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In Inventions That Changed the World, Jeremy Clarkson demonstrates how five key technological advances, the gun, the computer, the jet engine, the telephone and the television, triggered scores of subsequent developments. But what were the vital technologies underpinning Clarkson's famous five inventions?


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S01E01 The Gun 15/01/2004 There would be no guns without gunpowder, the volatile mixture of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), charcoal and sulphur that came to Europe in the 14th century. Chinese chemists were experimenting with early forms of gunpowder by the 9th century or even earlier. Mixing gunpowder was a tricky procedure largely carried out by hand under the constant threat of accidental explosions. Gunpowder production was as dirty as it was dangerous. To make saltpetre, workers mixed rotting vegetable waste and animal (or human!) excreta together in large beds and waited for nitrates to form as a white powder, which was later refined.
S01E02 The Computer 22/01/2004 In Victorian times 'computers' were people who added up rows of figures. Now they are mechanical wonders - without them we couldn't fly planes, drive cars or even run our dishwashers. We need them, but will they ever get smart enough to take over? Jeremy tells the remarkable story of the computer's evolution from man with pencil to android with sub-machine gun. It's an epic spanning three centuries, a tale of passion, espionage and suicide – and it's far from over. Jeremy discovers that the threat from computers lies not with Schwarzenegger's Terminator but from a much more devastating computer - Armageddon. The computer might yet change the world in a way that none of us are expecting.
S01E03 The Jet Engine 29/01/2004 When Sir Frank Whittle was developing his revolutionary jet engines during the 1940s, he needed robust but lightweight airframes to attach them to. Aluminium was the answer. Modern aviation could not have developed without this versatile, light and durable metal. The raw form of aluminium, bauxite, was first discovered in 1807 by Sir Humphry Davy (who also invented the famous miner's safety lamp) but it took years for scientists to develop it into a usable metal. By the late 19th century, aluminium was being used to make airship frames. By the 1920s, the first all-aluminium aircraft were flying.
S01E04 The Telephone 06/02/2004 At the time of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson's first successful telephone transmission in 1875, the only wires strong enough to be strung over long distances were made of iron. Iron wires had been used for telegraph systems but they were unsuitable for long-distance telephone links. But, in 1877, an American, Thomas Doolittle, developed a method of manufacturing copper wires strong enough to be strung between telegraph poles. Copper's superior conductivity preserved the integrity of the telephone signal to an extent that iron could not. The age of mass communications was born.
S01E05 The Television 12/02/2004 Television would never have developed without the cathode ray tube (CRT). It was invented by a German, Karl Ferdinand Braun, in 1897. A CRT is a glass vacuum tube with a narrow neck that flares into a flat "screen" at one end. The inside surface of the screen is covered with a phosphorescent layer. Electrons are fired at high voltage along the tube, illuminating when they hit the phosphorescent layer. Refined versions of this basic tube were at the heart of millions of TVs, radars and computer monitors manufactured in the 20th century.