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!

  • ADDucation’s list of famous inventions compiled by A C and last updated 20 Feb 2021.

ADDucation Tips: Click column headings with arrows to sort famous inventions. Reload page for original sort order. Resize your browser to full screen and/or zoom out to display as many columns as possible. Click the ➕ icon to reveal any hidden columns. Start typing in the Filter table field to quickly find specific famous inventions inside the table.

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. One of the most important famous inventions in mathematics.
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 most 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. One of the most important famous inventions in ancient history.
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. One of the most useful famous inventions in human powered vehicles.
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. One of the deadliest famous inventions.
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 Lumière brothers called it the cinematograph. One of the most famous inventions in entertainment.
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. One of the most famous inventions which regulated our daily lives.
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. One of the life-changing famous inventions in modern history.
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. One of the famous inventions which became more important in the 20th century.
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. One of the most important famous inventions in physics.
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 were one of the famous inventions which 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, Ballistics 🇨🇳 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. One of the most spectacular famous inventions.
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, ballistics 🇨🇳 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. One of the most dangerous famous inventions.
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 followed in 1982 and evolved to include 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 engine
1928 Frank Whittle Transport, propulsion 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England Pilot Whittle’s first plans date back to 1928 and the first patent was granted in 1932. Jet engines were one of the famous inventions which changed the aviation industry.
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 Edwin Budding designed the mower for lawns on sports grounds etc.
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, propulsion 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 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
🇳🇱 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 🇪🇬 Egypt (ancient) 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 🇩🇪 Germany
(Nazi)
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. One of the most important famous inventions in ancient history.
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, computing 🇩🇪 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, propulsion 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 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.
Rockets
(fire arrows)
10th Century Song Dynasty Engineering, physics, rocketry, space travel 🇨🇳 China Rockets, called “fire arrows”, were originally used as weapons in the 10th century Song dynasty but first documented in 13th century Eurasia spreading from China across Asia and Europe and evolved throughout the history of warfare. Rockets led to the invention of jet engines and space travel.
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 🇪🇬 Egypt (ancient) The first known sailing boats went upstream against the Nile’s current.
Scissors 1500 BCE* Ancient Egyptians Tool 🇪🇬 Egypt (ancient) 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, intergrated circuitry 🇩🇪 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 🇬🇧 UK The idea was loosely based on a caterpillar tractor. Leonado Da Vinci sketched a man powered armored car “tank” like design in 1485. One of the deadliest famous inventions in military history.
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, astronomy 🇩🇪 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 🇨🇳 China (ancient) 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 (ancient) 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 🇩🇪 Germany 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 🇺🇸 USA 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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