One-Man Industrial Revolution
The Gadgeteer Genius is good at what he does, but he doesn't have a particularly profound effect on The Verse, because Reed Richards Is Useless. This guy, however, is almost singlehandedly responsible for ending the Medieval Stasis: the one person responsible for all the high technology in a setting. Anyone Giving Radio to the Romans is likely to be this. See also Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Dr. Vegapunk of One Piece is the primary reason the Ocean Punk setting has robots with Frickin' Laser Beams. The technology he's created, most of which is heavily controlled by The Government, is explicitly described as 500 years ahead of the rest of the world.
- Dornkirk, from The Vision of Escaflowne; any number of Emperor Scientists may have this going on as well.
- Which isn't much of a surprise when you realize Dornkirk is actually Sir Isaac Newton.
- In her guise as the Crimson Scholar, Maou is proving to be this to the Southern Kingdoms. In her case its slightly more realistic as she is moving gradually first with a Green Revolution in agriculture before moving on to the Guttenburg Press. Other characters also contribute such as the seeds of Liberalism and Alternate Currency.
- In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan's ability to make rare elements from scratch is the reason his world has cancer-free cigarettes, efficient zeppelins and cheap electric cars.
- Lex Luthor in Superman: Red Son is responsible for technology decades ahead of its time.
- In main DC continuity, the city of Metropolis was "upgraded" by Brainiac around New Year's Day 2000 to be centuries ahead of its time.
- In ElfQuest's "Shards" arc, the half-elf, half-troll Two-Edge becomes this for the human warlord Grohmul Djun.
- In Universal War One, Kalish finds a way to travel through space and time, and literally starts a new civilization.
- A major theme in Dungeon Keeper Ami. Justified- Ami has access to all the knowledge of the modern world, in addition to several kinds of magic and a horde of minions to impliment said Industrial Revolution. A fair ammount of innovation is her own, as well, she is highly intelligent after all. This is what founds and feeds her reputation of cunning and genius.
- In A Connecticut Yankee in King Robert's Court(Story-only thread), an American engineer gets thrown into Edmure Tully, and an American nurse into Myranda Royce. While Edmure manages to introduce brandy, new roads, paper, gunpowder and new agricultural techniques, Myranda manages to create new jewelry, the bra, better health practices (including cardiopulmonar resuscitation) and the spinning wheel... and there is foreshadowing that there is going to be a lot more. So, it is actually more of a Two People Industrial Revolution.
- Flim and Flam in The Rise Of Darth Vulcan tried to be this. However when it became apparent to their frustration that no one regarded their revolutionary inventions as anything more than novelties, they decided to get their own back by becoming con ponies.
- Ahsoka Tano in Harry Tano is a borderline case of this, as she brings a lot of incredibly advanced technology with her, but in the end she still needs the help of her magical friends to make the first steps towards the new industrial revolution.
- With the help of an entity that makes it technically a crossover, Saruman becomes this in Saruman Of Many Devices, overturning the sword and bow warfare of the Third Age with the application of rifle-armed Uruk Dragoons.
- Meet the Robinsons has a fairly extreme example: Cornelius Robinson has invented all the cool new stuff we see the future has, and it's managed to become widely adopted by the time he's still middle-aged!
- A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthurs Court, as stated above. Hank develops bicycles, gunpowder, and even electricity, enriching the lives of the medieval peasants. Until the Church declares Hank a heretic and abolishes his inventions.
- He's also able to spread these technologies because he happens to meet the king early on and scares him into compliance with a conveniently timed eclipse. This allows him to set up a system of schools and manufacturing complexes which make his introduction of technology almost plausible.
- Leo Frankowski's The Cross Time Engineer series.
- The Prince Roger series has Space Marines crash on a planet chock full of alien barbarians. In order to make it across the planet to the spaceport, they ally with certain tribes and give them Roman Empire-era technology and tactics.
- Safehold: Nimue "Merlin" Alban brings modern technology back to the colonists, who are in a sort of involuntary Space Amish-ism.
- Among the locals, Baron Seamount is so this that at least one character argues against telling him about the technology stolen from them in part because he's already single-handedly progressing Safehold technology without access to the knowledge, thus furthering exactly the sort of inquisitive scientific mindset the protagonists want to encourage in Safeholdians generally. If everybody bringing technology back to Safehold is just duplicating stuff that was developed on Old Earth that's not going to encourage the desired mindset.
