While some people are lucky enough to discover the "next" penicillin, most inventions come from those who've dedicated their lives, or at least a significant portion of them, to understanding and expertise in a particular field. As you'll see in the following list, the top 5 inventions of all time are no accident.
1. The Internet
Invented in 1969 (and not by Al Gore), the World Wide Web grew from just four users in 1969 to 50,000 in 1988. From there, a million in 1991 and 500 million by 2001. Today there are over 1.2 billion people (roughly 19 percent of the world) connected online. And whether it's used for social media, shopping or to find information, the Internet has forever changed the landscape of the world, arguably making it considerably smaller in the process.
2. The Barcode
First invented by a student in the early 1950s, barcodes were originally intended to provide a kind of visual Morse code. Retailers were initially slow to adopt the technology, which at the time was somewhat unreliable. But that changed in the early 1970s when the same student, Norman Woodland, devised the Universal Product Code while working for IBM
. Since then, the familiar black stripes have appeared on everything from orange juice to a pair of designer sunglasses, revolutionizing sales and inventory management in the space of less than one square inch.
3. Internal Combustion Engine
The significance of the internal combustion engine may have fallen from grace in the hybrid, fuel-efficient world of today. But with its first rumbling in 1859, its significance has left a permanent mark on the development and modernization of society, in particular farming and manufacturing. Without the internal combustion engine, we would not be able to drive, fly or travel by train. We would not be able to build factories, sail across oceans or even cut the grass in our front yards. Étienne Lenoir, a Belgian inventor, gets the credit for producing the first working internal combustion engine. He then converted it to a steam engine in 1859. At the time, it was capable of producing a measly one horsepower and was almost inoperably inefficient. But since then, manufacturers have continuously redefined the basic design, creating the countless generations and billions of engines that have been built since.
LASER - short for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation - is used in everything from home blu ray players to advanced weaponry. Albert Einstein was the first one to initiate its development in 1917 when he proposed that atoms could be stimulated to emit photons in a single direction. Three decades later, this phenomenon was first observed. And in 1960, Theodore Maiman, a physicist, built the first working laser. Maiman's laser was based around a ruby crystal that was said to emit light "brighter than the centre of the sun."
5. Mobile Phone
There are now more than two billion mobile phones in the world. And in Europe, the number of mobile phones outnumbers the people living there (in some countries 2 to 1!). The first device was introduced by Bell Laboratories in Missouri in 1947. Since then, similar to any other device that has evolved into modern life, the cell phone has undergone widespread refinements, shrinking in size while increasing in power, range and complexity. Today, everything from modern business negotiations to those long distance calls home at Thanksgiving are made affordable with the technology of the mobile phone.
Admittedly, there are countless inventions that have had a similarly notable impact - the battery, the camera, GPS - some of which are even incorporated into the below-mentioned inventions. But when considering the developmental impacts resulting from each, the following five inventions are hard to beat.