Author: Maciamo Hay
Disclaimer: There are tens of thousands of human inventions through the ages and around the globe. The aim of this page is not to be extensive or encyclopedic, but rather to attempts to give an overview of the greatest and most useful inventions, those that have beeen fundamental to shape modern society as we know it. Feel free to suggest new additions, although I will set a maximum limit to 100 inventions. Here are a few rules about what can or cannot be listed:
- Discoveries, scientific concepts and theories are excluded from the list.
- There are often plenty of minor improvements and variants to existing technologies. Only the first invention or very important improvements (e.g. from black & white to colour photography) can be accepted.
- Games and sports are not listed because they are not essential inventions for the progress of humanity..
- A lot of complex modern technologies, such as space flight, nuclear power, or anything related to computers or the Internet are the result of the combined research of thousands of people around the world and therefore cannot be listed as single inventions here.
- Some inventions have had a lot of pionneers, who may have developed a technology earlier, but only partially or in a non functional way. A famous example of early airplanes. Only the first functional invention is taken into account.
- Inventions have to be specific, not vague categories like agriculture or chemistry.
Summary of the principal inventions by country
Inventions by chronological order
Paper currency (7th century, China)
Navigational compass (11th century, China)
Firearms (12th century, China)
Glasses (1280's, Italy)
Mechanical clock (1335, Italy)
Printing Press (c. 1440, Germany)
Invented by Johannes Gutenberg.
Viol (viola da gamba) and Cello (late 15th and 16th century, Italy)
Pocket watch (1510, Germany)
Invented by Peter Henlein.
Violin (Early 16th century, Italy)
- 1593 : Invented by Galileo Galilei (Italy)
- 1714 : Mercury thermometer invented by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (Poland/Netherlands)
Microscope (1595, Netherlands)
Invented by Zacharias Janssen.
- late 11th century : astronomical lenses (Sweden)
- 13th century : experimental telescopes built by Francis Bacon (UK)
- 1595/1608 : refracting telescope (Netherlands)
- 1609 : improved by Galileo (Italy)
Newspaper (1605, Belgium/France/Germany)
The world's first printed newspapers were the Relation aller fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien published in Strasbourg (Germany at the time, now France), and the Nieuwe Tijdingen, published the same year in Antwerp (part of the Spanish Netherlands at the time, now Belgium).
- 1623 : automatic calculator invented by Wilhelm Schickard (Germany)
- 1642 : adding machine invented by Blaise Pascal (France)
- 1954 : electronic calculator invented by IBM (USA)
Barometer (1643, Italy)
Invented by Evangelista Torricelli.
Daily newspaper (1645, Germany)
The Einkommende Zeitungen in Lepizing.
Pendulum clock (1657, Netherlands)
Invented by Christiaan Huygens.
Pressure cooker (1679, France)
Invented by Denis Papin.
Postage stamps (1680, England)
Adhesive stamp invented in 1840 in Britain
Clarinet (1690, Germany)
Invented by Johann Christoph Denner.
Steam engine (1698, UK)
Invented by Thomas Savery in 1698, and improved by James Watt in 1769.
Piano (early 1700's, Italy)
Invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Florence.
Fire extinguisher (England, 1723)
Patented in England in 1723 by Ambrose Godfrey.
Magazine (England, 1731)
The Gentleman's Magazine was the world's first general-interest magazine.
Refrigerator (1748-1856, Scotland/USA)
- 1748 : first known method of artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by William Cullen (Scotland).
- 1805 : first refrigerator invented by Oliver Evans (USA).
- 1834 : first patent for a vapor-compression refrigeration system granted to Jacob Perkins (USA).
- 1842 : first system for refrigerating water to produce ice developed by John Gorrie (Scotland-USA).
- 1848 : first commercial vapor-compression refrigerator developed by Alexander Twining (USA). It was commercialised in 1856.
Hot air balloon (France, 1782-83)
Invented by the brothers Josef and Etienne Montgolfier.
- 1785 : first modern parachute invented by Jean Pierre Blanchard (France).
- 1890's : Hermann Lattemann and his wife Käthe Paulus jump with bagged parachutes (Germany).
- 1911 : knapsack parachute invented by Gleb Kotelnikov (Russia).
Steam boat (1786, USA)
First built by John Fitch.
- 1791 : Gas turbine patented by John Barber (England).
- 1826 : Reciprocating internal combustion engine patented by Samuel Morey (USA)
- 1867 : Petrol engine developed by Nikolaus Otto (Germany)
- 1892 : Diesel engine invented by Rudolph Diesel (Germany)
- 1924-57 : Rotary engine developed by Felix Wankel (Germany)
- 1936-39 : Jet engine developed simultaneously by Frank Whittle (England) and Hans von Ohain (Germany).
Submarine (1800, USA/France)
Invented by American Robert Fulton commissioned by Napoleon. First launched in France.
Ambulance service (early 1800's, France)
Modern method of army surgery, field hospitals and the system of army ambulance corps invented by Dominique Jean Larrey, surgeon-in-chief of the Napoleonic armies.
Locomotive (1804, UK)
Invented by Richard Trevithick. First Steam Locomotive invented by George Stephenson in 1814.
Railway (1820, UK)
The idea of the railway dates back to Roman times, 2000 years ago, when horse-drawn vehicles were set on cut-stone tracks. In 1802, the first modern horse-drawn train appeared in England, and the first steam powered train was however launched in 1820, also in England.
Comic strips (1820's, Switzerland)
Swiss Rodolphe Toepffer was probably the first modern cartoonist.
