Singapore’s forgotten age of innovation

SINGAPORE: Long before there was Changi Airport, aviation legend Amelia Earhart described stopping over at “an aviation miracle of the east” – a “magnificent new $9-million airport, the peer of any in the world”.

The year was 1937, shortly before her doomed flight over the Pacific Ocean, and the airport in question was Kallang Airport.

Opened that year, it was an art deco dream and one of the most advanced airports of its time, built in anticipation that Singapore would become an important global aviation hub.

The building today is a monument to a history of innovation in the Lion City that is rarely discussed and which is the subject of a two-part documentary series, Age of Innovation, premiering on Jan 15.

The programme’s premise is that modern Singapore owes much to the innovations of the last two centuries.

For example, in the 1930s it could boast of a public trolley bus system that was the world’s largest, and which officials came from around Asia to see.


And while its population today may have one of the world’s highest levels of smartphone use, the foundations of hyper connectivity were laid nearly 140 years ago.

In 1879, Singapore became the first city in the East to have a telephone system. It made international headlines in 1937 with the first phone call between Singapore and London – involving a father and his homesick young daughter.

And then there was the Causeway, the largest engineering project in Malaya of its time, which took 2,000 men and five years to complete.

Age of Innovation tells the story of many such innovations from the past, through digitally restored and coloured archive footage and photos, as well as computer graphics. At its core is a simple reminder that innovation has always been a part of Singapore.

Age of Innovation premieres on Sunday, Jan 15, at 8pm SG/HK.

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