4-1: 19th Century Progress


Nineteenth-Century Progress

 KEY IDEA: Breakthroughs in science and technology transformed daily life and entertainment

Part 1 of 1: Read the following synopsis of scientific advancements in the 19th century, then answer the questions that follow.

In the late 1800s, new inventions made major changes in how people lived. Thomas Edison got patents on more than 1,000 inventions. Among them were the electric light bulb and the phonograph. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and Guglielmo Marconi created the first radio.

There were big changes in transportation too. Though someone else invented the car, Henry   Ford made it affordable to ordinary people. He had a factory with an assembly line that allowed him to quickly build cheap cars that cost as little as $300. In 1903, the Wright brothers flew the first motor- powered airplane flight. Soon there was an aircraft industry.

In earlier times, art, music, and the theater had been of interest only to the wealthy. With the rise of the middle class, culture became available to more people. One reason was that more people could read, which led to more newspapers, magazines, and books. Another reason was that working people had more time to enjoy art, music, and recreation. People went to music halls to enjoy singing and dancing. In the early 1900s, they began to watch the first silent movies. People also began to enjoy sporting events, both as participants and as spectators.

Medicine made advances. Until the mid-1800s, no one knew about germs. French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered that microscopic animals that he called bacteria could live in food. Soon he and others realized that bacteria could cause disease. British surgeon Joseph Lister took steps to kill bacteria, which helped more patients survive. Soon his practices became widespread. Public officials began to clean up plumbing and sewage systems. All these steps helped people lead longer and healthier lives.

English scientist Charles Darwin developed a new theory that was hotly debated. He said that all life on earth, even humans, had developed from simpler forms over millions of years. Many did not accept this idea, which they said went against the Bible.

In the mid-1800s, an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel did some experiments that showed that parents passed on their traits to offspring. His work formed the basis of the science of genetics. Other scientists made new discoveries in chemistry and physics. They found that all matter is made of tiny particles called atoms. They also were able to identify the differences between different elements.

In the late 1800s, some thinkers began the new social science of psychology, which is the study of the mind. A series of experiments led Russian Ivan Pavlov to argue that animals and people responded to certain situations because of how they were trained. By changing the training, he said, one could change the response. Austrian Sigmund Freud argued that powerful forces in the subconscious mind of a person shaped behavior. These views shocked many. They seemed to overturn the idea that people could use their reason to build better lives.



  1. Predict the impact that the electric light bulb would have on 19th century society.
  2. How will improvements in transportation effect society?
  3. Why did people lead longer healthier lives in the late 19th century?
  4. What important inventions were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Which one do you think was most important?
  5. How did new medical and scientific discoveries and ideas from the late 1800s change life?