Inventions That Changed the World


Fire was a key invention which enabled man to make a decisive step from the animal kingdom. With fire, man could cook his food and make survival in cold climates more amenable.


No one can remember when the wheel was invented. But, it is the wheel which enabled the first primitive carts and other forms of transport. It is one of those key inventions which set apart man from the animal world.


The boat enabled man to travel across the seas and inhabit new lands.


The first parchments of dried bark enabled the development of reading, writing, culture and literature.

Printing Press.

Before the arrival of the printing press, documents were manually written out by scribes. This ensured that books and literature were kept the preserve of a small class of educated people. It left the mass of common man without access to any written material. The printing press revolutionised the world as it facilitated the spread of books, newspapers and knowledge to all.

Steam Engine.

The steam engine was at the heart of the industrial revolution which revolutionised the world. The steam engine made travel much quicker and more reliable. Before it could take several months to cross the atlantic, but, with steam power, the crossing could be made in days. Steam also enabled train travel to be much quicker and eased the transport of raw materials enabling a rapid rise in living standards. The steam engine was patented by Scottish inventor James Watt (1736–1819). He was the first inventor to use a condensor to peform the action of pushing the piston. Though other inventors such as Englishman Thomas Newcomen (1663–1729) played a role in the development of the steam engine. George Stephenson played a key role in producing the first commercially used steam trains.


Knowledge about electricity had existed for many years. For example, Benjamin Franklin was able to show lightening created electric charge. But, it was not until the ninenteenth century that electricity could be controlled and made available for domestic use. A key element in the development of electricity was the invention of an electro magnetic rotation model by Michael Faraday in 1821. This enabled a constant production of electricity.

The Internal Combustion Engine.

The steam engine was great for large vehicles like a train, but, impractical for small vehicles. The internal petrol engine, was the key invention behind making the motor car a reality.


For centuries man had dreamed of flight. Yet, a heavier than air machine, had seemed nothing more than a dream. Finally, in 1901 the Wright brothers succeeded in achieving the first powered air flight. Though their short journey was quite modest within two decades, advances in airflight had led to a significant expansion in air flights. Air travel has done more than anything to make international travel easier, effectively reducing the time between destinations. It has facilitated the process of globalisation and international travel. Aircraft have also transformed war, with the advent of aircraft the bombing of civilian areas has been used to devastating effect.


Penicillin was discovered in 1928, almost by accident. It occurred in the laborartory of Alexander Fleming, a physician at St Mary’s Hostpial in london.

One of his petri dish’s was left exposed by an assistant. This allowed mould to grow on the bacteria culture. The interesting thing is that Fleming noticed the mould which had grown then created a bacteria free area around it. It seemed that mould had a natural anti bacterial property.

In the late 1930s, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain at Oxford University took up his research and were able to produce purified penicillin which opened up the door to mass production of penicillin. The drug was widely used in World War II and helped to lead to lower fatal casualty rates. The only problem is that the widespread use of penicillin has caused some super bugs to be immune from it. But, penicillin has saved the lives of many since its invention.

Atomic Energy.

The splitting of the atom, revolutionised the world. The power of atomic energy has the potential to meet our energy needs in a world of declining oil reserves. Yet, at the same time atomic energy has the capacity to destroy the world, as the world saw to devastating effect in Hiroshima and Negasaki. A key moment in the development of atomic energy was the isolation of Plutonium in 1941. A team of scientists led by Glenn Seaborf bombarded Uranium with nuclear particles to produce a new element they termed plutomium. From plutonium they developed the isotpoe plutonium 239 which turned out to be highly fissionable – means produced a tremendous amount of energy.

Events That Changed The World

These are ten events from the Twentieth Century that changed the world. Undoubtedly, there are other significant world changing events we could have included. For example, other world changing events

  • Stock Market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression.
  • Dunkirk and the escape of the British army.
  • Battle of Britain
  • Operation Barbarossa and the invasion of Russia.
  • Creation of State of Isreal
  • Iranian Revolution
  • Freedom of Nelson Mandela from jail in South Africa.

It is always hard to choose a top ten. But, this is a few we have choosen.

Assassination of Archduke F. Ferdinand and Outbreak of World War I

June 28, 1914,


In 1914, Europe was a tinder box of tension and military rivalry. The spark for war could have been many incidents, but, as it happened the assassination of an Austrian archduke – Franz Ferdinand by a Serb provoked widespread declarations of war and the fulfilment of treaties which led to the horrendous conflict of the first world war.

The war was to last four years and cost the lives of millions of men from all corners of the world.

Russian Revolution 1917

25 October 1917 – Start of October Uprising by Bolsheviks

Since the publication of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, there had been sporadic Communist revolutions in European countries, but nothing had really succeeded. But in October 1917, the Bolshevik revolution, led by Lenin, brought about a radical new form of government with world wide implications. Lenin was a fervent Marxist and wasted little time in implementing his version of a ‘dictatorship of the Proletariat’. Communist Russia divided the world. It was seen by some as an alternative to the inequities of Capitalism and by others as an embodiment of totalitarianism and lack of freedom.

Invasion of Poland

1st September 1939

On 1st September, 1939, Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Poland, ostensibly for ‘lebensraum’ and to redress the imbalances of the Treaty of Versailles, but the invasion of a sovereign nation finally convinced the allies – Great Britain and France of Hitler’s wider intentions for the occupation of Europe. After appeasing Hitler over Austria and Czechoslovakia, Poland proved the final straw and on September 3rd, Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. The Second World War was to last until May 1945, costing the lives of approximately 50 million people. Less well known is that, under a secret Nazi-Soviet pact the Soviet Union also occupied parts of Poland at the same time as Germany’s invasion.

