Ten Inventions from the Middle Ages that have had lasting importance, even to the present-day. If you think that the world's greatest inventions came from the fevered minds of solitary geniuses, think again.
SHOW CAPTION +When you imagine inventors, you probably picture a lone genius in a laboratory concocting brilliant devices, experimenting and redesigning until some concept or contraption works perfectly. As you scan this list of the 10 inventions that changed the world, note how many of them perfected workable designs. At that point, the new invention is unveiled to the world, a stunning piece of new technology that instantly changes everything.Well, you've got part of it right. There's certainly a lot of redesigning and experimenting when it comes to inventions, but it takes a lot longer than you think. It also takes far more people than that lone genius.As you'll see when you read about these 10 world-changing inventions, no invention is created in a vacuum.
Every single one was built on previous inventions created by other inventors years, decades or even centuries before. Every invention has problems, and it might not be until some other inventor comes along that they get solved.
It's a simple cutting tool used to carve a furrow into the soil, churning it up to expose nutrients and prepare it for planting.
Yet the plow is probably the one invention that made all others possible.No one knows who invented the plow, or exactly when it came to be. It probably developed independently in a number of regions, and there is evidence of its use in prehistoric eras. Their lives were devoted solely to finding enough food to survive from one season to the next.
Growing food added some stability to life, but doing it by hand was labor intensive and took a long time. Improvements in the plow's design made farming so efficient that people could harvest far more food than they needed to survive. And if you could get food by trading, then you could devote your day-to-day existence to something other than growing food, such as producing the goods and services that were suddenly in demand.The ability to trade and store materials drove the invention of written language, number systems, fortifications and militaries. However, if it had been used only for transportation, the wheel wouldn't have been as much of a world-changer as it was. In fact, a lack of quality roads limited its usefulness in this regard for thousands of years.A wheel can be used for a lot of things other than sticking them on a cart to carry grain, though.
Tens of thousands of other inventions require wheels to function, from water wheels that power mills to gears and cogs that allowed even ancient cultures to create complex machines. The world already had paper and block printing -- the Chinese had them as early as the 11th century -- but the complexity of their language limited popularity. Marco Polo brought the idea to Europe in 1295.Gutenberg combined the idea of block printing with a screw press (used for olive oil and wine production).


He also developed metal printing blocks that were far more durable and easier to make than the hand-carved wooden letters in use previously. Finally, his advances in ink and paper production helped revolutionize the whole process of mass printing.The printing press allowed enormous quantities of information to be recorded and spread throughout the world.
Books had previously been items only the extremely rich could afford, but mass production brought the price down tremendously. The printing press is probably responsible for many other inventions, but in a more subtle way than the wheel. It's difficult to pinpoint a single inventor of the refrigerator, because the concept was widely known and gradually improved over the course of about 200 years.
Some credit Oliver Evans' 1805 unproduced design of a vapor-compression unit, while others point to Carl von Linde's 1876 design as the actual precursor of the modern refrigerator in your kitchen. Dozens of inventors, including Albert Einstein, would refine or improve refrigerator designs over the decades.In the early 20th century, harvested natural ice was still common, but large industries such as breweries were beginning to use ice-making machines.
However, it wasn't until the development of safer refrigerant chemicals in the 1920s that home refrigerators became the norm.The ability to keep food cold for prolonged periods (and even during shipping, once refrigerated trucks were developed) drastically changed the food production industry and the eating habits of people around the world.
The telephone simply refined the idea by allowing actual voice communications to be sent over copper wires, instead of just beeps that spelled out the plain text in Morse code. These communication methods were point-to-point, and required an extensive infrastructure of wires to function.Transmitting signals wirelessly using electromagnetic waves was a concept worked on by many inventors around the world, but Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla popularized it in the early 20th century. Eventually, sound could be transmitted wirelessly, while engineers gradually perfected the transmission of images.
Radio and television were new landmarks in communications because they allowed a single broadcaster to send messages to thousands or even millions of recipients as long as they were equipped with receivers.These developments in communications technology effectively shrank the world.
In the span of about 120 years, we went from a world where it might take weeks to hear news from across the country to one where we can watch events occurring on the other side of the globe as they happen.
Water wheels and draft animals provided the only 'industrial' power available, which clearly had its limits.
The Industrial Revolution, which is perhaps the greatest change over the shortest period of time in the history of civilization, was carried forward by the steam engine.The concept of using steam to power machines had been around for thousands of years, but Thomas Newcomen's creation in 1712 was the first to harness that power for useful work (pumping water out of mines, for the most part). In 1769, James Watt modified a Newcomen engine by adding a separate condenser, which vastly increased the steam engine's power and made it a far more practical way to do work.
He also developed a way for the engine to produce rotary motion, which may be just as important as the efficiency gains. Thus, Watt is often considered the inventor of the steam engine.Newcomen's and Watt's engines actually used the vacuum of condensing steam to drive the pistons, not the pressure of steam expansion. It was the high-pressure steam engine developed by Richard Trevithick and others that allowed for steam engines small enough to power a train. Not only did steam engines power factories that made the rapid production of goods possible, they powered the trains and steamships that carried those goods across the globe.While the steam engine has been eclipsed by electric and internal combustion engines in the areas of transport and factory power, they're still incredibly important.
While ideas for personal vehicles had been around for years, Karl Benz's 1885 Motorwagen, powered by an internal combustion engine of his own design, is widely considered the first automobile.


