A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920

World War I helped initiate and spark the biggest innovations during this decade.
Donovan Alexander

If you thought the 1900s churned out an impressive host of inventions, just wait until you see the next few decades. This past century has produced some of the greatest ideas, innovations, and philosophies; things that would equally go on to shape your daily life and the future of humanity.

In our last chapter, we discussed some of the most influential inventions from 1900-1910. 


Though you already probably saw it coming, today we are going to tackle some of the most important inventions from 1911-1920. This decade also hosted a series of historic events. What was happening in history during this time period?

The world was rapidly changing, with immigration to the Western Promise Land to the United States reaching an all-time high at the start of the decade. From the sinking of the Titanic to World War I, these dramatic changes would forever reshape the world. Even more, so this decade of war brought forth some of the inventions that will be mentioned further in this article. Let’s take a brief look at some of these inventions. 

The Seaplane 

A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: Canadian Air Force Short 184/Wikipedia

Created in 1911, the seaplane would play an important role in the military and even have some commercial applications. Invented by Glenn H. Curtiss, the plane was the first of its kind. It was the first amphibian type of airplane equipped with wheels and floats.

The plane came into existence after Curtiss experimented with different types of pontoon designs for a seaplane. He would eventually become a pioneer and founder of the U.S. aircraft industry. 

The First Automobile Electrical Ignition System  

Another big moment in 1911 that would go on to lead to a series of innovations in the automobile industry, the first electric self-starter was installed in a Cadillac by GM.

Created by Clyde Coleman and Charles Kettering, the electric starter motor was revolutionary. Before the electric starter, cars needed to be started by cranking a handle, which was both dangerous and annoying. 

Motorized Movie Camera 

Speaking of cranking. Created in 1912, motorized cameras would go on to replace hand-cranked cameras. This made it much easier for teachers to show students informational videos as well as open the doors for new film techniques. 

The First Tank 

Now before 1912, the idea of “the tank” was already being discussed. French captain Levavasseur originally proposed the idea, an armored vehicle that moved by a caterpillar system in 1903. However, the first modern tank was patented in 1912 by the inventor Lance De La Mole. The tank would go on to play a big role in World War I. 

Life Savers 

At some point, you probably tasted the delicious fruity flavor of Life Savers. Even more so, there is a good chance that these candies are tied directly to some childhood memories. It was created as the “summer candy,” something that would be able to withstand the heat better than chocolate. The 1912 inventions got their name and design from lifebuoys used to save people fallen from boats. 

The Modern Assembly Line

A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: Public Works/Wikipedia 

The idea of the modern assembly line was actually inspired by a Chicago’s slaughterhouse. William Kann came up with the idea after seeing how effective slaughterhouses were at preparing animals. He took the idea to the head of Ford’s production line, Peter Martin. Long story short, Ford was able to produce a new Model T every three minutes. 

The Invention of the Bra

A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: US Patent and Trademark Office/Wikimedia Commons

After another uncomfortable experience with a corset and sheer evening gown, Mary Phelps Jacob decided it was time for something new and far more comfortable. Stiffened with whaleback bones, these poked out and around her garments. Using two silk handkerchiefs, and some pink ribbon Jacobs would go on to create the modern Brassiere. 

The Modern Zipper

A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: Woobine9/Wikipedia 

The idea for the zipper actually appeared decades earlier. Gideon Sunback modified the original idea in 1913 to create the zipper that you use to keep your jackets together and you all warm throughout the cold winters. 


A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: Wikipedia

In 1913, ecstasy or MDMA (Methylene-deoxy-methamphetamine) was considered the ultimate diet pill. The “love pill” was created by The Merck Chemical Company. Though it is derived from organic material, MDMA is created via a very complex laboratory process. MDMA is now making a resurgence in the scientific community and could have therapeutic benefits. 

The First Passenger Plane

 A Chief Engineer for the aircraft factory of the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Factory in Petrograd, Igor Sikorsky would go on to create the S-21 airplane. The revolutionary plane had a wingspan of 89 feet and a gross weight of 9,000 pounds. The second iteration of the plane would go on to fly passengers. 

The Crossword Puzzle

The crossword puzzle still has relevance today. Though you might play a crossword game or variant on your smartphone now, the crossword puzzle was a staple of the Sunday newspaper that goes back all the way to 1913. Created by the journalist Arthur Wynne, the first crossword puzzle was shaped like a diamond.   

Stainless Steel 

As a means to stop the excessive wear and tear in rifle barrels for the British Army Harry Bearley, stumbled upon stainless steel. By adding chromium to an iron-carbon mix, Bearley was able to create the material. Stainless steel is now used all over the world in a host of industries.  

The Tommy Gun 

Beloved by criminals, the police, and soldiers alike, the Thompson or “Tommy gun” became a cultural phenomenon. Crime movies and stories referencing this era loved referencing and even romanticizing this weapon. The Tommy gun was ergonomic, compact, reliable, had a high volume of automatic fire, and a large 45 ACP cartridge. 

The Electric Household Refrigerator 

 The process of preserving perishable food was not easy. It was not until 1913, that anything resembling our modern refrigerator appeared on the consumer market. However, this “fridge” was basically a giant bulky cooler with a fan. Nathaniel Wales, Edmund Copeland and Arnold Goss in 1914 created a device the more closely resembles what you have in your home today.  

The Pop-up Toaster 

Where would breakfast be without the amazing convenience of the pop-up toaster? The toasting machine came into existence after Charles Strite got tired of eating the burnt toast at the company cafeteria. To make sure the toast was not overcooked, Strite created a device that included a variable timer and springs. 

The Flip Flop Circuit 

A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: Wikipedia

For the uninitiated, a latch or flip-flop circuit has two stable states that can be used to store state information. First invented by William Eccles and F. W. Jordan in 1918, this circuit was originally called the Eccles–Jordan trigger circuit. The flip flop circuits apply to data storage, data transfer, latch, registers, counters, frequency division, and memory. 

The Band-Aid 

A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: W0lfie/Wikipedia 
A Look at the 17 Most Influential Inventions from 1911-1920
Source: Alf van Beem/Wikimedia Commons

The Band-Aid came into existence because Josephine Dickson frequently cut and burned herself while cooking. The prototype allowed her to easily take care of her small injuries without assistance. 

Stay tuned for the next chapter and the next decade. 

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