Example of a technology that was long underestimated?

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The first integrated circuit was made in 1949. It was not till much later that it dominated electronics.
 

BWV

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Dont think steel, cell phones and some of the other inventions were underestimated. The real breakthrough with steel and most of these inventions was making it cheaply so it could be mass produced. A $10,000 cell phone is much less useful than a $100 one
 

Ray Vickson

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Possibly the laser? From its invention in 1960 it took quite a while before a commercial use was found for it in media players and supermarket bar code readers.

Cheers
You forgot the very best application---cat toys!
 
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How about the combination of features that allow modern sailboats to sail relatively fast at 45° against the wind? Until fairly recently most sailboats used rigs and hulls which were optimized to sail downwind. This is very efficient for moving lots of cargo, but it isn't great when you want to go somewhere on short notice against the wind.

The combination of sleek hull, foil keel, and a sail plan where all sails can be trimmed for sailing against the wind didn't come about until 1700 or so.

All the pieces were available to build a modern style sloop or schooner thousands of years ago. All you need is woodworking, cloth making, and rope making. Putting all that together to make a highly maneuverable boat took a long time, though.
 
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How about the combination of features that allow modern sailboats to sail relatively fast at 45° against the wind? Until fairly recently most sailboats used rigs and hulls which were optimized to sail downwind. This is very efficient for moving lots of cargo, but it isn't great when you want to go somewhere on short notice against the wind.
Amel brand yachts used to be 45° degrees in year 2000, now the latest ones are 30°. Source: watching too many SV Delos videos.

My example is the Radon transform, an integral transform from 1917. Its a bit like those transforms you learned in you real analysis course, somewhat dry and boring.

Except the Radon transform is a bit different. Its the basis of the medical imaging industry,
 

.Scott

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Gravity waves were theorized about a century before LIGO.
 

Henryk

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Electric cars. They were actually quite popular at the end of the 19'th century. In fact, the 100 km/h speed record was broken in 1899 by an electric car.
They are coming back now.
 

mathwonk

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According to wikipedia, airbags were patented for aeroplanes in 1920 and for cars in 1953, but automakers declined to invest in them until after the patent expired in 1970, so the "inventor", i.e. patent holder, made nothing. Lack of consumer interest caused their use to cease again in the late 1970's, only returning in the 1990's, after years of opposition from automakers.
 

StatGuy2000

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In my personal opinion, I think virtually any technology in common use today was ultimately based on earlier inventions that were long underestimated. Which raises the question of the underlying process from technical innovation to dissemination of said technology across a broad swathe of the population.
 
In the book "Guns, Germs, and steel", it said the wide usage and need of technology come after the invention. While we might feel like there are many examples of the invention is to resolve something, most of them are just out of curiosity. Necessity's mother is the evolution of technology.
 

marcusl

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Rocketry. Robert Godard had functioning liquid-fuel rockets in the 1920s, but the technology languished until near the end of WWII.
 

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