Greatest Inventions of All Time

CHICAGO,
January 30, 2002 - Disposable diapers and Post-It Notes stand shoulder to shoulder with the printing press and telescope in the pantheon of great inventions, in to a new feature from the editors at Encyclopaedia

Britannica."Encyclopaedia Britannica's Greatest Inventions," from the company's 2003 almanac, lists 325 innovations that have had profound effects on human life for better or worse. In addition to the usual suspects, such as the automobile and the light bulb, it includes many ordinary staples of modern life, such as the rubber band, Scotch tape, and frozen foods.

The reason for including such quotidian items is their far-reaching impact on society, says Charles Trumbull, editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica Almanac 2003. "In school we learn about the epoch-making inventions -- the telephone, the steam engine and the airplane," says Trumbull. "They're important, of course, but what about all the other items we use every day, like e-mail, coat hangers and mirrors? These things didn't just fall from the sky. Someone had to invent them."

The list, which is arranged alphabetically and does not rank items in order of significance, recognizes many previously unsung inventors whose work has left its mark on everyday life. One is Marion Donovan, who developed the disposable diaper in 1950. Denied glory, perhaps because of her invention's indelicate function, Donovan made the Britannica list because her handiwork has been such a boon to parents.

While the majority of inventions are from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, some are surprisingly older. Vending machines, Britannica reports, were invented by the ancient Egyptians. The Aboriginal peoples of Australia created the first boomerang 15,000 years ago. Carbonated soft drinks have been around since 1772 and the flush toilet since 1591.

"Great" is not the same thing as "good" in Britannica's lexicon: the list contains some of the human imagination's more dubious bequests, such as the guillotine, the atom bomb, and the slot machine.And clearly the editors are bent on mischief by including such objects of popular derision as AstroTurf and Muzak. But because this is Encyclopaedia Britannica, even such playfulness has its educational purpose, for as Trumbull explains, "The measure of an invention is its utility. AstroTurf may not win any awards for aesthetics, but try playing baseball indoors without it."

 
INVENTION YEAR INVENTOR COUNTRY
aerosol can 1926 Erik Rotheim Norway
air conditioning 1902 Willis Haviland Carrier US
airbag, automotive 1952 John Hetrick US
airplane, engine-powered 1903 Wilbur & Orville Wright US
airship 1852 Henri Giffard France
alphabet c. 1700–1500 BC Semitic-speaking peoples eastern coast of Mediterranean Sea
American Sign Language 1817 Thomas H. Gallaudet US
animation, motion-picture 1906 J. Stuart Blackton US
answering machine, telephone 1898 Valdemar Poulsen Denmark
aspartame 1965 James Schlatter US
aspirin 1897 Felix Hoffmann (Bayer) Germany
assembly line 1913 Henry Ford US
astrolabe c. 2nd century
AstroTurf 1965 James M. Faria, Robert T. Wright US
audiotape 1928 Fritz Pfleumer Germany
automated teller machine (ATM) 1968 Don Wetzel US
automobile 1889 Gottlieb Daimler Germany
baby food, prepared 1927 Dorothy Gerber US
bag, flat-bottomed paper 1870 Margaret Knight US
Bakelite 1907 Leo Hendrik Baekeland US
ball bearing 1794 Philip Vaughan England
balloon, hot-air 1783 Joseph & Étienne Montgolfier France
bandage, adhesive 1921 Earle Dickson US
bar code 1952 Joseph Woodland US
