This Is The Patent Age Of New Inventions Essay

From ancient tools to the latest digital advances, human inventions and technologies have shaped civilizations and transformed life on the Earth.  As expectations and capabilities evolve, each new generation possesses its own set of innovative thinkers. Right from the invention of the wheel to the development of Mars rover, several inventions are revolutionary.

Most major inventions don't have one inventor. Throughout the years, many innovative inventors have had their hand in both the elevation and evolution of an invention.

Here is a list of our top picks of revolutionary inventions that changed the world:


The wheel stands out as the OG of engineering marvels and one of the most famous inventions that influenced numerous other things. This primitive technology made it easier for all of us to travel. From the archeological excavations, the oldest known wheel is from Mesopotamia, around 3500 B.C. As a result of advancement in the new and innovative design of wheels, industrialization could take root. The wheel serves a vital purpose in our lives, and we couldn't imagine the world without them.

[Image Source:Pixabay]


Created for spiritual and navigational purposes, the earliest compasses were most likely invented by the Chinese in around 1050 BC. It was made of lodestones, which is a naturally magnetized iron ore. The invention of the electromagnet in 1825 lead to the development of the modern compass. The invention of the compass certainly helped modern navigation more than our GPS-needing culture could understand.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Although the foundation to the modern car year was laid in 1886 by German inventor Karl Benz, Cars did not become widely available until the early 20th century. Henry Ford innovated mass-production techniques that became standard, with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. However, he certainly wasn't the only person to develop the horseless carriage. The history of the automobile reflects a worldwide evolution. Dozens of spin-off industries blossomed creating thousands of new jobs. Oil and steel became two well-established industries. Vehicle production and sales are one of the major indicators of the economic status. Moreover, it influenced the technological advances in petroleum refining, steel making, paint and plate-glass manufacturing, and other industrial processes.

[Image Source:Pixabay]

Steam Engine:

Thomas Savery patented the first practical steam engine in 1698. It was one of the greatest inventions made by a man making him one of the people who have changed the world. Later in 1781, James Watt patented an improved steam engine and went on to fuel one of the most momentous technological leaps in human history during the Industrial Revolution. During the 1800s these engines lead to an improvement in transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing industries. Later, the steam engine’s basic principle set the stage for innovations like internal combustion engines and jet turbines, which prompted the rise of cars and aircraft during the 20th century.

[Image Source: Wikimedia]


Concrete is the one of the most widely used man-made material. It's a composite material composed of rough composite bonded together with a fluid cement which hardens over time. Most concretes used are lime-based, asphalt concrete, and polymer concretes. Earlier, Limestone was used as a crude cement. As the materials and combinations improved, modern concrete was invented. One of the key ingredients of concrete is cement. The foundation to cement was laid in 1300 BC. Middle eastern builders coated the outside of their clay fortresses with a thin, and moist burned limestone, which chemically reacted with gasses in the air to form a hard, protective surface. Around 6500 BC, the first concrete-like structures were built by the Nabataea traders or Bedouins in the southern Syria and northern Jordan regions.

By 700 BC, the significance of hydraulic lime was known, which led to the development of mortar supply kilns for the construction of rubble-wall houses, concrete floors, and underground waterproof cisterns. By 3000 BC, the Egyptians were using early forms of concrete to build pyramids. In 1824, the most used Portland cement was invented by Joseph Aspdin of England. George Bartholomew had laid down the first concrete street in the US during 1891, which still exists. By the end of 19th century, the use of steel-reinforced concrete was developed. In 1902, using steel- reinforced concrete, August Perret designed and built an apartment building in Paris.  This building a wide admiration and popularity to concrete and also influenced the development of reinforced concrete. In 1921, Eugène Freyssinet pioneered the use of reinforced- concrete construction by building two colossal parabolic-arched airship hangars at Orly Airport in Paris.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Without gas, there couldn't be the first industrial revolution in the automobile industry. Gasoline is a fuel derivative of oil, which is shortly called “gas” in the United States and “petrol,” in other places around the world. To be more specific, petrol is a transparent, petroleum-derived liquid that is used as an essential fuel in internal combustion engines. Petrol is the natural by-product and the invention here we are talking about is the numerous processes to improve the quality. Do you know, gas was initially discarded? During 1859, in Pennsylvania, Edwin Drake dug the first oil well and refined the oil to produce kerosene. Although the distillation produced gas, he discarded it as he was unaware of it. Until 1892, the prominence of gas wasn’t recognized. The first gas pump was manufactured by Sylvanus Bowser On September 5, 1885. The year 1970 gained attention towards environmental protection.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Railways is a mode of transport which can carry a large number of passengers with ease of comfort and/or heavy loads to long distances. Modern trains history is around 200 years old, which revolutionized the way we travel. Distant lands become possible, industries are powered with an infinite amount of raw materials. Earlier mode of transport was carts pulled by animals. During 1500 -1800, wagonways were common in Europe, which was used in mining. After the invention of Steam engine, more researchers were carried out throughout the world for a better design.