Henry Ford's improvements in the production process -- and effective marketing -- brought the price and the desire for owning an auto into the reach of most Americans. Europe soon followed.The automobile's effect on commerce, society and culture is hard to overestimate.
Most of us can jump in our car and go wherever we want whenever we want, effectively expanding the size of any community to the distance we're willing to drive to shop or visit friends. Our cities are largely designed and built around automobile access, with paved roads and parking lots taking up huge amounts of space and a big chunk of our governments' budgets. Every invention is built by incrementally improving earlier designs, and the person usually associated with an invention is the first person to make it commercially viable. We immediately think of Thomas Edison as the electric light bulb's inventor, but dozens of people were working on similar ideas in the 1870s, when Edison developed his incandescent bulb. Joseph Swan did similar work in Britain at the time, and eventually the two merged their ideas into a single company, Ediswan.The bulb itself works by transmitting electricity through a wire with high resistance known as a filament.
The glass bulb encases the filament in a vacuum or in inert gas, preventing combustion.You might think the light bulb changed the world by allowing people to work at night or in dark places (it did, to some extent), but we already had relatively cheap and efficient gas lamps and other light sources at the time. It was actually the infrastructure that was built to provide electricity to every home and business that changed the world. There is no single inventor of the modern computer, although the ideas of British mathematician Alan Turing are considered eminently influential in the field of computing.
When they operate under the instructions of skilled programmers, computers can accomplish amazing feats.
Some high-performance military aircraft wouldn't be able to fly without constant computerized adjustments to flight control surfaces.
Computers performed the sequencing of the human genome, let us put spacecraft into orbit, control medical testing equipment, and create the complex visual imagery used in films and video games.If we only examine these grandiose uses of computers, we overlook how much we rely on them from day to day.
Computers let us store vast amounts of information and retrieve a given piece of it almost instantly. Its effects on business, communication, economy, entertainment and even politics are profound. This network of computer-to-computer connections was intended for military and academic research. This was, essentially, the birth of the Internet, but it took 10 or so years for various other networks in the world to adopt the new protocol, making the Internet truly global.The Internet is such a powerful invention that we've probably only begun to see the effects it will have on the world. The ability to diffuse and recombine information with such efficiency could accelerate the rate at which further world-changing inventions are created. At the same time, some fear that our ability to communicate, work, play and do business via the Internet breaks down our ties to local communities and causes us to become socially isolated.



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