barbed wire 1874 Joseph Glidden US
barometer 1643 Evangelista Torricelli Italy
battery, electric storage 1800 Alessandro Volta Italy
beer before 6000 BC Sumerians, Babylonians Mesopotamia
bicycle 1818 Baron Karl de Drais de Sauerbrun Germany
bifocal lens 1784 Benjamin Franklin US
bikini 1946 Louis Réard France
blood bank late 1930s Charles Richard Drew US
blow-dryer 1920 Racine Universal Motor Co., Hamilton Beach Manufacturing Co. US
bomb, atomic 1945 J. Robert Oppenheimer, et al. US
bomb, thermonuclear (hydrogen) 1952 Edward Teller, et al. US
boomerang c. 15,000 years ago Aboriginal peoples Australia
Braille system 1824 Louis Braille France
brassiere (bra) 1913 Mary Phelps Jacob US
bread, sliced (bread-slicing machine) 1928 Otto Frederick Rohwedder US
button c. 700 BC Greeks, Etruscans Greece, Italy
buttonhole 13th century Europe
calculator, electronic hand-held 1967 Jack S. Kilby US
calculus 1680s Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (invented separately) England and Germany (respectively)
calendar, modern (Gregorian) 1582 Pope Gregory XIII Italy
camcorder 1982 Sony Corp. Japan
camera, motion picture 1891 Thomas Alva Edison, William K.L. Dickson US
camera, portable photographic 1888 George Eastman US
can, metal beverage 1933 American Can Co. US
can opener 1858 Ezra J. Warner US
candle c. 3000 BC Egypt, Crete
canning, food 1809 Nicolas Appert France
carbon-14 dating 1946 Willard F. Libby US
cardboard, corrugated 1871 Albert Jones US
cards, playing c. 10th century China
cash register 1879 James Ritty US
cat litter 1947 Edward Lowe US
catalog, mail-order 1872 Aaron Montgomery Ward US
cellophane 1911 Jacques E. Brandenberger Switzerland
celluloid 1869 John Wesley Hyatt US
cement, portland 1824 Joseph Aspdin England
cereal flakes, breakfast 1894 John Harvey Kellogg US
chewing gum (modern) c. 1870 Thomas Adams US
chocolate c. 3rd–10th century Maya, Aztecs Central America, Mexico
chronometer 1762 John Harrison England
clock, pendulum 1656 Christiaan Huygens The Netherlands
clock, quartz 1927 Warren A. Marrison Canada/US
cloning, animal 1970 John B. Gurdon UK
coffee, drip 1908 Melitta Bentz Germany
coffee, decaffeinated 1905 Ludwig Roselius Germany
coins c. 650 BC Lydians Turkey
compact disc (CD) 1980 Philips Electronics, Sony Corp. The Netherlands, Japan
compass, magnetic c. 12th century China, Europe
computed tomography (CT scan, CAT scan) 1972 Godfrey Hounsfield, Allan Cormack UK, US
computer, electronic digital 1939 John V. Atanasoff, Clifford E. Berry US
computer, laptop 1983 Radio Shack Corp. US
computer, personal 1974 MITS (Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems) US
concrete, reinforced 1867 Joseph Monier France
condom, latex c. 1930
contact lenses 1887 Adolf Fick Germany
contraceptives, oral early 1950s Gregory Pincus, John Rock, Min Chueh Chang US
corn, hybrid 1917 Donald F. Jones US
correction fluid, white 1951 Bette Nesmith US
cotton gin 1793 Eli Whitney US
coupon, grocery 1894 Asa Candler US
crayons, children's wax 1903 Edwin Binney, C. Harold Smith US
cream separator (dairy processing) 1878 Carl Gustaf Patrik de Laval Sweden
credit card 1950 Frank McNamara, Ralph Schneider (Diners' Club) US
crossword puzzles 1913 Arthur Wynne US
DDT 1874 Othmar Zeidler Germany
defibrillator 1952 Paul M. Zoll US
dentures c. 700 BC Etruscans Italy
detector, metal late 1920s Gerhard Fisher Germany/US
detector, home smoke 1969 Randolph Smith, Kenneth House US
diamond, artificial 1955 General Electric Co. US
diapers, disposable 1950 Marion Donovan US
digital videodisc (DVD) 1995 consortium of international electronics companies Japan, US, The Netherlands
