Thomas Edison
American inventor Thomas Edison, after spending five continuous days and nights perfecting the phonographGetty

Inventors Day is celebrated on 29 September by several countries, as it is the birthday of Argentinian inventor László József Bíró, the inventor of the ball-point pen.

From the discovery of the wheel to the launch of the World Wide Web, several key advancements have changed the way the human species lives. To celebrate the day, we look at some of the most important and revolutionary inventions of all time:


Han Dynasty compass
A model of a Han Dynasty compassWiki Commons

Before the introduction of the compass, destination, position and direction at sea were primarily determined by the sighting of landmarks, along with the observation of the position of stars and celestial bodies.

The compass was invented by the Chinese between the 9th and 11th century. It was originally made from lodestone, a naturally magnetised piece of the mineral magnetite. The earliest Chinese literature reference to magnetism lies in the writings of Wang Xu in the 4th century BC .

Internal combustion engine

The invention of the internal combustion engine brought machines such as cars and aircraftReuters

The earliest evidence of a crank and connecting rod mechanism dates to the 3rd century AD and the Hierapolis sawmill in Asia Minor, a part of the Roman Empire that has become modern-day Turkey.

The modern form of the internal combustion engine came around in the latter half of the 19th century, which brought with it the Industrial Age. In these engines, the combustion of a fuel releases a high-temperature gas, that expands and exerts force on a piston, thereby moving it.

The invention of the internal combustion engine brought with it a variety of machines, including modern cars and aircraft.


1989 - Macintosh Portable
The 1989 Macintosh PortableWiki Commons

Charles Babbage, an English mechanical engineer and polymath, originated the concept of a programmable computer. Considered the "father of the computer", he conceptualised and invented the first mechanical computer in the early 19th century.

The principle of the modern computer was first described by computer scientist Alan Turing, who set out the idea in his seminal 1936 paper, On Computable Numbers.


Alexander Flemming
Alexander Flemming, who is credited with discovering penicillin in 1928Wiki Commons

Penicillin is a group of antibiotics derived from Penicillium fungi. The discovery of penicillin is attributed to Scottish scientist and Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming in 1928. He showed that, if Penicillium rubens were grown in the appropriate substrate, it would exude a substance with antibiotic properties.

Chemists purified it and developed the drug Penicillin, which fights a huge number of bacterial infections in humans without harming the humans themselves. It was being mass produced and advertised by 1944.


The earliest wheels were made from woodWiki Commons

The wheel was invented in 3500 BC and facilitated agriculture and commerce by enabling the transportation of goods to and from markets. Wheels have transformed our lives, and are used in everything from clocks to vehicles.

World Wide Web

Sir Tim-Berners-Lee
Web creator Sir Tim Berners-LeeReuters

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist and former Cern employee, is considered the inventor of the Web. On 12 March, 1989, he wrote a proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web.

However, in a May 1970 issue of Popular Science magazine, Arthur C Clarke predicted that satellites would one day "bring the accumulated knowledge of the world to your fingertips" – using a console that would combine the functions of the telephone, photocopier, television and a small computer. He predicted it would eventually allow the transfer of data and video conferencing around the world.

Light bulb

Chinese Scientists develop a light bulb which provides wireless internet
Thomas Edison is credited with creating the light bulbWiki Commons

According to historians, two dozen people were instrumental in inventing incandescent lamps throughout the 1800s.

Thomas Edison is credited as the primary inventor because he created a completely functional lighting system, including a generator and wiring as well as a carbon-filament bulb.


contraceptive pill
The contraceptive pill was invented in the 1950sGetty

The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BCE and the Kahun Papyrus from 1850 BCE have within them some of the earliest documented descriptions of birth control. Acacia leaves, honey and lint were placed in the vagina to block sperm.

The birth control movement developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Gregory Pincus and John Rock, with help from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, developed the first birth control pills in the 1950s, such as mestranol/norethynodrel, which became publicly available in the 1960s.


A woman uses her mobile telephone in central London
The first telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876Reuters

Alexander Graham Bell was the first to be awarded a patent for the electric telephone in 1876. The first successful bi-directional transmission of clear speech by Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson was made in March 1876.

The invention quickly took off, and revolutionised global business and communication.


Paper was invented by the Chinese during the Han DynastyWiki Commons

Paper was invented in ancient China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and spread slowly to the West via the Silk Road.

Earlier materials used instead of paper, such as papyrus, parchment and palm leaves, were expensive and in short supply, but paper, made from wood and rags, could be processed everywhere and eventually provided a cheaper alternative using large-scale production.