Over the course of history, humans have been making some really crazy inventions that were unheard of during their time. Not only did these inventions make life for humans easier, but as these inventions evolved, they simply changed the course of human history!
From primitive inventions to mechanical and electrical marvels, this Voxytalksy post takes you into a journey of human inventions back in time to the present. Observe how human evolution was made possible faster and more efficient due this groundbreaking marvels! Sit back and enjoy!
13th Century BCE – Mechanical Clock
Though the world had seen sundials and water clocks, the mechanical clock was the most reliable time-keeping device of the world. Al-Jazari, an engineer from Mesopotamia of the 13th Century made numerous clocks of all shapes and sizes. He also made grand clocks in the Urtuq State of the Artuqid king of Diyar-Bakr, Nasir al-Din that still inspire modern clock towers of today like the Big Ben.
6th century BCE – Crane
Over 2500 years ago, the crane came into existence when the ancient Greeks used it as a fulcrum to lift massive stones and architectural material to build their massive canals, temples and government buildings. It was a simplification over the ramps and levers that the Egyptians’ used to use before them. Surprisingly, the first mention of the word ‘crane’ to this machine finds mention in the 13th century Greek texts which compares it with the long and flexible neck of the crane bird.
4th Century BCE – The Wheel and the Axle
The invention of the wheel is what spurned the industrial revolution into full swing. Instrumental machinery works like a charm because of the simple wheel and an axle connected to it. Even after 2,400 years and lakhs of iterations, the basic wheel and axle principle remains the same and this is what has been fundamental to human development and humanity’s boundless inventions over the course of history.
312 BCE – Aqueducts
Appius Claudius Caecus of Rome, built the first ever underground aqueducts for the supply of fresh drinking water to the Romans. An aqueduct is a channel built of stones that connects dams and conduits to channel water flow with the help of gravity to pull and carry water for natural sources to over hundreds of miles. Even today, after 2300 years, farmers use aqueducts to supply themselves with fresh water and to irrigate their farmlands.
1440 AD – Gutenberg’s Printing Press
One of the greatest machines ever built for mass human outreach, the Johannes Gutenberg-built printing press began production in now Mainz, Germany in the year 1450, almost 10 years after its original design was decided. The press revolutionized and streamlined the process of book-making and printing via the block-printing method.
Not only did it reduce the overhead cost of printing, it made millions of people gain access to education. The Renaissance was a major hit because of this printing press because it facilitated the quick printing and dispersal of newspapers and journals to the public.
1657 AD – Pendulum Clock
Invented by Dutch inventor Christiaan Huygens, the pendulum clock was inspired by investigations on pendulums by Italian inventor Galileo Galilei in 1602. Galileo had discovered that pendulums had a function called isochronism which meant that could measure time, based on its swing. Galileo had proposed an idea for a pendulum clock in 1637 that was later partially built by his son in 1649 but couldn’t finish it due to his early demise.
Huygens introduced the pendulum clock as a first harmonic oscillator that was widely used in timekeeping since it increased the accuracy of clocks from 15 minutes per day to 15 seconds per day and helped human civilization keep time from the comfort of their homes!
1780 AD – Metallic Rockets
Tipu Sultan, a Mysorean ruler from South India is credited with the development of the world’s first iron-cased and metal-cylinder rockets with his father Haither Ali in the 1780s. The Mysorean rockets were used largely against the British East India Company during the Anglo-Mysore Wars and since the rockets were inside iron tubes holding the propellant, it enabled these rockets to have higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km.).
Sadly, after Tipu lost the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, his technology was stolen by the British and used to further develop more powerful rockets that inspired the Congreve rocket that was a major hit in the Napoleonic Wars.
1829 AD – Rocket Locomotive
The original steam-powered train was George Stephenson’s Rocket locomotive also called as the Stephenson’s Rocket. Its success in the Rainhill trials (a contest for passenger rail transport inventions) proved that it was a big hit due to its reliability and safety.
The steam locomotive is what helped the iron-age of the 19th century and helped in the westward expansion of the United States and the Civil War thereafter.
