Finding the Past, Seeing the Future

The spread of scientific knowledge and technology had reached international proportions by 1919. Around the world, scientists studied the total solar eclipse in May and were excited when their observations confirmed Einstein's 1911 theory of relativity. In 1919, the record time for a round-the-world trip was 35 days and Chicagoans were excited when the R34 blimp made the Atlantic crossing in just 71 hours. But when the airplane of Alcock and Brown flew the Atlantic ocean in just 16 hours, people began to look to airplanes, though still hazardous, as the aircraft of the future. Representatives from several nations met at the Paris Convention on Regulation of Aerial Navigation, and developed the idea of sovereign "air space" that we still use today. Chicago's City Council, meanwhile, found it necessary to set up a commission to establish the city's first airfield. The demand for the international transport and distribution of goods during World War One encouraged the development of new global transportation and distribution technologies for everything from farm produce to military hardware.

Sometimes a technological innovation will occur in one city, and then spread across the nation and around the world. Such was the case in Chicago architecture. The development of the elevator, central heating, cement technology, and the light bulb, along with the increasing scarcity of land in downtown areas, paved the way for the development of the skyscraper. At the close of the nineteenth century, Architect William Le Baron Jenney created the world's first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building. In the first twenty years of the 20th century, architects Burnham and Root, Holabird and Roche, as well as Sullivan and Adler changed the face of downtown with dozens of skyscrapers. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright developed the "Prairie School" of residential architecture which aimed to bring new beauty of form to building function by mirroring the natural landscape and employing the decorative arts in buildings. Taken together, the ideas and technological innovations of these famous architects are called "the Chicago School of Architecture" because their work has served as a model for other architects around the world.

A particular institution may become an international center for research and development of science and technology as well. Such was the case with the University of Chicago and its faculty. Archeologist James Henry Breasted's research in the Middle East led him to excavate the tomb of King Tutankhamen and to establish the Oriental Institute. Astronomer George Ellery Hale established three major observatories. Prominent also were Arthur Jay Dempster who discovered U-235, the basic fuel for atom bombs, and mathematician Leonard Dickson. In 1919, Jane Addams' associate, GraceAbbott, was chief of the U. S. Bureau of Children and later joined the sociology faculty at the University of Chicago, (which became the international center for research in that field until the 1940's). Just blocks away, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams founded Provident Hospital, the first interracial hospital in Chicago. He also performed the first open heart surgery, and founded the National Medical Association, a professional organization for African American physicians.

It was a time when the world was celebrating the tremendous potential of science to solve problems. Discoveries were made by the great men of the era, as well as by the home inventor. In spite of great leaps forward, however, medical science had no adequate cure for the worldwide influenza epidemic which, by 1919, had taken thousands of lives in Chicago, and millions more around the world.

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