dishwasher 1886 Josephine Cochrane US
DNA fingerprinting 1984 Alec Jeffreys UK
doughnut, ring-shaped 1847 Hanson Crockett Gregory US
door, revolving 1888 Theophilus von Kannel US
drinking fountain c. 1905–1912 Luther Haws, Halsey W. Taylor (invented separately) US
dry cleaning 1855 Jean Baptiste Jolly France
dynamite 1867 Alfred Nobel Sweden
elastic, fabric c. 1830 Thomas Hancock UK
electric chair 1888 Harold P. Brown, Arthur E. Kennelly US
electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) 1903 Willem Einthoven The Netherlands
electroencephalogram (EEG) 1929 Hans Berger Germany
electronic mail (e-mail) 1971 Ray Tomlinson US
elevator, passenger 1852 Elisha Graves Otis US
encyclopedia c. 4th century BC or 77 AD Speusippus (compliation of Plato's teachings) or Pliny the Elder (comprehensive work) Greece or Rome
engine, internal-combustion 1859 Étienne Lenoir France
engine, jet 1930 Sir Frank Whittle UK
engine, liquid-fueled rocket 1926 Robert H. Goddard US
engine, steam 1698 Thomas Savery England
escalator 1891 Jesse W. Reno US
eyeglasses 1280s Salvino degli Armati or Alessandro di Spina Italy
facsimile (fax) 1842 Alexander Bain Scotland
fiber optics 1955 Narinder S. Kapany India
fiberglass 1938 Owens Corning (corp.) US
film, photographic 1884 George Eastman US
flashlight, battery-operated portable 1899 Conrad Hubert Russia/US
flask, vacuum (Thermos) 1892 Sir James Dewar Scotland
food processor 1971 Pierre Verdon France
foods, freeze-dried 1946 Earl W. Flosdorf US
foods, frozen c. 1924 Clarence Birdseye US
Fresnel lens 1820 Augustin-Jean Fresnel France
fuel cell 1839 William R. Grove UK
genetic engineering 1973 Stanley N. Cohen, Herbert W. Boyer US
Geiger counter 1908 Hans Geiger Germany
glass c. 2500 BC Egyptians or Phoenicians Egypt or Lebanon
glass, safety 1909 Édouard Bénédictus France
greeting card, Christmas 1843 John Callcott Horsley England
guillotine 1792 Joseph-Ignace Guillotin France
guitar, electric 1941 Les Paul US
gunpowder c. 10th century China or Arabia
hanger, wire coat 1903 Albert J. Parkhouse US
helicopter 1939 Igor Sikorsky Russia/US
holography 1948 Dennis Gabor Hungary
hypodermic syringe 1853 Charles Gabriel Pravaz France
in vitro fertilization (IVF), human 1978 Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards UK
ink c. 2500 BC Egypt, China
insulin, extraction and preparation of 1921 Sir Frederick Grant Banting, Charles H. Best Canada
integrated circuit 1958 Jack S. Kilby US
Internet 1969 Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) at the Dept. of Defense US
iron, electric 1882 Henry W. Seely US
irradiation, food 1905 US/UK
jeans 1873 Levi Strauss, Jacob Davis US
JELL-O (gelatin dessert) 1897 Pearle B. Wait US
jukebox 1889 Louis Glass US
Kevlar 1965 Stephanie Kwolek US
Kool-Aid (fruit drink mix) 1927 Edwin E. Perkins US
laser 1958 Gordon Gould and Charles Hard Townes, Arthur L. Schawlow (invented separately) US
laundromat 1934 J.F. Cantrell US
lawn mower, gasoline-powered c. 1940 Leonard Goodall US
Lego late 1940s Ole Kirk Christiansen Denmark
light bulb, incandescent 1879 Thomas Alva Edison US
light bulb, fluorescent 1934 Arthur Compton US
light-emitting diode (LED) 1962 Nick Holonyak, Jr. US
linoleum 1860 Frederick Walton UK
lipstick, tube 1915 Maurice Levy US
liquid crystal display (LCD) 1963 George Heilmeier US
lock and key c. 2000 BC Assyrians Mesopotamia
locomotive 1829 George Stephenson England
longbow c. 1000 Wales
loudspeaker 1924 Chester W. Rice, Edward W. Kellogg US
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) early 1970s Raymond Damadian, Paul Lauterbur US
