Solutions to "A Millennium of Inventions"

go to the puzzle


[1]: De Bono, Edward, ed. Eureka! An Illustrated History of Inventions from the Wheel to the Computer, 1974.
[2]: Bender, Lionel. Invention, 1991.
[3]: Williams, Trevor I. The History of Inventions: From Stone Axes to Silicon Chips, 1997.
[4]: Flatow, Ira. They All Laughed..., 1992.
(and other sources as noted.)

1000 - 1499

BLAST FURNACE - 1300s. "It was not possible to make molten iron, which could be cast, until after the introduction of the blast furnace in the 1300s." [2]

BUOY - 1000s. "The first recorded evidence of the use of buoys dates from about the 11th century, when European trade (as opposed to local trade) began to expand, mainly under the dominance of the Hanseatic League which took a keen and vigilant attitude in matters affecting the safety of ships. As early as 1066 buoys guided ships through the channels of the River Weser..." [1]

HANDGUN - around 1128. "The gun did not appear until the twelfth century A.D. For this three things were needed: a metal barrel, gunpowder with a high nitrate content, and a projectile that neatly filled the barrel so that the powder charge could exert its full propellant effect. Until very recently it was believed that the first Chinese gun ... dated to A.D. 1290. Continuing exploration of the Buddhist caves of western China has now revealed a remarkable temple at Ta-tsu in Szechuan Province, containing evidence that revolutionizes the history of the gun. Among the many reliefs in the cave are two showing gunpowder weapons. One depicts a small demon with two horns cradling a handgun while a second devil holds a grenade. The date of this extraordinary find, according to the inscriptions in the caves, is A.D. 1128." [James, Peter and Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions, 1994.]

MOVABLE TYPE - around 1045. "This seminal invention is specifically attributed to an experienced Chinese block printer named Bi Sheng. According to contemporary accounts, about 1045 he conceived the idea of making each character in clay, which was then fired to make it hard." [3]

SPECTACLES - around 1280. "Lenses placed close to the eyes were first certainly used towards the end of the 13th century. Nothing is known of the inventor, or of the date or place of the discovery, as it was the work of an illiterate artisan, but Edwarard Rosen fixes the period of the discovery to the five years after 1280. The inventor was probably a glazier, who made ornaments and glass discs for windows." [1]

STAINED GLASS - 1100s. "Colored glass, soon to become the glory of the great Gothic cathedrals, was not used in Europe until the 12th century." [3]

1500 - 1699

BAROMETER - 1643. "For reasons not then understood by mining engineers, suction pumps could not raise water above a height of 9 meters (30 feet). In 1643, Galileo's assistant Torricelli discovered why this should be: the pressure of the atmosphere is equal to that of a column of water of that height and that is the limit of water it can support. Using mercury, a liquid 13 1/2 times denser than water, Torricelli noted that a column 76 centimeters (roughly 30 inches) high could be supported. He predicted, and subsequent experiments proved, that with increasing altitude the atmospheric pressure would diminish and the length of the column would be correspondingly shorter; thus was born the barometer." [3]

MICROSCOPE - around 1590. "The microscope was invented ... in about 1590, by Zacharias Jansen, a spectacle-maker. It was a relatively crude device, using ... a concave and a convex lens, and there is no evidence that Jansen made any significant observations with it... However, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek is the outstanding figure in the history of microscopy because of his remarkable practical success. He succeeded because of his meticulous skill in grinding high-powered lenses that produced a clear image (his most powerful instruments magnified some 300 diameters) together with his uncanny persistence in using them." [1]

PROSTHETIC LIMBS - mid-1500s. "The first person ... to establish the feasibility of artificial limbs and make them respectable in medical circles, was Ambroise Paré (1509-1590)." [1]

QUILL SHARPENER - 1600s. "Quill pens were worn down by the constant scaping against the rough paper or parchment and from time to time had to be resharpened. In the 17th century, quill-sharpeners were invented. The worn end of the quill was snipped off neatly." [2]

SLIDE RULE - 1621. "By the 17th century ... more extended and complex calculations were becoming necessary for the preparation of tables of logarithms and trigonometrical functions and various aids to navigation. Logarithms, invented by John Napier in 1614, were of great importance because the enabled multiplication and division to be effected by the simpler operations of addition and subtraction. This led to the appearance of the linear slide-tule, invented by William Oughtred in 1621." [3]

