The Second Industrial Revolution: Timeline & Inventions

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  • 0:02 New Innovations
  • 1:23 Electrical Inventions…
  • 2:27 Automobiles and Airplanes
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a Ph.D. in Progress, History and Culture as well as a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies. She has taught heritage of the western world and U.S. history.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

The Second Industrial Revolution was another great leap forward in technology and society. New innovations in steel production, petroleum and electricity led to the introduction of public automobiles and airplanes. In this lesson, learn about the key inventions that spurred this revolution.

New Innovations

Historians have labeled the years from 1870-1914 as the period of the Second Industrial Revolution. While the First Industrial Revolution caused the growth of industries, such as coal, iron, railroads and textiles, the Second Industrial Revolution witnessed the expansion of electricity, petroleum and steel.

Many of the changes that occurred during this period had to do with new products simply replacing old ones. For instance, during this time, steel began to replace iron. Steel was being utilized for construction projects, industrial machines, railroads, ships and many other items. Steel production made it possible for rail lines to be built at competitive costs, which further spread transportation.

It is hard to imagine a time when electricity was not a common luxury. However, the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution was just such a time. Before the introduction of public electricity, candles and gas lamps were used to light homes and factories.

Many activities were simply done in the daytime. The use of electricity fundamentally changed the way people worked and lived. The first efficient commercial electrical generators were used in the 1870s. In 1881, Great Britain was the very first country to install a public power station. Beginning in 1910, it was possible to power a residential area from one single station.

Electrical Inventions and Improvements

The introduction of public electricity led to many inventions. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan finally perfected the design of the light bulb in 1879. Contrary to popular myth, Edison did not invent the light bulb. In fact, less efficient light bulbs had been around decades earlier. So, why is Edison given credit for this invention? His design was the first one that was practical for home use.

Edison's light bulb was economical and safe, and it stayed on for an impressive 13 and a half hours. Edison also provided another innovation that we take for granted today: the use of a standard light bulb base that fit into any socket.

Electricity was used for transportation, as well. In 1879, the first electric railroad appeared in Berlin, Germany. As early as 1880, electric streetcars began to replace horse-drawn carriages in major European cities. In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi sent radio waves across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

Automobiles and Airplanes

Among the most influential and far-reaching innovations of the Second Industrial Revolution was the internal combustion engine. First introduced in 1878, it was powered by gas and air, which made it impractical for widespread public use. However, once liquid fuels, such as petroleum, were introduced, the possibilities were improved. This engine led to the development of automobiles and airplanes. Without the internal combustion engine, none of the following inventions would have been possible.

In a technological leap forward, German inventor Karl Benz patented the first automobile in 1886. This was the first automobile designed to run on its own power. This model became the first automobile sold to the public in 1888. In that same year, Gottlieb Daimler invented a lightweight automobile engine. Another pioneer, Henry Ford, made his mark by manufacturing his first automobile in 1896.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About the Second Industrial Revolution:

Writing Prompt 1:

In at least a paragraph, explain how the Second Industrial Revolution was different than the First Industrial Revolution.

Example: You could note the concept of newer materials replacing old ones, such as the use of steel as opposed to iron.

Writing Prompt 2:

Write an essay in which you detail the importance of electricity in the Second Industrial Revolution.

Example: You could describe how electricity changed the way people worked (i.e., that jobs could be performed at night, not only in the daytime).

Writing Prompt 3:

Write an essay in which you describe the importance of transportation in the Second Industrial Revolution.

Example: You could describe the value of the internal combustion engine.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Create a chart or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and briefly describes the contributions of the inventors noted in the lesson.

Tip: There are nine of them!

Speech Prompt 1:

Choose one of the nine inventors listed in the lesson. Write a speech in which you describe your latest invention. Be sure to describe its importance, what makes it unique, and how it is made. Remember, you are trying to sell your invention to your audience.

Example: If you are portraying Henry Ford, you could explain how easily the Model T is produced on the assembly line, and how it is affordable to the average American.

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