Last Updated: May 13, 2020
When it comes to inventions that changed the world, how are we supposed to say which was the most important?
In the beginning, there was fire… thank you, Prometheus! That was a good start!
Still, what were the inventions that changed the world most deeply and shaped how we see it today?
Let’s strip things down to the bare essentials!
There’s a simple method:
Sometimes I like to perform a little experiment when I first meet someone.
The question is:
If you could go back in time, what 3 things from the Present would you pack?
There is no right answer! The difficult part is that, obviously, you can’t take anything that runs on electricity… so no smartphones and coffee makers, guys. In other words, some of the greatest inventions that changed the world are off-limits. And still, there are many things from the Present that can be more than useful.
Let’s get crazy!
(Here you say – “context, please”)
There you go:
One day you just decide the Present sucks (as people usually do on a lazy Tuesday afternoon). You grab a Samsonite suitcase, pack your 3 things that will help your future life in the past (ouch!), storm out of the office, and BAM!
For the sake of this article, I performed an innocent poll with the same question. (I’ll share the results in a moment, so don’t go anywhere… )
There are hundreds of important inventions since the Big Bang. Some of them we are never going to know about, thanks to Sir Julius Caesar, who (on a lazy Tuesday afternoon, no doubt!) decided to burn the Library of Alexandria and set humanity’s database back a thousand years.
Today we have almost everything a person can possibly need. (Still waiting for time machines, though!)
Now, when you read this, just imagine the world without each of the following items we have grown so accustomed to: hairdryers, washing machines, cars, refrigerators, subway…
But, to my question!
The Results from the Poll: Brace Yourselves!
Here comes the fun part!
On a lazy Tuesday afternoon, I was writing to friends and colleagues to ask them the burning question of the day. As many as 50 people of all ages (18 and over) got excited and answered my question.
And let me just say:
The variety of answers I received is worth writing a novel about, guys!
Many major inventions that changed our world were mentioned. The differences of opinions between men and women were something I did not expect, though. See for yourself:
Let’s start with the guys:
Men were very creative. The most popular item of choice remained unchanged:
A weapon of mass destruction (or just a weapon of choice, with an infinite bullet system of course).
Other answers sounded like:
- Blueprint for the recreation of the Web
- A laptop with a massive hard drive and a custom made mini solar panel
- A truck full of gold
- A book with all the major inventions and the exact methods to recreate them
- A contemporary map of the world
- The formula of some vaccine (or how to become rich in the past)
- A video of Tesla on the Moon to show the Vatican
Some of the male fantasies may or may not have included designs to conquer the world… (I’ll let that remain a mystery… ). Only 10% of the guys thought to lose 1 slot over antibiotics and/or vaccines. Even a smaller percentage thought to take a family picture. The most unique answers included a package of seeds and thermal clothes.
Some men even had the audacity to claim that their manhood is the only thing they needed… (no comment!)
Ladies, on the other hand:
Were quite concerned about their personal hygiene. The most popular choice among women of all ages were:
Antibiotics (some even named the brand or just mentioned that it has to be a broad-spectrum antibiotic).
In general, women used 2 of the 3 available slots for items like:
- Feminine sanitary products
The most unusual answers included:
- A water filter (kudos!)
- The boyfriend… (when your boyfriend is an object!)
- A lotion against lice
- Kindle that works on batteries and batteries for Kindle
Not one of the ladies mentioned a weapon or a plan to establish dominion over the world with the 21st-century knowledge of history and technology. And only one included money on the list…
In conclusion, we may say that, in general, time-traveling guys are going to have some fun killing people with advanced weapons and protecting themselves from real or imaginary threats. Eventually, they are doomed to catch some disease and will end up begging a lady time traveler for a penicillin shot or a quick death.
On the other hand, the ladies will live in a relatively clean and lice-free environment for a couple of days, until some obvious financial issues come along. (Or someone blames them for being too clean, and a witch-hunt is triggered – I can totally see that happening, by the way!) And they will end up begging a 21st-century time traveling knight with a shiny weapon (armed to the teeth and in desperate need of medical help!) for protection.
Of course, there are many great inventions and inventors that have shaped our society the way we see it today… influencers excluded, please!
Today we will count down the top 10 inventions that changed the world.
(We have decided to leave behind ancient inventions that changed the world, such as the wheel, because, well… nobody knows who invented it first and when, and it’s the wheel…)
Here we go:
Top 10 Inventions That Changed the World
On a lazy Tuesday afternoon, Sir Isaac Newton was sitting blissfully under a tree, when an apple fell on his head (why is it always an apple?), and he discovered gravity…
Now, some scholars say the story is a myth. The year of the so-called apple incident remains unknown, but that sure sounds like something that can happen on a lazy Tuesday.
Many inventions and discoveries that changed history happened because of a mistake or when their inventors or discoverers were looking for something completely different.
