Whether it’s early man’s first use of fire or the birth of the space shuttle, innovations have always been the major catalysts behind humankind’s success. Some of these breakthroughs brought about immediate change, while others humbly laid the groundwork for important developments down the road. From pioneering inventions to bold scientific and medical advancements, find out more about 11 innovations that changed the course of human history.
1. Domestication of the Horse
Since their domestication some 5,500 years ago, horses have been inextricably tied to human development. They enabled people to travel great distances and gave different cultures the chance to trade and exchange ideas and technology. Equine strength and agility meant that horses could also carry cargo, plow farmland and even clear forests. Perhaps most influential of all, horses changed the nature of war. Nothing was more feared than a horse-drawn chariot or a mounted warrior, and societies that mastered the use of cavalry typically prevailed in battle.
A criminally underappreciated innovation, the transistor is an essential component in nearly every modern electronic gadget. First developed in 1947 by Bell Laboratories, these tiny semiconductor devices allow for precise control of the amount and flow of current through circuit boards. Originally used in radios, transistors have since become an elemental piece of the circuitry in countless electronic devices including televisions, cell phones, and computers. The amount of transistors in integrated circuits doubles nearly every two years—a phenomenon known as Moore’s Law—so their remarkable impact on technology will only continue to grow.
3. Magnifying Lenses
Magnifying lenses might seem like an unremarkable invention, but their use has offered mankind a glimpse of everything from distant stars and galaxies to the minute workings of living cells. Lenses first came into use in the 13th century as an aid for the weak-sighted, and the first microscopes and telescopes followed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Figures like Robert Hook and Anton van Leeuwenhoek would go on to use microscopes in the early observance of cells and other particles, while Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler employed the telescope to chart Earth’s place in the cosmos. These early uses were the first steps in the development of astonishing devices like the electron microscope and the Hubble Space Telescope. Magnifying lenses have since led to new breakthroughs in an abundance of fields including astronomy, biology, archeology, optometry, and surgery.
4. The Telegraph
The telegraph was the first in a long line of communications breakthroughs that later included radio, telephones and email. Pioneered by a variety of inventors in the 18th and 19th centuries, the telegraph used Samuel Morse’s famous Morse code to convey messages by intermittently stopping the flow of electricity along communications wires. Telegraph lines multiplied throughout the 1850s, and by 1902 transoceanic cables encircled the globe. The original telegraph and its wireless successors went on to be the first major advancements in worldwide communication. The ability to send messages rapidly across great distances made an indelible impact on government, trade, banking, industry, warfare and news media, and formed the bedrock of the information age.