Seven of the Most Important Inventions in History

Do you want to know which are the most important inventions in history? We review seven of them and also give some interesting facts about each one.
Seven of the Most Important Inventions in History

Last update: 25 July, 2022

Our daily lives depend on a series of tools and instruments. It might seem like they’ve always existed, and because of this, we tend not to stop and reflect on their importance.

The entire structure of today’s society depends on a series of inventions. At the time, they were invented they represented a real before and after. Today, they simply form part of the routine of almost all of us.

We can’t include all of the most important inventions in history in one list. Therefore, we’ve put together just a few of them, many of which are both underrated and taken for granted. Their dates of creation are referential since there are intense debates about when and who invented them.

1. The Wheel (3500 BC)

The Mesopotamians invented the wheel around 3500 BC. C. However, evidence of its creation was also found in Eastern Europe, India, and China. The first wheels were to be found on the potter’s wheel. In fact, it wasn’t until 300 years later that they were used for transportation.

The flute, sewing needles, ropes, woven cloth, basketry, and boats are just a few inventions that predate the invention of the wheel. That said, the direct impact of these can’t be compared with the appearance of the wheel. Indeed, they’ve enhanced whole civilizations and trades and they remain an omnipresent invention in our lives today.

old wheels
The wheel is estimated to be more than 5,000 years old.

2. The compass (200 BC)

The Han dynasty invented the compass around 200 BC. It was initially invented as a divination instrument, and it wasn’t until the Song dynasty, more than a thousand years later, that it was implemented as a navigational tool. It’s one of the four great inventions of China.

In China, it was known as the south-pointing ladle. The Chinese discovered that if they suspended a lodestone so that it rotated freely, it always pointed toward the magnetic poles. It was used at the time to choose sites on which to build houses, select where to grow crops, and locate rare gems.

3. Gunpowder (900 AD)

During the Tang dynasty, gunpowder was invented around 900 AD. C. The first formula was mentioned in Taishang Shengzu Jindan Mijue, a text from 808. However, reference had already been made to an invention with the same properties long before. For example, the alchemist Wei Boyang mentioned a clearly similar compound around 142 AD.

It was alchemists who discovered the exact combination of ingredients. Interestingly, far from being explosive, early formulations of gunpowder were highly flammable. In fact, to start with, it was used as a kind of flame-thrower. Due to its importance, gunpowder is one of the most important inventions in history.

4. Paper money (900 AD)

Although the first paper money appeared during the Tang dynasty in the 7th century (then in the form of promissory notes), true paper money didn’t emerge until 960. By this time, the Song government was short of copper to mint coins and opted to issue notes for general circulation.

Initially, this paper money was issued by private companies, and it wasn’t until 1120 that the central government produced its own state-sealed paper money. The uncontrolled issuance of paper money soon led to episodes of inflation. The idea came to Europe at the hands of explorers, including Marco Polo and William of Rubruck.

5. Magnifying glasses (1300 AD)

Despite doubts about their actual existence, Fray Salvino D’Armate is credited with the invention of eyeglasses around 1300 AD. C. Of course, they were preceded by a long history that goes from the invention of the magnifying glass to the first texts on optics. Although they may seem inconsequential, magnifying glasses were one of the most important inventions in history.

In fact, they allowed thousands of people to read, even though they were luxury items used only by aristocrats or religious figures. Their invention caused a revolution that led to the improvement of the telescope and the subsequent invention of the microscope.

You probably know several people who wear glasses and may even wear them yourself. Just imagine what our lives would be like without them.

6. Electricity (1800 AD)

The invention of electricity brought together a series of figures. For instance, Humphry Davy, Warren de la Rue, Joseph Wilson Swan, and Thomas Alva Edison. Alexander Lodygin patented a version of the incandescent light bulb in 1874, and in the same year, Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans obtained a Canadian patent for a lamp with carbon rods.

The entire structure of today’s society is governed by our dependence on electricity. Nevertheless, this dependency is less than 200 years old, even though it seems it’s been around forever. A list of the most important inventions in history would be incomplete without mentioning it.

light bulb
British chemist, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, invented the light bulb.

7. Antibiotics (1900 AD)

The first ever antibiotic, Salvarsan, was invented in 1910. Thanks to these medications, millions of people’s lives are saved every year, and life expectancy has been extended since their implementation by an average of 23 years. Until the mid-1950s, medicine lived through the golden age of antibiotics and, since then, there’s been a reduction in the development of new alternatives.

As expected, an objective list of the most important inventions in history should include hundreds of items. There’s paper, the printing press, the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, the automobile, the plane, semiconductors, and the Internet. In fact, these are just some of the inventions that marked a before and after in the history of civilization.

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  • Hutchings, M. I., Truman, A. W., & Wilkinson, B. Antibiotics: past, present and future. Current opinion in microbiology. 2019; 51, 72-80.