Best inventions of the last 500 years
It’s a difficult question to answer, because “best” is subjective. So I’ve been asking around the office which inventions have had the greatest impact on modern society for each of us. Here’s a list of the answers.
7 minutes to read
Armed with pencil and paper I have been asking my sales, product, and operations colleagues what is the “best” invention in the last 500 years, so I have come up with a final list.
The list of inventions that have had a significant impact over the last 5 centuries for them, have been:
Caren: The printing press (1450)
The printing press revolutionized the way information was disseminated, making it possible to produce books and other printed materials more efficiently and at a lower cost. It was invented in the mid-15th century by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany.
Before the printing press, books were produced by hand, which made them rare and expensive. Only wealthy individuals and institutions could afford to own books. The printing press made it possible to produce books much more quickly and at a lower cost, which made them more widely available.
The printing press works by using movable type, which consists of individual letters and symbols that can be arranged and rearranged on a page. The type is inked and then pressed onto paper, leaving an impression of the text. This process can be repeated many times, making it possible to produce multiple copies of a document.
The printing press had a significant impact on society, particularly in the areas of education, religion, and politics. It allowed for the spread of knowledge and ideas, which helped to fuel the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. It also played a role in the Protestant Reformation, as religious texts could be produced and distributed more easily. Overall, the printing press was a key innovation that helped to shape the modern world.
Luis: The steam engine (1712)
The steam engine is a type of heat engine that uses steam to produce mechanical energy. It was first developed in the 18th century and played a critical role in the Industrial Revolution, enabling the mechanization of factories and the mass production of goods, and the way those were produced and distributed.
The steam engine works by heating water to produce steam, which then expands and pushes a piston or a set of pistons. The movement of the piston(s) is then converted into mechanical energy, which can be used to power machinery or transportation vehicles such as trains and steamships.
One of the key advantages of the steam engine was its versatility. It could be used to power a wide range of machinery, from textile mills to mining equipment. It also allowed for faster and more efficient transportation, which helped to connect markets and increase trade.
The development of the steam engine had a profound impact on society, leading to significant changes in the economy, transportation, and labor practices. It helped to fuel the growth of industrialization, which led to increased productivity and higher standards of living for many people. However, it also had negative consequences, such as the exploitation of workers and the environmental impacts of increased production and transportation.
Iñigo: The telephone (1876)
The telephone revolutionized communication, making it possible to connect with people over long distances in real-time. It was invented in the late 19th century by Alexander Graham Bell and quickly became an essential tool for communication.
The telephone works by converting sound waves into electrical signals that can be transmitted over a network of wires. The electrical signals are then converted back into sound waves at the receiving end of the call. This process allows people to communicate with each other in real-time, regardless of their physical location.
This helped to connect people and businesses across the world, leading to increased trade and economic growth. It also played a critical role in emergency response and public safety, allowing people to quickly call for help in case of an accident or emergency.
Over time, the telephone has evolved, with new features and technologies being added to improve its functionality. Today, the telephone has been largely replaced by mobile phones and other digital communication devices, but it remains an important part of modern life and continues to be used in many settings, from business to personal communication.
Guillermo: The airplane (1903)
The airplane revolutionized transportation, making it possible to travel quickly and efficiently over long distances. Today, airplanes can be used for a variety of purposes, including commercial air travel, military operations, cargo transport, and scientific research.
The first successful airplane flight was made by the Wright brothers in 1903, and since then, airplanes have continued to evolve and improve. Modern airplanes are equipped with advanced technology, such as radar, GPS, and computerized navigation systems, which make them safer and more efficient than ever before.
Overall, the airplane has had a transformative impact on society, helping to connect people and places across the world and shaping the way we live, work, and travel. While it has brought many benefits, it has also posed challenges and raised concerns about issues such as safety, security, and environmental impact.
Alexa: Synthetic rubber (1909)
Synthetic rubber is a type of rubber that is artificially produced through chemical processes, as opposed to natural rubber, which is derived from the sap of rubber trees. It was first developed during the early 20th century as a substitute for natural rubber, which had become scarce and expensive due to the growing demand for rubber products.
Synthetic rubber is made from various petroleum-based materials, such as butadiene, styrene, and isoprene, that are polymerized into long chains of molecules to form a rubber-like material. The properties of synthetic rubber can be tailored to meet specific needs by adjusting the chemical composition and processing methods used.
Synthetic rubber is widely used in a variety of applications, including the production of tires, belts, hoses, gaskets, and seals, as well as in construction materials, footwear, and adhesives. It is often preferred over natural rubber because it is more durable, resistant to wear and tear, and has a wider range of temperature and chemical resistance.
The development of synthetic rubber played a critical role in many industries, especially during times of war when access to natural rubber was limited. It also led to new innovations and technologies in the field of materials science, paving the way for the development of many other synthetic materials used in modern society.
Steven: Television (1920s)
A television is an electronic device that receives and displays audio and visual signals transmitted through electromagnetic waves. It allows people to watch a variety of programming, including news, sports, entertainment, and educational content, in the comfort of their own homes.
Television has had a profound impact on society, changing the way people consume news and entertainment, and allowing for the sharing of information and ideas on a global scale. It has been used for educational purposes, such as in distance learning programs, and has been a valuable tool for advertisers to reach large audiences.
The first television broadcasts were made in the early 20th century, and television technology has continued to evolve and improve since then. Today, there are a wide range of television types and models available, including high-definition and smart TVs, which can connect to the internet and allow viewers to access streaming content from a variety of sources.
Lucas: The computer (1940s)
By now we all know what a computer is, which is an electronic device capable of processing and storing data, performing calculations and executing various operations based on predefined instructions. It is very versatile and programmable and can be used for a wide range of applications, such as personal and business use, scientific research, etc.
Computers have revolutionized many aspects of modern society, including communication, education, business, and entertainment. They have made it possible to access vast amounts of information and perform complex tasks with ease, and have led to the development of many new technologies and innovations.
There are many types of computers: desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones, each with their own capabilities and applications. Computers can also be found in cars, on assembly lines or even on public transport. The development of computers and related technologies continues to evolve rapidly, with new discoveries and advances constantly being made.
Which one would be yours? There are many other inventions that could also be considered among the most important of the last 500 years, depending on one’s perspective. If I had to decide on one, I would certainly choose the Internet, which gives life to our entire digital world today, that would be my choice (thank you, Tim Berners-Lee).