famous inventions and key history facts

Famous Inventions Timeline 🧮⏳

Timeline of Famous Inventions 🧮 That Changed the World 🌎

Any list of famous inventions will always be incomplete and/or localized. Tools with cutting edges were the game changing invention that made it possible for the wheel to be invented. The wheel is the greatest invention of all time, isn’t it? Along with the axle, the wheel led to the water wheel, cart and most of the transport inventions which followed. We’ve categorized famous inventions, for example, entertainment inventions include TV and Cinema. We’ve also included a few inventions we would “un-invent” if we had a time machine!

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Famous Inventions Year / Century Famous Inventors Category Tags Country / Region Famous Inventions Info, Background & Trivia
Airplane: Powered 1903* Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Transport. USA, Germany
  • 1903: Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited with the first powered flight.
  • 1901: Gustave Whitehead (born Gustave Weisskopf, in Germany) claims to have made powered flights in 1901 and 1902.
Airship / Dirigible 1852 Henri Giffard. Transport. France First steerable airship, powered by a steam engine & propeller, took passengers.
Algebra 800 CE* Babylonians. Mathematics. Syria Algebra comes from “al-jabr” which means “reunion of broken parts” in Arabic.
Alphabet 1050 BCE* Phoenicians. Literature. Phoenicia The “mother of modern alphabets” and the first to contain vowels & consonants. Phoenicia was located in parts of Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and Turkey.
Aluminum[US] / Aluminium[UK] 1886 Charles Martin Hall / Paul Héroult. Material. USA, France Of course, aluminum wasn’t “invented”, but the Hall–Héroult method for producing it was.
Anesthetic[US] / Anaesthetic[UK] 1804 Hanaoka Seishū. Material. Japan Hanaoka was the first surgeon to operate using an anesthetic he concocted himself from various unknown ingredients.
Atom bomb 1945 Manhattan Project. Physics. USA Developed by various scientist in the Manhattan Project and dropped in same year on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending World War II. One of the famous inventions we wish had not been invented.
Automobile, Car, Motor car 1886 Carl Benz. Transport. Germany Although Benz first patented the automobile with a gas combustion engine, there were a number of other designs being developed at the time.
Axle 3000 BCE* Engineering. The axle is the invention that, together with the wheel, made it possible to construct carts and chariots and many other forms of transport.
Ball point pen 1888 John J. Loud. Gadget. USA Subsequently refined by Hungarian László Bíró in 1938, who developed the ink and ball socket to stop the ink from drying out.
Bank note 600 CE* Tang Dynasty. Commerce. China Used to avoid heavy copper coinage in larger transactions.
Barometer 1643* Evangelista Torricell. Measurement. Italy Maybe invented previously by Gasparo Berti in 1640.
Battery: Copper / Zinc battery 1800 Alessandro Volta. Chemistry. Italy Alessandro Volta developed the “voltaic pile” battery with layers of copper and zinc based on groundwork by Luigi Galvani.
Battery: Lead battery 1859 Gaston Planté. Chemistry. France Gaston Planté invented the lead battery was also the first rechargeable battery.
Battery: Alkaline battery 1800 Lewis Urry. Chemistry. Canada Also invented the lithium battery while working at the Eveready Battery Company.
Bicycle (aka Bike, Dandy horse) 1817 Baron Karl von Drais. Transport. Germany The dandy horse was a forerunner of the bicycle, not powered by pedals.
Bicycle: Pedal powered 1839* Kirkpatrick MacMillan. Transport. Scotland Kirkpatrick MacMillan was a blacksmith who claims to have developed the first two wheeled pedal powered bicycle but this is disputed.
Bomb 1200* Jin dynasty. Weapon. China Shells made of iron and filled with gunpowder.
Braille 1829 Louis Braille. Communications. France Louis Braille, who was born blind developed Braille based on a “night writing” system devised by French military Captain Charles Barbier. Braille usage has declined due to screen reader software. World Braille Day is celebrated annually on 4th January.
Bronze 3000 BCE* Mesopotamians. Material. Mesopotamia Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper (approximately 1 part tin to 9 parts copper). Bronze is cast and in many applications can be as strong as steel.
Calculator: Mechanical 1642 Blaise Pascal. Engineering. France Invented the “Pascaline” mechanical calculator, aka “Arithmetic Machine.” The pocket calculator didn’t arrive until 1970.
Calculator: Electronic desktop 1961 Bell Punch Co. Ltd. Electronics. England The ANITA Mk VII and ANITA Mk 8 were the first electronic calculators but they still used pre-transistor vacuum tube technology.