1835 – Combine Harvester-Thresher
Originally invented in the late 1820s and patented in 1835, the self-propelled Combine Harvester revolutionized mass agriculture farming techniques. Before it became publically available, threshing 35 acres normally took an entire day for a crew of 35 people, but with the combine, it took only four people to do the same job since the machine itself automated many tasks. Not only did it reduce grain loss, improvements in this machine made it possible to harvest over 100 acres a day! It is now the most purchased farm machine in developed countries of the world that helps us provide food to a massive world population of roughly 7 billion!
1854 AD – Otis Elevator
Elisha Otis, the inventor of the mass-produced elevators demonstrated a new kind of lift at the New York World’s Fair in 1854 which had a ‘safety hoist’ that could catch a plummeting elevator when its cable suddenly snaps. Before this invention, old elevators didn’t have this feature and made them really risky to travel in.
Otis Elevator Company is currently the world’s largest elevator maker since centuries due the fact that they eliminated many safety risks in elevator technology and modernized cities and high-rise buildings with this simple invention.
1882 AD – Pearl Street Power Generating Station
Until the early 1880s, candle lamps used to light up the streets of San Francisco. This changed when Charles Brush installed arc lights on all streets of Cleveland and San Francisco that worked on a dynamo powered by a coal-fired steam engine in the Market Street.
It was the world’s first-ever central arc lighting station. After this, Thomas Edison thought of implementing this idea on a larger scale and launched the Pearl Street Station from which electricity was regulated in major cities of America and was the first-ever commercial electric grid of the world.
1888 AD – Wind Turbine
James Blyth had made the first electricity-generating wind turbine, but Charles Brush made the world’s first automatic power-generating wind turbine. The turbine was fifty feet in diameter and had 144 rotor blades made of cedar wood. It generated 1,200 watts of power that could power 100 incandescent bulbs for months.
The invention is so iconic that currently, countries like Iceland, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Denmark, etc. run largely on wind power throughout the year with fossil fuels used only as a backup option!
1902 AD – Electrical Air Conditioner
Willis Carrier, a mechanical engineer from New York solved the problem of summer humidity wrinkling magazine pages at a Brooklyn publishing company in 1902 by inventing a machine that ‘treated air’.
His invention passed compressed air through a filter which was enveloped by metal coils containing industrial coolant. The resultant output was that the outside hot air became a lot cooler and this invention eventually gave birth to the modern air conditioner we currently use.
1903 – Wright Flyer
The Wright brothers launched their air powered aircraft on December 17, 1903 to kick start the era of public aviation. Many inventors before them had tried air-powered flight, but it was the Wright brothers who figured out how to keep humans aloft in the air. It is their demonstration that inspired engine-propelled aircraft and helped humans to finally conquer land, sea, and air!
1908 AD – Ford Model T
Henry Ford’s Model T (or the Tin Lizzie) is certainly not the first production car to hit the world’s streets, but it was the first automobile that revolutionized the mass-scale production of cars. The first Model T’s hit the streets around September 27, 1908 and were a big hit with the public!
Ford used his expertise in assembly line production and coupled it with automobile production to design a continuous, moving chain of car production methods that were first launched in his Detroit factories. Not only were the cars revolutionary – four-cylinders and 20 horsepower cars were a dream back then; by 1923, more than half of the cars on the roads were all Model T’s!
1938 AD – Heinkel HeS 3 Jet Engine
Designed by Hans von Ohain, it was the first jet engine to power an aircraft – the Heinkel He 178. The major overhaul in this engine was that it did away with piston engines and gave way to more efficient and faster propeller engines that created more propulsion.
Currently, the Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” is considered as one of the most powerful aircraft for mass public and it uses the Pratt & Whitney JT9D engine which traces its history from the Heinkel HeS 3.
1942 – Chicago Pile 1
It was the world’s first nuclear reactor in which 40,000 graphite blocks had discs of refined uranium metal inside and held tightly together inside a wooden frame. It was built under the leadership of Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago.
Though it couldn’t create enough energy to power a light bulb (it made only 0.5 watts of energy for 30 minutes), it is now considered the forefather of modern nuclear reactors that power major cities of the world.
