Best Inventions of All Time

I have collected more than 20 lists of “Best Inventions of All Time” and combined them into one list.  The results are below.  The numbers in bold and underlined indicate the number of lists that the invention is on.  I have tried to provide the date of the invention, the name of the inventor and the country of origin.

These dates and names are subject to debate. In many cases, multiple people contributed to an invention – one person designed it; another built a precursor; another made improvements on that; and another made the version that we use today.  In other cases, something was invented at one time and place, but then forgotten, and reinvented somewhere else much later.  This is true for the flush toilet, indoor plumbing and movable type printing.  Another common phenomenon is having multiple inventors working on similar inventions at the same time independently – either unaware of each other or in competition to be the first.  This was the case with the light bulb, the telephone and the airplane.

This list only includes inventions that were on at least 4 of the 20+ original source lists.  For a much longer list that includes inventions on 2 or more lists, in chronological order, and that includes additional information about developments that preceded and followed the ‘official’ invention, see Best Inventions of All Time – Chronological.

20
MOVABLE TYPE PRINTING; 1040, Bi Sheng, China
PRINTING PRESS; 1450, Johannes Gutenberg, Germany

15
TELEPHONE
, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, Scotland/Canada/US
ELECTRONIC DIGITAL COMPUTER, 1941, Konrad Zuse, Germany [Z3]

14
INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB, 1879, Thomas Edison, US

13
ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES, 1952-1956, Gregory Pincus; Frank Colton; Carl Djerassi; John Rock, US
INTERNET
, 1969, Lawrence Roberts, Robert Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, J.C.R. Licklider/DARPA, US

12
STEAM ENGINE, 1698, Thomas Savery, UK
TELEVISION, 1925, John Logie Baird, Scotland
ANTIBIOTICS,
 1928, Alexander Fleming, Scotland

11
WHEEL, 4000-3500 BCE, Anonymous, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, Northern Causcasus, Central Europe

10
PAPER, 200-100 BCE, Anonymous, Han Dynasty, China
EYEGLASSES, 1286, Alessandro di Spina, Italy
OPTICAL TELESCOPE, 1608, Hans Lippershey & Zacharias Jansen, The Netherlands
REFRIGERATOR, 1748, William Cullen, Scotland
STEAM-POWERED AUTOMOBILE, 1769, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, France
GASOLINE-POWERED AUTOMOBILE, 1885, Karl Benz, Germany
AIRPLANE, 1903, Wilbur & Orville Wright, US

9
ELECTRIC POWER, 1831, Michael Faraday, UK

8
MAGNETIC COMPASS, 206 BCE, Anonymous, Han Dynasty, China
COMPOUND OPTICAL MICROSCOPE, 1590-1600, Hans Lippershey & Zacharias Jansen, The Netherlands
RADIO, 1895, Guglielmo Marconi, Italy

7
OX-DRAWN PLOW, 3000 BCE, Anonymous, Egypt
MOLDBOARD PLOW,
500 BCE, Anonymous, China
INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE
, 1859, Jean-Joseph Étienne Lenoir; Belgium/France
TRANSISTOR, 1947, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain & William Shockley/Bell Labs, US

6

FIRE, 400,000 BCE, Anonymous, Africa
FLUSH TOILET
, 2600 BCE, Anonymous, Indus Valley Civilization, Pakistan
INDOOR PLUMBING, 100, Anonymous, Ancient Rome
MECHANICAL CLOCK, 976, Zhang Sixun, China
MODERN FLUSH TOILET
, 1596, Sir John Harrington, UK
ELECTRIC BATTERY, 1800, Alessandro Volta, Italy
STEEL PLOW, 1836, John Deere, US
TELEGRAPH, 1837, Samuel F.B. Morse, US
NUCLEAR ENERGY, 1942, Enrico Fermi, Italy/US (et al.)

5
ALPHABET, 1700-1500 BCE, Anonymous, Phoenicia
HINDU-ARABIC COUNTING SYSTEM, 1-400 CE, Anonymous, India
THERMOMETER, 1611-1613, Franceso Sagredo, or Santorio Santorio, Italy
PENDULUM CLOCK
, 1656, Christiaan Huygens, The Netherlands
SEWING MACHINE, 1790, Thomas Saint, UK
LOCOMOTIVE,
1804, Richard Trevithick, UK
PHOTOGRAPHY
, 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, France
PHONOGRAPH, 1877, Thomas Edison, US
ASPIRIN, 1897, Felix Hoffmann/Bayer, Germany
AIR CONDITIONER, 1902, Willis Haviland Carrier, US
QUARTZ CLOCK, 1927, Warren A. Marrison, Canada/US; J.W. Horton, US
BALLPOINT PEN, 1935, László & György Bíró, Hungary
MICROWAVE OVEN, 1945, Percy L. Spencer, US
BAR CODE,
1952, Norman Joseph Woodland & Bernard Silver, US
PERSONAL COMPUTER
, 1957, John Lentz/IBM, US [IBM 610]
INTEGRATED CIRCUIT (MICROCHIP), 1958-1960, Jack Kilby, Kurt Lehovec & Robert Noyce, US
COMPACT DISC (CD), 1965-1970, James Russell, US
ELECTRONIC HAND-HELD CALCULATOR, 1967, Jack Kilby/Texas Instruments, US
VIDEO GAME CONSOLE, 1968, Ralph Baer/Magnavox, US [Odyssey, rel. 1972]
MOBILE PHONE, 1973, John Mitchell & Martin Cooper/Motorola, US

4
STONE TOOLS, 2.6 million years ago, Anonymous, Ethiopia
BOW AND ARROW, 9000 BCE, Anonymous, Denmark
WINE, 6000 BCE, Anonymous, Georgia
BEER, 5000 BCE, Anonymous, Iran
STEEL, 2000 BCE, Anonymous, Anatolia (Turkey)
PAPER MONEY, 600-700, Anonymous, China
GUNPOWDER, 800-900, Anonymous, China
MODERN CALENDAR, 1582, Pope Gregory XIII, Italy
CONCRETE, 1824, Joseph Aspdin, UK
FRICTION MATCHES, 1826, John Walker, UK
ELECTRIC MOTOR, 1834, Thomas Davenport, US
REVOLVER, 1835, Samuel Colt, US
HYPODERMIC SYRINGE, 1844, Francis Rynd, Ireland
MACHINE GUN, 1862, Richard Jordan Gatling, US
BARBED WIRE, 1874, Joseph Glidden, US
SAFETY RAZOR, 1880, Fredrik & Otto Kampfe, US
PORTABLE CAMERA, 1888, George Eastman, US
ELECTRIC VACUUM CLEANER, 1901, Herbert Cecil Booth, UK
ZIPPER, 1913, Gideon Sundback, Sweden/US
ELECTRIC RAZOR, 1928, Jacob Schick, US/Canada
VELCRO, 1948, George de Mestral, Switzerland
POST-IT NOTES, 1974 , Arthur Fry/3M, US
WORLD WIDE WEB, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, UK

For a longer list of Best Inventions, organized chronologically, go here.

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