TELESCOPE - 1608. "Spectacles were in use in the 14th century; yet it was nearly 300 years before Hans Lippershey, a Dutch spectacle-maker, looked at the weathervane on a distant steeple through a pair of lenses and found that it was magnified. The date was 1608." [1]

THERMOMETER - 1592. "The Greeks of Alexandria knew that air expanded as it was heated, and Philo of Byzantium, who was alive at the time of the birth of Christ, made a 'thermoscope' that must have been very like Galileo's air thermometer. But it was Galileo who, in 1592, was the first to put a scale besie the tube. This at once converted the device into a scientific instrument and made it possible to distinguish between temperature and heat. The study of heat as a form of energy depended on this distinction." [1]

WALLPAPER - 1509. "Wallpaper dates only from the early 16 century A.D., the earliest fragment known being of 1509; it was clearly a substitue for embroidered work at this date, and sought to imitate it in design. Such cloth hangings would have been, in their turn, a substitute for tapestries." [1]

1700 - 1799

COTTON GIN - 1793. "In 1793, Eli Whitney invented his cotton gin, a simple machine which greatly speeded up the separation of the cotton from the pod and its cleaning." [3]

METRIC SYSTEM - 1790-91. "On 8 May 1790, the National Assembly [of France] decreed the reform of weights and measures... The commission recommended decimalization on 27 October 1790... The commission recommended that the unit of length should be one ten-millionth of the distance from the Equator to the North Pole, measured along the meridian that passes through Paris... [Jean-Charles de] Borda proposed the name: metre, from the Greek metron, 'measure'... The unit of mass was to be the gramme, the mass of a cubic centimetre of water... The Assembly accepted the proposals on 30 March 1791, but it was several years before the new system was ready for use..." [1]

PIANO - 1709. "The credit for [the piano] belongs to a Florentine harpsichord maker, Bartolommeo Cristofori (1665-1731), who in 1709 published the diagram and description of the earliest piano. Cristofori's action even had an escapement mechanism which, after slinging the hammer up to the piano string and causing it to vibrate, immediately freed it, so that it returned to its rest position and was ready to be activated again, even though the player's finger still rested on the key." [1]

RIBBED HOSIERY - 1758. "The stocking industry ... had made what might seem a promising advance when Jedediah Strutt ... solved the problem of producing ribbed hisiery by placing a row of vertical needles between the horizontal needles of the standard Lee machine. This was in 1758, but it did not lead to any solution of the more delicate problem of adapting the needle, sinker, and presser-mechanism to the use of power." [Derry, T. K. and Trevor Williams, A Short History of Technology, 1960.]

SEXTANT - 1731,1757. "In 1731, John Hadley (1682-1744) invented a reflecting quadrant which ... was soon developed into the sextant... In 1757, Captain John Campbell extended the arc of this quadrant to measure angles up to 120 degrees instead of 90 degrees, and the instrument became known as a sextant." [1]

STEAM ENGINE - 1712. "The world's first practical working steam engine was erected by its inventor, Thomas Newcomen, at Tipton, Staffordshire, in 1712. It pumped water from the workings at the Earl of Dudley's Coneygre Colliery for more than 30 years." [1]

1800 - 1834

BRAILLE - 1824. "In 1824, Louis Braille devised the form of printing named after him: in this the letters are represented by patterns of raised dots which can be read with the finger tips." [3]

CANNED FOOD - 1810-11. "The technique of heating food to a high temperature to kill harmful bacteria, then sealing it in airtight containers so that it can be stored for long periods, was first perfected by Nicholas Appert in France in 1810. Appert used glass jars sealed with cork, but in 1811 two Englishmen Donkin and Hall, introduced the use of tin vacuum cans and set up the first food-canning factory." [2]

FIRE EXTINGUISHER - 1813. "In 1813, watching a fire in Edinburgh where the firemen were unable to get the hose to the fifth floor in time to save the building, he was led to invent the portable extinguisher." [1]

MATCHES - 1827. "Modern matches were invented by British chemist John Walker in 1827. He used splinters of wood tipped with a mixture of chemicals. These chemicals were ignited by heat generated from the friction of rubbing the tip on sandpaper." [2]

