In the 20th century, the world experienced another major transformation in how people delivered and received information: the invention of the radio. Morse code had given us a tool to transmit a series of signals that could then be decoded into words by the receiver, but Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of the radio in the early 1900s meant that actual words and voices could be transmitted from one place to another over airwaves (Raboy, 2016).
Radio brought voices and music directly into people’s homes and businesses. It was a new way for Americans to stay connected to one another—they could listen to the same speeches, singers, news reports, and religious broadcasts. Radio also provided a new venue for advertising the growing number of products that were available for purchase in the years before and after World War II.
Jell-O Pudding Radio Ad, 1940s
Source: From the Internet Archive, “Old Time Radio Advertisements.” https://archive.org/details/Old_Radio_Adverts_01/OldRadio_Adv--Jello_Chocolate_Pudding.mp3
Around the same time as Marconi’s invention, many other innovators were making progress matching voices to moving images. Inventor John Logie Baird created a prototype of a mechanical television in 1926 (Edwards, 2016) and Philo Farnsworth successfully transmitted a signal with an electronic television in 1927 (Eschner, 2017). By the 1950s, new technologies made modern televisions possible, and they were found in more and more American households.
These new technologies allowed people to communicate with millions of Americans all at once. Politicians, journalists, and entertainers were able to reach people directly in their homes. Next, we’ll see examples of how these powerful communication technologies transformed politics and changed the way we share political ideas.
The United States saw wave after wave of new communication technology toward the end of the 20th century. Satellites, personal computers, and the internet each had a major impact on society. Every new invention was a response to a problem—innovators needed to find faster, more reliable ways to get messages from point A to point B and continually came up with new ideas for doing so.
Edwards, Phil. (2016, January 26). The Mechanical Television Debuted 90 Years Ago. Its Inventor Was Nuts. Vox. www.vox.com/2015/3/25/8285977/mechanical-television
Eschner, Kat. (2017, August 28). The Farmboy Who Invented Television. Smithsonian Magazine. www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/farmboy-who-invented-television-while-plowing-180964607
Raboy, Marc. (2016, August 24). 15 Surprising Facts About Guglielmo Marconi, the Man Behind Radio Communication. OUPblog, Oxford University Press. blog.oup.com/2016/08/15-facts-guglielmo-marconi
Source: Strategic Education, Inc. 2020. Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future.