Three million years of creativity and curiosity have produced tens of thousands of inventions and discoveries. Those that successfully met basic human needs – from the need to survive to the need to know – have played a big part in shaping our world.
Our world is very different from the world of our ancestors. Tens of thousands of inventions and discoveries have transformed the way we do things and the way we think. An invention is something new, created by arranging things in some novel way. A discovery is a thing or principle that already existed, needing only to be found. But it is often difficult to tell where invention ends and discovery begins. Whatever they are, few inventions or discoveries are made overnight. There is usually a period of preparation before they emerge. Even then, they take time to act. An invention may take years to displace existing methods. A discovery may take generations to change habits of thought.
When did it happen?
This is not a book of “firsts”. I have listed most inventions and discoveries under the date when they were first made public.
But some dates relate to the beginning of something that only later became well known, or to a later stage of something that took time to influence people. It can also be difficult to say exactly who invented or discovered something. Often, when the time is right, many people come up with the same idea. And making an idea work can be more important than simply thinking of it. At the top of each invention or discovery, I have named the people who I think contributed most to it.
It is often difficult to tell where invention ends and discovery begins, and neither happens overnight.
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