The commercial appearance of train networks came in the late 1820s, and the pioneer in that field was inventor George Stephenson, with his design 'Rocket', the most famous early railway locomotive. This gained rapid expansion across newly acquired lands. In 1821, Stephenson was appointed as an engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington railway, which was opened as the first public railway in 1825. The grand success of “Rocket” and opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway line energized railway industry. Railways reached another important chapter in the history, with the invention of Diesel Engine.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane. While flying machines had been dreamt up since da Vinci's time, the Wright Brothers became the biggest successes. Beginning with gliders, the duo laid the foundation for modern aeronautical engineering. Additionally, new business boomed along with a number of people being trained to fly planes. The possibility to fly over thousands of miles in less time would not have been made possible if the aircraft were not invented.

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Though fire is a natural phenomenon, its discovery marked a revolution in the pages of history. All thanks to our ancestors for leading us to the controlled use of fire which helps us from colorful lighting to delicious cooking. In addition, the biography of various landscapes was altered by fire. Ancient people might have become acquainted with fire derived from natural sources. Later came the processes of making fire artificially. This remarkable control of fire happened during Early Stone Age by Homo erectus. The earliest evidence comes from Kenya region. Although fire could have been used about 1 million years ago, evidence of cooked food is found from 1.9 million years. From the past to the present Fire has been in rituals, agriculture, cooking, generating heat and light, signaling, various industrial processes, cremation, and as a weapon or medium of destruction.

[Image Source:Pixabay]


The sophisticated human life would not have been possible without the invention of a small nail. They provide one of the best clues in determining the age of historic buildings.  Prior to the invention of nails, wood structures were built by geometrically interlocking adjacent boards. The invention of nails goes back to several thousand years and was possible only after the development of casting and shaping a metal. Around 3400 BC, Bronze nails were found in Egypt. According to the University of Vermont, the hand – wrought nails were a norm until the 1790s and early 1800s. By 1913, 90 percent of nails produced in the U.S. were steel wire nails. Other types of nails include pins, tacks, brads, and spikes with wire nails being popular.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


The usage of tools started 2.6 million years back in Ethiopia. Anthropologists believe the use of tools became an important step in the evolution of mankind. Earlier materials such as sticks and stones made tools. The invention of machine tools advanced the industrial revolution. Imagine how would we build or maintain previous innovations without a handy hammer.

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Light Bulb:

The energy we use today at home and office is a bright idea from more than 150 years ago.  Pioneered in the early 19th century by Humphry Davy, electric lights developed throughout the 1800s and was one of the most influential, great inventions of all times. Edison and Swan patented the first light bulb in 1879 and 1880. In the mid-1980s, CFLs hit the market. But the drawbacks such as high cost, bulky, low light output, and inconsistent performance made them less prominent. Currently, LEDs offer the best energy savings on the market.

However, the invention of the bulb electrified new businesses. It also led to new energy breakthroughs such as power plants, electric transmission lines, home appliances etc.

