Inventions Timeline


Inventions don’t generally happen by accident or in a random order: science and technology progress in a very logical way, with each new discovery leading on from the last. You can see that in our mini chronology of invention, below. Please note: it’s not meant to be a complete history of everything, and it doesn’t include inventions or technologies that aren’t covered somehow, somewhere on this website. It’s really just another way to explore the articles on the site (for which there is also an A-Z index).

 

 

Prehistory:

4–5 billion years ago – Sun starts to produce energy.
~3.5 million years ago – Humans make the first tools from stone, wood, antlers, and bones.
1–2 million years ago – Humans discover fire.
10,000 BCE – Earliest boats are constructed.
8000– 9000 BCE – Beginnings of human settlements and agriculture.
6000– 7000 BCE – Hand-made bricks first used for construction in the Middle East.

Ancient Times:

4000 BCE – Iron used for the first time in decorative ornaments.
3500 – 5000 BCE – Glass is made by people for the first time.
3500 BCE – Humans invent the wheel.
3000 BCE – First written languages are developed by the Sumerian people of southern Mesopotamia (part of modern Iraq).
~2500 BCE – Ancient Egyptians produce papyrus, a crude early version of paper.
3000– 600 BCE – Bronze Age: Widespread use of copper and its important alloy bronze.
2000 BCE – Water-raising and irrigation devices like the shaduf (shadoof), invented by the Ancient Egyptians, introduce the idea of lifting things using counterweights.
c1700 BCE – Semites of the Mediterranean develop the alphabet.
1000 BCE – Iron Age begins: iron is widely used for making tools and weapons in many parts of the world.
600 BCE – Thales of Miletus discovers static electricity.
500 BCE – 900 CE – Nazca people of Peru are believed to have experimented with balloon flight.
400 BCE – 300 BCE – Chinese experiment with flying kites.
~250 BCE – Ancient Egyptians invent lighthouses, including the huge Lighthouse of Alexandria.
~300– 200 BCE – Chinese invent early magnetic direction finders.
~250 BCE – Archimedes invents the screw pump for moving water and other materials.
c.150– 100 BCE – Gear-driven, precision clockwork machines (such as the Antikythera mechanism) are in existence.
c.50 BCE – Roman engineer Vitruvius perfects the modern, vertical water wheel.
62 CE – Hero of Alexandria, a Greek scientist, pioneers steam power.
105 CE – Ts’ai Lun makes the first paper in China.
27 BCE – 395 CE – Romans develop the first, basic concrete called pozzolana.

 

 

 

Middle Ages:

~600 CE – Windmills are invented in the Middle East.
700 – 900 CE – Chinese invent gunpowder and fireworks.
800 – 1300 CE – Thanks to inventors such as the Banū Mūsā brothers and al-Jazari, the Islamic “Golden Age” sees the development of a wide range of technologies, including ingenious clocks and feedback mechanisms that are the ancestors of modern automated factory machines.
1000 CE ?? – Chinese develop eyeglasses by fixing lenses to frames that fit onto people’s faces.
1206 – Arabic engineer al-Jazari invents a flushing hand-washing machine, one of the ancestors of the modern toilet.
1232 CE – Chinese repel Mongol invaders using early rockets.
1450 – Johannes Gutenberg pioneers the modern printing press, using rearrangeable metal letters called movable type.
1470s – The first parachute is sketched on paper by an unknown inventor

16th Century: :

1530s – Gerardus Mercator helps to revolutionize navigation with better mapmaking.
1590 – A Dutch spectacle maker named Zacharias Janssen makes the first compound microscope.
1596 – Sir John Harington describes one of the first modern flush toilets.

 

 

17th Century:

~1600 – Galileo Galilei designs a basic thermometer.
1600 – William Gilbert publishes his great book De Magnete describing how Earth behaves like a giant magnet. It’s the beginning of the scientific study of magnetism.
1609 – Galileo Galilei builds a practical telescope and makes new astronomical discoveries.
Mid-17th century – Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke independently develop microscopes.
1643 – Galileo’s pupil Evangelista Torricelli builds the first mercury barometer for measuring air pressure.
1650s – Christiaan Huygens develops the pendulum clock (using Galileo’s earlier discovery that a swinging pendulum can be used to keep time).
1687 – Isaac Newton formulates his three laws of motion.
1700s – Bartolomeo Cristofori invents the piano.

