Inventors and Inventions
Technology is the reason humans have risen to a dominant role on our planet, above all other species. We are not the strongest or the fastest, in fact we're quite weak in relation to many other animals. But our brains, and our technology have allowed us to dominate our world. The most important discovery in human history is the harnessing of fire, which allowed us to operate in darkness, keep warm in the winter, and cook food. There is no set date to think about the invention of fire, however.
The first great invention, then, was agriculture. Ancient peoples collected wild grains to eat as long ago as 20,000 BC, but didn't start growing these crops until 13,000 BC and 6,000 BC, depending on the region. One of the earliest crops to be domesticated was rice, in China in around 11,000 BC.
Agriculture includes animals, of course, and the earliest animals to be domesticated are believed to be pigs, in 13,000 BC in Macedonia. The switch to agriculture is crucial, as it provides a food surplus. This surplus means that not everyone has to be involved in food production, freeing people up to conduct trade and advance science and the arts.
Other crucial inventions are the wheel, invented by the Greeks, which allowed people to carry heavy goods; as well as nails, invented by the Romans, without which construction was difficult.
Another great, world-shaking invention was the compass. The compass was invented between 200 BC and 100 AD in China. Prior to the compass, mariners had to use the sun and stars to navigate, which meant it was impossible to steer when the sky was overcast. The invention allowed accurate navigation in any weather... though the compass was first used for feng shui, or the construction of houses to be harmonious with the environment.
Probably the most significant medieval achievement was the printing press, without which modern civilization wouldn't be possible. It was invented in Johannes Gutenberg in 1436. Though imprinting symbols or images via stencils and ink had been known in Europe and China for hundreds of years, Gutenberg mechanized the process, improving its speed and efficiency. Up until then, books had to be painstakingly copied by hand, but now they could be mass-produced easily.
About fifty years after the invention of the printing press, twenty million volumes had been mass-produced. This led to a rise of literacy never seen before and directly contributed to the Protestant Reformation as it allowed average people to access the Bible.
One of the greatest inventions, which today we take for granted, is the lightbulb. There were several contributors to the field before Thomas Edison came along, but today he is credited with the invention of the first practical incandescent light bulb. He tried thousands of times to create the light bulb before managing to do so in 1879. This invention revolutionized the world.
When asked about the thousands of times he'd failed to create the lightbulb, Edison replied 'I didn't fail. I just found 2,000 ways now not to make a light bulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.' Who the next great inventor will be is up in the air.
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