Society - History
By: - at August 12, 2013

15 Things That Remained the Same in the Past 100 Years

Books and tablet style pcSometimes people get too focused on the future. All of the latest innovations and gadgets are a nice addition to everyday life, but most will undoubtedly fade into obscurity. After a few years, you may not even remember those once prized possessions. This is the norm for most of life's utilities and conveniences. Really, there is nothing wrong with this system. It promotes growth and fosters a better quality of life.

However, certain things just refuse to change. These objects and creations withstand the test of time and prove that their inventors were outstanding in both their design and implementation. Over the past 100 years, these occurrences are both notable and impressive. Without much thought, you may walk past these timeless treasures and marvels and not even spare a second glance. Taking a moment to review some of the things on this list could shock you, and alter how you view the world around you.

15)  Trains
Trains are a huge part of life across the world. These machines were designed for the transportation of large numbers of people from one location to another. Soon, the ability to carry goods and raw materials was also implemented into the design. While airplanes and automobiles have superseded trains in regard to everyday transportation, the railway system still serves a vital purpose. Considering the bulk of cumbersome materials like ore and rock, only trains are adequately prepared to carry these items across large distances, making them extremely useful in the manufacturing and production process chains.

Old train collage

So what exactly is so great about trains that has allowed them to transcend other inventions of their era? Well to start, the steam engine produced power that was unmatched in the 19th century. Today, coal burning engines have gone the way of the dinosaur. Cleaner, more efficient diesel engines have taken the mantle as the best source of power for trains. Like engines, the steel rail system also remains relatively untouched. Over the last 100 years, the basic design for train rails and cargo carts has proven to be rather impressive. Until something better comes along, you will be hard pressed to find a way to switch up the engine and track system that has made trains so useful.

14)  Guns
When discussing gun changes over the past 100 years, you'll find that the conversation is a little lacking in content. Sure, rates of fire and sighting mechanisms have increased the power and efficiency of firearms significantly, but the firing action and mechanics of a gun remain relatively unchanged. If time travel were possible, soldiers from past eras would probably have no trouble working a standard rifle or revolver, although figuring out how the internet and cell phones work might make their heads spin.

antique gun

As far as the mechanics of a gun go, the system boils down to a few key components. A firing pin ignites the cartridge or bullet by making contact, leading to a deadly discharge from a barrel. The process is simple, efficient, and holds little room for change or deviation. Some designs, like the bolt-action rifle, have never been updated. Gun collectors today enjoy these fine pieces of craftsmanship, noting that the years have done little to disturb the capability of the gun to fire effectively. The next time you are at the shooting range or hunting, take a second to look over your favorite gun and appreciate the timeless mechanics that have allowed this weapon to remain relevant and useful.

13)  Bow and Arrow
Speaking of weapons, one of the first ranged methods of inflicting damage also deserves a spot on this list. By some suggestions, the bow and arrow pairing dates back to 30,000 BC. However, finding the true origins of this weapon is almost impossible, due primarily to the early dates, which predate recorded history, and the variety of cultures associated with its use. What should be noted is the fact that it hasn't changed much since these exceedingly ancient days.

The basic structure of a bow and arrow is very simple. A flexible piece of wood, shaped into a bow, along with a string or piece of sinew compose the main portion of the weapon. Once this section has been completed, an arrow can be made to fit the finished bow. Generally, the arrow is a simple shaft of wood. At one end is a sharp attachment, traditionally made of stone or glass. At the other end is fletching that is composed of feathers or another stabilizing element. This rear addition increases flight time and accuracy.

traditional bow and arrow

Several modern variations put a different spin on this deadly pairing. Recurve and metal bows provide additional power and control to the archer. Sighting elements, which attach to the body of the bow, improve accuracy. New arrows also get into the mix by incorporating lightweight metal bodies and more effective arrowheads. While all of these additions are nice, the basic function of using tension to launch a projectile remains unchanged and unfazed by the advances of time.