- Martin Padway in Lest Darkness Fall invents distilleries, the telegraph, the printing press, the telescope... He's a time traveller stuck in Italy just before Justinian's disastrous reconquest, so he tries to make the best of it.
- In "The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass", a deconstruction of Lest Darkness Fall, a man goes back in time to the Roman Empire and brings them modern knowledge until a thousand years later the Earth is so overpopulated that the future sends someone else back in time to kill him just as he arrives in Roman times. The last line in the story is "And darkness blessedly fell".
- Subverted in Mostly Harmless: Arthur thought he could do this since he comes from a technologically advanced place (compared to the place he ends up at), but then he realizes he didn't know how any of that stuff actually worked. The one invention he ends up bringing to them is... sandwiches.
- Also subverted in Poul Anderson's story The Man Who Came Early: A 20th-century American GI teleported back to Viking-era Iceland tries to fast-forward technological progress, but fails utterly.
- J.F. Bone's novel The Meddlers: A man's starship runs out of fuel (wire made out of precious metals) and he lands on a primitive planet. He must teach the natives how to use technology so he can get enough fuel to get home.
- Vernor Vinge:
- Sherkaner Underhill takes technology from WWI-ish to present day singlehandedly in A Deepness in the Sky.
- A Fire Upon the Deep reveals that every spaceship carries 'uplift' files, in case they get caught in the slow zones where higher end technology won't work, and they have to build lower-tech replacements to get back to the higher zones.
- In Michael Swanwick's Jack Faust, German scholar Johannes Faust kickstarts a technological revolution that skyhooks Renaissance Europe into the early 20th century in the space of a century. Justifiable in this case, as the story is written more as a fable than a realist novel (at least, if the parts where Mephistopheles tells Faust how to create new technologies is anything to go on).
- Subverted in the Discworld with Leonard of Quirm, who could create massive technological change had the Patrician not had him placed in a large, airy room for which he has the only key, where his failure to consider the consequences of his inventions can't do any harm. This is a man who created something for use in the mining industry "for when they want to move the mountains out of the way".
- While not a one person Industrial Revolution, the core cast of Everworld manages to plant the seeds for technology, starting in Enter the Enchanted, where April shows Merlin how to perform a blood transfusion, but more significantly in Discover the Destroyer, where Jalil and David manage to get a lot of gold for showing the fairies how to construct a telegraph. It all comes to a head in the last two books where the technology has spread so drastically that there is now electricity and cable cars. It goes even further when, after battles, April instructs the elves in safety from germs and bacteria, as well as other things. Christopher was of the belief that April's contribution brought the study of medicine in Everworld forward by about five hundred years practically overnight.
- Not to mention trading the formula for gunpowder (out of a high school chemistry book) to some aliens in exchange for a little upgrade to their pocketknife.
- The protagonist of R. A. Lafferty's Rainbird is this. So brilliant is he that at the end of his life he invents a time machine so he can give his younger self all his future inventions, allowing young!Rainbird to work on even more advanced technologies. After trying this once too often, old!Rainbird freaks out young!Rainbird and causes him to give up inventing altogether, thus erasing all Rainbird's inventions from history.
- Ayla from the Earth's Children book series single-handedly invents and introduces to prehistoric Europe an absurd number of things, including making fire with pyrite and stone, sewing needles, wound suturing, animal domestication, bras and sanitary napkins for women. We are also supposed to believe that she is the first person ever to realize that children are conceived as a result of sex.
- In David Duncan's The Seventh Sword series an Earth engineer Wally Smith is transported into the body of a swordsman on a primitive world. He finds himself unable to speak of anything advanced — the language lacks the appropriate words and the warrior's vocabulary is too limited and one-sided. When he does manage to explain something, the locals are wary of anything new. After meeting local "sorcerers", who already possess the secret knowledge of writing, firearms and spyglasses and are ready to learn new things, Wally muses that if he is captured, "He would be thrown into the nearest torture chamber and laid on the rack, producing a secret a day for the sorcerers like a battery hen, a one-man industrial revolution." While undesirable, it does fit his goal of developing this world. Later he finds less painful ways to collaborate with them.
