Sometimes an invention enters into day-to-day life fully formed. Barbed wire, bubble wrap, paper clips, rocking chairs, teapots, and LEGO are examples of these first-time successes.
Others, however, take a bit longer – even centuries – to find their most idealised form.
Wheel and the Axle
The wheel, along with sliced bread and $0.99 pricing, is often called the pinnacle of invention.
However, an overlooked component of the wheel invention is the axle, which is what makes it transportive. The wheel-axle combination, though, began life at the potters, being used to make clay pots. Eventually, some centuries later, they were used for vehicles to transport goods and our ancestors.
Medical techniques and equipment have had a rapid and necessary development in the last century. One area of notable improvement is the surgical retractor. The most advanced iteration of this device has been released to high acclaim by the team at www.junemedical.com. June Medical have made a self-retaining surgical retractor, which is not a new concept (the Lone Star retractor, for instance, is also self-retaining) but theirs comes with some notable improvements.
For instance, theirs enables single-handed adjustments, meaning that the primary surgeon can very easily adjust retention without needing so many extra bodies within the operating room. By reducing personnel within the operating room, surgeries are safer, and by improving the retractor’s self-retaining properties, surgeons can gain a better view over the incision site.
Look left, right, down, and up and you’ll see concrete.
Many BC civilisations realised that certain materials reacted with heat or water which allowed them to construct the first concrete-like structures. The Romans, in 200 BC, very successfully utilised it. There was a barren period after the fall of the Roman Empire when the techniques were lost for the best part of a millennia.
In the late 1700s, John Smeaton developed a modernised way of producing cement, and then in 1824 Joseph Aspdin invented the Portland cement, which, alongside the steel-reinforced cement developed a century later, we’re more familiar with today.
Batteries are the focus of many tech companies in contemporary society, in spite of the fact that the first batteries were developed in the nineteenth century.
For instance, Elon Musk is committed to revolutionising the battery further still, for the sake of sustainably produced energy. What we have today are smaller and more powerful than those Volta developed in 1800.
Early Korean and Chinese civilisations were printing using wooden and metal blocks centuries before Gutenberg assembled his flat-bed printing press in the mid-15th-century. However, Gutenberg first introduced the process to the West.
The human voice has undergone its own significant change across history. The vocoder was an early attempt to synthesise it and human speech, first developed by Homer Dudley in 1938.
Since then, its most prominent use has been in music. Artists like Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, and Phil Collins were early adopters and experimenters in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, almost a century on, it’s widely used across all genres and by those making music in their bedrooms or in state-of-the-art studios.
A flush toilet is taken for granted. Neolithic and Greek settlements are credited with the first public toilets – simple holes for squatting over – which led to the development of the flush toilets in the medieval period, Victorian and Edwardian periods, and the contemporary ones.
Bill Gates is continuing to push what toilets can be via his foundation to help sanitation in poorer countries.
Edison was credited with creating the first commercially viable light bulb. Further developments over the next century enabled greater efficiency of the light being produced as new sources of light – incandescent, quartz, halogen, fluorescent.
Combustion engines in vehicles are slowly being phased out of society due to their environmental impact. Without George Brayton’s first liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine developed in the late 1900s, we wouldn’t be where we are today, but it has come at a cost. They are now as efficient and as powerful as they likely will ever be.
Very few of us go anywhere without a camera nowadays. ‘Camera obscurers’ were forerunners to the camera, used as early as the 13th century, before the first recognisable one was developed in early 18th century. Advancements since then have made them increasingly powerful and mobile. They have enabled us to archive much of modern history, and to immortalise moments that would otherwise have been lost to time.