They say necessity is the mother of invention, which is certainly true. This is because the first step in engineering a solution is to identify a problem that needs fixing. Yet some gifted thinkers have the unique ability to envisage problems, and solutions, that few of their contemporaries even think to consider. Such people are often known to us as pioneering scientists, inventors and luminaries in their fields. Below we’re going to take a look at three of, perhaps, the most influential inventors in human history. Each, in their tireless quest for knowledge, developed or discovered technologies, machines and methods that are still in use today and that exert an enormous impact on the way we live our lives.
The Parisian mathematician, philosopher and theologian, was one of the principal architects of the 17th-century enlightenment. His thought has been incredibly influential on the modern world, having devised the theory of probabilities, and sought to refine the process of mathematical calculation. To this end, he invented the Pascaline, the world’s first mechanical calculator. As such, Pascal built the first iteration in a long line of calculation machines that would eventually become the modern computer. Following this, one could reasonably point to Pascal as the originator of our modern ‘information age’.
Pascal had a great curiosity about life and thought, and even sought to invent a machine he hoped would become a perpetual motion device. While this was sadly doomed to failure, in his attempts to create a spinning wheel with extremely low friction he accidentally invented what would become the roulette wheel. Nowadays, roulette is a casino classic enjoyed by a new generation of tech-savvy users using the descendant of the Pascaline, their PCs and smartphones, to experience its classic thrills through reputable platforms hundreds of years later. An unlikely outcome for this inventor’s lofty project, certainly, but one with a certain degree of poetic justice nonetheless.
Few can rival the unbridled creativity and energy of Thomas Edison, who got to the end of his working life having filed no less than 1093 patents for new inventions and concepts. With so many inventions under his belt, it’s reasonable that not all of them were groundbreaking or significant innovations. In fact, some, such as his electric pen, or automatic vote registration machine, were arguably useless.
Though that does not detract from his considerable achievements, among which are many you use every day. For example, the alkaline battery, the first effective means of creating portable power cells. These are still in use everywhere today, from powering toys to radios, and are the direct ancestor of the batteries in use in our smartphones and laptops. What about the movie camera? Surely few inventions have come to define our modern era as much as the arrival of the ability to capture video, giving us everything from movies to tv shows and even TikTok clips. One invention that’s often erroneously credited to Edison is that of the telephone – which was in fact patented by Alexander Graham Bell, though the technology underpinning it was admittedly refined and improved by Edison. We also have Edison to thank for the lightbulb, without which we would still be using candles and gas lamps. Truly, it’s hard to think of the modern world, with its over-saturation of blinking lights and displays without this epochal breakthrough in illumination technology.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci is generally credited with being the ultimate renaissance man. This is because he proved himself to be adept at a wide range of skills, from painting to sculpture, poetry to science, and mathematics to cryptology and architecture. Nowadays best known for immensely famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci was better known in his day for his engineering smarts. Da Vinci had a particular interest in the concept of flight and was behind the earliest designs for what would become both aeroplanes and helicopters.
He’s also credited with improving on early versions of the mechanical clock, designing revolving bridges, armoured cars, scuba diving gear, the parachute, and a device to measure wind speed, known as the Anemometer. In some ways, Da Vinci’s influence today is both more subtle and more profuse than the other inventors on this list. While he served as the key source of inspiration for hundreds of inventions that are commonplace in our world today, it was his spirit of curiosity for which he is most remembered today. In it, many saw the dawning of the modern era, with its rigorous pursuit of empirical knowledge through experimentation and measurement.
Also read | The most extraordinary casino heists
- Ping, Ping, Ping … Yes, constant phone notifications tax your brain
- Arunachal: Bird’s unique song leads to discovery of a possible new species
- Shortage of 1.35 lakh personnel in three services: Govt
- State Bank of Pakistan’s forex reserves fall to 4-year low of USD 6.72B
- Medical jargon is often misunderstood by the general public, says study
- No wastage of Covid vaccines in govt buffer stock due to expiry: Govt