SEWING MACHINE - 1830. "It was not until 1830 that Barthélemy Thimmonier, a poor tailor at Saint-Etienne in France, devised a real [sewing] machine, albeit a rather clumsy one, made chiefly of wood. It was used for making army clothing in the 1840s, but Thimmonier's workshop was wrecked by a mob and he only narrowly escaped with his life. Determined to persevere, he improved his machine and in 1848 took out patents both in England and America, but he never managed to market his invention and died in poverty in 1857." [1]

STEAM LOCOMOTIVE - 1802. "Richard Trevithick, a British mining engineer, developed a small engine that used high-pressure steam, with which he powered the first steam locomotive in 1802." [2]

1835 - 1874

BICYCLE - 1839. "In 1818, Karl von Drais invented his two-wheeled dandy-horse, or Draisine, on which the rider sat astride and propelled himself along by kicking with his feet. About 1839, a Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, improved this by adding pedals which drove the rear wheel through a system of cranks, and in 1861, a French coach-builder working in Paris, Pierre Michaux, attached pedals and cranks direct to the front wheel." [3]

CAN OPENER - 1855. "The first tin cans had to be opened by hammer and chisel. In 1855, a British inventor developed a claw type of can opener. The blade cut around the rim of the tin using a see-saw levering action of the handle." [2]

ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH - 1837. "The first telegraph based on current electricity was essentially the work of W.F. Cooke and Professor Charles Wheatstone, who worked on the idea from 1837; it was the needs of the expanding railway system which provided the social motive." [1]

FACSIMILE MACHINE - 1843. "Messages were being faxed more than thirty years before Bell's telephone! Patents for the first fax machine date back nearly 150 years, to 1843. Of course the first fax machines worked a lot differently than they do today. But they still produced magnificent reproductions." [4]

INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE - 1860. "The first working internal combustion engine was built in 1860 by Belgian inventor Etienne Lenoir. It was powered by natural gas." [2]

POSTAGE STAMP - 1840. "The first postage stamps, as every schoolboy knows, were the 'penny black' and 'twopence blue' issued by Great Britain in 1840." [1]

TYPEWRITER - 1867. "The first satisfactory [typewriter] was that devised by CL Sholes in 1867, and produced from 1874 by the Remington company. Although clumsy by today's standards, this incorporated most of the features of the machines manufactures during the next 50 years or so. These included the inked ribbon and characters carried on the end of strike bars. The familiar QWERTY keyboard was devised to minimize the risk of these bars clashing." [3]

1875 - 1899

ASPIRIN - 1899. "Properly known as acetylsalicylic acid, [aspirin] is found naturally in certain plants and tree barks, and has thus been known for centuries for its therapeutic properties. In 1899, Hermann Dreser introduced synthetic aspirin into medicine; owing to its acidity it is nowadays stabilized by the addition of a neutral salt, calcium glutamate." [1]

AUTOMOBILE - 1884-85. "In 1884-85, [Karl] Benz solemnized the improbably but harmonious marriage between a two-seat 'sociable' tricycle and a scaled-down gas engine adapted to burn liquid fuel by means of a surface carburettor." [1]

ELECTRIC LIGHT BULB - early 1880s. "The electric light bulb evolved from early experiments that showed that an electric current flowing through a wire creates heat due to resistance in the wire. If the current is strong enough, the wire glows white-hot. There were several independent inventors, including Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan. Carbon-filament lamps were mass-produced from the early 1880s." [2]

JELL-O - 1897. "In 1845, that inveterate industrialist, inventor and philanthropist Peter Cooper, of Tom Thumb engine and Cooper Union fame, obtained the first patent for a gelatin dessert. In 1897, fifty-two years after Cooper obtained his patent, Pearl B. Wait, a carpenter and cough medicine manufacturer from LeRoy, New York, came up with a fruit-flavored version of Cooper's gelatin. It was christened Jell-O by his wife, May Davis Wait, and was available in strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon flavors." ["JELL-O: 100 Years and Still the Coolest",]

RADIO - 1895. "Half-British, half-Italian, Guglielmo Marconi knew by 1895 that he had a method of transmitting messages without the need for wires. The possibilities were endless. He was just 21." [1]

SPHYGMOMANOMETER - 1891. "Blood pressure is measured by feeling the pulse and slowly applying a measured force to the skin until the pulse disappears. The instrument that does this is called a sphygmomanometer and was invented by Samuel von Basch in 1891." [2]

