Can you think of three ancient or modern inventions that changed the world? Try asking strangers on the street this question and you’ll probably get three different replies every single time.
Moreover, it’s difficult to limit it down to just three. There is however a handful of medical and technology inventions which really have made the world a better place in which to live.
All it took was some smart inventors, a lot of trial and error and applying innovation strategy to commercialize inventions.
And if after all this inspiring talk of inventions you feel like some of your own concepts could have a commercial application then you might be interested in my article on how to patent an idea or product in the US.
The light bulb
Think about a world without light. It is hard to imagine, isn’t it? But prior to Humphrey Davy inventing the light bulb in 1809 people did actually live their lives in darkness for the most part. Candles were the sole source of light on those dark evenings.
You probably thought that Thomas Edison created the light bulb, right? Well, the light bulb created by Humphrey Davy really was not practical and burnt out quite quickly. What Edison did was advanced the technology by making numerous experiments to develop a carbon filament which could burn for longer periods of time. This made the invention much more applicable, commercial and usable. He understood how to invent something through adaptive improvement to existing technology!
Of all the modern inventions that changed the world, the light bulb has facilitated longer working hours, greater safety on the roads and led to such major inventions as the TV. So there’s a lot to thank Edison for.
The printing press
Johann Gutenberg created the first printing press back in the 1440s. Prior to this point each book had to be copied manually by hand. This was usually done by monks.
Following his invention, books could easily be mass-produced and distributed to a greater number of people. This benefited the education of all citizens through the mass availability of popular books and dictionaries. It also started to standardize language (through the selfsame creation of dictionaries).
If you look at other modern inventions that changed the world that’s really only the Internet with has had such a marked effect on the use of language (especially English, Chinese and Spanish). Check out my post on the man who invented the Internet for more insights into how the Web has changed our world.
The biggest benefit however was in advancing other scientific and technology inventions throughout the world since scientists are now able to build upon the shoulders of giants, so to speak, by having access to other scientific work.
Electricity is one of those modern inventions that changed the world in drastic ways. Socially it facilitated telecommunications, light bulbs and even refrigeration. It even powered the Industrial Revolution (along with coal).
It does not however have one single original inventor that you can pinpoint. True enough, Benjamin Franklin is often deemed to be the father of electricity due to some of the groundwork experiments he did. However, the likes of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Allessandro Volta and many others advanced Franklin’s work to produce the forms of electricity we are most familiar with today in our homes.
Just as the printing press allowed scientists to build upon each other’s work, technology inventions such as electricity have always built upon the previous advancements made by other inventors/innovators.
This is probably one of the most critical medical inventions that changed the world, saving millions of lives. Penicillin has been used since World War II to fight infection and bacteria in all manner of injuries and medical complaints.
It was originally observed by a French medical student called Ernest Duchesne back in 1896. However, it wasn’t until Alexander Fleming noticed in 1928 that the Penicillum notatum mold could actually kill off bacteria in a petri dish.
Even at this point, Fleming wasn’t looking for some sort of new miracle cure. He saw the value of it and simply publicized it. This is one of those accidental inventions that changed the world only when it was truly commercialized. Around the time of the Second World War it was Dr. Howard Flory and Andrey Moyer who actually managed to work out a way of mass-producing penicillin.
In truth however each of these scientists deserves a large hand in creating this miracle drug.
The agricultural plow
Prior to the plow, humans were really only subsistence farmers. They lived from hand to mouth. People only required enough food to feed themselves.
The plow is one of those key technology inventions which also changed the fabric of human society. No one single inventor can actually be in pinpointed, but the plow enabled humans to churn up and furrow soil to expose the nutrients located deeper in the ground. This meant more food could be created more rapidly. Think of this like the ultimate productivity improvement technique for the dark ages.
The social implications of this was that people then had more food the next required. Food was then bartered and exchanged with others. Society had to alter to develop into bartering systems and increase its understanding of monetary/numeric systems, etc.
Alexander Graham Bell is often heralded as the inventor of the telephone. In reality, he was the principal person behind marketing and promoting of the use of the telephone. Others had created similar technology beforehand.
He was however greatly involved in various patent disputes as to who the true inventor of the telephone actually was. That aside, the telephone has increased social networks and interactions in society and allowed rapid transmission of information throughout the world.
… And I couldn’t leave out – The wheel!!!
Nobody knows who invented the wheel, but it started the whole ball rolling (if you’ll pardon the pun).
This is an invention that changed the world in so many different ways. Initially wheels were used on carts for transporting goods more conveniently. It was not however limited to transportation. Wheels started to being used in waterwheels to power mills and as cogs and gears in more complex machines (e.g. the cotton gin). Wheels are key to pulley systems in order to help construction.
As with the other inventions that change the world , these technology inventions have benefited from incremental updates by a variety of inventors over the centuries. Each builds upon the progress made by others.