Need I remind you of a certain gentleman called Christopher Columbus, who was looking for India and China but discovered America instead?
Today we’ll start with one of the revolutionary inventions that changed the course of history:
10. The Printing Press
Now, the printing press is arguably one of the most influential of all inventions on the list.
Somewhere around 1439, a goldsmith called Johannes Gutenberg adapted some existing technologies and came up with the printing press.
He put many elements together, and the result was the machine that could make books!
His marvelous invention made all the difference in the world, and we are still enjoying the fruits of his creation today.
In 1476, William Caxton introduced the printing press in England. He established his press in Westminster. That’s how the dialect of this part of England established itself as the official British dialect that would become known as Standard English much later.
The mass production of books is arguably one of the best things that happened to humanity. It accelerated the speed of technological development and was one of the factors that led to the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Without the printing press, humanity would still be enjoying the perks of the Middle Ages.
The invention of printing helped develop every aspect of human experience. It immediately laid the foundations of what would become one of the greatest entertainments there is – the novel.
Books are undeniably one of the most important breakthroughs of humanity. They laid the red carpet for the modern age to come triumphantly on a white horse.
Personally, if I could make a journey back in time, my plan is to go to 18th century London, rent a printing press, and hire people to work in it. I would then print one of the world’s future bestselling novels and steal somebody’s career before they were even born.
Inventions and advancements in the medical field have given people more… time.
They have not only saved so many lives over the centuries and improved the standard of living, but also significantly prolonged the average life expectancy.
Here are the 3 medical inventions that changed our lives, starting with:
Vaccines are one of the greatest life-changing inventions of all time. Without them, humanity would still be facing the everyday horrors of smallpox, polio, and measles.
In 1798, Edward Jenner infected his own son with cowpox. (Talk about bravery!) After the experiment proved to be successful, he started to deliberately expose healthy people to cowpox to confirm his hypothesis. This man is credited to have saved over 530 million lives with his vaccine.
And that’s how medicine came up with the notion of vaccines. The word derives from the Italian word for cow – vacca, as a homage to the cow which saved so many people.
The trick behind vaccines is that the virus with which the patient is injected mimics the real one. Thus, protection is introduced, and the body produces an immune response.
Today, smallpox is the only human disease that is extinct worldwide. The world is looking forward to the eradication of diseases like malaria, rabies, HIV, and tuberculosis.
Fingers crossed, guys!
On a careless Friday afternoon in 1928, Alexander Fleming looked at an old and almost forgotten petri dish (seriously, the guy was a messy bessy!). An entire colony of bacteria was thriving in this vast macro territory, except for an island of mold. Because Fleming had left the petri dish lying around in a cabinet for some time, some mold had started to grow on it…
And that is how penicillin was first discovered!
Penicillin changed the face of medicine! By the end of World War II, more than 650 billion units of penicillin were produced.
Antibiotics save the lives of millions of people every year. All thanks to some mold in a petri dish.
(In all fairness, ancient Egyptians used to apply moldy bread on their wounds as an antibiotic. Just don’t get any ideas!)
Today, 90 years after the discovery of the first antibiotic, there are more than 100 different antibiotics. They treat bacterial infections, though they are basically useless against viruses.
And last but not least:
Now, contraception has a rich and somewhat disgusting history. In the 20th century, Homo Sapiens finally learned how to slow down the process of breeding like a farm animal and figured out a couple of methods to protect the females…
(Why wasn’t there an apple to fall on somebody’s manhood somewhere over the centuries so he could figure out some pretty basic laws of physics? In other words – where is an apple when you need one?)
The sexual revolution of the 1960s pinpointed the beginning of the mass production of condoms and contraception pills. And consequently, well… women gained the right to have lots of fun, too.
Among the many inventions that completely changed not only the way people move from one point in space to another but the quality of life of humankind.
Here’s an old but gold one:
6. Internal Combustion Engine
Not unlike the printing press, transportation technology changed us forever.
Internal combustion engines work with an explosive fuel that’s inside the barrel. As a fuel, they use natural oil, which in the pre-automobile era was used to waterproof ships.
Well, in the 19th century, scientists found a better use for this natural product. One that would enable humanity to travel at what until that time were considered unthinkable distances in a short time.
Behind the invention of the internal combustion engine are a group of people, not just a single inventor. The first successful internal combustion engine was created in 1859 by the engineer Étienne Lenoir. In 1876, Nikolaus Otto invented the first modern internal combustion engine.
In the years to follow, many improvements have been made. Modern internal combustion engines are much more fuel efficient, and the rates of harmful emissions have considerably decreased over the last decades.
Gasoline powered engines enabled the mass production of motor vehicles. In the late 1890s, the first vehicles were already meandering around carriages on the streets of the biggest American and European cities. Henry Ford was one of the people that triggered the industrial revolution.
We have not yet entered the era of post-fossil fuel society. In other words, the internal combustion engine is still going strong. And it made many other inventions possible.
