History of Technology Timeline

Betsy Streisand and Dan Abendschein May 9, 2014

1440: Gutenberg invents moveable type:  Dates are sketchy on the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in the Western World from moveable type. But the Gutenberg Revolution marked the age of the printed book in the West,and would revolutionize publishing

1450:  Horn Book :  A handheld wooden paddle with a sheet of text attached. It was used mainly as a primer for children, and included lessons in the alphabet and religion. It gets its name from the transparent sheet of horn that covered the text.

1836: McGuffey Reader .  Developed by the Rev. William Holmes McGuffey to teach reading and moral precepts to children. The model child was prompt, kind, honest, good and truthful. McGuffey had significant influence on public education. By 1920, more than 120 million readers had been sold, and some were still in use by the late 1970s .  There were four editions in the original series, the first for the youngest students, the fourth for the most advanced and two more editions were later created by McGuffey’s brother.  In 1844, the First Reader was priced at 12.5 cents and the Fourth Reader was priced at 75, according to Henry Vail, the author of A History of the McGuffey Readers.  Today, the full series can be purchased on Amazon.com for $44.80.  Use of the McGuffey reader peaked in the 1890s, according to an exhibit at the University of Miami, Ohio.  The books overtly religious tone and content declined over time and today they are most commonly used by parents who homeschool their kids, according to Samuel Smith of LIberty University.  (http://www.mcguffeyreaders.com/1836_original.htm )

1870: Magic Lantern.  We can thank this gizmo for the slide projector and the modern day power point presentation.  It worked by projecting light from a flame or bulb onto a mirror and across glass sides. Turn out the lights and the image could be projected on a wall.  Versions of the Magic Lantern date back to the 17th century, but its use in education with slides started in 1870 in Germany in tandem with the first psychology instruction which began around time. When first demonstrated in the U.S. in 1872, it drew crowds of more than 1,000 people.  The first machines used oil lamp, then limelight and finally electric bulbs in the 1890s.  The machine started on the track to obsolescence with the early use of film and overhead projectors in the 1930s but was still commonly used into the 1950s in American schools, according to researcher Mary Bellis. The Library of Congress website notes that many academic institutions still archive their glass slides because iIn some cases, the views that they represent are either drastically changed or no longer exist and thus they are invaluable images of the world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/11/multimedia.aspx

1890 Chalk board. There is some debate over the first usage of the chalk board.  Some sources have the earliest version dating back to 1823 in Scotland, when pine boards were painted black. The historian Stephen Ambrose claims that a blackboard was used at West Point by an instructor in 1801.  The more modern version was made of slate and functioned as a learning tool (children could do-and redo-their work)  and an instrument of punishment. Who can forget Bart Simpson, writing again and again on the board, “What a dumb punishment. What a dumb punishment.”

Dan’s note: I’m not sure about this 1890 date – I see 1823, 1801 and some other dates but not sure what happened in 1890.  Other timelines have that date as well but I am not sure why


1890s: Pencils: The first wood ones were made in America in the early 1800s. The eraser came along in the 1850s. The Dixon Ticonderoga company began producing the pencil in the 1820s, but did not achieve large scale production until the 1870s, by which time they were making 86,000 a day.  The company notes on its website that the Civil War drove up demand for a writing implement that was “dry, clean and portable.” It wasn’t until the 1900s, when pencils were mass produced and became affordable for classrooms, at which point yellow pencils became the standard. Why the yellow?  The best graphite came from China, where yellow was the color or royalty and respect. Manufactures wanted to show they were using the best.  The pencil and paper would go on to replace the slate tablet.  The rise in the use of the pencil helped result in the drastic decrease of the Eastern red cedar – in the early 20th century, companies began to use the Western incense cedar in production as well.  The rise of the digital classroom has not quite managed to stamp out the use of the pencil just yet.  


1905 Stereoscope. The ancestor to the ViewMaster, this device brought the wow! factor into the classroom with 3D. The stereoscope had been around since the mid 19th-century, but in the early 1900s two competing companies, Underwood & Underwood and the Keystone Viewing Company began to market stereoscopes to educators.  The Keystone Viewing Company also sold lantern slides (see 1870 – Magic Lantern) and would market a set of photographs in lantern slide and stereoscope.  That would allow the entire class to see the two dimensional image and students could pass around stereoscopes to see the three dimensional version.  Keystone’s standard product was its “600 Set” of slides and stereoscope images that covered a wide variety of subjects from geography to agriculture to civics to industrial arts.  Dan’s note: I found an archived version of the 600 Set if we want to use art or link to it.

1924: The Teaching Machine. Sidney Pressey made the first ones in the 1920’s.  The machines looked like a typewriter, with a window where a question appeared, and keys to choose the answer. Teaching machines were meant to individualize learning, and liberate teachers from burdens of drilling and testing and students from conformity in mass education.  Unfortunately for Pressey the machine was not a commercial success – 250 machines were produced but only 160 were sold, according to University of British Columbia professor Stephen Petrina.  Pressey’s machine did influence later advocates of machine learning like B.F. Skinner.  

