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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 1977

A Century of Inventions

A Century of Inventions

Sometimes the question is asked, "Why take such an interest in local history?" and one has to pause to consider the matter. With the rapidly changing social pattern we need something of the spirit of faith and endeavour which characterized the lives of the pioneers. One stabilising influence in our community in recent years has been the interest in local and family history—a link which so easily could be lost. Our historical societies and similar bodies have been stirring up new interest and showing the value of learning from the past. Most of our modern appliances, means of transport, and so many things which we take for granted, have only been developed in the last one hundred years. The pioneers in this country had none of these advantages, yet they strove against great odds to exist and develop this fine land.

To a generation growing up in a world dominated by motorcars, aeroplanes, radio, television, computers, as well as a multiplicity of electrical gadgets it is difficult to realise just how recent all these page 14inventions really are. How easy it is to forget that the home sewing machine was not in general use a hundred years ago. The first practical machine of this kind was invented by Isaac Singer in 1851 but it was many years before they came into common use. Typewriters were an even newer invention as in 1873 the Remington company began the manufacture of the first successful writing machine. This was world news and the Nelson Evening Mail in September 1874 reported "A type-writing machine has been patented at America that, if successful, will rank as one of the principal inventions of the day. The type-writer is about the size of an ordinary sewing machine and is worked with keys similar to piano keys. It is claimed that an expert can write with it easily sixty words a minute. Any person, it is said, with only two weeks practice can write with it faster than a pen. It can also 'manifold' or write two to twenty copies at once, whenever desired.'

A century ago railways in New Zealand only consisted of a few short lines in various places and many years passed before train services opened up inland transport for both goods and passengers. It has been the development of modern transport which has made much of our present industry possible. In 1876 internal combustion engines were only being developed, with the Otto gas engines first coming out in that year. Then years later, in 1886, Daimler and Benz brought out the first motorcar, the forerunner of the modern motor vehicles. The production of pneumatic tyres by Dunlop in 1888 was a major factor in the development of these vehicles. Pneumatic tyres also greatly helped the development of bicycles and the Rover safety cycle, which had been patented in 1885, soon led to this replacing the earlier penny-farthing machine. Early in the 1900's there were few cars in New Zealand but Henry Ford brought out his Model T in 1908 and, with mass production, provided a vehicle at a very reasonable price. Motor vehicles were in general use from the early 1920's. At that time there were few aeroplanes in the country but, with rapid advances in engines and aircraft design, passenger aircraft became the accepted form of travel.

From the point of view of economics one of the great discoveries was refrigeration. The trial shipment of meat and a small amount of dairy produce to England in 1882 proved that New Zealand could provide overseas markets with quality food products and be confident that the shipments would arrive in first class condition. Smaller home units naturally followed the development and use of commercial refrigeration in meat works and factories.

Alexander Bell patented the first successful telephone in 1876 and this in turn has led to the further development of radio and other forms of communication. Likewise modern photography became possible following the introduction of portable cameras by George Eastman in 1888. The Daguerrotype of reproduction had been in use from 1837 but cameras had only developed over the years.

Thomas Edison's inventions were certainly ones which had far reaching effects. He experimented for years before managing to page 15produce the first reliable incandescent lamp but in 1886 the first house to house installation of electric lights was in progress. In 1877 he had produced the first successful phonograph and that meant that for the first time music and speech could be recorded and played. The writer does not know just when the first phonographs were imported into New Zealand but in March 1891 the Marlborough Express announced that Edison's 'astounding talking machine', the phonograph, was being demonstrated in Ewart's Hall. More than a year later, in September 1892, the editor of the Golden Bay Argus gave his personal recommendation, "Be sure and hear the wonderful phonograph on Saturday. I have heard it …" The development of moving pictures was the other great achievement of the time. In the Golden Bay Argus of June 2 1898 one finds that moving pictures had arrived at Collingwood, "The Exposition of the Kinematagraph, one of Edison's latest inventions, given at the public hall on Saturday and Monday …"

It is not the writer's intention to trace the later inventions concerning electrical equipment, electronics, and all the other conveniences of our time but sufficient has been said to indicate the rapid rate of development in the past one hundred years.

What a century of development!

And just one final thought.

New Zealand was still a very young country a century ago and it is an interesting thought that we have nonogenarians in our community who have seen the introduction of the modern developments which have produced the sophisticated society in which we now live.