TELEPHONE - 1876. "Alexander Graham Bell was the first to demonstrate, in 1876, that people could talk to each otehr over a distance by electricity." [1]

ZIPPER - 1891. "The zipper was invented by engineer Whitcomb Judson in 1891. It consisted of rows of hooks and eyes which were locked together by pulling a slide. The modern version, with interlocking metal teeth and slide, was developed from the early model by Gideon Sundback and patented in 1914." [2]

1900 - 1934

AIRPLANE - 1905. "The first practical aeroplane in history was the Wright brothers' biplane, known as the Flyer III, of 1905." [1]

ANSWERING MACHINE - 1925. "1925 - Curt Stille and another German, Karl Bauer (a licensee of the Stille wire recorder patents), market an improved wire recorder telephone answering/dictation machine called the Dailygraph. The machine was manufacturedby the Vox company, also of Germany. Later versions of the Dailygraph include provisions for a cartridge-- apparently the first use of a cartridge-loaded medium." ["Chronology of Magnetic Recording",]

GEIGER COUNTER - 1910. "Because of the great dangers to life arising from uncontrolled nuclear radiation, reliable and quick methods of detection are necessarily of enormous importance. The Geiger counter fulfils these conditions, and like many great inventions, has, in principle, remained unaltered since it was first developed... The Geiger counter was invented in 1910 by a brilliant young German physicist who worked with Rutherford at Menchester University." [1]

HELICOPTER - 1907. "In 1907, after the petrol motor had been perfected, two full-size machines succeeded in rising from the ground vertically with a man on board: first off the ground was that of the Breguet brothers, in September at Douai, but this fails to qualify as it was steadied from the ground; when Paul Cornu's twin-rotor machine took off near Lisieux in November, however, it was unaided." [1]

PARKING METER - 1932. "In December 1932 Carl C. Magee of Oklahoma City applied to the U.S. Patent Office with a claim for the invention of a parking meter." [1]

TELEVISION - 1926. "In 1884, Paul Nipkow invented a system of spinning disks containing holes arranged in spiral form, which transformed an object into an image on a screen. In 1926, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird used Nipkow disks to give the world's first demonstration of television." [2]

TRAFFIC LIGHTS - 1914. "The modern traffic light is an American invention. The first red-green lights were set up in Cleveland in 1914. Three-color signals were installed in New York in 1918, worked manually from a 'crow's nest' tower look-out in the middle of the street." [1]

1935 - 1959

DISPOSABLE DIAPER - 1951. "Marion Donovan's problem was one shared by every other young housewife in New York in 1950. It was the middle of the baby boom, and all those babies had leaky diapers. They also had diapers that had to be washed, bleached, hung to dry, or laundered by an expensive diaper service. It's no surprise that Marion Donovan wished for a diaper that could simply be thrown away... Donovan created (out of a shower curtain and absorbent padding) the Boater in 1951." [Vare, Ethlie Ann and Greg Ptacek. Mothers of Invention: From the Bra to the Bomb, Forgotten Women and Their Unforgettable Ideas, 1988]

ELECTRIC BLANKET - 1937. "An American, S. I. Russel, invented the electric heating pad in 1912 as a medical aid for tubercular patients sleeping outdoors: it was a small square of fabric with electrically heated tapes running through it... Some customers started stitching four or more squares together and using the result as a bed-warmer, but industry only grasped the idea of heating the bed rather than the body in 1937, when electric overblankets first appeared in America." [1]

LEGOS - 1949-58. "1949 - The [LEGO] company produces about 200 different plastic and wooden toys, including Automatic Binding Bricks, a forerunner of the LEGO bricks we know today. They are sold only in Denmark... 1953 - The bricks are now called 'LEGO Mursten' ('LEGO Bricks') rather than 'Automatic Binding Bricks'... 1958 - The current LEGO stud-and-tube coupling system is patented. The new coupling principle makes models much more stable. The possible combinations of bricks run into astronomical figures." ["About us - History 1932 to 1959",]

NUCLEAR BOMB - 1945. "The atomic bomb did not take long to come to fruition once the nuclear reaction had been controlled. The nuclear explosive had either to be made in a nuclear reactor or extracted from natural uranium by a new process of unprecedented expense and complexity, but by July 1945 a bomb team working at Los Alamos under Robert Oppenheimer were ready for their first test." [1]