[Image Source:Pixabay]


Electricity has become the basic need for day to day life. It's been there around all along but the practical applications to effectively use it were invented. Although many use electricity, how any of you the know the evolution of electricity? In , Alessandro Volta discovered the first practical method of generating electricity. 1831 is marked the year of major breakthrough for electricity. A British scientist Michael Faraday discovered the basic principles of electricity generation. The electromagnetic induction discovery revolutionized the energy usage. Street lights were some of the earliest attention gaining equipment. With the rise in electricity usability, now it stands as a backbone of modern industrial society. With increased mobility, human life has become dependent on electricity.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


The prehistoric battery dates back the Parthian empire, which might be 2,000 years old. The old battery consisted of a clay jar filled with a vinegar solution, into which a copper cylinder surrounded iron rod was inserted. These batteries might have been used to electroplate silver.

The inventor of the first electric battery is Alessandro Volta. He also laid the foundation of Electrochemistry. The mass production of the first electric battery began in 1802 by William Cruickshank. The history of batteries marked a remarkable date in 1859, with the invention the first rechargeable battery based on lead acid by the French physician Gaston Planté. The Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd) battery was introduced in 1899 by Waldemar Jungner. 

[Image Source: Wikimedia]

Printing press:

Before the Internet's ability to spread information, the printing press helped information travel throughout the globe. Developed around 1440 in Mainz, Germany, Johannes Gutenberg’s machine improved on already existing presses. By 1500 Gutenberg presses were operating throughout Western Europe with a production of 20 million copies. By 1600, they had created over 200 million new books.

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Morse Code and Telegraph:

The telegraph was developed around 1830 - 1840 by Samuel Morse and other inventors, which revolutionized long-distance communication. The electrical signals were transmitted by a wire laid between stations. In addition, Samuel Morse developed a code, called Morse code, for the simple transmission of messages across telegraph lines. Based on the frequency of usage, the code assigned a set of dots (short marks) and dashes (long marks) to English alphabet and numbers. The telegraph laid major foundations for modern conveniences like telephones and (some scholars argue) coding for the Internet.

[Image Source: Wikimedia]


While the early ages used stone, bronze, and iron, it was steel that fired the industrial revolution. As per archaeological excavations, earliest known production of the metal dates back to 4,000 years. The invention of Bessemer Process (a technique for creating steel using molten pig iron) paved the way for the mass production of steel, making it one of the biggest industries on the planet. Now steel is used in the creation of everything from bridges to skyscrapers.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


The transistor is an essential component in nearly every modern electronic gadget. In 1926, Julius Lilienfeld patented a field-effect transistor, but the working device was not feasible. In 1947 John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley developed the first practical device at Bell Laboratories. It then won the trio 1956 Nobel Prize in physics. Transistors have become a fundamental piece of the circuitry in countless electronic devices including televisions, cell phones, and computers making a remarkable impact on technology.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Antibiotics saved millions of lives by killing and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch first described the Antibiosis (phenomena of antibiotic drug) in 1877. In 1928, Alexander Fleming set the first leap in antibiotics by identifying penicillin, the chemical compound with antibiotic properties. Throughout the 20th century, antibiotics spread rapidly and proved to be a major living improvement, fighting nearly every known form of infection and protecting peoples' health. 

[Image Source:Pixabay]


Prevention of pregnancy has a long and determined history.  The history of contraceptives dates back to 1500 B.C, where ancient Egypt women would mix honey, sodium carbonate and crocodile dung into a thick, solid paste called pessary and insert it into their vaginas before an intercourse. However, many researchers believe that several old world birth control methods are not effective and indeed could be fatal. The first known form of condom (a goat bladder) was used in Egypt around 3000 B.C.

In 1844 Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanization of rubber, which led to the mass production of rubber condoms. In 1914 with a monthly newsletter called “The Woman Rebel”, Margaret Sanger, great female educator from New York state, first coined the “Birth control” phrase. Later, Carl Djerassi had successfully created a progesterone pill, which could block ovulation. The Pill raised an international revolution and was a huge hit.

