The Second Industrial Revolution
We shall take a closer look at some of the technological leaps that helped give birth to the Diesel age that we adore so.
The first Industrial Revolution permanently changed how the contemporary world came to be. Coal and steam powered instruments brought about industrialized machine tools, bringing unprecedented success in railways, textiles, and urbanization across the developed world. Crossing oceans became a tedious chore rather than a great risk of death, and cross-country infrastructure boomed. But by 1850 and towards the end of the 19th century, the economic and technological breakthroughs began to take a new form that many refer to as the Second Industrial Revolution. Many of the core technologies that we see in the interwar period which we dieselpunks pride ourselves on found their inception in these years:
- Alternating current, normally attributed to Nikola Tesla’s patent, overcame the proximity and efficiency limits of direct current electricity. Coupled with advances in power plant technology and the market filling with new household appliances, countries soon found their roads and countryside flanked with power lines.
- Internal combustion engines are, of course, one of the largest loves for any diesel lover. As petroleum refinement was coming about in parallel, the fuel-burning engines integrated into industry vigorously. Factories were soon able to free themselves from the yoke of locating near water sources for their coal and steam run energy. Modern airplanes became viable, as did mass-produced automobiles with Henry Ford’s schematics.
- Refrigeration and the perfection of Canning greatly extend the previous techniques for food preservation. Transporting food across the country (and eventually across oceans) becomes increasingly feasible. The common household would now be able to also enjoy a weekly shopping schedule as foodstuffs could keep in iceboxes and sit well-sealed in the pantry. These innovations proved invaluable for the 20th century wars.
- Mass-produced steel made the metal industry a metric for how developed and/or successful a country was. The U.S. used its advantage in this, and many other fields, in order to economically pull ahead in a big way. It is amazing to look back at how much countries such as Russia and China sacrificed into their steel industries alone in an attempt to catch up to American numbers.
- Telephones were a phenomenal advance in technology. While they may not have had as good looking an aesthetic as steel factories and cars in the street, the capabilities of communication were changed as those not savvy to Morse code or willing to risk the postal service could not only communicate to one another in a timely manner, but in fact speak, instantly! Ideas could now spread that much faster as the world shrank.
- Mass-produced goods such as paper, soap, and clothing became commonplace. Consumers now had the ability to buy replacements rather than constantly repairing or making their own possessions. Add to this the second burst of urbanization, and ideas such as the department stores soon became an icon of prestige and material wealth in a city.
What did all this mean for the world at large? What I see is an interconnectedness that no people ever had before. The lines of communication opening in telephones and radio, transportation costs and times being increasingly less, and standardized materials which everyone benefited from made for a world in which someone in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and everywhere in between could all relate to. There may not have been a grand strategy in all these technologies and the decades they came out in, but by the time the first and then second world wars happened, not only did these breakthroughs direct the majority of how the battles were fought, but also formed a cohesive brand of culture back on the home front with unstoppable factories, relentless workers, and a national spirit that is hard to compete with even today.