Every year brings new inventions. Some permanently change our lives almost overnight, some take time to become ‘part of the furniture’, and some disappear as soon as they are patented because there was never a real need for them. Over the last century there have been thousands of patented ideas around the world and whilst we may not notice some of them, many are exciting and completely life changing.
Computers are an essential part of most of our lives. Thanks to computers, space exploration became a reality, medical science became more advanced and the entertainment industry was able to take a huge leap forward.
A small number of computers were created which carried out basic mathematical equations, but the first to be patented were created by Johan Mauchly and Presper Eckert in 1946. It was called ENIAC and was based on the theory of Alan Turing 10 years earlier. This was the computer which all that were to follow were based on.
It was the size of a huge room and paved the way for the computers we use today. Without this invention, there would be no games consoles, computer chips, calculators, laptops or digital cameras today – perhaps the most influential invention of the last 100 years.
Fifteen years ago, many people were still coming to terms with learning how to use a basic mobile phone to send texts with a few select models having very limited and slow internet access. The concept of an appliance with phone and computer features was patented by Theodore G. Paraskevakos in 1973 but it lay dormant for over two decades. Some toyed with the use of the palm top computer to organise their lives but the first smartphone actively marketed was manufactured in 1999 by Japanese company NTT Docomo. In 2014, 90% of handsets sold are either Android or Apple with over a billion smartphones now in usage.
3. Electronic television
Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin take the credit as being the inventors of the TV which changed how we watch entertainment as it combined a visual format to the sound being produced. Might be rather difficult to watch the cup final on this original model due to the small size (3” inches) and the snooker would be all but impossible with the lack of colour.
4. Compact Cassette tape
The first compact cassette tapes were launched in 1962 by Philips, swiftly followed by the first dictation machine in 1963. Philips was unprepared for the popularity of their blank cassette tapes as they quickly became used across the world for use in the office, the home and in the bedroom for many wannabe singers. Cassette decks became widespread for home audio systems, cars as well as portable recorders. A major boost in popularity came with the invention of the Sony Walkman in 1979, which was a portable headphone only music device.
5. Microwave oven
Before the microwave, people had to wait – yes wait – to re-heat or cook their food. It would often take up to an hour to re-heat a meal. The microwave was an accidental discovery by Percy Spencer involving a bar of chocolate in 1945 when working for Raytheon. He noticed that microwaves started to melt the bar he had in his pocket. The now commonly seen piece of kitchen equipment was patented in 1947 and the first appliances were 1.8m tall, weighed 340kg and cost around £3,000 (probably ten times the price of a house at that time).
Through technological development, we can now all produce a TV dinner in minutes and have a melting bar of chocolate to thank for this.
6. Video Games Consoles
Ralph Baer changed the way children – and adults – spend their spare time when he invented the Magnavox Odyssey in 1968. He was also responsible for the introduction of the light gun and the commercial sensation game called Simon in the 1980s and is now seen as one of the most influential entertainment inventors of modern time.
The whole reason you’re reading this piece is because of the 1969 system originally invented as a countermeasure by the Americans in the event of a nuclear attack. ARPANET or Advanced Research Projects Agency Network together with TCP/IP would eventually form the spine of how the internet works.
8. World Wide Web
Whilst many see the internet and the acronym WWW as being one and the same, they are two separate beasts. The internet is the system behind the page you’re now viewing, the World Wide Web is the system of interlinked documents across the internet. This is all down to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who in 1989 was working as a software engineer for CERN. He realised the potential of linking computers together – and how to achieve it, so it was useful and accessible. The rest, as they say, is history.
9. Compact Disc
Now famous TV footage shows the first CD’s available being heralded as so indestructible that you could spread jam on them. Marketed as a way of playing music with a previously unheard of clarity and the fact they – apparently – couldn’t be damaged. The invention of the CD in 1980 by the joint efforts of Sony and Phillips meant that the days of buying vinyl were very quickly numbered.
10. Is there anybody out there?
It may be some years now since the last time that man set foot on the moon, but it all started in 1957 when the Russians fired Sputnik 1 into space as the first man-made object to orbit the Earth and heralded the birth of the Space Race. When Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, the developments had been incredible in the intervening 12 years. We’re no nearer to finding out if aliens exist but we have infinitely more knowledge about the stars and sky above us.
11. Mobile Phone
In 2014, not owning a mobile phone is now seen as rather unusual. It is a massive leap in culture and society if you think that it’s only just 40 years since it was invented and 30 years since the first one appeared on the shelves to buy.
Motorola demonstrated the first ever mobile phone in 1973. It weighed 2kg but wasn’t available to purchase. Technology hungry communicators had to wait until 1983 when the DynaTAC 8000x was launched with a cost to the buyer of almost £3000.
12. Flash Drive
As personal computers developed in the 1980s and 1990s, there came the need to store more and more information. This was then combined with people wanting portability of information from machine to machine. Whilst the floppy disc was used to hold files, they had very limited storage capability. Most people owned a pile of floppy discs which often became strewn around desks or in drawers as the amount of files they needed access to increased.
This changed with the invention of the Flash Drive by Toshiba engineer Fujio Masuoka in the early 1980s. He gave it this name because of the way erasing information reminded him of the speed of a camera flash. His idea had no way though of docking with computers at the time and it was down to Ajay Bhatt when he was working at Intel to develop the USB. It was still another four years though until the first flash drive stick was invented and made available in 2000 with a hefty – at the time – storage capacity of 8 Megabytes.
