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A Visual Timeline of the Tallest Historical Structures

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Humans have been building things since the dawn of time. As the tools and technology at our disposal have improved dramatically, so have the scale and magnitude of our creations.

Today’s infographic from Alan’s Factory Outlet visualizes some of the most impressive feats of construction and engineering in a historical timeline of the world’s tallest structures.

The Stone Age: 8000 — 2570 BCE

We’ll begin with one of humanity’s earliest stone monuments.

Experts estimate that the Tower of Jericho in modern-day Palestine, took 11,000 working days to construct—roughly 30 to 40 years—and is thought to have served as flood protection, and to mark the summer solstice. According to some archaeologists, it also inspired awe to “motivate people [into] a communal lifestyle”.
Tallest Part 1
View the full timeline by clicking here.

The next significant structure was built nearly 4,000 years later. The Anu Ziggurat (White Temple) is located in Uruk, the ancient city of Sumer. Towering over the city’s defensive walls and visible from afar, it symbolized the city’s political power at the time.

Egypt’s era of pyramids was ushered in with the Step Pyramid of Djoser. A few decades later, the founding pharaoh Sneferu is credited for the vision behind the three major Egyptian pyramids—the Meidum, Bent, and Red Pyramids of Dahshur. The different designs reflect both the engineering shortfalls and advancements experienced during their construction…eventually leading to the most monumental pyramid of all.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the ancient world wonders, and the only one that is still intact today. It weighs an estimated 6 million tonnes—and rising up at 481 feet (147 meters), it was unsurpassed as the tallest structure for thousands of years.

Cathedral Creation: 1221 — 1549 CE

The timeline below skips ahead over 3,000 years after the construction of the Great Pyramid, as the reign of cathedrals begins to take over, starting with the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1221—which needed over 200 years to complete.
Tallest Structures 2.2
View the full timeline by clicking here.

The Lincoln Cathedral enjoyed its title of tallest structure for over 200 years, until the St. Mary’s Church in Germany was constructed. However, all three of these cathedrals suffered serious damage for some reason or another: towers or spires collapsed, the buildings caught on fire, or were struck by lightning.

From Churches to the Chrysler: 1569 — 1930

The construction of religious monuments continued well into the late 19th century, with the Cathedral of Saint Peter of Beauvais to the Cologne cathedral. Several cathedrals were originally constructed years prior, but only gained the title of tallest structure once the Great Pyramid had significantly eroded by about 33 feet (10 meters).
Tallest Structures 3.2
View the full timeline by clicking here.

The Washington Monument, the world’s tallest obelisk, was created in memoriam of the first U.S. President. Though the majority of the Monument is marble, its apex is aluminum and bears several inscriptions on each face.

The Eiffel Tower likely needs no introduction—the Parisian cultural icon became the tallest in the world in 1889. The wrought-iron lattice structure costed close to 8 million gold Francs, or US$1.5 million to build.

Finally, the Chrysler Building’s art-deco architectural style drew criticism and rave reviews in equal measure. Born out of a skyscraper boom in New York City, it was the first to rise above 1,000 feet—toppling the Eiffel Tower’s tallest title in 1930.

Bigger, Better, Glitzier: 1931 — Present

The “race for the sky” continues with the Empire State Building, an essential contribution to the classic New York City skyline—which cements its place as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Tallest Part 4.2
View the full timeline by clicking here.

Between 1954 and 1991, the tallest man-made constructions were all TV towers, mostly located across the United States, and the Warsaw Radio Mast in Poland. That’s not to say there was a gap in skyscrapers during this time—in fact, it was quite the opposite all around the world.

Saving the best for last, the Burj Khalifa was completed in five years and costed a whopping $1.5 billion. At an impressive 163 floors (2,722 feet or 830 meters), Dubai’s incredible achievement shatters all world records for tallest structures—coming in at nearly 100 times higher than the Tower of Jericho, where this visual timeline first began.

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China

The People’s Republic of China: 70 Years of Economic History

How did China go from agrarian economy to global superpower? This timeline covers the key events and policies that shaped the PRC over its 70-year history.

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Chart: 70 Years of China’s Economic Growth

View a high-resolution version of this graphic here.

From agrarian economy to global superpower in half a century—China’s transformation has been an economic success story unlike any other.

Today, China is the world’s second largest economy, making up 16% of $86 trillion global GDP in nominal terms. If you adjust numbers for purchasing power parity (PPP), the Chinese economy has already been the world’s largest since 2014.

The upward trajectory over the last 70 years has been filled with watershed moments, strategic directives, and shocking tragedies — and all of this can be traced back to the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1st, 1949.

