum tubes to transistors and integrated circuits — continue to shrink in size and grow in power and efficiency thanks to engineers. They underlie countless innovations, from portable DVD players to your cell phone, iPad, and other electronics, making modern life more convenient and more connected.

The Internet

Developed through a series of engineering innovations, the Internet is now a global communication and information system of unparalleled access, redefining business practices, educational pursuits, and personal communication. What began as a tool to link research center computers is now a vital instrument of social change.


Propelled by engineering advances in oil exploration and processing, petroleum products have had an enormous impact on modern life. While petroleum provides fuel for cars, homes, and industries, of course, petrochemicals are used in products ranging from aspirin to zippers.

“Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.” - Theodore von Karman

Nuclear technology

The harnessing of the atom gave us a new source of electric power and new capabilities in medical research and imaging. Although controversial, the engineering work that went into the creation of nuclear technologies remains one of the most significant achievements of the previous century.

Fiber optics

Pulses of light from lasers are applied to industrial tools, non-invasive surgical devices, satellites, and other products. Highly pure glass fibers now provide the infrastructure to carry information via laser-produced light. And a single fiber-optic cable can enable almost-simultaneous worldwide communication and media.


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Imaging technology

Twentieth-century imaging technologies have afforded us amazing new views inside the human body — revolutionizing medical diagnostics — and beyond, of the ocean floors, our planet, and distant galaxies.


The construction of 44,000 miles of U.S. highway in the twentieth century is one of the most impressive achievements of that era, allowing for the distribution of goods and personal mobility. Thousands of engineers built the roads, bridges, and tunnels that connect our communities.

Without these advancements in science and technology in the last century, our lives would look and feel very different.

I often talk with my younger students and my own children about life before smartphones and even life before mobile phones and they seem somewhat amazed and baffled at how I and my generation managed to get by in life.

Life without cellphones was slower and more honest, in my opinion. If you think about making arrangements to meet your friends; you did everything in your power to get there on time. If you planned to meet at 7pm, you gave yourself enough time to make it, because if you were to be late, you had no way of contacting your friends.

Now, however, I think we are all a little lazy, in that we don’t generally try as hard to make it on time. We know that we can pick up the phone and call or text to talk about our lateness.

What do you think has been the greatest feat of engineering in the last century? Put your thoughts in the comments section. I would be really interested to know what you think.

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About the author

Jonathan Moore is the founder of Accent on Training, a Social Media Management, Brand and Website design agency based in Seoul, South Korea. For nearly ten years, he has helped clients in developing their businesses online through branding, website design and bespoke social media marketing solutions.

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