Amazing and occasionally unconventional innovations have been imagined and made by humans. From the instant someone smashed a rock on the ground to create the first tool with a sharp edge through the invention of the wheel, Mars rovers, and the Internet, a few significant developments stand out as extremely revolutionary. Here are our top recommendations for the most significant innovations of all time, along with information on the science and development of each one.
The amount and distance of what people could move over land was severely constrained until the creation of the wheel about 3500 B.C. The most challenging aspect of “creating the wheel” was not the wheel itself. Things got complicated when it came time to attach a stationary platform to the rolling cylinder, claims David Anthony, an anthropology professor at Hartwick College.
The wheel-and-axle design was “the stroke of genius,” Anthony previously told Live Science. But creating it was equally challenging. He cited the need for practically flawless roundness and smoothness in the holes in the center of the wheels and the ends of the fixed axles as an example. Another important consideration was the axle’s size and how tightly it fit in the hole (not too tight, but not too loose, either).
The effort was well worth it. Wheeled carts made it easier for people to travel long distances and allowed for the movement of commodities to and from marketplaces, which promoted trade and agriculture. Wheels are now an essential part of our way of life, appearing in everything from clocks to turbines to cars.
This important creation stretches back more than two thousand years to the time of the Ancient Romans and was only made feasible once people learned how to cast and shape metal. In the past, wood buildings had to be made by geometrically joining neighboring boards, which was a considerably more laborious procedure.
According to the University of Vermont, until the 1790s and the beginning of the 1800s, hand-wrought nails were the standard. A blacksmith would heat a square iron rod and then hammer it on all four sides to form a point. Between the late 1790s and the beginning of the 1800s, nail-making machines went online. The ability to mass-produce steel from iron, invented by Henry Bessemer, caused the use of iron nails to gradually decline. According to the University of Vermont, by 1886, 10% of nails in the United States were made from soft steel wire. Steel wire made up 90% of the nails made in the United States by 1913.
In contrast, David Blockley writes in “Engineering: A Very Short Introduction” that the Pythagorean philosopher Archytas of Tarentum was likely the inventor of the screw, a stronger but more difficult-to-insert fastener, which is typically attributed to the Greek scholar Archimedes in the third century B.C. (Oxford University Press, 2012).