margarine 1869 Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès France
matches, friction 1827 John Walker England
metric system of measurement 1795 French Academy of Sciences France
microphone 1878 David E. Hughes UK/US
microscope, compound optical c. 1600 Hans & Zacharias Jansen The Netherlands
microscope, electron 1933 Ernst Ruska Germany
microwave oven 1945 Percy L. Spencer US
miniature golf c. 1930 Garnet Carter US
mirror, glass c. 1200 Venetians Italy
missile, guided 1942 Wernher von Braun Germany
mobile home 1919 Glenn H. Curtiss US
money, paper late 900s China
Monopoly (board game) 1934 Charles B. Darrow US
Morse code 1838 Samuel F.B. Morse US
motor, electric 1834 Thomas Davenport US
motor, outboard 1907 Ole Evinrude Norway/US
motorcycle 1885 Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach Germany
mouse, computer 1963–64 Douglas Engelbart US
Muzak 1922 George Owen Squier US
nail, construction c. 3300 BC Sumerians Mesopotamia
necktie 17th century Croatia
neon lighting 1910 Georges Claude France
nuclear reactor 1942 Enrico Fermi US
nylon 1937 Wallace H. Carothers US
oil lamp 1784 Aimé Argand Switzerland
oil well 1859 Edwin Laurentine Drake US
pacemaker, cardiac 1952 Paul M. Zoll US
paper c. 105 Ts'ai Lun China
paper clip 1899 Johan Vaaler Norway
paper towel 1931 Arthur Scott US
parachute, modern 1797 André-Jacques Garnerin France
parking meter 1932 Carl C. Magee US
particle accelerator 1929 Sir John Douglas Cockcroft, Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton Ireland/UK
pasteurization 1864 Louis Pasteur France
pen, ballpoint 1938 Lazlo Biro Hungary
pencil 1565 Conrad Gesner Switzerland
periodic table 1871 Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleyev Russia
personal watercraft, motorized 1968 Bombardier, Inc. Canada
petroleum jelly 1870s Robert Chesebrough US
phonograph 1877 Thomas Alva Edison US
photocopying (xerography) 1937 Chester F. Carlson US
photography 1837 Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre France
photography, instant 1947 Edwin Herbert Land US
Play-Doh 1956 Noah W. & Joseph S. McVicker US
plow, steel 1836 John Deere US
pocket watch c. 1500 Peter Henlein Germany
polyethylene 1935 Eric Fawcett, Reginald Gibson UK
polygraph (lie detector) 1921 John A. Larson US
polyvinyl chloride (PVC) 1872 Eugen Baumann Germany
Post-it Notes mid-1970s Arthur Fry (3M) US
potato chips 1853 George Crum US
printing press, movable type c. 1450 Johannes Gutenberg Germany
Prozac 1972 Ray W. Fuller, Bryan B. Molloy, David T. Wong US
radar c. 1904 Christian Hülsmeyer Germany
radio 1896 Guglielmo Marconi Italy
radio, car early 1920s William P. Lear US
rayon 1884 Louis-Marie-Hilaire Bernigaud, count of Chardonnet France
razor, electric 1928 Jacob Schick US
razor, safety c. 1900 King Camp Gillette US
reaper, mechanical 1831 Cyrus Hall McCormick US
record, long-playing (LP) 1948 Peter Carl Goldmark US
refrigerator 1842 John Gorrie US
remote control, television 1950 Robert Adler US
respirator c. 1955 Forrest M. Bird US
revolver 1835–36 Samuel Colt US
Richter scale 1935 Charles Francis Richter, Beno Gutenberg US
rifle, assault 1944 Hugo Schmeisser Germany
roller coaster 1884 LeMarcus A. Thompson US
rubber, vulcanized 1839 Charles Goodyear US
rubber band 1845 Stephen Perry UK
saccharin 1879 Ira Remsen, Constantin Fahlberg US, Germany
saddle c. 200 BC China
safety pin 1849 Walter Hunt US
satellite, successful artificial earth 1957 Sergey Korolyov, et al. USSR
satellite, communications 1960 John Robinson Pierce US
saxophone 1846 Antoine-Joseph Sax Belgium
