Sharing History: Firsts

If you read the Technology and Science timeline in my book Making History, you will note how many times the word “first” is stated during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, especially for inventions that changed people’s daily lives. Frozen foods, synthetic rubber, air conditioning, screw-on bottle caps, nylon, water fluoridation, masking tape, weather satellites, microwave ovens, radar, scuba gear, tape recorders, Xerox copiers, the Univac computer, contact lens, electric blankets, transistor radios, burglar alarms, DDT and plastic are just a few of the new-fangled products introduced to Americans during these decades.

A participant in one of my classes, “Josie,” shared about introducing microwave ovens to the public in the early 1950s. Josie worked as a secretary, not a scientist, but she was an attractive young blond so she was asked to help demonstrate the easiness and efficiency of the microwave oven at a Home Show. At first she was delighted – it was a welcome break from typing and filing, and seemed quite glamorous to the 22-year-old. “But it became old fast,” Josie read. “My job was to boil water in a glass, alternating with cooking a hot dog, over and over again – I must have cooked hundreds of hot dogs and boiled hundreds of glasses of water – all the while smiling and repeating my patter, which was only one line: “The microwave makes cooking so easy anyone can do it!” The only real direction I got was to “look pretty” and I guess I did because they kept me there three days.”

How about you? Whatever your work, what technological advancements helped you to do it better? Compare your daily life in 1937, or 1967, or 1997, with your daily work today. What has changed? How are you more efficient? What inventions or new ideas came along during your working life that improved the quality of your work, or made it easier?

If you’d care to share a story about this topic, please leave a comment here. At the end of each month I’ll gather up the Sharing History comments and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing my e-book: your choice of a Making History Workbook.

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2 thoughts on “Sharing History: Firsts

  1. I’d always known that someday I’d be a writer. Over a period of years I spent hundreds of hours pecking away at the trusty Coronamatic electric typewriter that got me through grad school. One day in 1981 while visiting the school district administration office, I saw a funny-looking typewriter with a little t.v. on top. I instantly recognized it as one of the word processors I’d heard about.

    Now that is what I really need, I thought. If I didn’t have to keep retyping everything sixteen times. . . I could really fly if I had one of those! But word processors cost over $3000 in 1980 dollars. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine spending that much money on a typewriter. Especially not with three children to put through college! Life went on, and I kept clattering away on my Smith-Corona.

    On Halloween, 1982, I had no idea that the world as I knew it was about to change. It began as any other day, but then Hubby took Elder Son trick-or-treating and they came home with an apple in their bag. An Apple ][+ computer,that is. Hubby and sons spent the weekend setting everything up and checking it all out.

    “By the way, you’ll probably want to try out the word processing program,” Hubby casually mentioned. I caught my breath as I realized what this meant. I burned off some surging adrenalin doing extra cleaning, biding my time. This wasn’t something I wanted to do with an audience.

    Monday finally arrived. I took my time making coffee after everyone was gone. Savoring each moment, I sat down, flipped the switch, booted up, inserted the AppleWriter disk, and the rest is history. Within a few minutes I realized that everything I’d dreamed and way more was now possible. I could edit, adapt, save, reprint, and (gasp of joy) ADD GRAPHICS! (The latter required additional programs and wizardry.)

    I felt as light and liberated as the Tiger Swallowtails that clustered around milkweed in my backyard. From that moment on, I never doubted that I would write and write and write and that the world would read my words. The words took wings, just as I felt I had. After more than twenty-five years, thousands of pages, dozens of published articles, and three books later, with killer computers at my fingertips and the World Wide Web as my audience, the dream lives on, and I’ll never forget that moment of electrifying awareness of possibility.

  2. Sharon, what a great story! I too had an Apple II in the early 80s, and loved it mightily. Those neon green letters were so beautiful, and they did represent freedom to fly. Thank you for sharing.

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