Calculator: Electronic Handheld 1970 Sharp. Electronics. Japan The Sharp Compet QT-8B was the first handheld electronic calculator. It was battery powered and was bigger than pocket sized.
Calculator: Electronic Pocket Calulator 1971 Busicom Corporation. Electronics. Japan The Busicom LE-120A “HANDY” was the first pocket calculator. The integrated circuit (IC) featured the Mostek MK6010L “calculator on a chip.” One of the famous inventions which changed the world.
Camera 1839 Louis Daguerre. Photography. France Daguerre was the first to make a camera that could take a permanent photo. One of the famous inventions which changed the world.
Can / Tin 1810 Nicolas Appert. Storage. France The French confectioner used them for preserving food. One of the famous inventions which changed the world.
Cannon 1200 Yuan Dynasty. Weapon. China A hand cannon.
Cast iron 400 BCE* Ancient Chinese. Material. China During the Zhou Dynasty.
Cell phone[US] 1984 Motorola. Telecoms. USA The first widely available cell phone was the DynaTAC 8000X
Cellphone[US] / Mobile phone[UK] 1973 Motorola. Telecoms. USA The first handheld phone was a chunky 2.5 pounds (1.13Kg) and ran for 30 minutes before needing a recharge.
Cement 1845 Isaac Charles Johnson. Material. England Portland cement is still the cement most in use in the world. It is basically made of limestone and small quantities of other materials.
Chocolate 1900 BCE* Mesoamericans. Food. Mesoamerica Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1900 BCE. The Spanish conquistadors brought it back to Europe in the 16th century, where sugar was added, making it popular throughout society. In the 1850s in England, Joseph Fry added more cocoa butter to cocoa powder and sugar, thus making the first modern solid chocolate. Milk chocolate followed in 1875 when Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle added condensed milk to it.
Cinema 1895 Lumière Brothers. Entertainment. France The brothers called it the cinematograph.
Clock 725 CE* Tang Dynasty. Measurement. China The Chinese made the 1st mechanical clock, which, in 1656, was improved by the pendulum, invented by Dutchman Christian Huygens.
Compact Disc (CD / CD-ROM) 1982 Philips / Sony. Storage. Netherlands / Japan Originally invented to store sound recordings and later adapted as read/write data storage. Standard CD discs are 120 mm (4.7″) diameter capable of storing up to 80 minutes of audio and 700 MiB (mebibyte) of data. Later CD formats included CD-R write-once audio/data, CD-RW rewritable, VCD Video Compact Disc, Photo CD and others.
Compass 1119 Song Dynasty. Navigation. China The first compasses were made using lodestone, a naturally occurring magnetized iron ore. The wet compass, using a magnetic needle floating in water. The mariner’s dry compass with a needle in a glass box followed in Europe around 1300. One of the most famous inventions in the history of navigation.
Compressor: Mechanical 1776 John Wilkinson. Engineering. England His compressor is the prototype for all those following.
Computer 1822 Charles Babbage. Computing. England Babbage is seen as the “father of computers” because of his difference engine – a mechanical computation device. “Modern” computers came about in the 1940s.
Computer: Personal (PC) 1957 IBM. Computing. USA The first PC (Personal Computer) was the IBM 610. One of the most famous inventions of the 20th century.
Copper 5000 BCE* Vinča culture. Material. Serbia Although there is earlier evidence of copper working in Turkey, the Serbian Pločnik site claims the oldest evidence of copper making at high temperature.
Crane 500 BCE* Ancient Greeks. Engineering. Greece The trispastos or three-pulley crane
Diesel engine 1893 Rudolf Diesel. Power. Germany Diesel was born in France to Bavarian German parents but had to leave during the Franco-Prussian War. Herbert Akroyd Stuart experimented with a compression engine 2 years before him, but Diesel’s motor was more efficient.
DNA 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick. Biology. England DNA is an abbreviation of Deoxyribonucleic acid. After Watson and Crick discovered the double helix shape they walked into a pub claiming to have “found the secret of life.” One of the most famous inventions which has changed the world.
DVD 1995 Philips, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic. Storage. Various DVD stands for “Digital Versatile Disc.” Digital optical disc storage format in 12cm (4.7″) diameter standard DVD and 8cm diameter MiniDVD discs with capacities from 4.7 GB (common single-sided, single layer) up to 17.08 GB (rare double-sided, double-layer). Considerable larger than the earlier Compact Disc (CD) format.
Dynamite 1867 Alfred Nobel. Weapon. Sweden Dynamite was the first “safe” explosive. Nobel went on to award the Nobel Prizes as his legacy.
Electricity 1600 William Gilbert. Electrical. England Electricity comes from the Greek for amber.
