35 Inventions That Changed the World

Human inventions and technologies have shaped civilizations and transformed life on the Earth. As expectations and capabilities evolve, each generation cultivates its own set of innovative thinkers.

Right from the invention of the wheel to the development of the Mars rover, a large number of these inventions have been truly revolutionary, even if hadn’t been so obvious at the time.

Most major inventions don’t have just one inventor. Instead, they have been developed separately by many people, or many people have had a hand in their evolution from basic concepts to useful inventions.

1. Wheel

The wheel stands out as an original engineering marvel, and one of the most famous inventions. This basic technology not only made it easier to travel, but also served as the base for a huge number of other innovative technologies. Yet, the wheel is not actually that old. The oldest known wheel is from Mesopotamia, around 3500 B.C. By that time, humans were already casting metal alloys, constructing canals and sailboats, and even designing complex musical instruments such as harps.

In fact, the main invention was not the wheel itself, which was likely invented the first time someone saw a rock rolling along, but the combination of a wheel and a fixed axle, which allows the wheel to be connected to a stable platform. Without the fixed axel, the wheel has only very limited utility.

2. Compass

This modern invention may have originally been created for spiritual purposes. Later it was adapted for navigational purposes. The earliest compasses were most likely invented by the Chinese, around 200 BC. Some were made of lodestone, which is a naturally-occurring form of the mineral magnetite. There is also evidence that other civilizations may have also used lodestone. At some point, possibly around 1050 CE, people began suspending the lodestones so they could move freely, and using them for navigation. A description of a magnetized needle and its use among sailors occurs in a European book written in 1190, so by that time, it is likely that the use of a needle as a compass was commonplace.

3. Automobile

Although the birth of the modern car is often said to have occurred in 1886, when German inventor Karl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen, automobiles had been in the works since 1769, when Nicolas-Joseph Cugno developed the steam-powered automobile capable of human transportation.

Over the years, a huge number of people contributed to the development of the automobile and its constituent parts. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford innovated mass-production techniques that allowed automobiles to become affordable to the masses. These techniques then became standard with General Motors, and Chrysler following suit.

The history of the automobile really reflects a worldwide evolution. The work of many people was required in order to develop the internal combustion engine and the other systems the automobile relies on. Dozens of spin-off industries were also involved, including oil and steel.

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