1946 – ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer)
The first ever computing machine of modern civilization, and possibly the first-ever data centers to be created, the ENIAC was the size of an entire room! Since it was a prototype, it weighed almost 80 tons and took up to 1,800 square feet of space!
However, when it comes to calculations, it solved large numerical problems which its previous mechanical predecessors could not do. The current smartphone and computer you use, are all from the lineage of the ENIAC!
1956 – SS Ideal X
In 1956, Malcolm McLean invented a simple metal container for shipping goods over long distances, but he needed a ship to handle all that weight. A ship called the SS Ideal X (a converted World War II oil tanker) took its maiden cargo shipment from New Jersey to Houston on April 26, 1956. It was originally built by The Marinship Corporation during World War II but was later purchased by Malcolm McLean’s Pan-Atlantic Steamship Company to beta-test his idea.
This ship gave birth to modern globalization and helped larger ships of the future to reduce the price of shipping and helped cities to transform into port towns.
1971 AD – CT scanner
Sir Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield, the inventor of the CT scanner scanned his own head in 1971 to create a digitized and computerized tomography image. Ever since then, medical care has revolutionized itself with the help of the CT Scanner or the CAT scan which helps physicians to see inside the human body without performing any invasive surgeries on the patient.
For this creation, Sir Hounsfield was awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1979.
1866 AD – SS Great Eastern
The largest-ever ship built at that time was the converted steam-liner SS Great Eastern that helped lay the Transatlantic telegraph cable and linked the world into one thread for constant human communication without physical boundaries.
The first telegraph messages exchanged via the underwater cables laid by this behemoth ship were wires between the-then US President Andrew Johnson and Queen Victoria of England who expressed mutual admiration for this ship and the cable in unifying ties between the two nations.
1935 – Douglas DC-3 Airplane
The 1,200-horsepower twin-engine airplane with retractable landing gear was a legendary aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company. It was the first-ever commercial aircraft for public travel that helped flying in the sky much safer and cheaper.
Eventually, its inception gave birth to the currently booming $700 billion airline industry. The plane has also seen wartime when it was modified into the C-47 Skytrain that helped the Allies’ make it their main transport aircraft during World War II and it was also used by the US military in the Vietnam War.
1942 AD – V-2 Rocket
The Nazi-built V-2 rocket in 1942 was what spurred the ‘space race’ in 1957 with the Sputnik launch, Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight in 1961, and Alan Shepard’s orbit of the Earth in the same year. The V-2 was the brainchild of German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and was labeled as the Vengeance Weapon 2 to thwart the USA in its space endeavors.
It was the world’s first large-scale guided missile that was propelled by liquid oxygen and alcohol. It was so powerful back then that is could rise six miles into the air, could carry a one-tonne atomic warhead payload, and also had a range of nearly 200 miles!
It also has a deadly history to it because during the World War II, it was used by the Nazis to kill thousands of laborers in their concentration camps who died of radiation after being forced to construct the weapon over the years. Its legacy inspired NASA to build the Saturn V rocket that put the first human on the Moon!
1500 BCE – Ruler
The Indus Valley Civilization was the first to use rulers for measurement and calculations. Rulers made from Ivory have been excavated in Lothal (2400 BCE) that reveal that the rulers were calibrated to about 1/16 of an inch (less than 2 millimeters)!
The ‘Mohenjodaro ruler’ as they are popularly called also had decimal subdivisions up to 0.005 of an inch and were found to have inspired the “hasta” increments of about 1 3/8 inches that were used in the ancient architecture of South India. These rulers eventually found their way into Persia and Central Asia where they became popular and reached mass usage.
1990 AD – Hubble Telescope
The brainchild of the astronomer Edwin Hubble, this telescope is what told the astronomers back on earth that the universe is continually expanding! The telescope built by Lockheed (spacecraft) and Perkin-Elmer (optics) in the honor of Edwin Hubble, is as large as a bus and has a unique arrangement of reflectors, mirrors and cameras. This massive contraption can click deep-space images emanating from galaxies far-far away from hints about the presences of black holes, birth of stars and newer planets that may be habitable like the Earth.
Launched in April 1990, the Hubble Telescope orbits the Earth at five miles per second each day and is history’s most powerful telescope till date.