[Image Source:Pixabay]


Of course, x-rays are a phenomenon of the natural world, and thus can't be invented. But they were discovered accidentally. The invisible was made visible in 1895. X-ray is undoubtedly one of the epoch-making advancement in the field of medicine. All credits to physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen. While testing whether cathode rays could pass through glass, he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. Because of their unknown nature, he named it as X-rays. Through his observation, he learned that X-rays can be photographed when they penetrate into human flesh. In 1897, during the Balkan war, X-rays were first used to find bullets and broken bones inside patients. In 1901, he received Nobel prize in physics for his work.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Over the last 150 years, refrigeration offered us ways to preserve food, medicines, and other perishable substances. Before its conception, people cooled their food with ice and snow. James Harrison built the first practical vapor compression refrigeration system. However, the first widespread refrigerator was the General Electric “Monitor-Top” refrigerator of 1927. While it helped to rev up industrial processes, it became an industry itself.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Television! A small box with enormous information that changed entertainment and communications forever.  The invention of the television was the work of many individuals. Although TV plays an important part of our everyday lives, it rapidly developed during the 19th and the 20th century. The first television camera was invented by two men without knowing that they both are working on the same one (No TV to communicate them the news); Vladimir Zworykin and Philo Taylor. In 1884, Paul Gottlieb Nipkow created and patented the first television which he called the electromechanical television system. Though Color TV was not a new idea, in 1925 Zworykin filed a patent for an electronic color television system. Over time, television will gain political importance as every country started to share their political agenda through it. TV also became a food way of preserving peace and order. 

[Image Source: Pixabay]


The camera is undoubtedly one of the most cherished creations. Cameras have witnessed many phases of evolution – camera obscura, daguerreotypes, dry plates, calotypes, film to SLRs and DSLRs.  In 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a sliding wooden box camera made by Charles and Vincent Chevalier to click the first permanent photograph. With the technological advancements, Digital cameras were introduced to save pictures on the memory cards rather than using films.

The history of the digital camera began with Eugene F. Lally idea to take pictures of the planets and stars while traveling through space. Later, Steven Sasson a Kodak engineer invented and built the first digital camera in 1975. Though the digital camera ruled over the traditional camera, the most revolutionary aspect has been the advent of the camera phone. Now, every smartphone has an inbuilt camera and is able to take images.  With the growing demand, video recording was also made a part of it.  At present, the camera comes with inbuilt GPS system and real-time geotagging options. Freeze the great moments from your life in the form of photographs with better quality and superior handling digital camera. One doesn't have to look much further than a photo album to see that cameras are one of the great inventions that changed the world.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Major shoutout to the mechanical engineer Charles Babbage for laying the foundation to this remarkable and most reliable invention. In the early 19th century, the "father of the computer" conceptualized and invented the first mechanical computer. Although there's no single inventor of the modern computer, the principle was proposed by Alan Turing in his seminal 1936 paper. Today, computers stand as the symbolic representation of the modern world.

[Image Source: Pixabay]


During 1969, shortly after the creation of ARPANET, experimental email transfers between separate computer systems began.  Before email, sending an important document overseas involves a chaotic process. Now communication is one click away. The first substantial use of email began in the 1960s. By mid-1970s, it had taken the recognized form. The present-day most of the official business communication depends on email. Now, email is available on plenty friendly web interfaces by providers such as Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. This excellent medium of communication is well adopted by millions of people.


Unlike the bulb or the telephone, the Internet has no single “inventor." Instead, it has evolved over time. It started in the United States around the 1950s, along with the development of computers.   Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on technology, including the rise of electronic mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, and two-way interactive video calls.

[Image Source: Pixabay]

World Wide Web:

The Internet is a networking infrastructure. Whereas the World Wide Web is a way to access information over the medium of the Internet. The father of the World Wide Web is a British Computer Scientist, Tim Berners-Lee. While working as a software engineer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, Tim noticed that the difficulty in sharing information. In 1989, this leads to a proposal “Information Management: A Proposal”. However, it was not immediately accepted. By October 1990, three Tim laid the foundation to the web through HTML, URL, and HTTP technologies. April 1993, marked an important step in the history of Web. The decision to use the web for free was announced. To this day, the Web gleamed an encyclopedic wave of inventiveness. The web rapidly changed the traditional way and influenced the development of various industries. For example, it led to the development of online education and economy; the best way to promote your company in 2017 is through Google search. People can read or watch any types of content online whether through a site or social media such as Facebook and Twitter. 

