Are these the greatest inventions since sliced bread?

This week is International Week of Science and Peace and so we’ve prepared two blogs for you – today’s is about ‘science’ and tomorrow’s is about ‘peace’.

‘Science’ is a broad term that covers many things, including the development of new ideas, tools and equipments – inventions. So we’ve searched Europeana for some of the best inventions in human history.

So, do you think these are the greatest inventions since (or before) sliced bread? Let us know what you think! Find facts about each invention below the gallery…

The plough: ‘Land preparation: ploughing with water buffalo’, The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC BY-NC-ND

The Automobile: ’25-2-12, Tour de France, Benz 4 cyl[indres], 75 x 120 [automobile] : [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol]’, French National Library and European Library, public domain

The Wheel: ‘A one-legged man is knocked down by a horse-drawn cart that’, The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC BY-NC

Communications: ‘Image of Morse telegraph’, Digital Mechanism and Gear Library – and thinkMOTION, CC BY-NC-ND

The Computer: ‘Sinclair computer (ZX Spectrum), met adaptor, vier boeken en zeven cassettes met spelletjes’, Rotterdam Museum and Digitale Collectie, CC BY

The Steam Engine: ‘Fowler’s neue Dampfpflug- Lokomotive mit Compound (Hoch- und Niederdruck-) Dampfzylinder’, Digital Mechanism and Gear Library – and thinkMOTION, CC BY-NC-ND

The Internet: ‘Internet self help – composite artwork’, The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC BY-NC-ND

The Lightbulb: ‘Lightbulb’, The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC BY-NC

Refrigeration: ‘Child at risk, kitchen’, The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC BY-NC-ND

The Printing Press: ‘Printing: a three-quarter view of a press made by Bacon & Do’, The Wellcome Library and The European Library, CC BY-NC


The plough: This tool to help farmers turn their soil and sow seeds is probably as old as agriculture itself. Farmers first used sticks and hoes, which developed into larger tools that could be pulled along by animals.

The automobile: The modern car was invented in 1886 by Carl Benz. The first widely affordable car was the Model T Ford, which became available in 1908. You might have heard the story that Henry Ford said  ‘Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black’, but in fact he said this in 1918, and when the car first came out it was available in grey, green, blue, and red… not black!

The wheel: There is evidence of wheeled vehicles as long ago as the 4th century BC. The wheel is commonly thought of as the fundamental human invention – something so simple and yet so life-changing. And it has become part of a phrase about what not to do when inventing or creating -make sure you don’t waste your time re-inventing the wheel!

Communications technology: From telegraphs to the telephone and radio, science has changed the way we communicate.  Samuel Morse invented the electric telegraph in 1836. Now, we receive dozens of communications a day through our telephones (mobiles and landlines), emails and TV and radio. Most of us would feel lost without these connections to the big bad world – crazy to think that less than 200 years ago, handwritten letters and face-to-face conversations were the only options available.

The computer: Mechanical computing devices have been in existence since the 1880s but electronic computers were invented in the 20th century.  Whilst the first computers filled entire rooms, now many of us carry a super-powerful version in our pockets in the form of a smartphone.

The steam engine: Steam engines have been a great source of mechanical power since the late 1700s, using the pressure created by heating water into steam to create motion. The first prototype steam locomotive was built in Scotland in 1784. Steam engines were central to the Industrial Revolution.

The internet: The internet began life as a military network in the 1960s. Since the mid1990s, with the introduction of email and the world wide web, it’s fair to say that the internet has taken over the world.

The lightbulb: Thomas Edison is widely known as the inventor of the lightbulb, but several others came up with the idea first. Edison’s in 1878 was just the best.

Refrigeration: The idea for refrigeration dates back over 200 years and the kitchen must-have has transformed our domestic lives as well as food safety and medical advancements. It’s not just our milk and frozen chips that are preserved – what about all the blood transfusions and transplant organs that can now be safely transported thanks to refrigeration?

The printing press: Movable print technology comes from China in the 11th century. In the West, the invention of movable type mechanical printing technology is credited to the German printer Johannes Gutenberg in 1450. The printing press allowed large numbers of texts to be reproduced quickly and cheaply, spreading news, literature and current thinking around the globe much more easily than had ever been possible before.

And if you still think sliced bread is the best of all inventions – a little fact for you – sliced bread was first sold in 1928, advertised as ‘the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped’. This led to the popular phrase, ‘the greatest thing since sliced bread’.




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