The Greatest Inventions In The Past 1000 Years

black and white image of a corded telephone on the ground

This article was written in the year 2000. 


During the technology-feeding frenzy of the late 1990s, many experts declared the Internet one of the most important inventions since the Industrial Revolution. However, after the happenings of the past few years that perspective has changed. While the Internet and the World Wide Web have certainly impacted the lives of many millions of people it is certainly not the greatest invention of the past millennium, it might not even make the top ten. 

As Robert J. Gordon writes, "Internet surfing may be fun, but it represents a far smaller increment in the standard of living than what was achieved by the extension of the day into night achieved by electric light. The revolution in factory efficiency achieved by the electric motor, the flexibility and freedom achieved by the automobile, the saving of time and shrinking of the globe achieved by the airplane, the new materials achieved by the chemical industry, the first sense of live two-way communication achieved by the telephone, the arrival of live news and entertainment into the family parlor achieved by radio and then television, and the enormous improvements in life expectancy, health, and comfort achieved by urban sanitation and indoor plumbing."  

What are the greatest inventions of the past 1000 years? 

 The author considers the improvement of the living standard as the prime criterion and presents (with temerity) the following top ten list:

The Greatest Inventions In The Past 1000 Years
1Printing Press1450Johannes Gutenbergallowed literacy to greatly expand
2Electric Light1879Thomas Edisonpowered countless social changes
3Automobile1885Karl Benzincreased personal mobility and freedom
4Telephone1876Alexander Graham Bellspread communication across wide areas
5Radio and Television1895 & 1926Guglielmo Marconi & John Bairdmade the world smaller
6Vaccination1796Edward Jennerprotected people from disease
7Computer1939John Atanasoff, et al.transformed business world; predecessor to the Internet
8Airplane1903Orville and Wilbur Wrightallowed people and products to quickly move
9Gas powered tractor1892John Froelich started agricultural mechanization
10Anesthesia1844Horace Wellsprovided a great leap forward for medicine


Edge Foundation, Inc., "What Is The Most Important Invention In The Past Two Thousand Years?"

Gordon, Robert J. Does the "New Economy" Measure up to the Great Inventions of the Past? NBER Working Paper No.w7833 Issued in August 2000

Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century National Academy of Engineering

Platt, Richard. Smithsonian Visual Timeline of Inventions. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.

(Edited by Hannah Holbert 2023)

This item was created by a contributor to eHistory prior to its affiliation with The Ohio State University. As such, it has not been reviewed for accuracy by the University and does not necessarily adhere to the University's scholarly standards.