1987 AD – SLA-1
1987 saw the launch of the first-ever commercial 3D printer, the SLA-1 by its inventor Chuck Hull. 3D printing has since then helped manufacturers to hasten the process of mass-manufacturing and helped them to print really large and complicated things like entire houses, prosthetics, human physiology and space materials. The .STL file format is an homage to Hull.
1855 AD – Bessemer Converter
The industrial revolution was run by the usage of iron which was used for building bridges and railroads, but since iron isn’t rust-proof, it led to many calamities during those times. Since steel was expensive at the time, manufacturers preferred to stick to iron. Enter Henry Bessemer.
His invention, the Bessemer Converter dropped the price of creating steel from iron drastically from $40 per ton to $6! He had found a way to blow oxygen through molten pig iron that created more efficient and stronger steel.
The converter helped the world do away with the wrought iron casts and since it required less manpower, it also revolutionized the way humans used steel in expanding infrastructure in the modern era – the Burj Khalifa has the longest steel beams in history that support the entire structure’s weight!
1964 AD – Horn Antenna finding
The first horn antennas were constructed by Bengali-Indian radio researcher Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1897 during his research on microwaves, but it was the 15 meters-long Holmdel Horn Antenna at the Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey which helped his invention gain a new meaning!
Bell Labs’ astronomers Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias were working on the Holmdale Horn Antenna on May 20, 1964, when they noticed weird hums on their receivers. Initially, they thought that it was pigeons inside the antenna but later realized that they were getting signals from a Cosmic Microwave Background from deep space! This eventually helped humans get the first hint of evidence on the origins of the universe and how it may have formed!
They had discovered cosmic microwave background radiation by fluke! This unique discovery won them the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics.
1959 AD – TRANSIT
It was the first-ever operational navigation system mainly meant to monitor a spacecraft’s trajectory and flight path. It was developed by the U.S. military as a response to the launch of the Sputnik by the Russians, but since then, it has revolutionized human navigation as well as space navigation!
The modern GPS (Global Positioning System) is inspired from the TRANSIT and is a constellation of satellites constantly orbiting earth to help militaries gain strategic reconnaissance capabilities and gives humans direction based navigation. This is a major overhaul over the traditional physical maps!
1981 – Quantum Computing
Richard Feynman, an American physicist, had first proposed the idea of a quantum computer in the 1980s which are now a reality! Most big companies across the world like Google, Facebook and governmental organizations take the help of quantum computing to quicken calculation speed and generation of results.
The massive surge in space research is the result of quantum computers. The quantum processor is generally composed of five highly superconducting qubits. In August 2016, scientists at the University of Maryland successfully built the first reprogrammable quantum computer. – Wiki
1994 – Predator Drone
The RQ-1 Predator drone was originally conceptualized in the 1980s, but was eventually flight-tested in 1994 in the Mojave Desert. The drone is a multi-role aircraft or MQ that helps it go beyond passive reconnaissance.
It is the first machine in the world where machines replace humans in the battlefield as an unmanned aerial bot. Though they cause massive collateral damage, they are being widely adopted by militaries across the world for fighting global terrorism.
1999 AD – Simputer
The “simple, inexpensive and multilingual people’s computer” or the Simputer was the idea of a team of 7 scientists of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in collaboration with Encore India, a company based in Bangalore. It was a Linux-based device that was an open hardware handheld computer, self-contained and hand-held for personal usage and was meant to bring internet to the masses of India and a low-cost alternative to costly computers. It was commercially launched in 2002.
The Simputer is considered as an early inspiration for handheld mobile devices like the Apple iPhone. Current Simputer derivatives are used by the Indian Army, the Indian government and other public and private organizations for e-governance and better strategic management in remote areas.
2008 AD – LHC (Large Hadron Collider)
Arguably the largest and most powerful single machine on Earth is the LHC – a particle accelerator or collider! The collider is a 27-kilometer ring of superconducting magnets that is used to collide subatomic particles at nearly the speed of light.
On September 10, 2008, the LHC at CERN in Switzerland was first turned on and since then, it had made some really astonishing discoveries like the Higgs-Boson (God Particle) found in 2012 which can lead us to know more about black holes, multiple universes and interstellar time travel!
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