Pearl Harbour 1941

December 7, 1941


“A day that will live in infamy” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt

In 1941, the axis powers held a supremacy over Europe and parts of Asia. Great Britain stood undefeated, but, without the strength to win against an overpowering enemy. The bombing of Pearl Harbour, led to the escalation of the world war into the Pacific arena and also brought American into war with both Japan and Germany. Three years later, it was American troops who provided the majority of the manpower in the liberation of occupied Europe.

Atomic Bomb Hiroshima

August 6, 1945


The US atomic bombs of 1945, devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation finally brought the Japanese to surrender, bringing to an end a fierce and costly Pacific war. The surrender of Japan had at one time seen unthinkable. But, the atomic bomb hastened the Japanese surrender. The atomic bomb had implications beyond just the end of the Second World War. It showed the world the potential devastation a third world war could cause. Even now the legacy of Hiroshima and the threat of nuclear war hangs over the world.

Indian Independence 1947

15 August 1947

India had stood as the crowing jewel in the crown of the British Empire. It was the second most populous nation in the world. After many years denying Indian calls for independence, Britain finally agreed to full Indian independence in 1947. Indian independence was accompanied by a painful separation and the birth of a new nation – Pakistan. The separation led to painful incidences of sectarian violence and killing; it led to the migration of many millions of people who found themselves on the wrong side of the border. The independence of India also created a new independent nation which claimed allegiance to neither US or the Soviet Union – but a third way as Nehru called it. With economic development, India has the potential to become a new superpower in the coming century.

The Establishment of Maoist China

October 1, 1949

In the aftermath of the second world war, China was involved in a bitter civil war between the Communists led by Mao Tse Tung and the Nationalists by Chiang Kai-shek,. On October 1st, 1949, the triumphant Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China. This created another powerful Communist State in the most populated country in the world. The Communist hold on power, profoundly influenced the lives of the Chinese who suffered under the great famine of the 1960s and Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s. Even now, the Chinese Communist party retains strong political power – even if it has adapted its economic policies.

Assassination of John F Kennedy

November 22, 1963


One of the most shocking and unexpected moments of world history. John F Kennedy had been President since his election in 1960. He was young, liberal and Catholic and had inspired many with his positive vision of the world.

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what can you do for your country.”

(JFK from Inauguration speech Jan 1961)

After his assassination, Lyndon Johnson became President and American involvement in Vietnam grew, leading to a bitter conflict that came to divide America. Although Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination, evidence points to a wider conspiracy and the involvement of more than one lone gunmen.

Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 1989


For decades, the Berlin wall had stood as a symbol of the ‘Iron Curtain’ splitting West and Eastern Europe. On the one side Communist authoritarian states, on the other side liberal democracies. The wall had been built to prevent East Germans escaping into West Germany, indeed many had been shot trying to escape. But, more than anything else its presence was symbolic. The fall of the Berlin wall was an iconic moment when the Soviet Union gave up its grip on Eastern Europe. In the 50s and 60s the Soviet Union had sent tanks to quell independence movements in Hungary and then Czechoslovakia. But, this time, Mikhail Gorbachev, the proponent of Perestroika and Glasnost approved the request for freedom.

9/11 Terrorist Attacks.

11th September 2001

The US had experienced sporadic terrorist attacks before. But, the sheer audacity and scale of these terrorist attacks shocked the US and the world. The loss of life was estimated at just under 3,000. The event changed American foreign policy. It was a motivating factor behind the controversial invasion of Iraq and led to a ‘war on terror’ symbolised by Guantanamo Bay and a debate over the justification of torture.



Akbar The Great (1542 – 1605)

Third Moghul Emperor, son of Humayun, grandson of Babur. Akbar consolidated the Moghul empire, conquering large parts of India and bringing it under Moghul rule. Although the first part of his reign was taken up with military campaings, Akbar displayed a great interest in a wide variety of cultural, artisitic, religious and philosophical ideas. Akbar was also know for his religious tolerance and although a Muslim took an active interest in other religions.

Akbar came to the throne aged 14, on the death of his father Humayun. For the next 20 years he had to fight to defend and consolidate the Moghul empire. He faced threats from the Afghans in the North and from the Hindu King Samrat Hemu.

As Akbar was very young on ascending to the throne, the Moghul Kingdom was left to Bairam Khan an afghan Shia Muslim. Bairam was a great military leader and helped secure the Moghul Empire. However, he was not liked by many for the absolute power he wielded and also the fact he was not a sunni Muslim. At one point he was encouraged to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Akbar sent an army to escort Bairam Kham but Bairam was annoyed at the ostracism of being sent on pilgrimage. Therefore, he turned on Akbar’s army and was later captured. Bairam was taken to Akbar where many wanted him to be excuted. However, Akbar refused to execute Bairam who had done much for him in the past. He forgave Bairam and allowed him to live at the expense of the court. Throughout his life, Akbar often showed mercy and forgiveness to his enemies – not least to his own brother who plotted against him.

Akbar was known to have many good qualities. He was fearless in battle and willing to risk his life. He was generous to friends and rewarded loyalty. In his diet he was quite frugal preferring a vegetarian diet. He had a great interest in religion and encouraged representatives of different religions to come to his court to debate great religious ideas. Akbar felt that the different religions were compatible with each other – offering different approaches to the same goal. Towards the end of his life he tried to create his own religion – an amalgamation of different religious traditions. However, it never extended beyond his personality and soon faded away after his death.

Akbar died in around 1605 and was buried near Agra.