- In Ultima Thule, Tommy Paine deliberately and repeatedly invokes this trope among multiple worlds of the United Planets over a period of years. He's not just doing it for kicks, though.
- In Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy, Charles Darwin discovered not only the theory of evolution, but Mendelian genetics and DNA. This advanced the understanding of biology so quickly that by the onset of World War One, Britain and her allies (the "Darwinist" powers) have replaced much of the machinery in their societies with genetically engineered animals instead, like a Bio Punk version of The Flintstones.
- Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in The Difference Engine, and most of the many "Victorians with computers" Steam Punk stories that came after it.
- Shef, in Harry Harrison's The Hammer And The Cross has shades of this; while many of the inventions aren't his, he is the driving force behind the wave of new mechanisms and devices that sweep the world.
- This is very literally true about Emily in the Schooled In Magic books. She introduces the printing press, basic accounting methods, and steam power (just to name a few things) to the medieval world she finds herself in.
Live Action TV
- On Stargate Atlantis, McKay does this to/for a civilization he mistakes for a Sim game, bringing them from Medieval Stasis to Steam Punk over the course of two years.
- Which doesn't sit well with his "game" opponent John Sheppard, whose country reflects his military mindset, and who constantly complains that McKay cheated by advancing them too fast.
- Sheppard has also advanced them beyond what they would normally have, just not to the extent of McKay.
- Kahler Jex puts an Wild West frontier town decades ahead of where it would be in terms of technology, science and medicine in the Doctor Who episode "A Town Called Mercy."
- Arcanum gives us Gilbert Bates, who invented the verse's first steam engine, sparking an industrial revolution that transformed Tarant from a backwater hole into a world superpower. And by 'invented', I mean 'blatantly copied off an abandoned dwarven prototype that he had been shown'.
- Then again, Gilbert Bates did realize the potential of the device, which the dwarves did not. Given that Gilbert Bates is based on Bill Gates, this was probably intentional. That said — funnily enough, a talk with a dwarven king implies the dwarves might or not have realized the potential, but Bates certainly didn't stop to think of side-effects.
- Mordred on the 'Astro-knights' island in Poptropica.
- Many, many Alternate History stories cast Nikola Tesla as this. For instance, Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series did it.
- In Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, Lexis is responsible for technology based on Energy Cores.
- Lucca in Chrono Trigger, in fact; she lead to Porre becoming a military superpower based on her technology in Chrono Cross.
- The Kappa were already technologically advanced in Touhou, but the goddess Kanako Yasaka feeds a dead sun god to a Hell Raven to give them access to nuclear power; and start their Industrial Revolution. When that fails, she successfully exploits Gensokyo's properties to harness cold fusion. Indeed, Kanako has a vested interest in advancing tech level: she's trying to shift her area of influence from "wind and rain" to "technology" due to Gods Need Prayer Badly.
- Infel from Ar Tonelico 2 is a one-woman Magitek Revolution. Nearly everything about current-age Reyvateils can be traced to her including the I.P.D. outbreak. She's the Big Bad.
- Jade Curtiss of Tales of the Abyss developed fomicry, a magical method. of instant, nearly exact cloning that can work on objects as well as people. This invention changed the very landscape of the world of Auldrant, and Jade was just a kid!
- Kevyn from Schlock Mercenary might count. He invented the teraport and pretty much changed the whole interstellar ball game: it's amazing how much new tech used and taken for granted in the comic is based off the teraport.
- Played with in that though he is smart enough to be a revolutionary scientist of this caliber, it turns out that the teraport is actually fairly derivative. The Gatekeepers have been suppressing the teraport for millennia, as per a treaty with Eldritch Abominations. He's just the first genius lucky and/or weird enough to have surrounded himself with tough guys at the same time that he attempted to market the teraport, which kept him alive long enough to realize he was being threatened and thus to open-source it.
- The Mechanist of Avatar: The Last Airbender fame can produce tanks, jet skis, and a huge freakin' drill, but the concept of a hot-air balloon eluuuudes him.
- Hiroshi Sato of The Legend of Korra invented the first mass production automobile, then moved on to shock-gloves, Humongous Mecha and fighter-bomber airplanes.