How the PRC Came to Be

The Chinese Civil War (1927–1949) between the Republic of China (ROC) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) caused a fractal split in the nation’s leadership. The CPC emerged victorious, and mainland China was established as the PRC.

Communist leader Mao Zedong set out a few chief goals for the PRC: to overhaul land ownership, to reduce social inequality, and to restore the economy after decades of war. The first State Planning Commission and China’s first 5-year plan were introduced to achieve these goals.

Today’s timely chart looks back on seven decades of notable events and policies that helped shape the country China has become. The base data draws from a graphic by Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s Country Director for China and other Asia-Pacific regions.

The Mao Era: 1949–1977

Mao Zedong’s tenure as Chairman of the PRC triggered sweeping changes for the country.

1953–1957: First 5-Year Plan
The program’s aim was to boost China’s industrialization. Steel production grew four-fold in four years, from 1.3 million tonnes to 5.2 million tonnes. Agricultural output also rose, but it couldn’t keep pace with industrial production.

1958–1962: Great Leap Forward
The campaign emphasized China’s agrarian-to-industrial transformation, via a communal farming system. However, the plan failed—causing an economic breakdown and the deaths of tens of millions in the Great Chinese Famine.

1959–1962: Lushan Conference and 7,000 Cadres meeting
Top leaders in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) met to create detailed policy frameworks for the PRC’s future.

1966–1976: Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Mao Zedong attempted to regain power and support after the failures of the Great Leap Forward. However, this was another plan that backfired, causing millions more deaths by violence and again crippling the Chinese economy.

1971: Joined the United Nations
The PRC replaced the ROC (Taiwan) as a permanent member of the United Nations. This addition also made it one of only five members of the UN Security Council—including the UK, the U.S., France, and Russia.

1972: President Nixon’s visit
After 25 years of radio silence, Richard Nixon was the first sitting U.S. President to step foot into the PRC. This helped re-establish diplomatic relations between the two nations.

1976–1977: Mao Zedong Death, and “Two Whatevers”
After Mao Zedong’s passing, the interim government promised to “resolutely uphold whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave.”

1979: “One-Child Policy”
The government enacted an aggressive birth-planning program to control the size of the country’s population, which it viewed as growing too fast.

A Wave of Socio-Economic Reforms: 1980-1999

From 1980 onward, China worked on opening up its markets to the outside world, and closing the inequality gap.

1980–1984: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) established
Several cities were designated SEZs, and provided with measures such as tax incentives to attract foreign investment. Today, the economies of cities like Shenzhen have grown to rival the GDPs of entire countries.

1981: National Household Responsibility System implemented
In the Mao era, quotas were set on how many goods farmers could produce, shifting the responsibility of profits to local managers instead. This rapidly increased the standard of living, and the quota system spread from agriculture into other sectors.

1989: Coastal Development Strategy
Post-Mao leadership saw the coastal region as the potential “catalyst” for the entire country’s modernization.

1989–1991: Post-Tiananmen retrenchment
Early 1980s economic reforms had mixed results, and the growing anxiety eventually culminated in a series of protests. After tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square in 1989, the government “retrenched” itself by initially attempting to roll back economic reforms and liberalization. The country’s annual growth plunged from 8.6% between 1979-1989 to 6.5% between 1989-1991.

1990–1991: Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges open
Combined, the Shanghai (SSE) and Shenzhen (SZSE) stock exchanges are worth over $8.5 trillion in total market capitalization today.

1994: Shandong Huaneng lists on the NYSE
The power company was the first PRC enterprise to list on the NYSE. This added a new N-shares group to the existing Chinese capital market options of A-shares, B-shares, and H-shares.

1994–1996: National “8-7” Poverty Reduction Plan
China successfully lifted over 400 million poor people out of poverty between 1981 and 2002 through this endeavor.

1996: “Grasp the Large, Let Go of the Small”
Efforts were made to downsize the state sector. Policy makers were urged to maintain control over state-owned enterprises to “grasp the large”. Meanwhile, the central government was encouraged to relinquish control over smaller SOEs, or “let go of the small”.

1997: Urban Dibao (低保)
China’s social safety net went through restructuring from 1993, and became a nationwide program after strong success in Shanghai.

1997-1999: Hong Kong and Macao handover, Asian Financial Crisis
China was largely unscathed by the regional financial crisis, thanks to the RMB (¥) currency’s non-convertibility. Meanwhile, the PRC regained sovereignty of Hong Kong and Macau back from the UK and Portugal, respectively.

1999: Western Development Strategy
The “Open Up the West” program built out 6 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, and 1 municipality—each becoming integral to the Chinese economy.

