Welcome to our round-up of the main scientific and technological events of 1915. The year saw a great deal of technological change, much of it weaponry driven by the continuation of World War I. But the world experienced plenty of other developments during the year.

The first transcontinental telephone call is made

The first coast-to-coast long-distance telephone call was made on 25th January 1915. Engineer Alexander Graham Bell placed a call in New York to his assistant Thomas Watson in San Francisco, aided by a newly-invented vacuum tube amplifier. The telephone line they used had been completed in June 1914, but for maximum publicity the telephone company responsible, AT&T, waited until the start of the 1915 Panama-Pacific exposition in San Francisco to instigate the call. Read more on the AT&T website.

Pluto is photographed for the first time

Pluto was photographed in March and April 1915 by an unknown astronomer. However, Pluto was not actually identified until 1930, when astronomer Clyde Tombaugh noticed a tiny dot on the photographs he took of the sky each night. Tombaugh was searching for a planet to explain the irregular orbit of Neptune and eventually identified Pluto on one of his photographic plates, each of which contained a multitude of stars. Initially classified as a planet, Pluto is named after the Roman god of the underworld and is now classified as a dwarf planet. Read more about Pluto on the NASA website.

Ford builds its one millionth car

On 10th December 1915, the one millionth Ford automobile rolled off the assembly line at Detroit’s River Rouge plant. After the Ford Motor Company introduced the first moving assembly line in 1913, productivity soared as the company took advantage of their new ability to mass produce the Model T. The factory was so large that Ford failed at the time to notice the one millionth car; but in 1924 the ten millionth Ford was celebrated in a journey from the East to the West coasts of the United States. Read more on the Henry Ford website.

The neon tube sign is patented

Engineer and chemist Georges Claude invented the first neon lamp in 1910. On 19thJanuary 1915, he patented the neon lighting tube, which became a familiar material for advertising signage and which anecdotes claim was originally called “liquid fire” by awestruck bystanders. The word neon is derived from the Greek adjective ’neos’, which means ‘something new’. Read more on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website.

The building blocks for NASA are put in place

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA, was established on 3rd March 1915. President Woodrow Wilson and the US Congress signed the Naval Appropriations Bill, defining the NACA’s mission: “To supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution, and to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked and to discuss their solution and their application to practical questions.”  In the 1950s, as technological developments moved closer and closer to space exploration, NACA was dissolved and its assets and personnel were transferred to the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Read more on the NASA website.

Weaponry technologies continue to develop

The tank: 1914 saw the introduction of mechanised tractors on the battlefield. The first proper tank was designed in 1915 by William Foster & Co of Lincoln, and was first used in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Poison gas: The German Army used a non-lethal form of poison gas in 1914, but by 1915 had developed the far more harmful chlorine gas, which was used at Ypres in April 1915. An earlier gas attack against the Russian Army in January 1915, during the battle of Bolimov, failed when the poison froze.

Grenades:  Both sides introduced new and improved forms of hand grenade in 1915. The German Army deployed the Model 24, which became the army’s standard hand grenade from 1915 until the end of World War II. Meanwhile, the British Army introduced the new Mills bomb as its standard hand grenade.

Flamethrowers:  The first flamethrower was deployed by the German Army in February 1915, near Verdun in north-eastern France.

Read more about World War I technology on Wikipedia.

And lastly, some of the animals first described in 1915…

The perplexing scrubwren; the buff-chested babbler; the smooth-eye poacher; and the slender shortfaced eel. See the definitive list here.

Further reading

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