Technology in the 1910s: Surprising Modern and Familiar

Woman talking on telephone

Technology in the 1910s: Surprising Modern and Familiar

Many people have the impression that the 1910s were technologically the Dark Ages.  In truth, nearly all the modern conveniences we enjoy today existed, only in a simpler form.

Technological advances accelerated in the 19th century and continued in the 20th century at an astonishing rate.  So much so that, as ThoughtCo. puts it, “We began the 20th century with the infancy of airplanes, automobiles, and radio, when those inventions dazzled us with their novelty and wonder. We end the 20th century with spaceships, computers, cell phones, and the wireless Internet all being technologies we can take for granted.”

Here are three ways 1910 technology is modern and familiar:

1. Electricity, Plumbing and Heating

Early 20th century advertisement for a plumbing company
Early 20th century advertisement for a plumbing company

Urban streets and homes began to be electrified in the 1870s, not long after the invention of the incandescent light bulb.  But it wasn’t until power stations generating alternating-current electricity opened in the 1890s that the technology became available to the masses.

During World War I, power generation was especially important because of wartime factory production.

However, many rural areas remained without electric power until the 1930s.

Electricity led to many other inventions like refrigeration and air conditioning, which appeared in commercial use by 1903. It also led to many modern kitchen appliances like electric stoves, dishwashers and toasters.

Indoor plumbing was available in many homes by 1910. This improved sanitation, made meal preparation easier, and created a convenient way to bathe or shower.  It also meant toilets could flush.

The water heater was invented after indoor plumbing.  Earlier devices sold to heat water in the bathtub were dangerous, and caused burns and even explosions.

Homes also had central heating by 1910. By the turn of the century, many homes were heated with hot water running through radiators. Others were heated with a coal furnace.  Furnace manufactures often guaranteed they could keep a home heated to 70 degrees in the dead of winter.

2.  Transportation and Communication

Early 20th century Toronto electric streetcar
Early 20th century Toronto electric streetcar

The first practical cars were invented in the 1880s. Electric cars appeared not long after.  Soon, women were behind the wheel making contributions to the industry.

Public transportation existed in larger urban areas. This included the omnibus, the trolley and the subway. These systems, powered by steam or electricity and later gasoline, were safer and faster than horse drawn forms of mass transit.

Running late and need to inform someone? For centuries, people facing this dilemma had no way of sending a message. That changed by the late 19th century.

Millions of telephones were in use by the 1910s, including international lines. Many of these phones had rotary dial. Telephone numbers were shorter than today, but you’re probably familiar with one of the early telephone providers – Bell.

The telephone allowed people to stay in communication with friends and family. It also allowed people to place orders, and it created new positions – telephone operators and receptionists – that were filled by women.

Miscellaneous Technology

Woman talking on telephone
Woman talking on an early telephone

There are small ways, too, in which modern technology was present in Edwardian households.

For example:

  • Fancy some entertainment at night? People had been listening to records on their gramophones and phonographs for decades by 1910.
  • The snapshot was invented with the introduction of Kodak’s Brownie camera. Now, taking photos was no longer a special occasion that required a studio and professional photographer. The camera was small and had a fast shutter speed, allowing people to document their lives.
  • How do you notify a homeowner that you’re visiting? The electric doorbell was commonplace in homes by the turn of the century.

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Updated:  15 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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