12)  Bicycles
Who doesn't enjoy a nice bike ride at the beach on a warm summer afternoon? The bicycle has long been a favorite for recreational users and competitive riders alike. Although certain competing models arose in the early 1800s, the modern style of bike is often attributed to Pierre Marchaux. His creation, the "vélocipède," serves as the basis for a timeless tradition that users both enjoy as a hobby and rely upon as a means of transportation.


The basic blueprint for a bike is simple. Two wheels, with rubberized tires, attach to a lightweight frame by way of locking nuts. This frame then provides the platform for a chain which connects the wheels to one another. From here, handles, a seat, and pedals round out the construction. Of course, a smart rider will also add in a helmet, but that is not necessarily essential. This traditional outline has served many riders well over the past two centuries.

If you are looking for something past the basic design, the modern bike has several options that increase the power and comfort of the ride, but don't change the core components. Gearing options help adjust the bike's pedal speed, making hills and other obstacles much less imposing. Varying tires still fulfill the basic functionality, but serve different purposes based on your current landscape. Even seating can be adjusted to provide more support for different body styles. However, none of these changes alter the original purpose and abilities that Marchaux had in mind when he drew up the first bicycle design.

11)  Refrigerators
RefrigeratorThis one might come as a bit of a surprise to you when reading this list. Oddly enough, the basic concept of a refrigerator has really not changed that much since its inception. At its core, the entire process adheres to natural laws that are incontrovertible. Based on the physics of gases and their properties, many ingenious individuals were able to come up with similar compression systems in the 19th century. By forcing this gas into small spaces, then releasing the substance into an open space, cold air is created by the removal of energy in the surrounding areas to facilitate the expansion. Antique and modern refrigerators may have significantly different power sources, but both still engender use the same process to achieve the same result.

A basic refrigerator is simply a closed unit that retains the cold air that is created from the compression process described above. Modern variants are decidedly safer than their older counterparts. This safety first comes in the form of the refrigerant or gas used by the appliance. Prior to the 1920s, most refrigerators used sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and methyl chloride. These toxic gases could leak from the machine, allowing for unfortunate deaths and other major health issues. During that decade, the major manufacturers of these household units combined their resources to find a safer alternative to those poisonous refrigerants. From this effort, Freon was created. While this refrigerant is not perfect, it is still much safer and far less toxic than its predecessors.

The modern refrigerator has also switched out the latch and hook system, opting instead for a magnetic seal that keeps doors closed and cold air in the unit. Additionally, freezer compartments have been added to some units. However, this auxiliary component does not detract from the core functionality of the refrigerator – it merely adds more utility for those who do not wish to purchase a standalone refrigerator.

10)  Electric Fan
Electric fanAnother potentially odd addition to the list is the electric fan. However, not all things that incorporate electricity have to be modern or recent in their development. In fact, this type of fan traces its roots to the early days of power services in the United States. Completing his work in 1882, Schluyler Skaats Wheeler invented the first working electric fan. This appliance had two blades that rotated swiftly to produce a breeze. For a hot day, few things are more effective at helping you cool off.

From this design, few modifications have been necessary. An oscillating base and additional blades have made the fan more enjoyable, but not altered the functionality in any noticeable way. Likewise, safety implementations, like finger guards, keep users from hurting themselves without changing the characteristics of the fan mechanics. Such a design has easily withstood the test of time and continues to play a major role in the lives of people around the globe.

9)  Eyeglasses
Getting new frames for your glasses can be a stylish addition to your wardrobe. Likewise, you may need a stronger prescription as you grow older. However, both of the processes are simply part of the traditional usage of eyeglasses. Initially created in 1284, by Salvino D'Armate, eyeglasses have come a long way in regards to fashion, but not necessarily in functionality. The basic pair of glasses fulfills one mission – to help you see better. Of course, how your glasses help you depends a great deal on your specific type of visual ailment.


Outside of the basic frame, lenses of glass are tailored to correct certain conditions. Nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatisms, among others, are all addressed by optometrists and lens manufacturers. What has changed in the making of these corrective devices is the process by which parts are created. Modern glasses are manufactured en masse and made of plastics, metals, and glass. Ancient creations were constructed exclusively of glass and metals that took time, dedication, and a deft hand to work. Regardless of the method, countless individuals rely on these optical tools and are assuredly indebted to those who helped create such an effective design.

