They’ve revolutionized agriculture, shipping – and of course, transport – but how much do you know about the origins and technology behind the vehicles we’ve come to depend on? Here we take a brief look at some of the most impressive and important vehicles from our recent history, as well as a few unsung heroes!
Mankind has been infatuated with the idea of flight for millennia, and in the modern context, it’s easy to forget that air travel would appear like a miracle to those from just a few generations ago.
After that famous flight by the Wright brothers in 1903, airplanes played a crucial role in WW2 – but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that we saw the beginning of proper commercial air travel for civilians with the arrival of the Boeing 707.
Between 1976 and 2003, the amazing Concorde dazzled the world with its astonishing speed – up to more than twice the speed of sound. And during the course of 2017, an incredible 4 billion passengers took to the skies.
The High-Speed Train
In 2022, India is hoping to open its first high speed rail line between Gujarat and Mumbai – an investment which would cut the travel time between the two cities from 8 to just 3 hours.
This is a prime example of the promise of high-speed rail networks, especially as cities become more crowded. Access to fast (in some cases really fast), safe, and reliable transport would make it feasible for commuters to live further afield, taking advantage of more affordable housing than they could hope for within city limits.
First developed in Japan in 1964 where it became known as the familiar ‘bullet train’, many countries now have well established high speed rail networks – including China, Spain, Germany and France.
The exciting maglev (magnetic levitation) train concept uses two sets of opposing magnets to essentially ‘float’ the train above the rails, all but eliminating friction and making incredible speeds – well over 1000 miles per hour – theoretically possible.
The Combine Harvester
It may not be the most glamorous of vehicles, but there’s little doubt few machines have had as far-reaching an impact as the combine harvester. Patented in 1835 and with a self-propelled version introduced in 1888, this vehicle set about feeding the masses. It allowed a farmer to harvest 100 acres of land a day, while reducing grain loss and waste in the process.
What’s perhaps most impressive about its design, however, is how little it has changed over the past 130 years – with most of today’s farming machines still operating on the same principle of self-propulsion.
Just as the combine harvester revolutionized agriculture, the humble forklift forever changed the shipping and warehouse environment.
From its origins as the Trutractor in 1917, to its first incarnation in the elevated mast form we’d be familiar with today by Yale in 1923, and thanks to the standardization of the pallet in 1930, they’ve become a staple of the industrial workspace.
They allowed warehouses to expand upwards rather than outwards, and have been adapted to serve a huge variety of functions. Considering more than a million new forklifts are now sold each year, and with companies such as Forklift Guys making it possible for any company to rent a lift truck whenever they require one, these unsung heroes of the construction site, fulfillment center and shipping yard have more than earned their spot on this list!
With no safety features to speak of, it’s perhaps a good thing that the ‘Big Three’ American car manufacturers of the 1920’s – namely Ford, General Motors and Chrysler – only produced vehicles capable of traveling at 20 miles per hour.
Today, when autonomous, hybrid and electric vehicles are slowly but surely becoming commonplace, it seems the world is in the midst of another automobile revolution. Tesla’s all-electric Model S, released in 2012, became the first electric car to top monthly new car sales in any country in 2013, and boasts acceleration that puts many of its gas-powered rivals to shame, reaching 60mph within just 2.5 seconds.
It’s not the best-selling plug-in electric vehicle of all though – that title is currently still held by Nissan’s smaller, more compact Leaf.
From the launch of the very first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, the first manmade object to reach the moon in the form of the Soviet Union’s 1959 Luna 2 mission, and the first human to actually set foot on the moon’s surface in 1969, humanity has wondered what comes next for space exploration – and what vehicles we’re going to use to get there.
Few could have foreseen that the next phase in this notoriously expensive form of exploration would be driven not just by large governments, but by the private sector. Aside from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, companies like Boeing, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are all pursuing reusable rockets and space vehicles that will make ‘space tourism’ a reality!