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    5 Inventions That Changed Your Grandparents’ Lives

    When the Greatest Generation was young, the world was changing rapidly, too.

    Rapidly changing world

    Library of Congress / Via

    There’s no question the world is changing rapidly. Cars are starting to drive themselves thanks to Artificial Intelligence. Phones can be worn and appliances controlled remotely. What once required labor can be accomplished with the tap of a button. This constant state of evolving technology is all most of us have known.

    Nearly a century ago, America’s Greatest Generation witnessed a similar evolution of technology and social progress that changed how they lived, worked and played. Just like today, those inventions were dramatically shifting how people interacted with each other and the world.

    Born before 1945

    Library of Congress / Via

    Author and cultural anthropologist Veronica Kirin traveled more than 11,000 miles across the United States in 2015 to interview some of the last living members of the Greatest Generation, each one born before 1945.

    “These fascinating people not only experienced rapid social and technological advancements but also devastation in their daily world. Major historical events like World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II shaped their youth and molded their lives,” says Kirin, who wrote of those conversations in Stories of Elders: What the Greatest Generation Knows about Technology that You Don't. Here are some of the memories shared in the book:

    When driving 35 mph was dangerous

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    Born in 1942, Ruth Harper is a former teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who later opened the book store, American Opinion, with her sisters. She grew up as cars did and experienced their evolution. It took years for these moving machines to add safety features like seatbelts and shatterproof glass — or the ability to control the temperature.

    Ruth Harper

    Veronica Kirin / Via

    “Heaters in cars. They didn’t start out with heaters, and they certainly didn’t start out with air conditioning. They didn’t start out with safety glass. Getting in a car accident was much more dangerous going 35 miles an hour with a car where the glass would shatter if you happened to hit something and would go through that glass, and then we had these long, knifelike pieces of glass ...”

    In the beginning, phones were party lines

    Library of Congress / Via

    New Orleans native Dagmar Booth, born in 1945, remembers the early decades of the telephone. Long before people had private phone lines, there were party lines. The way phones first worked is there was one line and one phone number that rang to multiple houses. The challenge of these shared telephone lines was keeping others from hearing your business.

    Dagmar Booth

    Veronica Kirin / Via

    “You picked up the phone and listened. If someone was talking, you had to put the phone down. And the day we got the phone ... without the party line was like, ‘Guess what, we can pick up the phone and use it. We don’t have a party line to consider!’ And you don’t have to ... listen for the click for someone eavesdropping on your conversation.”

    When TV didn’t have sound

    Evert F. Baumgardner - National Archives and Records Administration. / Via

    Robert “Bob” Bernard Johnson, born in 1937, had a career as a family and couples therapist in Salt Lake City. Growing up in Ontario, Oregon, he was a sophomore in high school the first time he saw a television.

    Bob Johnson

    Veronica Kirin / Via

    “I can remember watching a Yankees ball game that was coming across. You couldn’t hear the sound. It was just black and white, and you could see the picture, and it was so exciting. It was a new world, and that was our technology.”

    Before the refrigerator, there was the icebox

    Library of Congress / Via

    Mary Muscatello, born in 1929, resides in New York state. She remembers when food was kept cold in an icebox, usually made of wood and kept outside to make it easier for deliveries by the iceman.

    Mary Muscatello

    Veronica Kirin / Via

    “It had many little box doors, like, and compartments, and so we could put in our vegetables and food to keep cool. ... We would wait for the iceman to come down the street — and he would bring in big blocks of ice with the tongs, great big tongs — that would come in and he would set the ice into the icebox. ‘Ice-a-box.’ That was absolutely wonderful when we finally got an electric refrigerator.”

    Not everyone was allowed to type

    Library of Congress / Via

    Illinois resident Betty Segal, born in 1931, worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. She watched as typewriters evolved into word processors and then into computers.

    Betty Segal

    Veronica Kirin / Via

    “When I started working at the CDC, they were still under some old-fashioned male ideas about who did what. Professionals didn’t type, but I was a writer. They wouldn’t give me a typewriter. We had a secretary. (I was) trying to design training materials, with illustrations, with a secretary who didn’t understand what we were doing. And also, you had to get in line because we didn’t have enough secretaries for all the writers. I begged for a typewriter. Finally, they had a spare typewriter they let me have, and so I could type a draft up and show them what I wanted, and then they had to do whatever they wanted to with it. That was fabulous. It helped tremendously.”

    'Childhoods were simple'

    Library of Congress / Via

    The Greatest Generation saw the routine use of airplanes, cars, microwave ovens, telephones, radios, and the internet come to fruition in their lifetimes. Kirin believes they benefited from spending portions of their lives what would be considered primitive settings -- without electricity, using kerosene lamps for light and in some cases without running water.

    “Their childhoods were simple, relying on outdoors games and imagination for their fun. How they went to school, pursued their careers, and raised their kids was radically different compared to today,” she says.

    But, having lived through a time that brought so many mechanical and technological advances, the similarities between their experiences and those of today are easy to see.

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