There are fun inventions, such as Silly Putty and Slinkys, that make our world a little more interesting. There are really good inventions, like zippers and Tupperware, that are amazing in their practicality. And then there are those innovations to which we can credit a shift in the way we live inventions that affect history and change how we live every day. <br><br> These 10 inventions, ranging in time from 800,000 years ago to the past few decades, have all markedly changed how we live for the better. Representing all aspects of life, each played an important role in the course of human history.
The flush toilet may seem like a modern invention, but several ancient societies had a handle on the idea. As early as 5,000 years ago in both Pakistan and in the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland, toilets in private home bathrooms linked with public drainage systems and carried waste away with water. Another idea lost to Europe during the Dark Ages, flush toilets (as opposed to holes in the ground with stone or wood seats, or simple pots) reappeared in the 16th century, when an English noble named John Harington built an indoor toilet with flushing mechanism for Queen Elizabeth I.
Another example of an important innovation that disappeared during the Dark Ages, early forms of poured concrete first appeared in ancient Egypt (even in the pyramids, according to recent studies). The ancient Romans almost certainly observed it there, historians say, and then mastered the technique using concrete in monuments such as the Pantheon in Rome, that survive intact to the present day. The mixture of cement and binding aggregates such as sand and water virtually disappeared until the 1700s, when English engineer John Smeaton improved concrete's composition. The building material is still the most commonly-used construction material, forming the base for bridges, dams, roads and buildings.
Where would the human race be without electricity? Definitely not reading this list! It is difficult to conceive of a time before a bevy of electrical engineers including Nikola Tesla, Michael Faraday and Thomas Edison worked (often contentiously) to power up the world but electricity is, in fact, a relatively recent invention. It was only in the 1880s that a century of research translated into the world's first central power station, switched on in New York City in 1882. It remained a perk mostly enjoyed by big cities for decades, however. By the 1930s, only 10 percent of rural American homes had electricity.
Most inventions are the result of scientists thinking big. The microscope, a feat of mechanics that had a hand in innumerable scientific breakthroughs, is an example of an inventor thinking really small. The first microscope was of the optical variety, which uses visible light and lenses to magnify small samples. Initially developed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries by Dutch eyeglass makers, the first scientist to catalogue his microscopic observations was Englishman Robert Hooke, who expounded on the close-up biological beauty of a louse and a flea, among other things.
The television is a classic example of how engineering feeds upon itself, developing in pieces until those components can fit together to form one great new innovation. One of the most inspired inventions of the 20th century began in concept, at least, in the 1920s, with multiple scientists working simultaneously to bring their patents for wireless moving pictures and sound to life. Philo Farnsworth of Idaho would win the inventor race, and be remembered as the person who changed the way we relate to the world. Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to appear on the magic box in 1939, and broadcasts became regular after the war.
Until the early 20th century, old age was the last in a line of dozens of potential killers, from bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis to infectious wounds, one might encounter during a lifespan. That all changed in the 1930s, when Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin, an antibiotic mold that could successfully fight bacterial infection. It was the most important development in medicine until that time, and began saving lives as soon as it was mass produced and distributed. The success of penicillin is also credited for driving the creation of the modern pharmaceutical industry.
Imagine the look on the face of the ancient man who lit the first fire, on purpose, without the help of lighting or sparks thrown accidentally. A new archaeological discovery in Israel has pushed that fateful day back to at least 800,000 years ago, when Homo erectus dominated most places on earth. Homo erectus learned to create fire by striking flint (a type of quartz) against another mineral containing iron, which creates a spark. With that knowledge, early man suddenly had warmth, new places to camp, fire to cook on and a whole new menu of foods that he could eat.
The Internet turned the computer into a truly fantastical machine, but where would cyberspace be without the hardware to support it? The computer is another invention without a clear-cut beginning, though most historians point to the 1930s and German engineer Konrad Zuse's first programmable computer, the Z3. A secretive project commissioned by the Nazi government, the original machine was destroyed during the war. Computer technology has made exponential strides ever since, and today, using a computer is as much a part of daily life as brushing your teeth.
Iron is one of the most common metals on Earth and steel -- its alloy is an irreplaceable material. As important as the iron industry is today, though, it was even more crucial to the development of societies before ours. First appearing in Anatolia (modern Turkey) over 3,500 years ago, the change from the Bronze to the Iron Age ushered in major changes in agriculture due to new, stronger iron tools that made it easier for people to settle down and be productive farmers. Stronger swords gave a distinct advantage to Iron Age societies too, allowing them to attack with efficiency and redraw the world map.