Sunday, August 27, 2017

New Technology in the Lives of My Ancestors

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, proposed by Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, sounded fun.  These are the questions to answer:
  • What technology changes did your ancestors see?
  • What technology changes have you seen?
  • Did your family own one of those early changes? - such as television
  • Do you like or dislike technology?
  • What do you think has been the best technological change in your lifetime and historically?

Before writing this post I briefly researched major inventions and realized that the years most inventions were created were not the years they came into regular use.  For some, it was several decades before they became common in homes.  More recent inventions seem to have hit the market and become popular more quickly.

For example, the compact cassette player was invented in 1962 but did not become popular until a few years later.  I graduated from high school in 1968, went off to college, and in 1971 or 1972, was required to use a cassette recorder for a linguistics course.  Not owning one and choosing not to buy one, I borrowed one from the university.  I took it home over a weekend to work on the project.  My father wanted to see this machine and learn what it did.  He was fascinated.  I think he bought one within a week or so.

New technology popularly used in my dad's lifetime, 1913 to 1987, included sound movies, ballpoint pens, photocopies, microwave ovens, transistor radios, 8 mm film for home movies, pocket calculators, and electric refrigerators which were surely a welcome technology to the women who probably used them more than anyone.

Dad disdained the use of pocket calculators, but that's because he could do the math in his head faster than anyone could punch in the numbers.  But he bought and used a movie camera in 1966 and used it for years.

I think my father liked new technology when he was introduced to it, though he didn't seek it out.  In about 1960 we visited his aunt whose daughter and son-in-law owned a restaurant.  After eating dinner there we ordered pie a la mode.  The pie was warm, the ice cream cold.  Dad asked if the pie had just come out of the oven.  No, they'd put it in the microwave to warm it.  And the ice cream?  Was that added after?  No, they put the ice cream on the pie before putting both in the microwave.  And the pie was warm and the ice cream cold!  Amazing.  I think we were the first in our little town to have a microwave oven.  Of course, Mom and Dad used it for not much more than to heat water for instant coffee and warm pie.

Going back one generation to my grandparents, who lived roughly between the years of 1888 and 1979, they were blessed by the invention of radios, movies, the zipper, airplanes, automobiles, and, especially appreciated by the women, electric vacuum cleaners and electric washers. 

And going back two generations to my great-grandparents, who lived from about the 1840s through the 1920s, they would have seen the inventions of electricity to power electric lights and electric vacuum cleaners;  anaesthesia and pasteurization for health; safety pins and sewing machines; plastics, including celluloid, polyethylene, and bakelite; the telephone, the phonograph, and the gasoline engine.   

Going back to my third generation of ancestors, my great-great-grandparents were born in the in the the early 1800s and lived until nearly the end of the 19th century.  Those ancestors would have appreciated the steam locomotive, the telegraph, and Daguerreotypes.

I imagine all of these inventions would have made the lives of my ancestors easier and/or better.  I try to imagine living without some of the technology we have now -- especially in the medical fields -- and can't.  I can't even imagine going back to only the technology available during my childhood.  What would I do without a computer, a printer, a scanner, a tablet, a cell phone, the internet?  It would feel like the dark ages without them, even though I'm often technologically challenged.  One of the earliest introductions to technology was when our first TV came home in the early 1950s.  I remember how exciting it was to watch the children's programs.  How did they make the people so small that they fit inside the box?  And how did they get out of the box?

To me, one of the best and worst technology inventions is the internet and all the ways we have to connect to it.  It offers so many learning opportunities, contains so much information and, in many ways, it helps people who live at a distance connect to each other.  But I also see it isolating and preventing people from interacting with each other.  Instead of talking face to face, I see eyes focused on gadgets, ignoring the people sitting next to them.

Interesting topic, Randy.  Thanks for choosing it.


Atari image courtesy of Bibly on Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Great post, Nancy. I love that you looked at the history of technical things. I couldn't imagine being without the internet now. But it sure can be a time sucker. Sometimes I think I'm more involved in other people's lives because of Facebook but is also a distraction!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. Yes, I agree. Facebook is great for connecting with others, both family and family history research groups. But it's also a distraction for me. It's easy to sit and scroll through the feed and lose track of time. Wait! It was 10:00 just 20 minutes ago, and now it's 11:30?!

  2. Excellent post, Nancy. I didn't know that about pie and ice cream in the microwave.

    1. Thank you, Randy. Whether the ice cream melts and/or how much it melts may depend on how deeply it is frozen when it goes into the microwave. I know our home freezer doesn't get as cold as commercial freezers, such as at a restaurant.

  3. Nancy, that is a fun post. Not only do I wonder about life before these inventions, I wonder about the inventions my grandsons will some day use that we have not imagined yet.

    1. Thanks, Colleen. Oh, yes, I hadn't thought into the future. New and amazing technology keeps coming along. Such creativity the inventors have to think of the possibilities.

  4. In my current book I'm compiling on my 2x great grandfather, I have a section on inventions and cultural and historical highlights. It is fascinating to see how his world became easier and more complex over time.

    1. That's interesting, Wendy. I like your observation that technology makes lives both easier and more complex. We so often think of technology as making things easier and faster and forget about the complexities.

  5. I love all the odds and ends inventions that you remembered. Some things are so common - like zippers, safety pins and plastic - that we forget that they are 20th century inventions.

    1. Thanks, Linda. These days we usually think of technology in terms of electronic gadgets but the definition of the word goes beyond that. A century ago I'm sure things like zippers and safety pins seemed amazing.


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