[Image Source: Pixabay]


From materials like livestock to precious metals and coins, currency took various forms throughout the history. Due to frequent shortages of coins, banks issued paper notes as a promise against payment of precious metals in future. The idea of using a light-weight substance as money originated in China during the Han Dynasty in 118 BC. Through travelers, Europe was introduced to this system in the 13th century. The switch to paper money relieved governments during crisis time. Thus, it changed the face of the global economy with a vital step in a new monetary system.

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Credit Cards:

During the dawn of 20th century, people paid for everything with cash. The idea of credit cards started around 1950 by Ralph Schneider and Frank McNamara, founders of Diners Club, to consolidate multiple cards.  While technology continues to advance, the idea of paying for daily purchases with a card has now become the norm.

[Image Source: Wikimedia]


The invention of ATM (Automated Teller Machine) is amongst the most important inventions ever made. In the present world, ATMs steered the banking into a new concept of self-service. According to the ATM Industry Association (ATMIA), there are now over 2.2 million ATM machines installed worldwide. Using ATM, customers make a variety of transactions such as cash withdrawals, check balances, or credit mobile phones. Many experts believe that the first ATM was the creation of Luther Simjian, called Bankograph. In 1967, John Shepherd-Barron came up with a bright idea of money vending machine, which was implemented a London bank called Barclays. Earlier machines used paper vouchers instead of plastic cards. The customer entered an identification code and can draw a maximum of £10 at a time. Dallas Engineer Donald Wetzel devised the first automated banking machine in the U.S.

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Telephone and Mobile Phones:

“Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” On March 10, 1876, these were the first words spoken by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell through his device to his assistant Thomas Watson. Telephone history conceivably started with the human desire to communicate far and wide. With the arrival of the mobile phone in the 1980s, communications were no longer restrained. The clever invention of cellular network supported the revolution of the telephone industry. Starting from bulky mobiles phones to ultrathin handsets, mobiles phones have covered a long way so far. John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper of Motorola demonstrated the first handheld device in 1973. Scientists continue to create new ideas that will further help users. 

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Robotic devices often perform complicated, repetitive, and sometimes dangerous tasks. The word Robot evokes various devices ranging from a cooking device to the Rover. The word "robot" first appeared in R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), a play was written by Czech playwright Karl Capek in 1921. Coincidentally, the word "robotics" was also coined by a science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov in his short story "Runabout", published in 1942. Around 3000 B.C, human figurines were used to strike the hour bells in the Egyptian water clocks. This marked the first mechanical design.  As the time flew, more designs and devices were evolved. But Robotics advanced scientifically in the 20th century.

The foundation to modern robots was laid in the 1950s by George C. Devol, who invented and patented a reprogrammable manipulator called "Unimate," from "Universal Automation."  In the late 1960s, Joseph Engleberger acquired the patent and modified them into Industrial robots. This effort made him "the Father of Robotics." Who knows! Someday robots might outsmart us and make us completely technology dependents. They are truly inventions that changed the world!


For some guns might be a sensational invention while for others it might be a dreadful invention. Weapons have been the primary tools since ancient age. But, it is an undeniable fact that the Guns have revolutionized the world. The earliest usage of a firearm might have been in China during the 13th century CE. In earlier days, guns were fired by holding a burning wick to a "touch hole" in the barrel igniting the powder inside. The first mechanical gun is the matchlock, which dates to 1400s. By the 12th century, the technology started spreading to Asia, followed by Europe. The problem of loading and reliability was solved by the invention of a hand-driven machine gun called Gatling gun. It was invented by Richard J. Gatling during the American Civil War. As the tech continued to evolve, each following model became more deadly. 

[Image Source: Pixabay]


Almost everyone loves to watch movies of various sorts like a love story, comedy, drama, horror, suspense, action, fiction, biography etc. A film is also called a movie, motion picture, theatrical film, photoplay, flick. The name "film" originates from the fact that a photographic film has been the medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. An Early inspiration for movies were the plays and dance, which had elements common to film: scripts, sets, costumes, production, direction, actors, audiences, and storyboards. Later in the 17th century, the lanterns were used to project animation, which was achieved by various types of mechanical slides.