18th Century:

1701 – English farmer Jethro Tull begins the mechanization of agriculture by inventing the horse-drawn seed drill.
1703 – Gottfried Leibniz pioneers the binary number system now used in virtually all computers.
1712 – Thomas Newcomen builds the first practical (but stationary) steam engine.
1700s – Christiaan Huygens conceives the internal combustion engine, but never actually builds one.
1737 – William Champion develops a commercially viable process for extracting zinc on a large scale.
1757 – John Campbell invents the sextant, an improved navigational device that enables sailors to measure latitude.
1730s – 1770s – John Harrison develops reliable chronometers (seafaring clocks) that allow sailors to measure longitude accurately for the first time.
1756 – Axel Cronstedt notices steam when he boils a rock—and discovers zeolites.
1769 – Wolfgang von Kempelen develops a mechanical speaking machine: the world’s first speech synthesizer.
1770s – Abraham Darby III builds a pioneering iron bridge at a place now called Ironbridge in England.
~1780 – Josiah Wedgwood (or Thomas Massey) invents the pyrometer.
1783 – French Brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier make the first practical hot-air balloon.
1791 – Reverend William Gregor, a British clergyman and amateur geologist, discovers a mysterious mineral that he calls menachite. Four years later, Martin Klaproth gives it its modern name, titanium.

 

 

 

19th Century:

1800 – Italian Alessandro Volta makes the first battery (known as a Voltaic pile).
1801 – Joseph-Marie Jacquard invents the automated cloth-weaving loom. The punched cards it uses to store patterns help to inspire programmable computers.
1803 – Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier develop the papermaking machine.
1806 – Humphry Davy develops electrolysis into an important chemical technique and uses it to identify a number of new elements.
1806 – Sir William Congreve develops long-range military rockets, based on an earlier Indian technology known as the Mysore rocket.
1807 – Humphry Davy develops the electric arc lamp.
1814 – George Stephenson builds the first practical steam locomotive.
1816 – Robert Stirling invents the efficient Stirling engine.
1820s – 1830s – Michael Faraday builds primitive electric generators and motors.
1824 – Nicolas Sadi Carnot sets out his hugely influential theory of engine efficiency.
1827 – Joseph Nicéphore Niépce makes the first modern photograph.
1830s – William Sturgeon develops the first practical electric motor.
1830s – Louis Daguerre invents a practical method of taking pin-sharp photographs called Daguerreotypes.
1830s – William Henry Fox Talbot develops a way of making and printing photographs using reverse images called negatives.
1830s – 1840s – Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke, in England, and Samuel Morse, in the United States, develop the electric telegraph (a forerunner of the telephone).
1836 – Englishman Francis Petit-Smith and Swedish-American John Ericsson independently develop propellers with blades for ships.
1839 – Charles Goodyear finally perfects a durable form of rubber (vulcanized rubber) after many years of unsuccessful experimenting.
1840s – Scottish physicist James Prescott Joule outlines the theory of the conservation of energy.
1840s – Scotsman Alexander Bain invents a primitive fax machine based on chemical technology.
1849 – James Francis invents a water turbine now used in many of the world’s hydropower plants.
1850s – Henry Bessemer pioneers a new method of making steel in large quantities.
1850s – Louis Pasteur develops pasteurization: a way of preserving food by heating it to kill off bacteria.
1850s – Italian Giovanni Caselli develops a mechanical fax machine called the pantelegraph.
1860s – Frenchman Étienne Lenoir and German Nikolaus Otto pioneer the internal combustion engine.
1860s – James Clerk Maxwell figures out that radio waves must exist and sets out basic laws of electromagnetism.
1860s – Fire extinguishers are invented.
1861 – Elisha Graves Otis invents the elevator with built-in safety brake.
1867 – Joseph Monier invents reinforced concrete.
1868 – Christopher Latham Sholes invents the modern typewriter and QWERTY keyboard.
1871 – Frank Wenham, a British aeronautical engineer, invents the wind tunnel.
1876 – Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone, though the true ownership of the invention remains controversial even today.
1870s – Thomas Edison develops the phonograph, the first practical method of recording and playing back sound on metal foil.
1870s – Lester Pelton invents a useful new kind of water turbine known as a Pelton wheel.
1877 – Thomas Edison invents his sound-recording machine or phonograph—a forerunner of the record player and CD player.
1877 – Edward Very invents the flare gun (Very pistol) for sending distress flares at sea.
1880 – Thomas Edison patents the modern incandescent electric lamp.
1880 – Pierre and Paul-Jacques Curie discover the piezoelectric effect.
1880s – Thomas Edison opens the world’s first power plants.
1880s – Charles Chamberland invents the autoclave (steam sterilizing machine).
1880s – Charles and Julia Hall and Paul Heroult independently develop an affordable way of making aluminum.
1880s – Carrie Everson invents new ways of mining silver, gold, and copper.
1881– Jacques d’Arsonval suggests heat energy could be extracted from the oceans.
1883 – George Eastman invents plastic photographic film.
1884 – Charles Parsons develops the steam turbine.
1885 – Karl Benz builds a gasoline-engined car.
1886 – Josephine Cochran invents the dishwasher.
1888 – Friedrich Reinitzer discovers liquid crystals.
1888 – John Boyd Dunlop patents air-filled (pneumatic) tires.
1888 – Nikola Tesla patents the alternating current (AC) electric induction motor and, in opposition to Thomas Edison, becomes a staunch advocate of AC power.
1899 – Everett F. Morse invents the optical pyrometer for measuring temperatures at a safe distance.
1890s – French brothers Joseph and Louis Lumiere invent movie projectors and open the first movie theater.
1890s – German engineer Rudolf Diesel develops his diesel engine—a more efficient internal combustion engine without a sparking plug.
1890s – Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky figures out the theory of space rockets.
1894 – Physicist Sir Oliver Lodge sends the first ever message by radio wave in Oxford, England.
1895 – German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X rays.
1895 – American Ogden Bolton, Jr. invents the electric bicycle.
1884 – Charles G. Curtis develops the compound, impulse steam turbine.
1898 – Nikola Tesla invents remote, radio control.