1920s Radio: Textbooks of the air. That’s the way radio was described when it first appeared in classroom. Its proponents believed it would be the antidote to stagnant classrooms and instructional methods that were “regimented, mechanical, and mindless.” Over the next two decades,  educational  programs would be broadcast to millions of students.  Some early public radio stations were founded with an educational mission and commercial radio also worked on developing educational programming.  Radio learning had the greatest effect on rural communities where general education teachers were expected to teach a variety of subjects, some of which they had no training in, but overall the educational revolution some expected never came.  One scholar estimated that commercial audiovisual learning ventures, which included radio, motion pictures and other sound mediums, lost approximately $50 million in the 1920s and 1930s.

1925: Film Projector: Thomas Edison would be surprised to see that books are still used in schools. When he invented the projector he believed it would make books in classrooms obsolete, and visual learning would rule. Though film projectors would eventually become a staple in the U.S. classroom, there were initial difficulties.  The up-front cost of a single projector was around $150 in the mid-1930s, making it an expensive purchase for school districts.  In addition, there were compatibility issues for different sizes of film reels.  Some schools also initially purchased silent film projectors, which quickly become obsolete as film producers began to almost exclusively make videos with sound.  World War II helped spread the use of the film projector as the U.S. Army purchased 55,000 projectors and made training films to show on them.

1930: Overhead projector.. It was first used for police ID work (it could project faces across a screen) and then used for pre-WWII Army training. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, overhead projectors made it into schools, and the interactive classroom was born.  The overhead projector has gone into serious decline only recently with the rise of the computer in the classroom.

1940 Mimeograph: A hand-cranked, inky photo copy machine. They were cheap. They didn’t require any training, and they made it easy for teachers to distribute worksheets and homework right in the classroom. One design flaw: they were an inky mess.  Dan’s note: I’m not sure about the date on this one – other timelines also have 1940 but it is listed as invented in 1887.  There is also the spirit duplicator or “ditto” machine which was invented in 1923.  They are two separate machines but sometimes they seem to both get called mimeographs.  I did find an ad from 1915 for the mimeograph but perhaps it just wasn’t that commonly used until 1940.  I would like to get some more information on this one but I am not sure where.

  1940 Ball Point Pen:   They’re everywhere now, but it  took decades for the ballpoint to make it into the mainstream. Getting the ink right was difficult. It was always too thick or too thin. And gravity was required or it wouldn’t flow at all. Plus, the early pens cost more than $10 each, though even at that price they sold out fast when first introduced to the U.S. market in 1945.  The pen was expensive and unreliable for over a decade, enough so that Bic made a big impact in 1959 with an advertising campaign headlined “Writes First Time Every Time!”  They sold their pens for 29 cents a piece and within a year the price had dropped to 10 cents.


1950: Headphones:  Repeat after me, “Parlez vous Francais. Repeat after me. Parlez vous Francais. On the theory that languages, and other subjects,  were best learned by repetition and drills, schools started building language labs, and students got a taste of the cubicle.  The stereo headphones were invented in 1958 by John Koss, which spurred interest in consumer use for music.  In the early 1960s Japanese corporations copied the model and sold a more inexpensive version for $12.  Koss responded by raising the price of his product and advertising it heavily.  At the same time the language lab’s popularity was soaring following a spending boom brought on by the Soviet’s launching of the Sputnik satellite.  American concerns about falling behind in the space race drove the government to invest in schools and language labs were one of the main beneficiaries of that spending boom – by 1963, $76 million had been made available in matching grant funds and by some estimates there were 6,000 language labs in secondary schools by 1964.  Like so many new ideas that seemed exciting in the 1950s and 1960s, language labs fall out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s.

1957: Skinner Teaching Machine: Stimulus, response.  Developed by behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner, the machine—and its several iterations– made it possible for students to move through lessons at their own pace by posing the question, then offering a reward, usually in the form of encouragement, for answering correctly.  Skinner also advocated the use of the machines to teach and reinforce good classroom behavior. Just like Pavlov’s dog, even if we’d prefer not to think of it that way. Skinner’s ideas on the teaching machine were implemented in language labs and were one of the early precursors to computer instruction.

1958: Television: Back in the day, when a teacher wheeled the AV cart into the room, you just knew something important was about to happen. Rocket launch, presidential speech, science programs. The TV, gave teachers all sorts of new teaching options, especially when the VCR came along. In the 1960s there was strong interest in developing TV programming that would play a major role in classroom instruction – the Ford Foundation sunk more than $170 million into programs in the 1950s and 1960s.  By the 1970s the idea had fallen out of fashion and the foundation and other financiers moved on to the idea of creating generalized educational programming for outside the classroom.  Televisions continued to be used in the classroom for movies and other programming at the teacher’s discretion, but like radio before it, TV never delivered a major shift in instructional methods that some thought it would.