- 1825 : First photograph (France)
- 1840 : Silver photo (France)
- 1840 : Negative (UK)
- 1861 : Colour photography invented by James Clerk Maxwell (Scotland)
Gas stove/cooker (1826, England)
First patented and manufactured by James Sharp.
Lawn mower (1827, England)
Invented by Edwin Beard Budding.
- 1828 : first horse-drawn carriage on rail in Baltimore (USA).
- 1868 : first cable-car in New York (USA).
- 1873 : first steam-powered tram.
- 1880 : first electric tram in St. Petersburg (Russia) and the next year in Berlin (Germany).
Alternating current (1830-31, UK/USA)
Discovered independently around the same time by the Englishman Michael Faraday and the American Joseph Henry.
Light bulb (1835, UK/Germany)
- 1835 : first Incandescent light bulb invented by James Bowman Lindsay (UK).
- 1854 : first practical light bulb invented by Heinrich Goebel (Germany).
Saxophone (1840's, Belgium)
Invented by Adolphe Sax.
Telegraph (1844, USA)
Invented by Samuel Morse.
Telephone (1849, Italy)
The invention of the telephone has long been credited to the Scot Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. However, the Italian Antonio Meucci is now recognised to have invented the device as early as 1849.
Dishwasher (1850-1886, USA)
Steam-powered airship (1852, France)
Invented by Henri Giffard.
Helicopter (1861, France)
The earliest flying toys resembling the principle of a helicopter first appeared in China around 400 BCE. More advanced models were developed in Russia and France in the second half of the 18th century. The first small steam-powered model was invented by Gustave de Ponton d'Amécourt, who also coined the word "helicopter". New models were developed mainly in France, notably by Emmanuel Dieuaide in 1877, Dandrieux in 1878, Jacques and Louis Breguet in 1906, or Paul Cornu in 1907. The first turbine-powered helicopter in the world was not built until 1951, in the USA.
Metro/Subway (1863, Britain)
The London Underground was the first rapid transit network in the world.
Vacuum cleaner (1865, USA)
Dynamite (1866, Sweden)
Invented by Alfred Nobel.
Wrist watch (1868, Switzerland => Patek Philippe & Co.)
- 1874 : Radio waves identified by by James Clerk Maxwell (Scotland).
- 1875 : Thomas Edison patents electrostatic coupling system (USA).
- 1895 : first radio receiver developed by Alexander Stepanovich Popov (Russia).
- 1895 : first successful radio transmission acheived by Guglielmo Marconi (Italy/UK). Commercial radio patented the next year.
Loudspeaker (1876, Scotland)
Invented by Alexander Graham Bell.
Phonograph (1877, USA)
Invented by Thomas Alva Edison, although based on France-born Leon Scott's 1857 phonautograph.
Microphone (1877, Germany)
Invented by Emil Berliner.
Cash register (1879, USA)
Invented by James Ritty.
- First TV => 1884, Germany
- TV tube => 1907, Russia
- Electronic TV & Broadcast => 1927, USA
Motorcycle (1885, Germany)
First designed and built by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach
AC motor (1885-87, Italy/USA)
"Commutatorless" alternating current induction motors seem to have been independently invented by Galileo Ferraris and Nikola Tesla. Ferraris demonstrated a working model of his single-phase induction motor in 1885, and Tesla built his working two-phase induction motor in 1887.
Car/Automobile (1886, Germany)
Developed independently and simultaneously by Carl Benz in Mannheim, amd Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart.
Zipper (1891, USA)
Invented by Whitcomb L. Judson.
Animation (1892, France)
First animated film created by Emile Reynaud.
Tractor (1892, USA)
- first practical gasoline-powered tractor built by John Froelich in 1892.
- irst practical caterpillar tracks for use in tractors developed by Benjamin Holt in 1904.
Cinema (1894, France)
Cinematograph invented by the Lumiere brothers.
Electric stove/cooker (1896, USA)
First patented by William S. Hadaway.
Remote control (1898, Austria-Hungary)
First developed in 1893 by Nikola Tesla.
Air Conditioner (1902, USA)
Invented by Willis Carrier.
Traffic lights (1914, USA)
Transistor (1925, Austria-Hungary)
Invented by Julius Edgar Lilienfeld and patented in Canada. William Shockley and a co-worker at Bell Labs, Gerald Pearson, had built operational versions from Lilienfeld's patents.
Parking meter (1935, USA)
Helicopter (1939, Russia)
Developed by Igor Sikorsky.
Microwave oven (1947, USA)
Invented by Percy Spencer.
Atomic clock (1949, USA)
Charge/credit card (1950, USA => Diner's Club)
Video Games (1951-58, USA/UK)
Invention disputed between 3 people, 2 Americans and a Briton.
Laserdisk (1958, USA; commercialised by MCA and Philips in 1972)
Photocopier (1959, USA => Xerox)
Soft contact lenses (1961, Czech)
Invented by Otto Wichterle.
Cassette tape (1967, Netherlands => Philips)
LCD screen (1968, Germany)
Quartz watch (1969, Japan => Seiko)
Video tape (1972, Netherlands - Philips, later replaced by JVC's VHS)
Walkman (1977, Germany => commercialised by the Japanese Sony from 1979)
Compact Disk (1982, Netherlands/Germany - Philips)
CD-ROM (1985, Netherlands/Japan => Philips/Sony)
Minidisk (1991, Japan => Sony)
Discuss this article on the Eupedia Forum.