What single invention has done the most for mankind

Before 1600 - The early days of technical inventions

Ever since the "rational human being", the Homo Sapiens, appeared on earth, he tried to adapt his immediate environment to his needs. And to make this transformation more efficient and easier, he set about it, always more complex tools to manufacture and use. He used fire, refined hunting methods and agriculture, mined minerals and built shelters. For all of these activities he needed - technology.

This first technology of bygone eras was of course far removed from the engineering art that was later to produce the steam engine or the computer. The basic principle of change was, however, quite comparable: Originally Materials taken from nature like stone and metal were changed and combined with one another according to traditional methods.

The beginnings of the history of technology are blurred

The history of the inventions and discoveries of the Paleolithic and Neolithic, but also of later epochs, is largely in the dark. Since fewer and fewer artefacts have been preserved the further we research into the past, it is only possible to roughly estimate when people actually made the very first spearhead out of bronze or used the first potter's wheel.

Some inventions were probably made repeatedly in different areas of the world - independently of each other. And for many of the groundbreaking innovations of mankind, even with the best research situation, no single “inventor” could be identified. Basic technological skills such as metal casting, textile manufacturing and pottery developed in the High cultures about countless small steps forward and backward.

  • In the 5th millennium BC Chr .: In the Indus culture (today's Pakistan) probably the first pottery wheel of mankind turns.
  • About 3600 to 3200 BC BC: The Egyptians develop the plow for agriculture.
  • Around 3500 BC BC: The production of tin bronze begins in Southeast Europe.
  • Around 1600 BC Chr .: In the Middle East (probably in Egypt, maybe in Mesopotamia) glass is made for the first time.
  • Around 1500 BC Chr .: In the Austrian Salzkammergut there are first traces of salt mining that can be safely proven today.
  • Around 1100 BC Chr .: The first abacus is used for arithmetic in Babylon.
  • Around 1000 BC Chr .: The Assyrians already use a simple pulley.
  • Around 250 BC Chr .: The first Archimedean screws (worm pumps) move water.
  • Around 200 BC Chr .: In China the paper is invented. Before that, people used clay tablets and papyrus to write, among other things.
  • Around AD 620: The first porcelain is fired in China - almost 1000 years before European porcelain. The wood panel printing also dates from this time.
  • Around 1000 AD: In China, black powder is used as a rocket propulsion system.
  • 13th century AD: Development of cast iron in Sweden; Invention of glasses for both eyes in Italy; Forerunner of pencils with silver tips


Inventions with and without an inventor

The inventor, the creative genius who produced a new technique by virtue of his special spirit, only appeared since the so-called Modern times (from around 1500 CE) occasionally on the stage of history. But even then the inventor (and still is today) was always the child of his time, was dependent on the technological possibilities of his era and was in contact with other great minds.

Were like that Geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, although far ahead of their contemporaries, they devised helicopters and calculating machines. However, engineering at that time was not able to convert the construction drawings into real machines or prototypes, so that in many cases it remained a mental game.

Among the few inventions of the 15th century that can be ascribed with a high degree of certainty to individual inventors are the Clock with spring drive as well as the modern letterpress. Here is her story in a nutshell:

Thread Telephone - Inventor: 968 Kung-Foo Whing

Telephone calls in the first millennium after Christ? It actually did exist - but without any cables or remote data transmission. The principle of the string telephone is based on the fact that a tight, swinging string transmits the acoustic signals directly from the loudspeaker to the microphone. The greatest possible distance between the two is around ten meters. A certain Kung-Foo Whing is considered to be the inventor of this archaic communication method, which is now a popular experiment with children. The Chinese philosopher is said to have connected two cylinders made of bamboo cane.

Spring driven clock - 1430

In the Middle Ages, clocks were usually large, cumbersome, and imprecise. Their mechanism worked with the help of various weights in which the necessary drive energy was stored. This changed with the spring drive, which was probably first used in 1430. The first timepiece designed according to this principle probably belonged to Duke Philip III. of Burgundy, who promoted science and the arts in his dominion. The new spring drive stored the energy in a tensioned metal spring, which not only saved space, but also made it possible to regulate the clocks much better.

In 1504, master locksmith Peter Henlein built a clock with a spring drive, which, due to its small size, deserved the name “pocket watch”. But whether he should actually be considered a pioneer of the pocket watch is a matter of dispute.

Modern letterpress - inventor: 1450 Johannes Gutenberg

Modern letterpress printing was born around the middle of the 15th century. At that time Johannes Gutenberg from Mainz invented the printing press on the one hand and the movable lead letters on the other, which he was able to combine to create new pages of text. The first printed work created in this way was the famous Gutenberg Bible. The revolutionary innovation made it possible to produce books in editions and at prices that were previously utopian. With a single printing press one could now print well over 3000 pages per day. In the European Middle Ages, most of the books were elaborate, unique pieces that monks had to copy over years of work. In China, wood panel printing (also known as "block printing") was widespread.

later inventions