Electricity generator 1832 Michael Faraday (England) and Joseph Henry [US]. Electrical. England, USA Nikola Tesla went on to develop the first AC generator in 1892.
Electron 1897 Joseph John Thomson. Physics. England Electrons transport electricity and are negatively charged subatomic particles.
Elevator[US] / Lift[UK] 1852 Elisha Otis. Transport. USA Fortunately for those nervous about taking an elevator, he crucially invented the safety brake, a device that stops it plummeting to earth if the cable breaks.
Email 1971 Ray Tomlinson. Computing. USA The first email contained the dull test message “QWERTYUIOP” that Tomlinson sent to himself. He also introduced the @ sign in email addresses.
Engine: Steam 1712 Thomas Newcomen. Engineering. England Necomen’s invention was built on the ideas of Denis Papin and Thomas Savery. Steam engines powered the industrial revolution.
Explosives 1847 Ascanio Sobrero. Weapon. Italy Nitroglycerin, the first explosive was originally called “pyroglycerine” by Sobrero. One of his students was Alfred Nobel, who later invented dynamite among other things.
Firearm 1250 Ancient Chinese. Weapon. China The Chinese developed prototype guns, notably the fire lance, during the 13th century. Firearms, along with gunpowder, spread across the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Fireworks 900 CE* Song Dynasty. Pyrotechnics. China Fireworks appeared between 960–1279 in the early age of gunpowder. Early fireworks were made of bamboo and gunpowder.
Fishing reel 300 CE* Ancient Chinese. Hunting. China Mentioned in ancient Chinese literature “Lives of Famous Immortals”.
Floppy disk 1967 IBM. Storage. USA, California A floppy disk (FD) is a thin, flexible, circular magnetic storage medium, which can be read and written to using a floppy disk drive (FDD). The first 8″ diskette stored 80Kb.
Football[UK] / Soccer[US] 1863 Football Association (FA) Sport. England Variations of football have been played since ancient times with references in Japan dated 1004 BCE and games between China and Japan in 50 BCE. The Romans also included football like games in the original Roman Olympic games.
  • 1500: Football, recognizable as the game is played today, can be traced back to English public schools.
  • 1863: The Football Association (FA) was formed and the first “Laws of the game” were written by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, a founding member.
  • 1863: Games played by Association Football rules were nicknamed “Assoccer” (as opposed to “Rugger” for Rugby Football rules) which was further shortened to “Soccer” by Oxford student Charles Wredford Brown.
  • 1881: As “Association Football” became more popular, spread by the lower classes there was no need for the distinction and the sport in England was just called “Football.”
  • 1904: FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was formed to govern football as it spread from England across Europe and further afield.

As Association Football spread worldwide many countries already had popular games called “Football” so they stuck with “Soccer” including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States where “Soccer” was adopted to distinguish it from football and gridiron (American football).

Gears 300 CE* Ancient Chinese. Engineering. China Rotating gears transmit torque making it possible to change the speed and direction of the power source, which created a mechanical advantage.
Genetics 1865 Gregor Mendel. Biology. Austria Mendel published his work “Experiments on Plant Hybridization” thus ringing in the science of genetics.
Glass 3500 BCE* Mesopotamians. Material. Mesopotamia Natural glass like obsidian was used in Stone Age societies for tools, but the first true glass stems from either Mesopotamia, Syria, or ancient Egypt.
Glasses (aka eyeglasses, spectacles) 1286 Optical. Italy The first eyeglasses date back to 1286, but the inventor is unknown. “Modern” specs came about when Benjamin Franklin invented the side pieces for the ear in 1728.
GUI (graphical user interface) 1973 Xerox. Computing. USA The first commercial graphical user interface (GUI) was introduced on the Xerox Alto, which was an early non-commercial personal computer. It featured a mouse-driven graphical user interface and influenced the first designs of Apple Macintosh.
Gun 1364 Weapon. China
  • 1364: First recorded use of a “hand cannon.”
  • 1380: Hand guns had spread across Europe.
  • 1400s Matchlock guns appear.
  • 1610 – 1615: Flintlock mechanism, invented by Marin le Bourgeoys in France, spread worldwide.
  • 1689: English Parliament adopted a Bill of Rights which included a right to bear arms.
  • 1718: James Puckle patented the world’s first machine gun.
  • 1807: Caplock mechanism (aka pecussion lock) patented by Rev. Alexander John Forsyth.
    The caplock merchanism was more reliable than the Flintlock mechanism and became commonplace c1825.
  • 1835: First Colt mass-produced, multi-shot, revolver.
  • 1862: The Gatling Gun is invented by Dr. Richard Gatling, US patent #36,836.
  • 1873: Winchester rifle introduced, nicknamed “the gun that won the West.”