Now, let’s have a look at good old:
The physical phenomenon has been known to humans for centuries. The ancient Greeks, for example, were so fascinated by it that they assigned the power of thunders to the king of all gods (and a bit of a naughty boy!) – Zeus. In other words, a thunderbolt is a symbol of power (and sexiness…), and even Harry Potter’s got one on his forehead!
The work and experiments of Nikola Tesla, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Alessandro Volta gave the world the electric battery, the light bulb, and consequently everything that runs on electricity nowadays.
Inventing the power to channel electricity is one of the greatest achievements of humanity and one of the fundamental things that changed the world. It triggered an avalanche of innumerable inventions which could not exist without electricity.
Electricity made possible all the remaining 4 technological important inventions that made all the difference in the world.
And we are off to a flying start:
We can’t talk about airplanes without mentioning Mr. Leonardo Da Vinci. One thing is for sure, he definitely knew what to do on his Tuesday afternoons. An inventor with a particular passion for flying, in the 15th century he drew the first designs for an aircraft that resembled a bird in flight.
Flash forward to 1903 – the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first inventors to create a real flying machine. They laid the foundation of what is today one of the most important transportation methods in the world.
The application of airplanes has spread literally over every aspect of life. We use them for everyday transportation of passengers and cargo, for military and business purposes., Airplanes were used in every major battle in World War II, one of the 20th century’s seminal events.
In 2019, the largest airplane is called Antonov 225 AN-Mriya. It weighs over 640 tons, is 84m long, and has an 88m wingspan. This Ukrainian SSR plane can reach a top speed of 850 km/h and costs somewhere between $200 and $250 million.
Here come the final 3 inventions from our list. Our world would definitely not be the same without any of them:
Do you remember the old rotary phones we had at home when we were kids? We used to memorize our friends’ phone numbers. And when someone answered the phone, they said: “how are you?”. Ah, youth…
Well, today we are enjoying our smartphones, nobody needs to remember any number, and when we answer the phone, we say “where are you?”. And thanks to mobile internet and GPS, maybe even that’s going to end pretty soon.
And all this thanks to Alexander Graham Bell and Antonio Meucci, who invented the first telephone. In 1854, Meucci invented a voice communication device and called it telettrofono (thank God someone gave that name a haircut!). The word telephone literally means far voice in Greek, AND it sounds much better. AND we all just say phone nowadays.
Bell invented the first practical telephone in 1875, and by the way, he suggested we answer it with Ahoy!… What happened with that? He was also the founder of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, a.k.a AT&T.
In 2007, Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone. And a new era began…
2. Personal Computer
Computers are all around us no matter the conditions… They are in space, under water, on the highest peaks, in the toilets. They have become our personal assistants, and usually, not a single day goes by for most of us without using a PC or Mac. The technology that changed the world is one of humanity’s favorite inventions ever!
Not unlike the internal combustion engine and the telettrofono (that’s the word of the day now!), it took more than a single inventor to create that miracle of the modern age. Names like Charles Babbage, Steve Wozniak, and Alan Turing are worth mentioning here!
After the ENIAC in the 1940s, computer technology began to develop at a faster pace. Later on, in the 970s, the desktop computer was born. Show any kid a picture of an IBM 5100… just for fun!
In terms of operating systems, the pioneers, whose names shall remain in history, are Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Linus Torvalds. Those guys gave us Microsoft, MacOS, and Linux…
And the Number 1 slot goes to:
The blood in the veins and the air in the lungs of personal computers. So to speak…
After the development in computer technology, Robert E. Kahn and Vint Cerf created their little miracle that the world can’t live without anymore. (Do you remember the Year 2000 problem? There were people in 1999 who claimed that computers are not going to be able to switch their calendars to the year 2000 and that we will face Armageddon. Oh well.)
Like Gutenberg’s printing press, the invention of internet changed every possible aspect of our lives. It had a revolutionary impact on technology. The web changed the face of commerce, business, medicine, politics, and much more.
Among the more recent inventions that changed the world are the advancements in robotics. AI algorithms and the capabilities of machine learning are the power behind every web search, social media, e-commerce,advances in healthcare… The future of technologies is bright and shiny!
So, do you agree with our list of inventions that changed the world?
And after everything that was just said, let’s ask the question:
What is an invention that changed the world?
Since the dawn of civilization, men and women have used their creativity, imagination, and curiosity to mesmerize the world and make it a better place for all of us.
From the beginning of the utilization of fire and some basic tools, through the wheel and nail… (or, as Gandalf said – through fire and water!) Among the inventions that changed the world which deserve an honorable mention are the X-ray, the miracle of refrigeration, television, the camera, the list goes on and on.
In the near future, humanity has lots of new inventions to look forward to, like 5G networks and improvements in machine learning. Genetic engineering will open new horizons for Homo Sapiens.
Have a great day, everyone!
See you around!