The Roots of Progress

When innovation hits “snooze”

January 1, 2019

One theme across many areas of industrial progress is how often initial observations or inventions were dropped or remained stagnant for many years before being picked up again and developed into something big and important.

Some examples:

Notably, all these examples happened before about 1950. I don’t think things like this happen today: any development that is obviously promising seems to be instantly seized on and developed. (Of course, not all seeds of big innovations are obvious at first.)

What caused these gaps? I don’t know, but some hypotheses:

Relevant books

Energy: A Human History

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World

Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine

Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History

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