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.

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