 

 

20th Century:

1901 – Guglielmo Marconi sends radio-wave signals across the Atlantic Ocean from England to Canada
1901 – The first electric vacuum cleaner is developed.
1903 – Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright build the first engine-powered airplane.
1905 – Albert Einstein explains the photoelectric effect.
1905 – Samuel J. Bens invents the chainsaw.
1906 – Willis Carrier pioneers the air conditioner.
1906 – Mikhail Tswett discovers chromatography.
1907 – Leo Baekeland develops Bakelite, the first popular synthetic plastic.
1907 – Alva Fisher invents the electric clothes washer.
1906-8 – Frederick Gardner Cottrell develops the electrostatic smoke precipitator (smokestack pollution scrubber).
1908 – American industrialist and engineer Henry Ford launches the Ford Model T, the world’s first truly affordable car.
1909 – German chemists Fritz Haber and Zygmunt Klemensiewicz develop the glass electrode, enabling very precise measurements of acidity.
1910 – Romanian-born Henri-Marie Coandă builds a simple jet plane, but it never actually flies.
1912 – American chemist Gilbert Lewis describes the basic chemistry that leads to practical, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries (though they don’t appear in a practical, commercial form until the 1990s).
1912 – Hans Geiger develops the Geiger counter, a detector for radioactivity.
1916 – Robert Hutchings Goddard, an American physicist, publishes influential ideas on building space rockets.
1919 – Francis Aston pioneers the mass spectrometer and uses it to discover many isotopes.
1920s – John Logie Baird develops mechanical television.
1920s – Philo T. Farnsworth invents modern electronic television.
1920s – Robert H. Goddard develops the principle of the modern, liquid-fueled space rocket.
1920s – German engineer Gustav Tauschek and American Paul Handel independently develop primitive optical character recognition (OCR) scanning systems.
1920s – Albert W. Hull invents the magnetron, a device that can generate microwaves from electricity.
1921 – Karel Capek and his brother coin the word “robot” in a play about artificial humans.
1921 – John Larson develops the polygraph (“lie detector”) machine.
1928 – Thomas Midgley, Jr. invents coolant chemicals for air conditioners and refrigerators.
1928 – The electric refrigerator is invented.
1920s – 1930s – Frank Whittle of England and Hans Pabst von Ohain of Germany develop rival jet engines.
1930s – Peter Goldmark pioneers color television.
1930s – Laszlo and Georg Biro pioneer the modern ballpoint pen.
1930s – Maria Telkes creates the first solar-powered house.
1930s – Wallace Carothers develops neoprene (synthetic rubber used in wetsuits) and nylon, the first popular synthetic clothing material.
1930s – Robert Watson Watt oversees the development of radar.
1930s – Arnold Beckman develops the electronic pH meter.
1931 – Harold E. Edgerton invents the xenon flash lamp for high-speed photography.
1932 – Arne Olander discovers the shape memory effect in a gold-cadmium alloy.
1936 – W.B. Elwood invents the magnetic reed switch.
1938 – Chester Carlson invents the principle of photocopying (xerography).
1938 – Roy Plunkett accidentally invents a nonstick plastic coating called Teflon®.
1939 – Igor Sikorsky builds the first truly practical helicopter.
1940s – English physicists John Randall and Harry Boot develop a compact magnetron for use in airplane radar navigation systems.
1942 – Enrico Fermi builds the first nuclear chain reactor at the University of Chicago.
1945 – US government scientist Vannevar Bush proposes a kind of desk-sized memory store called Memex, which has some of the features later incorporated into electronic books and the World Wide Web (WWW).
1945 – Arthur C. Clarke conceives the idea of the communications satellite, a space-based signal “mirror” that can bounce radio waves from one side of Earth to the other.
1947 – John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invent the transistor, which allows electronic equipment to made much smaller and leads to the modern computer revolution.
1949 – Bernard Silver and N. Joseph Woodland patent barcodes—striped patterns that are initially developed for marking products in grocery stores.
1950s – Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow invent the maser (microwave laser). Gordon Gould coins the word “laser” and builds the first optical laser in 1958.
1950s – Stanford Ovshinksy develops various technologies that make renewable energy more practical, including practical solar cells and improved rechargeable batteries.
1950s – European bus companies experiment with using flywheels as regenerative brakes
1950s – Percy Spencer accidentally discovers how to cook with microwaves, inadvertently inventing the microwave oven.
1952 – American John W. Hetrick and German Walter Linderer independently invent the automobile airbag.
