illustration of man showing the greatest inventions of all time

The 50 Greatest Inventions of All Time – (50 to 41)

Firstly, the “50 greatest inventions of all time” list is clearly going to be very subjective.

And I guess it is impossible to categorically say that these are the greatest inventions of all time when time actually still exists.

However, it is important to highlight all the great inventions of our era and reflect on how they impact our lives today.

Some of the inventions in this list saved lives. Others redefined how our society operates. And there are some that appear to be just plain fun.

However, all the inventions in this list have had a compound impact on our lives in some way.

We expect you will find our list “interesting” and somewhat controversial, but we hope it will inspire young inventors to shape our future.

The 50 Greatest Inventions of all Time – Countdown 50 to 41

50. The Life Vest (1854)

crew of Fleetwood station wearing cork life jackets - No. 50 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
Crew of Fleetwood station wearing cork lifejackets and sou’westers circa 1890
Photo used under the fair use policy courtesy of RNLI

Boats have changed significantly throughout history, but they all come with the same risk: drowning.

Being out on the water can be exceptionally dangerous, which is why Captain John Ross Ward, a man who would go on to be the Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy, created the first modern-day personal floatation device in 1854, now known as the “life vest”.

The design has changed throughout history, but its lasting impact still saves lives today, which is why it has to make it on our greatest inventions of all time list.

Interesting reading 1854: First Lifejackets by the RNLI.

49. The Text Message (1984)

Most of us remember the dark ages when we had to make phone calls in order to be in contact with a loved one.

Fortunately, the creation of the text message changed communication forever.

Now, most of us use these easy messages every single day to communicate important information, share funny stories, and talk with loved ones.

First created in 1984 by Friedhelm Hillebrand and Bernard Ghillebaert, the first text message wasn’t actually sent years until 1992.

It was sent from Neil Papworth, a former developer at Sema Group Telecoms to Richard Jarvis at Vodafone and simple said — “Merry Christmas”.

Text messages now come in many different forms today. And they help us all to stay away from awkward phone calls!

Interesting reading – A Brief History of Text Messaging by Mobivity.

48. The Barcode (1948)

Bullseye barcode - No. 49 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
The first barcode was actually shaped like a bullseye

First invented in 1948 by two Drexel University students named Norman J Woodland and Bernard Silver, the barcode actually wasn’t popular until its first use in 1974.

Did you know that it was originally used on a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum?

From individual products to online purchases, barcodes are everywhere today.

It is hard to imagine shopping without these handy logos that make it easy to manage inventory, identify product information, and improve the entire purchasing process.

It is hard to imagine a world without them.

Interesting reading – Barcodes: A Brief History by Trackabout.

47. The Air Purifier (1963)

drawing design of the first air purifier - No. 47 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
Drawing, Design for the first domestic Air Purifier

In 1963, Manfred and Klaus Hammes created the first domestic filter which would become the basis for all home air purification systems.

Modern versions can wipe out bacteria and viruses right from the air — but this isn’t their only use.

Air purifiers have a place of significance in the medical community as well, by removing any allergens from the air that can possibly irritate people’s lungs.

Some of them can even create negative ions, which, unlike their name, are actually very good and have been proven to assist with depression and anxiety.

Interesting reading – A Brief History of Air Purifiers

46. The Kindle (2007)

First e-reader Amazon Kindle 1 and latest Oasis - No. 46 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
The first e-reader Amazon Kindle 1 and the latest Oasis Model (2021)

It might be a surprise to many that this made it on our 50 greatest inventions of all time list

However, Amazon’s Kindle (first introduced to the world in 2007), has been creating controversy in book spaces since its launch.

While some readers do love the smell of a good book, the Kindle offers the ability to carry up to 3000 books with the right configurations.

This monumental change has lowered the need for paper copies, ultimately helping to reduce waste around the world.

Adding in the convenience of being able to download any book at any time, you will find that the Kindle changed one of the world’s most treasured pastimes on a fundamental level.

Interesting reading – Amazon Kindle: A Brief History from the Original Kindle Onwards by Pocket-lint.