8)  Barbed Wire
Barbed wire fences are a staple of any modern farm. They keep animals in and predators out, allowing for increased revenue by way of reduced losses. Additionally, this type of fencing has unfortunately served darker purposes in times of war and strife. Many battlefields and prisons have used this typing of fencing to create impassable lines and defensive fortifications. In modern times, barbed wire still fulfills these purposes. However, the basic concept of sharp barbs as a means of protection, control, and security remains the same. Little need for change across the years has been necessary in the design of barbed wire.

barbed wire

With low production costs and great marketability to American farmers, Joseph Gidden earned himself a substantial fortune by creating modern barbed wire. With his design in 1873, he founded a company that was able to churn out the wiring and fencing efficiently and swiftly. Today, the basic metal barbs atop strands of more flexible metal wiring is still as effective as it was in the later portion of the 19th century.

7)  Books
Your first reaction may be to dispute the claim that books have not changed in the past hundred years. However, it is hard to lump electronic devices, like eReaders and tablets, into the same category as the traditional paperback or hardcover volume. First, these gadgets can run out of battery power, rendering them effectively useless. A book will never run out of a charge. Also, a paperback book can be lent and given from person to person. Most eBooks have stringent restrictions that prevent such actions.


So, once removing potential electronic alternatives from the equation, books really haven't changed in any significant way. With the first printing press, the Gutenberg press, arriving in 1440, the world's approach to reading was never the same. Stretching into modern times, copies of original manuscripts are republished, via a printing system, onto paper and bound together. The continuity of this process is what ties all books together, thereby cementing the fact that little has change with these treasured items over the course of time.

6)  Sailboats
Naval exploration and transportation have both been major factors in the advancement of human civilization. Both modern and ancient mariners have plied the waters, carrying vital goods and looking for new lands. Over these thousands of years, boats have undergone a vast number of changes. However, one variation stands above the rest as being resistant to change and effective in its design – the sailboat.

Sailboats trace their roots back to the first seafaring peoples. As a contemporary of boats powered by rowers, sailboats focused on efficiency over brute strength. By harnessing the power of the winds, faster travel with less work could be accomplished. Of course, other powered methods have left the sailboat in their respective wakes. But in regards to non-powered marine vessels, the sailboat still reigns supreme. This just proves that a basic concept that gets the job done right is hard to beat.

sail boat

The workings of a sailboat rely on having a large sheet of fabric, often made of canvas and referred to as the "sail," catch winds and gusts. From these bursts of air, the boat is propelled forward, allowing the captain to control the direction via the rudder and orientation of the sail. Even these basic steering mechanisms still provide an effective and easily manageable means of piloting the boat. When viewed in this manner, it is easy to see why sailboats are still used by many people who enjoy taking to sea for recreation and exploration.

5)  Incandescent Light Bulb
Today, most people use several different light bulbs in their homes or places of work. LED, halogen, and fluorescent lights all have their uses. However, they are still working to usurp the position held by incandescent light bulbs. Dating back to 1880, this lighting source spurred the growth of an entire industry. Today, personal power and electricity is a given in much of the world. But without the incandescent light bulb, this may not have been the case.

light bulb

As one of Thomas Edison's finest inventions, this type of light bulb revolutionized the lives of his contemporaries. From this creation, Edison would go on to pioneer the development of the nationwide power grid and engage in many financial and business ventures. As the focal point of his direct approach to electricity, the incandescent light bulb served as a major factor in the oncoming disputes between Edison and his rival, Nikola Tesla.

The basic structure of this light bulb remains virtually untouched. As power courses through the bulb, a metal filament conducts the electricity and emits light waves. While this is simple creation is still effective, it may not have much of a future left in the modern world. Many government regulations are looking to put the brakes on incandescent light bulbs. This is not caused by the actual effectiveness of the light bulb, but rather environmental and energy resource concerns.