  • 1892: First automatic pistol created by Joseph Laumann.
  • 1954: Uzi machine gun invented by Uzi Gal produced by Israel Military Industries.
  • 1968: USA President Johnson signed the Gun Control Act.
  • 1974: Taser, voltage emitting handgun, invented by Jack Cover produced. TASER is an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle” and came from Cover’s favorite book.
Gunpowder 800 CE* Tang Dynasty. Weapon. China The earliest known gunpowder formulations date back to a military manuscript of 1044 during the Song Dynasty.
Hard Disk 1954 IBM. Storage. USA A hard disk (HD) stores digital data on ridgid magnetic coared circular discs, called platters. These can be read and written to using a hard disk drive (HDD). The first generation hard disks could store 3.75 megabytes. That works out at $9,200/Mb in 1961 compared to less than $0.00003/Mb today – a 300 million fold decrease.
Helicopter 1480s* Leonardo da Vinci. Transport. Italy Chinese tops (a rotary wing on a stick) have been toys since 400 BCE but Leonardo’s design for an “aerial screw”, albeit without a rotor arm to stop the rotation is credited as the first vertical flying machine. Centuries later, in 1861, Gustave de Ponton d’Amécourt first coined the word “helicopter” although his steam-powered model never left the ground. The first manned helicopter flight was in 1907 in “Gyroplane No. 1” and development took off from there.
Hot air balloon 1783 Joseph-Ralf and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. Transport. France The first manned hot air balloon was called the “globe aérostatique”. The first piloted ascent took place with Étienne on board.
Ice 1856 James Harrison. Material. Scotland, Australia Harrison made the first ice making machine using the principle of vapour compression.
Integrated circuit 1959 Jack Kilby (Texas Instruments), Robert Noyce (Fairchild Semiconductor). Electronics. USA Integrated circuits (IC) made it possible to fit resistors, transistors and capacitors far more tightly together. The forerunners of microprocessors. One of the most famous inventions of the 20th century.
Internal combustion engine 1807 Nicéphore Niépce, Étienne Lenoir, Nikolaus Otto. Power. France, Belgium, Germany
  • 1807: Nicéphore Niépce developed the first internal combustion engine (ICE), called the Pyréolophore, with his brother Claude Niépce. Nicéphore Niépce is also credited as the inventor of photography.
  • 1859 Étienne Lenoir produced the first commercially successful internal combustion engine.
  • 1876 Nikolaus Otto created the Otto engine, the first modern internal combustion engine.

One of the most famous inventions of the 19th century.

Internet 1960s* Lawrence Roberts, Vinton Cerf, Robert E. Kahn i.a. Telecoms. USA The net was developed by many people, but the role of Lawrence Roberts, a computer scientist, stands out. It began with ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) who developed a communications network for the Defense Department’s computers known as ARPANET. The Internet as such followed in 1982, and the World Wide Web developed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990.
Iron 3000 BCE* Mesopotamians. Material. Mesopotamia Mankind began bending metal around 4400 BCE with copper, silver, and then bronze. Iron, first used by the Mesopotamians (in the states of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria) was even stronger and had a major impact on human history.
Jet 1928 Frank Whittle. Transport. England Pilot Whittle’s first plans date back to 1928 and the first patent was granted in 1932.
Laser 1960 Theodore Maiman. Physics. USA Laser stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”.
Lathe 1775 Jesse Ramsden. Engineering. England As well as the screw-cutting lathe know today, Ramsden created various other things such as surveying tools, telescopes, an electrostatic generator, and the micrometer.
Lawn mower 1830 Edwin Budding. Engineering. England Budding designed the mower for lawns on sports grounds and the like.
Lens 750 BCE* Ancient Assyrians. Physics. Ancient Assyria The word lens comes from the Latin for lentil, because they are lentil-shaped. The oldest known example is the Nimrud lens made by the ancient Assyrians, which historians believe was used as a magnifying glass, or as a burning-glass to start fires. Assyria was a Mesopotamian kingdom in the ancient Near East.
Light bulb: Electric 1879 Thomas Edison. Electrical. USA Light bulbs changed the world by making productivity possible at any time of the day. Many people are credited with prior development work (especially English scientist Humphry Davy who made an arc light in 1800), but the prize goes to Edison for a practical system with a generator, wiring and a filament light bulb with a useful lifetime. He was a prolific inventor who had over 1,000 patents.
Locomotive 1801 Richard Trevithick. Transport. England Some believe Frenchman Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, who made a steam wagon in 1770, to be the true inventor. Trevithick named his first locomotive “Puffing Devil” and transported 6 people uphill with it.
