Fresh fish proves it…….railways……….
Imagine a world, less than 200 years ago, where you didn’t travel anywhere – ever. Unless you had a horse, you were stuck with walking – with all its limitations on distance. Most people lived basically in the same place as they were born, and then died without ever seeing anything more than their own immediate surroundings.
In England, nowhere is more than 70 miles (113km) from the sea. Our “second” city Birmingham is about that distance away. Until the railway arrived, nobody living there had ever tasted fish, because it was not possible to keep it from rotting during the long, long journey from the coast. Unless you lived close to a dairy or allotment, no cream, milk or cheese, or fresh veg for you.
The railways completely changed all that, and totally changed the world, and the way we look at it. Do you realise that when Napoleon crossed the Alps in May 1800, it was at much the same speed as Hannibal had achieved some 2,000 years earlier? Yet, just four decades later, rail passengers were moving at what was then considered absolutely terrifying speeds of up to 50 miles an hour!
Everything changed, and historically, it was overnight. God bless the ability of the Victorian engineers.
British time became standardised, only because trains had to run to a set timetable across the country. Otherwise, each region would have continued to have their own separate time.
The railways started to break down stereotypes, and cultures became mixed because for the first time, people from different regions were able to meet.
Railways encouraged people to travel further and this meant they could move to different areas to find work. Indeed, the railways boosted Britain’s economy as people invested in railway stocks, and one of Britain’s biggest exports was locomotives and train parts. Railways became a major employer because people were needed to build, run and maintain the railways. And being a steam train driver held the same prestige as today’s airline pilots.
People were able to take short holidays and day trips. In my previous home on the tiny island of Jersey, people began to go for weekend trips from the capital, St. Helier, to Pontac, a staggering 2.8 miles (4.5km) away, and spend a few days at the Pontac House Hotel. Yes, really!
Many sports became regulated because national competitions could be set up for the popular games of rugby, football and cricket.
National newspapers could now be delivered to everywhere. Political pamphlets and other newsletters could all now be delivered by train. Regional products now became household names around the country.
The transport of heavy materials became so much cheaper. In my present home of Cyprus, the Brits built a railway from the West of the island, through the capital Nicosia, right through to the eastern coast, to transport oranges to the port. Passengers came later. At that time, in the early 20th century, the train used to carry post and packages to all the towns the line passed through. The railway is long gone now, as has the superb postal system. We are left with a terrible, unreliable postal service – progress, eh?
Although the railways started in Britain, the rest of the world soon took notice, and the same effects that benefitted Britain and its people was replicated throughout much of the world.
Yes, the greatest invention of its time, and if we could get rid of today’s highways full of polluting cars and lorries, and replace them with clean and efficient railways, the world would be a better place. But that’s for another blog maybe…..
Beginning of everything
Humankind’s history is a road of inventions. We’re a technological civilization, so when we say ‘invention’ we usually mean some kind of technical discovery or improvement – the internet, cell phones, TV, radio, jet planes, penicillin or the wheel.
I once saw a talk-show on Russian TV where a guy said that his biggest dream came true when he bought a Mercedes Benz. Quite an achievement. I am sure he thinks that we, as humans, evolved to produce this boring German car made for fat cats and those without a sense of style.
Anyway, I think that we are, ultimately, a civilization based on information exchange. So, to me, the greatest invention of all time was writing. It was the beginning of everything.
True, I think the wheel is a strong competitor from the technical point of view. But the invention of writing stands out as it was much more. It dramatically increased our capabilities as human beings. Since that bright moment, we could share information in time and space. We could keep and develop knowledge for generations to come. Oral tradition is great but it has its obvious limitations. So it was writing that became the ultimate information revolution.
I am not sure if it can be called an invention – more like a process that has been developing for uncounted millennia.
So with the arrival of writing, people could keep and learn their history. It was also a base of science such as mathematics and physics. We were also able to develop economy and finance.
A civilization with writing abilities is incomparable to those who could only talk. It is the next level in the Great Super Mario game.
And then there was book-printing, Industrial Revolution, air travel, TV, internet and even a Mercedes Benz!
Maybe the greatest of all time….
Mine may surprise you, at least at first. I believe there is one invention that equals the computer in it’s transformative power. It is in your home right now and you never give it a thought: the humble refrigerator.
You probably think its main contribution to society is to help meat and vegetables last longer. Yes, that’s true, but there is so much more.
Pease Porridge hot,
Pease Porridge cold,
Pease Porridge in the Pot Nine Days old,
Before refrigeration you had to keep a fire going, even on the hottest day in August so the food wouldn’t go bad. Adding more food to the pot was the best, most time efficient way to feed the family. Guess what’s for dinner… nine days from now.
Today, if you want chicken for lunch you simply pop some in the microwave and you’re eating in maybe three minutes. But what if you had to go out into the yard and kill a chicken? That lunch suddenly becomes a two hour ordeal.
Refrigeration allowed us to move away from the farm. Food is now transported in cold rail cars to distribution centres which are also refrigerated. We no longer need to have cattle drives to bring food to the cities. It not being dramatic to say that refrigeration changed our civilization.
As in all technology this powerful, it has come at a cost. You already know my nation’s capital is Washington, DC. But did you know Congress used to go home during the summer because the place was too damn hot and muggy? Now, they stay and pass more laws because their buildings are cool. Refrigeration has changed how much legislation gets enacted.
- Coal fired steam ships were transformed by the ice maker.
- Folks no longer sit on the front porch.
- Indeed most of us don’t even have a front porch, thanks to refrigeration.
- You could not have the Internet without refrigeration (servers are racked in ice-cold buildings).
I could go on & on. Yeah, it changed us — completely.