13. Post-It Notes
No office, diary or ideas book can be without them. Yellow, pink, green or blue, squares or hearts, they are an indispensable and for many office workers a much prized possession which will only be shared at a few at any one time.
The unique glue with low tack re-adhesive properties was invented in 1968 by Spencer Silver when he was actually trying to develop extra strong glue. He tried for five years to find people to really ‘get’ the idea and it was only when a friend suggested using it to mark a hymn book that companies finally saw the potential and they were first seen on sale in 1977. The original yellow colour was also unintentional as the first ones were made from scrap paper and yellow was the only choice.
14. Bagless Vacuum Cleaner
It took James Dyson over 5000 prototypes before his miraculous bagless vacuum cleaner was available for the public to buy. He even had to set up his own company to launch it as every other manufacturer had turned him down due to their fears of its impact within the industry.
It all started in 1978 when Dyson became frustrated at his vacuum cleaner becoming clogged with dirt and losing suction when he was cleaning his house. He worked on a technique known as cyclonic separation and a US patent was granted in 1986. His first cleaner was called the G-Force, was bright pink and only available through catalogues in Japan.
His second product to market – the Dyson DC01 was made available for sale in the UK and in 1995 was the highest selling vacuum cleaner on the market.
15. LED Light Bulb
LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights are seen as the most efficient kind of lighting on the market and this now commonplace item was invented in 1962 by Nick Holonyak, Jr. The first ones were only available in red due to the diodes available, followed by pale yellow and green as the technology evolved over the years. The invention of the blue LED in the early 1990s was quickly followed by white. LED bulbs are now used in a wide range of everyday items such as traffic lights, torches and televisions.
LED bulbs are up to seven times more efficient than their incandescent equivalent and as prices drop they are now becoming a commonplace around the world.
16. MP3 Player
From vinyl to cassette to CD, music had always been available as a visually stored item. You could hold the record as it was put on the deck or place the CD in the player. This all changed in 1989 when a patent was granted to German company Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft following their work into music compression. The first MP3 player was completed in 1997 (with a previous commercial disastrous attempt in 1995). The CD now found itself in the same situation as its musical predecessors when the first players were launched on the market.
17. Digital Camera
Taking snaps on holiday used to mean loading film and then sending them away to be developed, hoping they would develop into the images you wanted to remember. There was only one chance to snap a fantastic moment, you couldn’t delete blurred images from the roll of film and there was only one format – hard copy.
When Steven Sasson was working for Eastman Kodak in 1975, he developed an electronic camera which to begin with only found a market in the world of science and the military. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the development of the technology saw early models being available for the public to buy which heralded the beginning of a revolution in photography.
With the smartphone also developing alongside as a must-have gadget, by the mid-2000s most mobile phones also had a digital camera installed and the industry fought over their audience with promises of higher quality images and more storage capacity. The boom in use of social network sites also increased the use of digital cameras with the capability of instant sharing from anywhere in the world at any time of day or night.
18. Video Tape
Before the video tape, the only way to view modern films was as they were released and then the long wait – originally a number of years – before they would be televised for the first time. This often tied in with times such as Christmas when the new James Bond film would be scheduled.
The invention of the video tape in 1951 was originally used by television companies and the first commercially available machine in 1956 cost an eye-watering £30,000. It wasn’t until 1971 that the first machines were seen in stores when they were launched by Sony.
Betamax and Philips tried to break into the video player market in the 1980s but were quickly outnumbered in terms of sales by those wanting VHS machines due to the availability of new films at the local video rental shop.
19. 3D Printer
Printers have evolved from large and unreliable items which would sit in the corner of the office complete with roll of perforated edged paper complete with staff constantly trying to resolve a paper jam to the latest new kid on the block already making its mark by revolutionising the printing world with applications which could only have been dreamed about a few years ago.
The 3D printer was invented by Chuck Hull in 1986 and whilst it had use within specialist areas in the early years of development, it’s not been until the last 5 years or so that it has become recognised as a truly life changing technology with almost countless applications.
3D printing works by adding layers upon layers of a chosen textile such as plastic to eventually produce a 3D item.
Uses are growing at a quickening rate now with it being utilised extensively in medical environments to help with situations such as reconstructive surgery, architecture – there are plans in Holland to build houses through 3D printing, clothing and even 3D food with patterns developed to produce favourites such as ravioli and chocolate.
Whilst still very expensive items to buy and used currently for industrial and commercial purposes, there are models being developed for home use with one soon to be launched with a price tag of around £700.
20. Sliced Bread
The ultimate invention which coined the phrase ‘best invention since sliced bread’. Any item invented then after 1928 had a lot to live up to after Otto Frederick Rohwedder cut his first loaf in his bread slicing machine at the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri. The product was named ‘Kleen Maid Sliced Bread’ and was a success from the start. Other than a 3 month 1943 ban in America on the sale of sliced bread due to wartime conservation measures, it’s been on the table of every household across the world ever since.
The famous phrase is thought to have originated in 1962 when Jeanne Boardman wrote a letter to letter to the St. Joseph, Missouri, Gazette to say that the ‘Hints from Heloise’ column ‘is about the greatest thing since sliced bread’.