45. The Abacus (2,400 B.C.)

Mock-up of a Roman abacus - No. 45 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
A modern day mockup of a Roman Abacus

Not only one of the greatest inventions of all time but also one of the oldest on our list.

This ancient counting tool was first thought to have been used by the Babylonians as early as 2,400 B.C.

It is constantly shown in older movies, and its huge impact on mathematics is why.

Used to manage calculations that would have otherwise been much more difficult, the abacus moved us along in mathematics and helped us to teach mathematics to children too.

Though this simple frame and beads might not seem like much, they can still help with addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and even square roots!

There is quite a bit of power behind these ancient calculators.

Interesting reading – Abacus: Complete History of the Abacus by History Computer.

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44. Coffee (15th Century)

Kaldi and the dancing goats after eating coffee beans - No. 44 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
Kaldi and the dancing goats

Throughout hundreds of years’ worth of history, you can find references to coffee drinking. And now, it is more prominent than ever.

Many of us are well acquainted with the need for coffee first thing in the morning. But do you know how far back this practice actually goes?

Original references to coffee reach back as far as the 15th century by a goat herder in Ethiopia called Kaldi.

Historians say that this goat herder discovered coffee after he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night. 

Still a favourite drink for many, it is not surprising that this invention changed the world.

To some, coffee is what really keeps the world spinning.

Interesting reading – The History of Coffee by NCA.

43. The Battery (1800)

Volta battery - No. 43 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
A voltaic pile, the first chemical battery

Originally created by Alessandro Volta in 1800, the first battery was a stepping stone to a new future for humanity.

Able to store and use energy only when needed, the battery has made all subsequent technological advancements possible.

Today’s batteries are quite different from classic batteries, but this initial development paved the way for a brighter future with energy when we need it.

These days, we live our lives surrounded by batteries.

As well as electric cars, homes are now using huge Tesla wall batteries to store excess solar power.

Batteries are going to have a profound impact on tackling climate change by developing more efficient and greener batteries with greater storage capacity.

This is not only one of the greatest inventions of all time, but it’s also going to be an invention for the future.

Interesting reading – The History and Development of Batteries by Phys Org.

42. The Nail (3,400 B.C.)

Egyptian bronze nails dating back to 3400 b.c. - No. 42 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
Egyptian bronze nails date back as far as 3,400 B.C.

The nail is an invention as old as time, but the world as we know it wouldn’t exist without this one.

Originating back to around 3,400 B.C., the nail is one invention that has more or less stayed the same throughout the years because the original design was that good.

In modern times, we have a lot more variety, but the nails from history sure look a lot like the nails that we have today—and we still use them for absolutely everything.

Interesting reading – Nailed It: The History of Nails by Monroe Engineering.

41. The Microwave (1947)

Raytheon Radarange - the first microwave - No. 41 on the list of greatest inventions of all time
Raytheon Radarange – the world’s first commercially used microwave

The microwave was first discovered accidentally by Percy Spencer and he filed for the first patent in 1945.

However, the first commercial microwave oven wasn’t tested until 1947 in a Boston restaurant.

But it looked a little different than the ones we use today!

These once-large systems have now been shrunk down into a smaller package so everyone can benefit from them.

They are so popular that almost all modern homes and apartments come with them as a standard.

The microwave brought a special convenience to cooking that few other things ever have, and most people still use one daily.

Interesting reading – The Amazing True Story of How the Microwave Was Invented by Accident by Popular Mechanics.

Conclusion

Some inventions change the world, and some inventions just change the world for certain people.

At the end of the day, even the smallest invention can redefine life as we know it.

These greatest inventions of all time have changed lives—and history—and we are just getting started.


Check out the complete series

  • 40 to 31: 50 Greatest Inventions of All Time – Countdown (40 to 31) – coming soon
  • 30 to 21: 50 Greatest Inventions of All Time – Countdown (30 to 21) – coming soon
  • 20 to 11: 50 Greatest Inventions of All Time – Countdown (20 to 11) – coming soon
  • 10 to 1: Greatest Inventions of All Time – Countdown (10 to 1) – coming soon

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15/11/2021

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