Much later in 1839, Henry Fox Talbot makes an important advancement in photography production. The year 1846 was important for the development of motion pictures. The first movie ever made is the horse in motion. In March 1895, the first film with a Cinématographe camera was shot on La Sortie de leucine Lumière a Lyon (Workers leaving the Lumière factory at Lyon). With time, the movies evolved with sound, music, color, and advanced technology. 

[Image Source: Pixabay

Written by Alekhya Sai Punnamaraju

A competition sponsored in 1913 by Scientific American asked for essays on the 10 greatest inventions. The rules: “our time” meant the previous quarter century, 1888 to 1913; the invention had to be patentable and was considered to date from its “commercial introduction.”

Perception is at the heart of this question. Inventions are most salient when we can see the historical changes they cause. In 2013 we might not appreciate the work of Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison on a daily basis, as we are accustomed to electricity in all its forms, but we are very impressed by the societal changes caused by the Internet and the World Wide Web (both of which run on alternating-current electricity, by the way). A century from now they might be curious as to what all the fuss was about. The answers from 1913 thus provide a snapshot of the perceptions of the time.

The airplane: The Wright Flyer for military purposes, being demonstrated at Fort Myer, Va., in 1908.Image: Scientific American - November 1, 1913

Following are excerpts from the first- and second-prize essays, along with a statistical tally of all the entries that were sent in.

The first-prize essay was written by William I. Wyman, who worked in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., and was thus well informed on the progress of inventions. His list was:

1. The electric furnace (1889) It was “the only means for commercially producing Carborundum (the hardest of all manufactured substances).” The electric furnace also converted aluminum “from a merely precious to very useful metal” (by reducing it’s price 98 percent), and was “radically transforming the steel industry.”

2. The steam turbine, invented by Charles Parsons in 1884 and commercially introduced over the next 10 years. A huge improvement in powering ships, the more far-reaching use of this invention was to drive generators that produced electricity.

3. The gasoline-powered automobile. Many inventors worked toward the goal of a “self-propelled” vehicle in the 19th century. Wyman gave the honor specifically to Gottleib Daimler for his 1889 engine, arguing: “a century's insistent but unsuccessful endeavor to provide a practical self-propelled car proves that the success of any type that once answered requirements would be immediate. Such success did come with the advent of the Daimler motor, and not before.”

4. The moving picture. Entertainment always will be important to people. “The moving picture has transformed the amusements of the multitude.” The technical pioneer he cited was Thomas Edison.

5. The airplane. For “the Realization of an age-long dream” he gave the laurels of success to the Wright brothers, but apart from its military use reserved judgment on the utility of the invention: “It presents the least commercial utility of all the inventions considered.”

6. Wireless Telegraphy. Systems for transmitting information between people have been around for centuries, perhaps millennia. Telegraph signals got a speed boost in the U.S. from Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail. Wireless telegraphy as invented by Guglielmo Marconi, later evolving into radio, set information free from wires.

7. The cyanide process. Sounds toxic, yes? It appears on this list for only one reason: It is used to extract gold from ore. “Gold is the life blood of trade,” and in 1913 it was considered to be the foundation for international commerce and national currencies.

8. The Nikola Tesla induction motor. “This epoch-making invention is mainly responsible for the present large and increasing use of electricity in the industries.” Before people had electricity in their homes, the alternating current–producing motor constructed by Tesla supplied 90 percent of the electricity used by manufacturing.

9. The Linotype machine. The Linotype machine enabled publishers—largely newspapers—to compose text and print it much faster and cheaper. It was an advance as large as the invention of the printing press itself was over the painstaking handwritten scrolls before it. Pretty soon we won’t be using paper for writing and reading, so the history of printing will be forgotten anyway.

10. The electric welding process of Elihu Thomson. In the era of mass production, the electric welding process enabled faster production and construction of better, more intricate machines for that manufacturing process.

The electric welder invented by Elihu Thomson enabled the cheaper production of intricate welded machinery. Image: Scientific American - November 1, 1913

The turbine invented by Charles Parsons powered ships. Assembled in numbers, they provided an efficient means of driving electrical generators and producing that most useful commodity. Image: Scientific American - November 1, 1913

The second-prize essay, by George M. Dowe, also of Washington, D.C., who may have been a patent attorney, was more philosophical. He divided his inventions into those aiding three broad sectors: production, transportation and communication.