Scotch tape 1930 Richard Drew (3M) US
scuba gear 1943 Jacques Cousteau, Émile Gagnan France
seat belt, automotive shoulder 1959 Nils Bohlin (Volvo) Sweden
sewing machine 1841 Barthélemy Thimonnier France
shoelaces 1790 England
silicone 1904 Frederic Stanley Kipping UK
skateboard 1958 Bill & Mark Richards US
skates, ice 1000 BC Scandinavia
skates, roller 1760s Joseph Merlin Belgium
ski, snow c. 2000–3000 BC Sweden, Finland, Norway
skyscraper, steel-frame 1884 William Le Baron Jenney US
slot machine 1890s Charles Fey US
snowmobile 1922 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada
soap 600 BC Phoenicians Lebanon
soft drinks, carbonated 1772 Joseph Priestley UK
sonar 1915 Paul Langevin France
stamps, postage 1840 Sir Rowland Hill UK
stapler 1866 George W. McGill US
steamboat, successful 1807 Robert Fulton US
steel, mass-production 1856 Henry Bessemer UK
steel, stainless 1914 Harry Brearley UK
stereo, personal 1979 Sony Corp. Japan
stereophonic sound recording 1931 Alan Dower Blumlein UK
stethoscope 1819 René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec France
stock ticker 1867 Edward A. Calahan US
stove, electric 1896 William Hadaway US
stove, gas 1826 James Sharp UK
straw, drinking 1888 Marvin Stone US
submarine 1620 Cornelis Drebbel The Netherlands
sunglasses 1752 James Ayscough UK
sunscreen 1944 Benjamin Green US
supermarket 1930 Michael Cullen US
synthesizer, music 1955 Harry Olson, Herbert Belar US
synthetic skin 1981 Ioannis V. Yannas, John F. Burke US
tampon, cotton 1931 Earle Cleveland Haas US
tank, military 1915 Admiralty Landships Committee UK
tea bag early 1900s Thomas Sullivan US
teddy bear 1902 Morris Michtom US
Teflon 1938 Roy Plunkett US
telegraph 1832–35 Samuel F.B. Morse US
telephone, wired-line 1876 Alexander Graham Bell Scotland/US
telephone, mobile 1946 Bell Laboratories US
telescope, optical 1608 Hans Lippershey The Netherlands
television 1923, 1927 Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, Philo Taylor Farnsworth Russia/US, US
thermometer 1592 Galileo Italy
thermostat 1830 Andrew Ure UK
threshing machine 1778 Andrew Meikle Scotland
tire, pneumatic 1888 John Boyd Dunlop UK
tissue, disposable facial 1924 Kimberly-Clark Co. US
tissue, toilet 1857 Joseph Gayetty US
toaster, electric 1893 Crompton Co. UK
toilet, flush c. 1591 Sir John Harington England
toothbrush 1498 China
tractor 1892 John Froehlich US
traffic lights, automatic 1923 Garrett A. Morgan US
transistor 1947 John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, William B. Shockley US
typewriter 1868 Christopher Latham Sholes US
ultrasound imaging, obstetric 1958 Ian Donald UK
vaccination 1796 Edward Jenner England
vacuum cleaner, electric 1901 Herbert Cecil Booth UK
Velcro 1948 George de Mestral Switzerland
vending machine c. 100–200 BC Egypt
Viagra 1997 Pfizer Inc. US
video games 1972 Nolan Bushnell US
videocassette recorder 1969 Sony Corp. Japan
videotape 1950s Charles Ginsburg US
virtual reality 1989 Jaron Lanier US
vision correction, laser 1987 Stephen Trokel US
washing machine, electric 1907 Alva J. Fisher US
wheel about 3500 BC proto-Aryan people or Sumerians Russia/Kazakhstan or Mesopotamia
wheelbarrow 1st century BC China
wheelchair 1590s Spain
windmill 644 Persia
wine before 4000 BC Middle East
World Wide Web 1989 Tim Berners-Lee UK
wristwatch, digital 1970 John M. Bergey US
X-ray imaging 1895 Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen Germany
Zamboni (ice resurfacing machine) 1949 Frank J. Zamboni US
zipper 1893 Whitcomb L. Judson US

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