4)  Flushing Toilets
Flushing ToiletsBe it public or private restrooms, some things about going to the bathroom never change. When you need to go, you have to find a toilet fast. Thankfully, modern people still aren't trying to figure out how to get this essential device right. With the work of Thomas Crapper in the late 19th century, the flushing toilet is about as good as it gets. Changes to this household item have not been necessary, due to an amazingly effective design and excellent integration with civic plumbing systems.

Although the components of portions of the toilet have changed, the basic premise remains the same. When you are finished with your business, a handle initiates the process, which removes the contents of the bowl via a transfer of water and pressure. Today, the metal interior portions of the toilet have been replaced with less costly plastic parts. However, this has not adjusted the core concepts that surround the toilet. It is still as useful and trustworthy as it has always been.

3)  Cars
Can you imagine a world without cars? Neither can most people. Of course, it seems like cars have always been a necessity that you can't live without. The reality is that people managed just fine before automobiles. However, just getting by and excelling are two different things – and cars definitely excel at what they do. For personal transportation, nothing has even come close to making a dent in how effective and efficient cars have been for people over the past century or so.

Vintage classic car

The reason cars work so well is simple. The traditional design which includes a power source, a body, four wheels, and seating is incredibly simple. When a simple answer covers a tough problem, in this case how to design a vehicle, you know you are doing something right. Naturally, the mechanics that go into engineering and manufacturing engines, frames, and rubber tires are exceedingly complex. But the concept that binds them has worked nearly flawlessly for a significant time period.

Producers, as well as aesthetic and performance variables, have changed over the existence of the car. But there has yet to a system that supersedes the standard design of an automobile. So while you may drive one type of car and your friend drives another, consider how closely related both are to the original variations of the four-wheeled car. Even more thought provoking is trying to figure out a way to make a basic concept that is even better.

2)  Landline Telephones
When you take mobile phones and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) out of the mix, the phone system you know and love really hasn't changed much. These staples of modern infrastructure hearken back to a day when text, picture, and video messaging hadn't even been imagined. A look at the each phase of the process illuminates just how impressive and relevant landline telephones really have been over the past 100 years. Unlike other communication fads, people still rely on the basic phone to get the job done.

old retro phone

To begin, lines were either buried or strung along wooden poles across the country. Nothing about this has changed in the modern setting. From here, calls are made via outlets within homes and routed by the various telecommunication firms. Perhaps the most compelling part of this system? It is extremely reliable. This assurance of quality and service has kept landline telephones in homes across the world. The next time your cell phone is out of juice and you need to get in touch with someone, think about how useful and lasting the original phone system is to modern living.

1)  Musical Instruments
Music is the cornerstone of many social and cultural movements. From the minstrels of the Middle Ages, to Led Zeppelin playing Madison Square Garden, tons of things have surely changed in regard to instrumentation. While most people assume this, they couldn't be more wrong. The reality is that many instruments have worked off of the same design for not just the last hundreds of years, but several hundreds or even thousands of years.

In regards to stringed instruments, like the guitar and the lute, the same basic constructs produce the same sounds, both then and now. Although electric versions have become increasingly popular, the fundamentals of striking different combinations of strings to produce varying sounds are universal. Acoustic instrumentation adheres to this principle even more by keeping the method of auditory generation, the hollow base, exactly the same.

guitar player playing closeup

Unlike their stringed cousins, who have dabbled with electric components, percussion and brass instruments have stuck to the original design with fierce loyalty. These offerings focus on bold and unique sounds, based entirely on craftsmanship. This has led to a dearth of changes for items like the saxophone and the snare drum. For these instruments, the old saying, "don't fix what isn't broke," definitely holds true.

Final Thoughts
Time has a funny way of making many things irrelevant. From wonder gadgets to cutting edge technology, many things soon fall to the wayside with the advances of new features and functionality. However, the last 100 years has seen several creations that shatter this mold and endure as essentials of modern life. Certain items, like eyeglasses and musical instruments, actually have been useful for several centuries. Others, like the bow and arrow, have lasted thousands of years. When using these items for recreation or professional use, stop and consider just how amazing these things truly must be to last for so long.





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