Technology in the twenties: Then and Now

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Our lives have changed unrecognisably in the last 100 years and we now have technology that our great grandparents could never have dreamed of. Things that once took weeks – such as sending a message to someone on the other side of the world – can now be done in seconds (or less) and jobs that would have needed a huge workforce can be completed by just one person or even Artificial Intelligence.

Having said that, many inventions from the early 20th century are still used today – even if they have been refined considerably over the past one hundred years. The 1920s was a time of great advancement in the world of science and technology, in response to the increased prosperity many people experienced following the end of the First World War.


Radio became very popular in the 1920s and even though they were an expensive luxury at this time (over 500$), families would gather around the wireless (radio) to listen to sports, news, concerts and even sermons.

Fast forward to today and most homes have a device in every room which allows them to stream, watch, play and listen to their choice of entertainment at any time. Of course, radios still exist but most people now listen in their car or through their smart home device, and, rather than the one station available back then, the list is now almost endless with every taste catered for.

Production lines

Cars also became popular in the 1920s and with this came the need to make their production more efficient. With his Model T car, Henry Ford developed a production line that was copied across many industries, allowing businesses to make their products faster and cheaper than ever.

Production lines are still used today in everything from car to food manufacturing. But lines that once held hundreds of people now hold machines and robots. The Volkswagen factory in Germany is now the biggest car factory in the world at over 70 million square feet, with over 2.5km of production line. While the factory does employ around 65,000 people, many components of the cars are put together by one of the factory’s 5,000 robots.

The talkies

Another revolutionary technology that was developed in the 1920s was talking pictures and the first ever talking film – The Jazz Singer – was released in this decade. While silent movies had been around for 20 years or so, new innovations in sound technology meant that cinema goers were able to hear what the actors were saying for the first time ever.

Many thought that this was a passing fad and we can’t imagine what they would have thought about the fully immersive cinema experience we have today. In recent years IMAX has allowed cinema goers to not only experience picture and sound, but to feel like they are part of the movie with some involving the senses of smell and touch as well.


While the telephone had been around for 40 years, in the 1920s it received a face lift. Early models of the telephone were large and had a separate earpiece and voice transmitter but in 1927 the Model 102 was released, and the telephone became more compact and had a mouth and earpiece that were connected. This stylish and modern shape would persist right through the era of the landline phone.

While today’s smart phones are a world away from the first phones, the connected mouth and earpiece design persists. Today our phones allow us to be connected to not only our nearest and dearest, but the whole world instantly, 24/7. They give us access to a world of information and rather than having to speak to someone we can send a message and receive a near immediate response. In the 1920s sending a letter to someone in another country would have taken weeks, so the ability to speak to someone over the phone was far preferable.

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