1954 – Indian physicist Narinder Kapany pioneers fiber optics.
1955 – US electrical engineer Eugene Polley invents the TV remote control.
1956 – First commercial nuclear power is produced at Calder Hall, Cumbria, England.
1957 – Soviet Union (Russia and her allies) launch the Sputnik space satellite.
1957 – Lawrence Curtiss, Basil Hirschowitz, and Wilbur Peters build the first fiber-optic gastroscope.
1958 – Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, working independently, develop the integrated circuit.
1959 – IBM and General Motors develop Design Augmented by Computers-1 (DAC-1), the first computer-aided design (CAD) system.
1960s – Joseph-Armand Bombardier perfects his Ski-Doo® snowmobile.
1960 – Theodore Maiman invents the ruby laser.
1962 – William Armistead and S. Donald Stookey of Corning Glass Works invent light-sensitive (photochromic) glass.
1962 – Nick Holonyak invents the LED (light-emitting diode) while working at General Electric.
1963 – Ivan Sutherland develops Sketchpad, one of the first computer-aided design programs.
1964 – IBM helps to pioneer e-commerce with an airline ticket reservation system called SABRE.
1965 – Frank Pantridge develops the portable defibrillator for treating cardiac arrest patients.
1966 – Stephanie Kwolek patents a super-strong plastic called Kevlar.
1966 – Robert H. Dennard of IBM invents dynamic random access memory (DRAM).
1967 – Japanese company Noritake invents the vacuum fluorescent display (VFD).
1968 – Alfred Y. Cho and John R. Arthur, Jr invent a precise way of making single crystals called molecular beam epitaxy (MBE).
1969 – World’s first solar power station opened in France.
1969 – Robert W. Gore develops an ingenious waterproof material called GORE-TEX® by stretching slippery, nonstick PTFE (Teflon®).
1969 – Long before computers become portable, Alan Kay imagines building an electronic book, which he nicknames the Dynabook.
1969 – Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith invent the CCD (charge-coupled device): the light-sensitive chip used in digital cameras, webcams, and other modern optical equipment.
1969 – Astronauts walk on the Moon.
1960s – Douglas Engelbart develops the computer mouse.
1960s – James Russell invents compact discs.
1971 – Electronic ink is pioneered by Nick Sheridon at Xerox PARC.
1971 – Ted Hoff builds the first single-chip computer or microprocessor.
1973 – Martin Cooper develops the first handheld cellphone (mobile phone).
1973 – Robert Metcalfe figures out a simple way of linking computers together that he names Ethernet. Most computers hooked up to the Internet now use it.
1974 – First grocery-store purchase of an item coded with a barcode.
1975 – Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman invent public-key cryptography.
1975 – Pico Electronics develops X-10 home automation system.
1976 – Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs launch the Apple I: one of the world’s first personal home computers
1970s – 1980s – James Dyson invents the bagless, cyclonic vacuum cleaner.
1970s – 1980s – Scientists including Charles Bennett, Paul Benioff, Richard Feynman, and David Deutsch sketch out how quantum computers might work.
1980s – Japanese electrical pioneer Akio Morita develops the Sony Walkman, the first truly portable player for recorded music.
1981 – Stung by Apple’s success, IBM releases its own affordable personal computer (PC).
1981 – The Space Shuttle makes its maiden voyage.
1981 – Patricia Bath develops laser eye surgery for removing cataracts.
1981 – Fujio Masuoka files a patent for flash memory—a type of reusable computer memory that can store information even when the power is off.
1981 – 1982 – Alexei Ekimov and Louis E. Brus (independently) discover quantum dots.
1983 – Compact discs (CDs) are launched as a new way to store music by the Sony and Philips corporations.
1987 – Larry Hornbeck, working at Texas Instruments, develops DLP® projection—now used in many projection TV systems.
1989 – Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web.
1990 – German watchmaking company Junghans introduces the MEGA 1, believed to be the world’s first radio-controlled wristwatch.
1991 – Linus Torvalds creates the first version of Linux, a collaboratively written computer operating system.
1994 – American-born mathematician John Daugman perfects the mathematics that make iris scanning systems possible.
1994 – Israeli computer scientists Alon Cohen and Lior Haramaty invent VoIP for sending telephone calls over the Internet.
1995 – Broadcast.com becomes one of the world’s first online radio stations.
1995 – Pierre Omidyar launches the eBay auction website.
1996 – WRAL-HD broadcasts the first high-definition television (HDTV) signal in the United States.
1997 – Electronics companies agree to make Wi-Fi a worldwide standard for wireless Internet.

