4 Historical Inventions That Led To Modern Transportation


Without the ingenuity of inventors and the might of engineering, shipping and travel would be drastically different today. Early humans walked or used pack animals and horses. Finally, technological advancements allowed humanity to be propelled by machines over roads and into the skies. Modern-day transit and freightage would not be possible without these advances in aerospace engineering, engine technology, and road design.

Internal Combustion Engine

While regular people were still using horses to travel, European and American scientists were hard at work developing a revolutionary type of engine. The first popular combustion engine was built by Belgian scientist Étienne Lenoir and other scientists of the day rushed to replicate his design. These engines differed from steam engines in that the combustion actually took place inside the engine. When the gases released by the combustion expanded, they drove the engine’s piston forward, moving the crankshaft and powering the machine. In 1886, inventor Karl Benz added a gas engine to his automobile design, and a new method of reliable transportation was born.

Asphalt And Concrete Roads

The internal combustion engine may have made faster automobile travel possible, but without innovations in road surface technology, the modern interstate system could not exist. Asphalt and concrete had been available for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that engineers first started using them to pave roads. As automobiles grew more popular after the turn of the century, asphalt road construction began to overtake dirt and gravel roads. After World War II, the economy boomed and asphalt and concrete roads were built at record speeds. Today most interstates, which encompass a total of 46,876 miles, are built with a concrete surface to support heavier traffic, while local roads are commonly topped with asphalt. Without these durable materials that provide a smooth ride, modern travel would not be possible.

Cabin Pressurization

When the Wright Brothers invented the first workable airplane in 1903, the world was enthralled. However, the airplane had one flaw: it could not fly above 10,000 feet without endangering the lives of passengers and crew. The idea of cabin pressurization is a simple one; an airtight fuselage protects passengers from increasing pressure while a system of valves pumps fresh air into the plane. Pilot Harold Harris successfully tested the first cabin pressurization system in 1921, but it wasn’t until 1938 that the system was used on a commercial plane. Pressurization became widespread after World War II when jet engines allowed planes to fly even higher.

Linear Motor

A linear motor uses the power of electromagnetic currents to support and move objects. The first functional linear motor was not developed until the 1940s. Japanese and German engineers devised a way to use the magnetic levitation produced by linear motors in trains. Without the friction and vibration of conventional engines, the linear motors allowed trains to reach incredible speeds. Modern maglev trains have been recorded traveling at 375 mph. Today, maglev trains are used mostly in Japan, Germany, South Korea and China. If the engineering concepts behind linear motor interest you, you may consider pursuing a masters degree in engineering management.

From complex engine development to advances in road engineering, these four innovations have made the global system possible. Without the development of internal combustion engines and linear engines, humans would not be able to travel at higher speeds. The evolution of improved cement and asphalt roads helped lead to faster long-distance transport, and the invention of cabin pressurization technology opened up the way for high-altitude air travel.

The article was written by Emma Sturgis. Emma is a freelance writer currently living in Boston, MA. She writes most often on education and business. To see more from Emma, say hi on Twitter.