At a February 2000 press conference, the first man to walk on the moon announced the National Academy of Engineering’s twenty most significant engineering achievements of the twentieth century. The aeroplane took third place; the automobile second; in first place were the vast networks of electricity that power the developed world. None of the other nineteen would have been possible without electricity, Neil Armstrong declared. “If anything shines as an example of how engineering changed the world during the twentieth century, it is certainly the power we use in our homes and businesses.” The twentieth century’s bequest of cheap, reliable…
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