Matches: Friction 1826 John Walker. Chemistry. England Walker made the first friction match which lights by striking sandpaper.
Matches: Safety 1844 Gustaf Erik Pasch. Chemistry. Sweden Before safety matches, they were made of white phosphorus, which is toxic and caused frequent fatalities from eating their heads. They were replaced by the “hygienic” or safety match, which used red phosphorus on the striking surface.
Matches: Sulfur 577 CE Ancient Chinese. Chemistry. China The first matches were small sticks of pinewood impregnated with sulfur.
Microprocessor 1971 Ted Hoff (Intel). Electronics. USA The first one with 2300 transistors was the Intel 4004. It had the CPU (central processing unit) on a tiny space.
Microscope 1592 Various claims. Optical. Italy or Netherlands. Who actually invented the microscope is a controversial matter. Claims are made attributing the invention of the microscope to Galileo Galilei (Italian), Cornelis Drebbel (Netherlands), Zacharias Janssen (Netherlands) or his Dutch competitor, Hans Lippershey.
Mill 300-70 BCE* Engineering. Greece It’s likely the first mill was a water-powered grain mill made by Greek engineers.
Mirror 6000 BCE* Anatolians. Physics. Turkey The age of the first mirrors depends on the definition. Clearly people also used pools water to see their reflection long ago. The first known man-made ones were made of polished obsidian stone.
Money 3000 BCE* Sumerians. Commerce. Mesopotamia, Sumer Sumer was a region of Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq. Money eased trade and replaced the barter system.
Morphine 1804 Friedrich Sertürner. Chemistry. Germany Friedrich Sertürner named morphine after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Morphine is extracted from opium poppies.
Morse code 1836 Samuel Morse. Telecoms. USA He developed the Morse code as a means to speed up communication with telegraphy.
Nail 3400 BCE* Ancient Egyptians. Engineering. Ancient Egypt. Making nails required the ability to cast and/or forge metal. The oldest nails are bronze and date back to ancient Egypt and nails were widely used in the Roman period. Nail sizes are referred to using a “penny” scale. 2d is 1 inch, 3d is 1-1/4 inch etc. This use of the letter “d”, which means penny, derives from the Latin name Denarius for Roman Coins.
Newspaper 1605 Johann Carolus. Literature. Holy Roman Empire. The first newspaper was called “Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien” and was published in German in Strasbourg. The title translates to “Account of all distinguished and commemorable news”.
Nuclear fission 1938 Otto Hahn with Fritz Strassmann. Physics. Nazi Germany. Fission was later explained in 1939 by Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch, who provided the name nuclear fission. It led to the atom bomb through the Manhattan Project.
Nuclear power 1951 Various inventors. Physics. USA Nuclear power was first generated by a reactor at an experimental station near Arco, Idaho. It produced about 100 kW.
Oil 347 CE* Ancient Chinese. Chemistry. China The Chinese were already tapping oil with wells and boreholes at depths of up to 800 feet back in the 4th century.
Paper 25-220 CE* Ancient Chinese. Literature. China Papyrus and amate existed beforehand but are not considered true paper. Wood-based paper didn’t appear until the 19th century.
Paper clip / paperclip 1870s Gem Manufacturing Company. Gadget. England Most paper clips in use today are based on the “Gem type” with nearly two full loops made of wire. However, this design was never patented and it isn’t clear who invented it. But they were in production in back in the 1870s in the UK where they were produced by the Gem Manufacturing Company. Before then, a patent was awarded in 1867 to Samuel B. Fay in the United States for a similar device, but it failed to include the critical second loop that makes the paperclip so functional.
Papyrus 3000 BCE* Ancient Egyptians. Literature. Egypt Forerunner of paper made “Cyperus papyrus” pith. Also used for building and boats, rope, baskets etc..
Pasteurization 1768 Lazzaro Spallanzani. Biology. Italy Spallanzani pipped Pasteur to the post with his bacteria killing process, but Pasteur gave it the name. His more modern version that improved safety for milk-drinkers didn’t come about until 1864.
Penicillin 1928 Alexander Fleming. Biology. Scotland Discovered because Fleming noticed that a mold – Penicillium – killed a bacteria-filled Petri-dish in his lab. Some claim that French medical student Ernest Duchesne discovered properties Penicillium before Fleming in 1896, but his research wasn’t widely published.
Photography: Color 1861 James Clerk Maxwell. Optical. Scotland For the first color photograph, 3 black-and-white photographs were taken through red, green and blue filters.
Photography: Heliography 1822 Nicéphore Niépce. Optical. France Heliography was the first photographic process. In 1826 or 1827, Niépce created the world’s oldest existing print of a real-world scene.
