Industrial Revolutions

10 innovations that changed the world

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Twenty years ago, the idea of listening to a song on anything other than a CD, cassette or LP would have seemed fanciful.

Yet from music to medicine and air travel to banking, the past 100-plus years have seen a raft of innovations transform the way we live and work.

We take a look at 10 of the world's most significant industrial advances, and give you the chance to choose what you feel is the most significant in our poll.

By Anmar Frangoul, Special to

1908: Ford's Model T

Ford Model T
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In October 1908, the first Ford Model T was built in Detroit, Michigan, revolutionizing the car industry and changing the world forever.

For the first time in history, the ownership of a motor vehicle became affordable and transformed the way people moved around towns and cities.

Able to travel 25 miles on one gallon of gas, the Model T had a maximum speed of 45mph.

In 1914, with mass production in full swing, 308,162 cars were built, and by 1924 the price of the Model T fell to just $260.

In 1927, after the production of over 15 million Model Ts, production of the car finally ended, with Ford turning its attention to its new Model A.

1928: Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin

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Before penicillin, many infections and diseases – everything from syphilis to gangrene and rheumatic fever – were untreatable killers. A seemingly innocuous scratch could lead to serious, sometimes fatal, infection.

With his realization that mold could fight off harmful bacteria, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in the autumn of 1928 heralded a new field in medicine: antibiotics.

Further research by scientists Ernst Chain and Howard Florey developed Fleming's work and made the production of penicillin in drug form possible.

1954: Nuclear power

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In June 1954 the town of Obninsk in the USSR made history when its nuclear power plant became the first in the world to be connected to an electricity grid.

Today, nuclear power reactors supply 16 percent of the planet's electricity, according to the United Nations.

To its supporters, nuclear power stations such as Sellafield in the U.K. (pictured) offer a clean, cost effective solution to fossil fuels.

To its detractors, catastrophic disasters at Fukushima in 2011 and Chernobyl in 1986 highlight just how dangerous nuclear energy can still be.

1961: Yuri Gagarin enters space

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On the 12th April 1961 Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space.

During his flight aboard Vostok 1, which lasted 108 minutes, Gagarin, just 27, seemed overcome with emotion. "I see earth! It is so beautiful," he is reported as saying.

Gagarin's trip into space, at the height of the Cold War, ushered in a new era in space exploration.

As well as pushing the U.S. on to put a man on the moon, the space race also helped spark a revolution in communications satellites, changing the way phone calls and eventually data traveled around the world.

1969: Concorde makes its maiden flight

A Concorde jet in 2003
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In 1969 the world's first supersonic passenger craft, Concorde, made its first flight. Lasting only 27 minutes, the airliner never exceeded 300mph.

Eventually, Concorde would reach top speeds of over 1,300 mph, drastically cutting transatlantic journey times. A Concorde flight from London to New York took just over three hours, compared to more than seven hours aboard a conventional airliner.

Concorde's darkest hour came in 2000, when Air France Flight 4590, bound for New York, burst into flames moments after take-off, killing 113.

Expensive to maintain, and costly for passengers to use, Concorde was eventually retired in 2003.

1979: Sony's Walkman goes on sale

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Launched in 1979, the Sony Walkman transformed the way we consume and listen to music.

With its compact design, the Walkman was aesthetically pleasing, portable and popular, with over 200 million being sold worldwide.

Music was no longer restricted to the home: consumers were now able to listen – in private – to their favorite tracks on their commute to work or while they were exercising, and cassettes began to outsell vinyl.

In 2010, with downloadable music dominating the market, Sony announced that it would stop producing the Walkman.

1989: Sir Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web

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In 1989 Sir Tim Berners Lee invented an interconnected system of computer networks – and changed the world forever.

Were it not for Lee and the World Wide Web there would be no Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

In an interview with the BBC to mark the Web's 25th birthday earlier this year, Berners Lee commented on its huge significance.

"It was really important that the web should be able to have anything on it, but the idea that it would end up with almost everything on it…it seemed like a crazy idea at the time," he said.

1996: Birth of the world's first successfully cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep

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In 1996, Dolly, a female sheep, became the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell.

Genetically identical to the ewe from which scientists took DNA, Dolly's birth was hailed as one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs in years.

Speaking in 1997, when Dolly's birth was announced to the world, Dr Ian Wilmut, an embryologist who led the Scotland based team that cloned Dolly, spoke of the importance her birth could have.

"It will enable us to study genetic diseases for which there is presently no cure and track down the mechanisms that are involved," he said.

Dolly, named because her cell was taken from a piece of breast tissue, died in 2003.

2001: The iPod is launched

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Before Steve Jobs and Apple launched the iPod in 2001, vinyl, CDs and cassettes were the format that most people listened to their music on.

The iPod – and iTunes, Apple's media library – changed all that, allowing people to listen to music ripped from their CDs or downloaded from the internet.

Today, with sales of CDs and whole albums in seemingly terminal decline, global revenue from digital music is $5.9 billion, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Yet the digital download market is now suffering – in 2012, the number of digital downloads was 1.34 billion, in 2013, it was 1.26 billion, according to Billboard – as listeners turn to streaming sites such as Spotify and Grooveshark.

Not everyone is happy with this digital revolution, though. In 2011, Jon Bon Jovi made headlines when he said, "Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."

2013: 'Bionic' limbs

Lifehand 2 | Patrizia Tocci

After losing his left hand in an accident, Dane Dennis Aabo Sørensen, 36, became the first amputee to feel texture and shapes using a prosthetic limb.

According to a statement from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, the institutions behind the research, the limb worn by Sørensen during trials in Rome was 'surgically wired to nerves in his upper arm', allowing him to feel objects again.

"This is the first time in neuroprosthetics that sensory feedback has been restored and used by an amputee in real-time to control an artificial limb," Silvestro Micera, who led the project, said at the time.