Five of the earliest major innovations
I have just read Steven Johnson’s latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation published by Riverhead Books/Penguin (2010), and was delighted to read the especially informative appendix in which he provides a Chronology of Key Innovations, 1400-2000.
Here are the first five:
Double-Entry Accounting (1300-1400): First codified by the Franciscan friar and mathematician Luca Paciola in 1494, the double-entry method had been used for at least two centuries by Italian bankers and merchants. Some evidence suggests that the technique was developed by Islamic entrepreneurs who passed it on to the Italians through the trade hubs of Venice and Genoa.
Printing Press (1440): While elements of the printing press, including the concept of movable type, date back to earlier Chinese and Korean inventors, the first true printing press that combined the screw press [previously used to crush grapes] and metallic movable type was created by Johannes Gutenberg circa 1440.
Concave Lens (1451): Humans have used lenses to magnify images and to start fires for thousands of years, but the first used of the concave lens to treat myopia is attributed to the polymath German cardinal Nicholas of Cusa.
Parachute (1483): Leonardo da Vinci sketched the original design for the parachute in the margin of a notebook. The first physical test of the design occurred in 1783, when Louis- Sébastien Lenormand leapt from the Montpelier Observatory in France and, with the aid of his primitive parachute, landed without injury. In 2000, an exact replica of de Vinci’s parachute was constructed and tested, and proved to function.
Terrestrial Globe (1492): The Nuremberg-based mapmaker Martin Behaim constructed the first terrestrial globe in the early 1490s, after returning from extensive journeys in West Africa. He called it the Erdapfel, which translates to “earth apple.”
If you share my keen interest in the origins of transformational devices (be they creations or innovations), you will enjoy reading these books:
Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in Ingenuity From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven
Rodney Carlisle and Scientific American
The Fire of Invention: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation
The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created
The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention
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