Piano 1700 Bartolomeo Cristofori. Music. Italy Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco crafted the first pianos. The first documentary evidence is an inventory of the instruments owned by Prince Ferdinando dated 1700.
Pill (aka contraceptive pill, birth control pill). 1960 Russell Earl Marker. Biology. USA “The pill” (officially the “combined oral contraceptive pill” – COCP) caused a sexual revolution when it arrived and highly reduced the number of children in countries where it was permitted.
Piston engine 1680 Christiaan Huygens. Engineering. Netherlands Huygens experimented with an internal-combustion engine around 1680, but it took until 1859 for a gas-powered engine to be developed by French engineer J. J. Étienne Lenoir. The father of modern gas engines was Gottlieb Daimler, who built his prototype in 1885.
Plastic 1862 Alexander Parkes. Material. England The first plastic was “parkesine” aka “celluloid” and was made from cellulose and shaped. Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic followed in 1907, and was invented by Leo Baekeland.
Porcelain 100 CE* Ancient Chinese. Material. China There is no universal definition for what porcelain actually is, but it is generally a ceramic material which is produced by heating materials, one of which is kaolin, at high temperatures. It is stronger than other pottery sorts for this reason. Its name comes from the Italian word “porcellana” – cowrie shell, which is also translucent.
Printing press 1440 Johannes Gutenberg. Printing. Germany His press was in Mainz, Germany, and was based on screw presses that already existed. His was special because it mechanized the process that transferred the ink to the paper, greatly speeding up the printing process and the dissemination of knowledge, especially the bible.
Printing: Woodblock 220 CE Ancient Chinese. Printing. China Invented in the Han Dynasty China.
Pump 200 BCE* Archimedes of Syracuse. Engineering. Greece “Archimedes screw” made it possible to pump water uphill.
Quantum computer 2011 D-wave. Computing. Canada Quantum computers solve a number of computing problems much faster than traditional computers.
Quantum physics 1900 Max Planck Physics. Germany Planck developed the quantum hypothesis. Based on his research, Albert Einstein showed that light consists of individual particles known as photons.
Radio 1896-1897* Guglielmo Marconi 1896 and Nikola Tesla 1897. Telecoms. Italy, Serbia. The subject is controversial because of patent disputes. Marconi’s work was based on patents of Tesla’s. Either way, both their work was based on the research of many others before them like Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, Joseph Henry, André-Marie Ampère and Michael Faraday. Marconi won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1909 which seemed to settle the issue. But in 1943 the US decided to recognize Tesla as the inventor in order to avoid a lawsuit brought by Marconi’s company. FM Radio didn’t follow until 1933, patented by Edwin H. Armstrong.
Railway 1830 George Stephenson. Transport. England The first railway linked Liverpool and Manchester. One of the famous inventions which led to worldwide travel.
Refrigerator (aka fridge). 1748 William Cullen. Engineering. Scotland Cullen was the first to invent a cooling medium, but it took until 1804 for Oliver Evans (USA) to design a refrigerator, and 1844 before the first fridge was actually built by John Gorrie, also a Scot.
Safety pin 1849 Walter Hunt. Gadget. USA The safety pin is ingenious because of its clasp preventing anyone from pricking themself as well as the coil of wire at the end which kept the pin locked. The basic design has hardly changed since.
Sailing 3200 BCE* Ancient Egyptians. Transport. Ancient Egypt. The first known sailing boats went upstream against the Nile’s current.
Scissors 1500 BCE* Ancient Egyptians. Tool. Ancient Egypt. The first scissors had 2 blades connected with a strip of metal which aligned the blades. Modern “pivoted scissors” were invented by the Romans in about 100 CE.
Semiconductor 1821 Thomas Johann Seebeck. Electronics. Germany A semiconductor is simply material that has electrical conductivity due to flowing electrons. Seebeck first experimented with them in 1821 and Faraday and Becquerel built on his research.
Slide rule 1630 William Oughtred. Measurement. England He used logarithmic scales sliding by each other for multiplication and division as well as sine and cosine functions.
Smartphone / iPhone 2007 Steve Jobs / Apple. Telecoms. USA Although Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple, put his engineers to work creating the first Smartphone, it included more than 200 patents, so it’s fair to call it a joint effort. The first smartphone had many capabilities like pinch-to-zoom, GPS, compass, camera etc.
Soap 2800 BCE* Ancient Babylon. Household. Babylonia The first soap consisted of water, alkali, and cassia oil. The Egyptians also used it when bathing, but theirs was made of animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts. Modern soaps are not much different, being made from fats and oils that react with sodium hydroxide. Hard bars of soap contain e.g. coconut oil, palm oil, or lard.