 

 

 

21st Century:

2001 – Apple revolutionizes music listening by unveiling its iPod MP3 music player.
2001 – Richard Palmer develops energy-absorbing D3O plastic.
2001 – The Wikipedia online encyclopedia is founded by Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales.
2001 – Bram Cohen develops BitTorrent file-sharing.
2001 – Scott White, Nancy Sottos, and colleagues develop self-healing materials.
2002 – iRobot Corporation releases the first version of its Roomba® vacuum cleaning robot.
2004 – Electronic voting plays a major part in a controversial US Presidential Election.
2004 – Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov discover graphene.
2005 – A pioneering low-cost laptop for developing countries called OLPC is announced by MIT computing pioneer Nicholas Negroponte.
2007 – Amazon.com launches its Kindle electronic book (e-book) reader.
2007 – Apple introduces a touchscreen cellphone called the iPhone.
2010 – Apple releases its touchscreen tablet computer, the iPad.
2010 – 3D TV starts to become more widely available.
2013 – Elon Musk announces “hyperloop”—a giant, pneumatic tube transport system.
2015 – Supercomputers (the world’s fastest computers) are now a mere 30 times less powerful than human brains.
2016 – Three nanotechnologists win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for building miniature machines out of molecules.
2019 – Google claims to have achieved “quantum supremacy”—with a quantum computer that calculates faster than a conventional one.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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