A timeline of tech

Whether it was the Nokia 3210 mobile phone you and your partner clumsily sent your first texts on or the enormous desktop computer that your kids used to complete their applications to uni, the tech we spend our lives with can signify important cornerstones in our lives. But what have been the most significant tech releases in our lifetimes? We take a look back over the past 100 years.

1917 – 1927

The talkies

In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his revolutionary Phonofilm film process press, which brought the world of synchronised sound to the movies.

Fun fact: Although it was the first ‘talkie’, The Jazz Singer didn’t actually make use of de Forest’s technology. The movie industry later reverted to using it, and a variation of the sound-on-film process was used in films until digital sound began to replace it in the 1990s.

Television goes public

On the 26 January 1926, John Logie Baird demonstrated television for the first time to members of the Royal Institution in his London laboratory.

Fun fact: One of the first colour televisions, bought for over £300 in 1968 by Derek Wills, was still going strong in 2010.

Timeline of Tech - the talkies

1928 – 1937

Computer theory

In 1936, the Turing Machine – the foundation for our modern understanding of computing and computers – was proposed by Alan Turing.

Fun fact: In his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Turing had the idea that computers would one day become so powerful they would be able to think for themselves.

The burgeoning BBC

On 2 November 1936, BBC Television started broadcasting regular high-definition programming from Alexandra Palace in London.

Fun fact: The opening ceremony itself actually took place twice for two separate camera systems, so the BBC’s second programme was also its first repeat.

Timeline of tech - computers

1938 – 1947

Copy that

In 1938, the photocopying process called Xerography was invented by law student Chester Carlson.

Fun fact: Although we can now see he was clearly on to something, Carlson had a hard time convincing investors and was turned down by more than 20 companies, until he finally found investment from the Haloid Company (which later became the Xerox Corporation).

Making micro-waves

In 1945 Percy Spencer, an American self-taught engineer, was working in a lab testing magnetrons (high-powered vacuum tubes inside radars). While working near the microwave-producing magnetrons, he noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Spencer had, by accident, discovered the microwave

Fun fact: The first commercial microwaves were marketed in 1947. Weighing in at 750 pounds, they were nearly six feet tall.

Timeline of tech - Copy that

1948 – 1957

Press record

In 1951, Charles Ginsburg invented the first video tape recorder (VTR).

Fun fact: Ampex sold the first VTR for $50,000 in 1956 – that’s one pricey recorder.

Lift off

On 2 May 1952, the first commercial jetliner called the De Havilland Comet flew into history by flying 36 paying customers from London to Johannesburg.

Fun fact: The journey took nearly 24 hours in total, allowing for stops in Rome, Beruit, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. A single fare cost £175 and a return £315 – a tidy sum at the time.

Timeline of tech - planes

1958 – 1967


Dutch manufacturer Philips released the first cassette player in 1963, having an enormous effect on the music industry.

Fun fact: Some commentators credit the cassette player as making the album a more significant format. Because it was much harder to select single tracks on a cassette, listening to an album all the way through became ingrained in our consciousness.

Timeline of tech - mixtape

1968 – 1977

A mouse in the house

In 1968, Douglas Englebart revolutionised the way people interacted with computers when he revealed the computer mouse at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco.

Fun fact: At the conference, Englebart predicted many of the technologies we use today, from personal computing to social networking, saying computers will soon be tools for collaboration and a way to bring together our collective intelligence. Sound familiar?

First bite of the apple

In 1977, the Apple II hit the market and became Apple’s first mass-produced computer. It sold six million units in total.

Fun fact: If you’d had the foresight to keep hold of yours (and keep it in mint condition) you could now sell it for just under £2,000.

Timeline of tech - invention of the mouse

1978 – 1987

Get compact

The first Compact Disc was developed by Sony and Philips in 1982.

Fun fact: The first CDs commercially pressed were The Visitors by ABBA and a recording of Herbert von Karajan conducting the Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss. Record labels were initially extremely sceptical of the format, but eventually CD sales peaked in 2000 at 2.455 billion.

Everyone’s a director

In 1983, Sony released their first hand-held combined camera.

Fun fact: This camera features in the 1985 film Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox. If you’d held on to yours, you could now sell it for around £1,000.

Hello? Can you hear me?

1983 saw the beginning of a cultural revolution with the introduction of the first mobile phone, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X.

Fun fact: Measuring 13 x 1.75 x 3.5in and weighing a hefty 28 ounces, the phone was so big that even its creators nicknamed it ‘The Brick’ – and it took 10 hours to recharge.

Timeline of tech - CDs

1988 – 1997

Game on

The Nintendo Gameboy launched in Japan on 21 April 1989, costing 12,500 yen.

Fun fact: It instantly sold out of its 300,000 units, eventually finding its way over to the UK in September 1990.

TV gets HD

On July 23 1996, WRAL-HD became the first television station to broadcast a high-definition signal, witnessed by only a handful of people.

Fun fact: HD didn’t make it to the UK in any real sense until Freeview was launched in 2010.

Timeline of tech - HD TVs

1998 – 2006

A design revolution 

In 1998, the Apple iMac exploded onto the market and sparked not only Apple’s renaissance but a complete design revolution.

Fun fact: After its introduction, a hoard of translucent, brightly coloured products hit the market. Everything from staplers to kitchen appliances got the iMac treatment.

The iPod hits the market

In October 2001, an iPod able to hold up to 1,000 songs and costing a hefty £300 hit the market.

Fun fact: If you still have a first-generation iPod, you could be quids in. One is currently for sale for just shy of £1,000.

Timeline of tech - iPod

2007 – 2017

iPhone revolution 

The first iPhone was introduced to the world in January 2007 by Steve Jobs at MacWorld in San Francisco.

Fun fact: Over a billion iPhones have been sold over the past 10 years!

Timeline of tech - women sat on their phones

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