Solar cell 1839 Edmond Becquerel. Physics. France He discovered the photo-voltaic effect that makes solar cells possible. His son was Henri Becquerel, who co-discovered radioactivity. Solar cells could be one of the famous inventions which changes our future.
Stamp 1837 Rowland Hill. Commerce. England The first stamp was the Penny Black. Before the postal system was introduced, the recipient generally used to pay for the delivery.
Steam engine 1712 Thomas Newcomen. Engineering. England Although the first recorded steam engine was described by Hero of Alexandria way back in the 1st century, and Thomas Savery also developed a working engine in in 1698, Newcomen is considered to have made the first useful steam engine. Scot James Watt improved Newcomen’s design with his steam engine in 1781, which changed the world through the Industrial Revolution.
Steel 1800 BCE* Anatolia. Material. Assyrians Steel is an alloy of iron and mainly carbon. The earliest steel was found in Anatolia in modern day Turkey. Economical modern steelmaking began in England when the Bessemer process, which removes impurities by blowing air through it, was patented in 1856.
Tank 1915 Ernest Swinton. Transport. United Kingdom The idea was loosely based on a caterpillar tractor. Leonado Da Vinci sketched a man powered armored car “tank” like design in 1485.
Tea bag 1903 Roberta C. Lawson, Mary Mclaren.  Food. USA Another controversial subject as to who was the inventor. Many accounts cite Tea Merchant Thomas Sullivan as the inventor in 1908, but the earliest patent for a “tea-leaf holder” was granted in 1903 to Lawson and Mclaren. In 1944, the rectangular tea bag appeared on the scene and swept the market. Today, over 90% of tea drinkers prefer to use a tea bag. The world champion tea drinkers are the Turks by the way.
Telegraph 1809 Samuel Soemmering. Telecoms. Germany Telegraphs were used for transmitted signals over long distances by wire and enabled transatlantic communication. Although Soemmering invented the first telegraph in 1809 already, it wasn’t until Samuel Morse introduced the “Morse code” that it became commercially successful.
Telephone 1876 Alexander Graham Bell. Telecoms. Scotland Bell got the credit for inventing the telephone but his work was based on various inventors before him. In 1860, German Johann Philipp Reis designed a working electromagnetic device that could transmit mainly only indistinct speech, which is why he is not credited with the invention of a functional telephone.
Telescope 1608 Hans Lippershey. Optical. Germany, Netherlands. A year later, Galileo Galilei improved on his design with a more powerful telescope. The Hubble telescope is among the most famous inventions in the history of astronomy.
Television 1926 John Logie Baird. Telecoms. Scotland Baird is seen as the inventor of the first television known as a “televisor”. It had a dial like a radio for tuning and a cathode ray tube. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) followed 10 years later.
Thermometer 30-70 CE* Hero of Alexandria, Galileo Galilei, Giuseppe Biancani, Francesco Sagredo, Santorio Santorio and Robert Fludd. Measurement. Europe A thermometer combines a temperature sensor and a measurement scale. Various sensors, scales and applications have evolved and are in common usage today. Here’s the timeline:
  • 30 CE: Hero of Alexandria, Greek mathematician and engineer, demonstrated a closed tube partly filled with air with the open end in water would cause the water level to change as the trapped air expanded and contracted.
  • 1617: Giuseppe Biancani published a diagram of a “thermoscope” but, crucially, it had no scale. Galileo Galilei also developed a similar device.
  • 1638: Robert Fludd published the first diagram showing a sensor and a scale.Honorable mentions to Francesco Sagredo and Santorio Santorio who may also have added scales but did not publish first.

Different temperature scales have been developed since. Today temperature scales are:

  • 1724: (°F) Fahrenheit temperature scale was introduced by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. It’s used in the USA and associated territories.
  • 1948: (°C) Celsius temperature scale was renamed from “centigrade” in 1948, to honor Anders Celsius, who developed the original scale in 1742.
    Celsius is an derived SI unit of temperature and used in most countries today.
    Celsius is derived from Kelvin, one of the seven basic SI units.
Tin 3000 BCE* Material. Central Asia First tin extraction.
Tire[US] / Tyre[UK] 1887 John Boyd Dunlop. Transport. Scotland Dunlop made the first pneumatic tire for his son’s tricycle. It had an inner tube of air making the ride more comfortable than with solid tires.
Toilet paper 550 CE* Sui Dynasty. Gadget. Ancient China. Modern tissue toilet paper only came about in 1857, introduced by American Joseph Gayetty. His “medicated paper” was sold packs of single sheets. One of the more unusual famous inventions.