PINK PLASTIC FLAMINGO - 1957. "After 1946, Union Products, a new plastics factory in Leominster (an industrial town outside Boston) manufactured outdoor dogs, frogs, ducks and a two-dimensional flamingo that sold very well. In 1956, the company hired Don Featherstone, a recent young art-school graduate, who for the sake of anatomical accuracy on a three-dimensional molded-polyethylene duck named Charlie the Duck -- his first creation -- drew life studies on a live duck in his studio for six months. In 1957 ... Featherstone designed his second big project, a three-dimensional flamingo that sold even better than the company's flat version: he used photographs, since real flamingos were unavailable." [Price, Jennifer. Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America, 1999]

TEFLON - 1938. "Roy J. Plunkett didn't know he had invented Teflon. Teflon appeared totally by surprise to the young chemist... On April 6, 1938, as a chemist for Du Pont, Plunkett had unknowingly invented a compound that would change the world." [4]

VELCRO - 1950. "George de Mestral ... happened to be taking a stroll one day [in 1950] in his native Switzerland. Upon arriving home, he found his jacket covered with cockleburs. Picking the sticky seed pods off his clothing, de Mestral wondered what act of natural engineering could account for their tenacious sticking ability... He pulled out his microscope and took a careful look... Velcro -- derived from velvet and crochet -- was first made in France." [4]

VIDEO TAPE RECORDER - 1956. "In 1956, Alexander M. Poniatoff demonstrated a machine at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Chicago, and, using it, the first coast-to-coast network television broadcast pre-recorded was 'Doug Edwards and the News' on November 30 of that year." [1]

1960 - 1999

CABBAGE PATCH KIDS - 1983. "Cabbage Patch Kids® 15th Anniversary Special Edition Doll: This 16-inch 1983 Commemorative Reproduction doll is still one of a kind and adoptable... Year Introduced: 1998; Age Grade: For ages 3 and up; Batteries Required: no; Assembly Required: no." [anniversary doll product description,]

CELLULAR TELEPHONE - 1962. "The first test of cellular service took place in 1962... By the early 1980s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had decided how it wanted to structure the industry... At the conclusion of successful testing in 1983, [Chicago and Washington, DC] became the first [cities] to offer commercial service." ["Wireless Reference Center - Wireless History",]

COMPACT DISC - 1982. "Sony and Philips invented the Compact Disc (CD)... Launched in 1982, the audio CD's durability, random access features and audio quality made it incredibly successful, capturing the majority of the market within a few years." ["The PC Technology Guide",]

LASER - 1960. "The laser, an intense, narrow beam of light with all the light waves exactly in step, was discovered by Theo Maiman at the Hughes Laboratory, Malibu, in 1960." [1]

MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING - 1975-80. "In 1972 the x-ray-based computerized tomography (CT) was introduced. This date is important to the MRI timeline because it showed hospitals were willing to spend large amounts of money for medical imaging hardware... In 1975 Ernst proposed magnetic resonance imaging using phase and frequency encoding, the current MRI technique. Edelstein and coworkers demonstrated imaging of the body using this technique in 1980." [The Basics of MRI, by Joseph P. Hornak, PhD,]

POCKET CALCULATOR - 1965-1970. "1965 - Texas Instruments begins work on a hand-held calculator, code named 'Cal-Tech.' It was to be developed as a prototype to show the potential of TI's recently-developed integrated circuits (which were not selling as well as they had hoped). The 'Cal-Tech' featured four function calculations (+, -, x, /) and used a thermal paper tape printout... 1970 - The first battery-operated 'hand-held' calculators are sold. Most are too large to actually be considered 'pocket calculators,' but they are far smaller than anything seen before." ["The History of Pocket Electronic Calculators", by Guy Ball and Bruce Flamm,]

RUBIK'S CUBE - 1974. "Every invention has an official birth date. For the Cube this date is 1974, when the first working prototype came into being and a patent application was initially drafted. The place was Budapest, the capital of Hungary. The inventor's name is now a household word. At the time, Erno Rubik was a lecturer at the Department of Interior Design at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts in Budapest." ["Brief History of the Cube",]