1. Electrical fixation of atmospheric nitrogen. As natural fertilizer sources were depleted during the 19th century, artificial fertilizers enabled the further expansion of agriculture.

2. Preservation of sugar-producing plants. George W. McMullen of Chicago is credited with the discovery of a method for drying sugar cane and sugar beets for transport. Sugar production became more efficient and its supply increased by leaps and bounds, like a kid on a “sugar buzz.” Maybe this is one invention we could have done without. But I digress.

3. High-speed steel alloys. By adding tungsten to steel, “tools so made were able to cut at such a speed that they became almost red hot without losing either their temper or their cutting edge” The increase in the efficiency of cutting machines was “nothing short of revolutionary.”

4. Tungsten-filament lamp. Another success of chemistry. After tungsten replaced carbon in its filament, the lightbulb was considered “perfected.” As of 2013 they are being phased out worldwide in favor of compact fluorescent bulbs, which are four times as efficient.

5. The airplane. Not yet in wide use as transportation in 1913, but “To [Samuel] Langley and to the Wright brothers must be awarded the chief honors in the attainment of mechanical flight.” In 2013 the annoying aspects of commercial airline flying make transportation by horse and buggy seem a viable alternative.

6. The steam turbine. As with Mr. Wyman, the turbine deserved credit not only “in the utilization of steam as a prime mover” but in its use in the “generation of electricity.”

7. Internal combustion engine. As a means of transportation, Dowe gives the greatest credit to “Daimler, Ford and Duryea.” Gottleib Daimler is a well-known pioneer in motor vehicles. Henry Ford began production of the Model T in 1908 and it was quite popular by 1913. Charles Duryea made one of the earliest commercially successful petrol-driven vehicles, starting in 1896.

8. The pneumatic tire. Cars for personal transportation were an improvement on railways. “What the track has done for the locomotive, the pneumatic tire has done for the vehicle not confined to tracks.” Credit is given to John Dunlop and William C. Bartlet, who each had a milestone on the road (pun intended) to successful automobile and bicycle tires.

9. Wireless communication. Marconi was given the credit for making wireless “commercially practical.” Dowe also makes a comment that could apply equally to the rise of the World Wide Web, stating that wireless was “devised to meet the needs of commerce primarily, but incidentally they have contributed to social intercourse.”

10. Composing machines. The giant rotary press was quite capable of churning out masses of printed material. The bottleneck in the chain of production was composing the printing plates. The Linotype and the Monotype dispensed with that bottleneck.

The essays sent in were compiled to come up with a master list of inventions that were considered to be the top 10. Wireless telegraphy was on almost everyone’s list. The “aeroplane” came in second, although it was considered important because of its potential, not because there were so many airplanes in the sky. Here are the rest of the results:

Wireless telegraphy 97 percent
Aeroplane 75
X-Ray machine 74
Automobile 66
Motion pictures 63
Reinforced concrete 37
Phonograph 37
Incandescent electric lamp 35
Steam turbine 34
Electric car 34
Calculating machine 33
Internal combustion engine 33
Radium 27
Submarine boats 24
Picture telegraphy 24
Electric furnace 21
Diesel engine 18
Color photography 17
Dictograph 16
Composing machine 15
Transmitting and transforming AC current 15
Pneumatic tire (car and bicycle) 15
Dirigible (airships) 13
Photoengraving 13
Tungsten lightbulb 11
Electric welding 10
High-speed steel 10
Kodak portable camera 10
Fixation of nitrogen 9
Welsbach gas burner 9
Producer gas [a type of fuel] 8
Monorail 8
Flexible photo films 7
Liquid air 7

There were also mentions for Luther Burbank's agricultural work (23); Louis Pasteur and vaccination work (20); acetylene gas from carbide (17); mercury-vapor lamp (7); preservation of sugar-producing plants (7); combined motion picture and talking machine (10); Edison's storage battery (6); automatic player piano (4); Pulmotor (a respirator machine) (4); telephone (4).

The motion picture: The hard-working Thomas Edison helped make this entertainment form technically viable. Image: Scientific American - November 1, 1913

The full contents of all the prize-winning essays is available with a subscription to the Scientific American archives.

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