1956: Liquid Paper:  The white fluid that blots out mistakes was invented by a typist for typists.  Bette Nesmith Graham blended the original formula using tempura paint in her own kitchen.  She brought batches of it into her job at a bank to help herself and others correct mistakes in the typing.  She might have never been recognized as the inventor of the product, but in a stroke of grand irony she missed a mistake on her typing and was fired from her job.  She used the opportunity to focus on developing her product and began selling it under the name “Mistake Out,” which was later changed to “Liquid Paper.”  She initially tried to sell her invention to IBM, but they passed on the opportunity.  She eventually sold it to Gillette in 1979 for $47.5 million.  Prior to word processing, liquid paper was the first practical way to quickly correct an error and move on.

1965 Filmstrip viewer  A personalized version a film strip projector, for the smallest of audiences.

1970 Hand Held Calculator (NYT says 1972):  Viewed by teachers as a threat to one of the basic skills, the calculator wasn’t welcome in many classrooms when it first appeared. If you’ve paid cash lately, you know the teachers were right.  The first calculators cost around $400, which in today’s money would be around $2350, or in Apple currency, four 32-GB iPad Airs.  If for some reason you wanted to buy a four-function handheld calculator today, you can get them as low as 1 cent on Amazon (though you’d have to fork over $4.99 for shipping).  While initially the debate was over whether the calculator usurped basic student arithmetic learning, today the debate is whether the calculator is making it too easy for students to more advanced math like algebra.

1972 Scantron: A test-grading Get Out of Jail Free card for teachers. Students filled in the little ovals on multiple-choices tests. A scanning machine measured the amount of light passing through a sheet, and voila the test was marked. Cheap machines made their way into classrooms and automated testing became a classroom standard. The tests also gave the No.2  pencil a place in history.  

1980 Personal Computers. Teaching pioneer life on the Oregon Trail would never be the same. The trials and tribulations of the settlers were explained in one of the first educational video games, and so began the digital land grab in the classroom. At the beginning it was one computer to nearly 100 students.   As of 2008 that was down to 3 to 1.  How up to date are these computers?  A 2012 survey found 91 percent of teachers say they have access to computers in their classroom, but only 22 percent said they had the right level of technology.  Two-thirds said their school’s budget was the biggest stumbling block towards getting modern tech in the classroom.  

1989 Channel One:  The first in-school television news program, the for-profit Channel One News reached 8 million students a day in 12,000 schools. So did advertisers – a 2006 study by the American Association of Pediatrics showed that the channel consisted of 2 minutes of advertising for every 10 minutes of programming.

1995 (ck)—Internet (double check date .  www.how-did-we-ever-live-without-it. Both the promise and the peril of education. Broadband is on the march.Classroom 2.0 is in full swing, and personalized learning made possible by customizing programs and letting students move at their own pace is all the rage. But Google and Wikipedia have replaced the library, teachers are  afraid that computers will replace them, kids are being mined for data, and they’re sending selfies to their friends from history class.  Like it or not, it’s here to stay – 98 percent of schools had Internet access as of 2008 and that doesn’t even count all the smart phones sitting in the students pockets (or more likely in their hands).  

2000s: Interactive Whiteboard Better known as a smart board, it’s a whiteboard, computer, projector, video player and game console, all in one.  It’s got a set of magic wands,  And one finger can pretty much do the work. do all the work.  Like with many other high-tech toy/tools in the classroom, some have questioned the value of the technology.

2005: iPad Clicker. The interactive device from You Know Who let teachers poll and quiz students and get results in real time. The best was yet to come. Two more lines here. Two more lines here. . Two more lines here. Two more lines here. . Two more lines here. Two more lines here. .  Dan’s note: This?  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/teacher-clicker-socrative/id477620120?mt=8

2006: One Laptop One Child  Starting in 2006, a Miami-based non-profit took on the mission to build a durable, low-cost laptop that could be used by kids across the world.  Since then, more than 2 million have been purchased.  However, while the original goal was to get the cost down to approximately $100, the cost is reportedly still above $200 per laptop.  

2010 iPad, smartphones. A digital version of the school slate. And one of the  biggest threat to teachers and textbooks, the education world had ever seen. The iPad didn’t just change the classroom, it has changed the economics of the classroom, and launched a mad dash into schools by technology companies.  It remains to be seen whether or not the iPad will deliver the kind of educational revolution once expected to happen from radio, television and the personal computer.  

 2014: Additional Item tk: Two more lines here. Two more lines here. . Two more lines here. Two more lines here. . Two more lines here. Two more lines here. Two more lines here. Two more lines here. . Two more lines here. Two more lines here. . Two more lines here. Two more lines here. Two more lines here. Two more lines here.

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