- Varrick apparently invented moving pictures (including the video camera, audio recording, and the film projector), the jetski and the first battlecruiser of his setting; he discovers electromagnetism, invents and produces an elaborate maglev train system (and possibly the train itself), in a sticky situation Mac Gyvers an EMP, co-invents the flying mecha suit, and discovers how to utilize spirit energy, the Avatar universe's rough equivalent to nuclear fusion. He suddenly grows a conscience when he realizes its potential to be weaponized. He's also named after himself what we call a "megawatt." It is implied he has invented much more than these prior to the start of the series, although not all his ideas were winners. Due to his eccentricities, he only works one hour a day.
- Archimedes may well have done this - for a certain, probably low value of mechanization given the reasons listed below - for the Roman empire, but then a soldier went and killed him because he was too busy working on a math problem to respond to the Roman army sacking the city. It could have been something to do with all of the giant death machines Archimedes had built for the Carthaginians, such as a crane for crushing Roman ships. The Greeks at the time had invented a rudimentary mechanical calculator. It probably wouldn't have made a great deal of difference due to the economics of the situation, but one cannot help but wondering What Could Have Been...
- Some say the soldier in question was asking him where he could find Archimedes because his boss wanted him alive.
- In real life, an industrial revolution - with steam engines and all their associated paraphernalia - could never be started by a single man. It's not for want of brilliance, but rather because of simple economics. The first steam engines were, frankly, pathetic and were only commissioned because it was cheaper to use them (to pump the water out of coal mines, feeding them with the low-quality coal that wasn't suitable for transportation and sale) than to pay for draft horses. So it was with all pre-efficient-steam-engine-mechanisation; if labour costs rose past a certain level, people invested in labour-saving tools. If labour costs fell below that level, as their tools wore out they simply hired more people and/or draft animals. There had been many cycles of mechanisation and de-mechanisation before the nineteenth century, but the efficient steam engine was a real game-breaker that had very specific origins - decent-quality coal being mined below the water table in large amounts for sale to towns and cities at the heart of a good-sized and well-developed (i.e. linked up by loads of navigable rivers and canals) regional market wherein it was relatively easy to get loans (from banks) and labour costs were rising.
- Even if such a person was to, say, forcefully enact an industrial revolution it would not get far due to a lack of widespread literacy, educated technicians (who will maintain those steam engines?), an efficient and reasonably wealthy banking system and a myriad of other factors. This is assuming that the one-person-industrial-revolution knows how all of this stuff is supposed to work - the machinery, the institutions, and the economic system - in the first place, anyhow.
- Thomas Edison came close in real life. His inventions (or inventions from his lab, anyway) gave birth to electric lighting, the recording industry, the cinema industry, and lots of incremental improvements in telegraphy, power generation, and other fields. He's often a villain in fiction nowadays because of his feud with Tesla, but how can you hate a real-life inventor who actually had a pipe organ in his laboratory?
- He also inadvertently gave birth to major film studios based in Hollywood by monopolizing film-making technology, forcing independent film-makers to run as far away they could. Namely, to California.
- Edison could be an indirect example. Though many inventions attributed to him may actually have been from the various inventors he employed, it was his business methods that enabled those inventions to crystallize in the first place. Quite a few also spread because of his efforts to promote them — his celebrity status earned the public's trust for new technologies with his name stamped on them.
- Well, Nikola Tesla is widely credited as the inventor of most of the electrical systems in use today. The guy pioneered AC and perfected its use in the USA, then went on to develop things like radio, remote control, fluorescent lightbulbs and the wireless transmission of electrical power (which we're only now implementing into consumer products). Also, VTOL aircraft and a Death Ray... maybe.
- One example that appears in real life is Samuel Slater, known as the "Father of the American Revolution." In the late 1700s, America was still very much pre-industrial, with very little manufacturing. At this time, England still maintained a strong monopoly on the textile industry, because of its mechanization of that industry. Slater was able to sneak plans for these machines out of England by memorizing the details of the plans. He came to the United States, and helped build these machines, and revolutionized the textile industry in the United states, kicking off the American industrial revolution, as his moniker indicates.
- It's worth noting that Slater had the benefit of luxurious loans from British banks keen on investing funds overseas, as well as horrifically high US import-taxes (tariffs) of 50% on all non-edible goods, and that tax was on top of shipping costs.
- Michael Faraday is another quite literal example. His invention of a working electric motor kickstarted the Industrial Revolution, as well as his work on the induction engine, magnetism, polarization, and various other works.