Turn of the Century: 2000-present

China’s entry to the World Trade Organization, and the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) program – which let foreign investors participate in the PRC’s stock exchanges – contributed to the country’s economic growth.

Source: CNBC

2006: Medium-term Plan for Scientific Development
The PRC State Council’s 15-year plan outlines that 2.5% or more of national GDP should be devoted to research and development by 2020.

2008-2009: Global Financial Crisis
The PRC experienced only a mild economic slowdown during the crisis. The country’s GDP growth in 2007 was a staggering 14.2%, but this dropped to 9.7% and 9.5% respectively in the two years following.

2013: Belt and Road Initiative
China’s ambitious plans to develop road, rail, and sea routes across 152 countries is scheduled for completion by 2049—in time for the PRC’s 100th anniversary. More than $900 billion is budgeted for these infrastructure projects.

2015: Made in China 2025
The PRC refuses to be the world’s “factory” any longer. In response, it will invest nearly $300 billion to boost its manufacturing capabilities in high-tech fields like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and robotics.

Despite the recent ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. and an increasingly aging population, the Chinese growth story seems destined to continue on.

China Paving the Way?

The 70th anniversary of the PRC offers a moment to reflect on the country’s journey from humble beginnings to a powerhouse on the world stage.

Because of China’s economic success, more and more countries see China as an example to emulate, a model of development that could mean moving from rags to riches within a generation.

Bert Hofman, World Bank

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History

The History of the World, in One Video

This epic attempt to condense the history of the world — including the rise and fall of empires — fits into a single video.

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Throughout the history of the world, many civilizations have risen and fallen.

You may be familiar with the achievements of prominent societies like the Romans, Mongols, or Babylonians, but how do all of their stories intertwine over time and geography?

Visualizing the History of the World

Today’s video comes to us from Ollie Bye, and it attempts to integrate the histories of all major civilizations known by historians into a single, epic video.

Similar to the Histomap, it’s pretty much impossible for a video like this to be perfect due to biases and a general lack of data. However, it’s still a compelling attempt at showing global history in a short and sweet fashion.

Let’s look at some specific moments on the video that particularly stand out.

750 AD: The Umayyad Caliphate

One of the largest empires in history, the Umayyad Caliphate peaked sometime around 750 AD.

Umayyad Caliphate

Conquering most of North Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe (including modern-day Spain, Portugal, and France), the Umayyads commanded a formidable territory with an area of 11,100,000 km² (4,300,000 sq. mi) and encompassing 33 million people.

1279: Mongol Dominance

No history of the world is complete without a mention of the Mongols.

Nearby societies have always been on edge when nomadic tribes in the Eurasian Steppe entered into organized confederations. Similar to the Huns or various Turk federations, the Mongols were known for their proficiency with horses, bows, and tactics like the feigned retreat.

Under the leadership of Temüjin ⁠— also known as Genghis Khan ⁠— the Mongols conquered one of the largest empires by land.

Mongol Empire Map

The empire reached its greatest extent just two years after the death of Genghis Khan.

Later on, it fragmented into smaller empires that were also quite notable in the context of world history. For example, Kublai Khan — the grandson of Genghis Khan — even went on to begin the influential Yuan Dynasty in China.

1346: The Black Death

The video also shows other vital stats, such as an estimate of global population through the ages.

In the mid-14th century, you can see this number take a rare U-turn, as millions of people die from the infamous and deadly Bubonic Plague.

Spread of the Black Death

The Black Death ⁠— one of the most devastating pandemics in the history of the world ⁠— hit Europe in 1346, and it eventually killed 30-60% of the continent’s population. There is no exact figure on the final death toll, but historians estimate it to be somewhere between 75 and 200 million people throughout Eurasia.

1418: The Age of Discovery

The video also provides a 10,000-foot view of the Age of Discovery, a period of time in which European powers explored the world’s oceans.

The Age of Discovery

This colonial period marks the beginning of globalization, creating wide-ranging impacts that set the stage for more modern history.

In the video, it’s possible to see European colonies develop in all parts of the world, as well as how they eventually morphed into the countries that dot the globe today.

Playing the History Game

While it is certainly ambitious, not everyone will agree that this is a successful attempt at portraying world history – even in the limited scope of time allotted.

One key detail that seems to be missing, for example, is showing the development of the indigenous societies that existed in North America for thousands of years. That said, it’s also not clear what data and records are available to show these maps over many centuries of time.

Despite the possible flaws, the video does pack a lot of information into a short period of time, creating a compelling opportunity for learning and discussion. Like the Histomap, it may not be a definitive history of the world – but instead, it’s a useful attempt that stimulates our appetite for more information about the world and the societies that inhabit it.

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