Toilet / WC 1596 Sir John Harrington. Engineering. England It wasn’t Thomas Crapper who invented the “crapper”, as is widely believed, although he did have various loo-related patents for plumbing products in the late 1800s. The flushing loo dates back much earlier. Harrington invented a valve that released water from the water closet (WC) when pulled.
Touchscreen 1973 Frank Beck, Bent Stumpe. Electronics. Austria, England, Denmark. CERN introduced an early touchscreen in 1973 based on earlier work by i.a. E.A. Johnson, Malvern.
Transistor 1947 John Bardeen, Walter Brattain. Electronics. USA Bardeen and Brattain made a point-contact transistor, the first solid-state transistor, at Bell Laboratories. One of the most famous inventions which lead to the first integrated circuit (IC) and miniaturized electronic devices including personal computers and smartphones.
Vaccine 1798 Edward Jenner. Medicine. England Jenner developed the first successful smallpox vaccine, from Latin “vacca” for cow. In 1796 Jenner experimented on 8 year old James Phipps by inserting pus from a cowpox pustule into an incision on the boy’s arm.
Vacuum tube 1883 Thomas Edison. Electrical. USA He found that an electrical current could travel through gas or a vacuum instead of a wire.
Velco 1955 George de Mestral. Engineering. Switzerland Velcro, the ingenious hook and loop fastener in widespread use worldwide as a shoe, clothing and utility fastener. Velcro is modeled on the tiny hooks of the Burdock seed which Mestral noticed attached to clothing and fur when out walking his dog.
Water wheel 4000 BCE* Ancient Egyptians. Engineering. Egypt The Egyptians built the first paddle-driven water-lifting wheels, and the Greeks & Romans improved greatly on their design.
Wheel 10000 BCE* Engineering. Basic wheels appeared in the Neolithic period, which dates from about 10,200 BCE to 4500 / 2000 BCE. Using a wheel to make transport required the invention of the axle around 3000 BCE. Together we think they are the most famous inventions of all time.
Written language 3200 BCE* Mesopotamians. Literature. ancient Sumer Although writing originated around 3200 BCE, numbers were recorded in written form before this.
World Wide Web (www) 1990 Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Telecoms. England The engineer and computer scientist Berners-Lee is still director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which continues to develop the www. One of the most famous inventions of the 20th century.
X-ray 1895 Wilhelm Röntgen Physics. German Röntgen was the first to systematically study X-rays and also gave them their name, which referred to their unknown quantity. In his homeland, X-rays are still called “Röntgen” recordings. In 1913, American William David Coolidge greatly improved the technology with the Coolidge X-ray tube.
Zero 458 CE Babylonians, Mayan, Indians. Mathematics. Mesopotamia The concept of zero as a number came about during the 5th century and seems to have been invented independently by three cultures. In 628, Hindu astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta developed a symbol for zero. The number 0 made it possible to perform arithmetic calculations and write complicated equations.
Zipper (aka zip fastener, zip). 1851 Elias Howe. Gadget. America The invention of the zipper (or zip, fly, or zip fastener, formerly known as a clasp locker) was a drawn-out process.
  • 1851: Elias Howe (also inventor of the sewing machine) developed and patented an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.”
  • 1893: Whitcomb Judson, an American, founded a company to make a pretty unsuccessful “clasp locker.”
  • 1913: Gideon Sundbäck, from Sweden, married the plant manager’s daughter and designed the modern zipper featuring more teeth and other refinements.
  • 1923: BF Goodrich Company used a zip fastening in rubber boots and called it the “zipper” it became popular and the name stuck.
  • 1925: Schott NYC used zip fasteners in clothing for the first time.
Zodiac 3000 BCE* Babylonians. Astrology, Astronomy. Mesopotamia The concept of the zodiac formed the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system used in astronomy and astrology.
*Date is ADDucation’s best guess (or a date range) because the exact date is unknown or disputed which allows the famous inventions timeline to be sorted by date. [US]USA/American spelling. [UK]British English spelling, which often applies to the rest of the world.

Notes About This List of  Famous Inventions:

  • Some famous inventions were developed over centuries. We have used the earliest date we can find as the date of the invention (e.g. the thermometer).
  • Inventions are sometimes progressive developments of earlier famous inventions (e.g. the water wheel is a development of the wheel).
  • Inventions cannot always be attributed to a single inventor because it was developed by different people (or groups) at different times in different places, or any combination of these. We list the key innovators of famous inventions in chronological order from earliest to latest.
  • This ADDucation list of inventions uses the CE/BCE (Common Era/Before Common Era) dating system aka “Current Era” or “Christian Era.” For practical purposes it’s the same as the AD/BC (Anno Domini/Before Christ) dating system without the religious connection.

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