150 Years Of The Atlantic September 2006

Technology & Innovation

This is the eighth in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine's 150th anniversary. This installment is introduced by James Fallows, a national correspondent of The Atlantic.
Life as We Know It
July 1924
By Arthur D. Little

In the early years of the twentieth century, standardization, mass production, and the rise of consumer culture combined with new scientific advances to transform the everyday lives of Americans. In 1924, Arthur D. Little, the MIT-educated chemical engineer who in 1886 founded the world’s first consulting company, took note of some of those dramatic changes.

Within the last ten years the United States has become the first industrial nation of the world …

All those things that relieve household labor of its drudgery have their assured place in the future. Nature abhors a vacuum only because she has no carpets and rugs to clean. More and more homes will be equipped with electric appliances: toasters, irons, and washing machines; and the electric refrigerator is almost here …

We have seen old-time necessities—as candles and open fires—come to be classed as luxuries … Where our plutocrats progressed ten miles an hour behind a pair of horses, our workmen now go thirty in a Ford …

Oil has become as essential as gunpowder to the navies of the world, and almost as dangerous to our politicians. On land the tank-wagon is already as familiar as the coal-truck, and the convenience and temporary cheapness of fuel oil have caused it to replace coal in many thousands of plants and dwellings. This tendency will continue for a time until scarcity and science put new values on petroleum …

The sales of radio equipment reached a total of $150,000,000 last year and are expected to double in 1924. The earth has become a whispering gallery, and the ocean has lost its solitude. The farm is no longer isolated, and the newspapers, the theaters, and the pulpit have a new competitor.

Man is no longer bound to the earth. He has achieved a three-dimensional existence … It is now possible to fly from Vienna to Paris in ten hours and from Strasbourg to Constantinople in thirty …

During the last fifty years science and invention have led us further and further from the world that was; deeper and deeper into a new environment. The process of change has been so rapid that readjustment has been difficult. Yet readjust ourselves we must.

Volume 134, No. 1, pp. 36–45

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