As long as people live on earth, many inventions has been made to make life easier. In the old days inventions like fire, the wheel, electricity and cars has been done to improve the quality of life.

An interesting book on more recent inventions that changed daily life can be found on the internet.

Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction è 3rd edition

by James E. McClellan III (Author), Harold Dorn (Author)

(The 2nd edition can be downloaded from the Internet)


Over the last centuries some important steps forward has been made.

The last two centuries have seen unprecedented change in the everyday lives. From the Napoleonic Wars to the end of the Cold War, from the Industrial Revolution to the Computer Revolution, many of these changes were greatly influenced by the scientific and technological advances that took place during that period. Science and Technology in Modern Life shows how science and technology influenced every aspect of daily life:

Communication: The expansion of mass culture from the advent of the newspaper and the picture postcard to the development of the internet war

Transportation: From horse and carriage to the iron horse (the locomotive) and the horseless carriage


Some figures will illustrate the speed of development:

— In 1900, <10% of families owned a stove, or had access to electricity or phones

— In 1915, <10% of families owned a car

— In 1930, <10% of families owned a refrigerator or clothes washer

— In 1945, <10% of families owned a clothes dryer or air-conditioning

— In 1960, <10% of families owned a dishwasher or color TV

— In 1975, <10% of families owned a microwave

— In 1990, <10% of families had a cell phone or access to the Internet

Today, at least 90% of the country (USA) has a stove, electricity, car, fridge, clothes washer, air-conditioning, color TV, microwave, and cell phone. They make our lives better. They might even make us happier.

Important to realize that most improvements are made in the last century


Some of these inventions are also protected by patents in order to make them publically available as well as creating a short time protection (US granted patents are valid for 17 years as long as taxes are paid)


These more recent inventions are mostly related to communication and transport

(In brackets the date of the patent is mentioned, this does not indicate the invention date!)


For communication:

Communication between people consists of transmitting and receiving. If both parties are performing both tasks effectively, there is good communication. This sounds very simple and obvious. In reality, it is difficult for most people to achieve. For that reason there has always been a need to improve this communication, especially when a direct face-to-face communication is not possible. A great step forwards to improve this, is the invention of the telephone. This invention is assigned to Alexander Graham Bell, who obtained a patent (Alexander Graham Bell (1876) – US174465 ). Some years later the original system was improved by Marconi as described in a patent granted in 1896.  GB189612039

Now the end of the classical telephone network is near and almost everyone is on the mobile network by using a mobile phone. For 2017 the number of mobile phone users is forecasted to reach 4.77 billion. And compared to an expected world population of about 7.5 billion this is about 65%. One of the first models of a mobile phone is already described in a patent filed in 1970. (Mobile phone – Amos – (1972) – US3663762 )


Another step forwards was the invention of the television (Farnsworth (1927) – US1773980 ) wherein it was possible to transmit also moving images.

Approximately 600 million households do have a TV connection now, wherein the average household size is about 2.5 persons, although for countries like China and India the average household size is bigger (3–4 persons).


By developing a computer it was made easier to do calculations by using electronic rather than by human brains. The first mainframe computer seems to be built at IBM in 1943, however the real date of the invention of the first computer is not very clear. A working one was patented in 1964. (J.P. Eckert (1964)  US3120606). However a first commercially interesting model was marketed in 1982 by Commodore. Older people still remember the Commodore 64. Patent granted in 1989 ( US4886941). As well as the first computer mouse protected by Apple (1984) –US4464652

Nowadays most households do have a computer at home.



Computers also made it possible to communicate by the Internet. And E-commerce became popular and cannot be ignored anymore today.  About 41 percent of global internet users have purchased products online in 2013. Important for this development was the invention of the World Wide Web (not patented) what is assigned to Tim Benners-Lee (1989). However he refused to patent it as it should be of use for everyone.



Railway transport was already known for a long time after James Watt, a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, made improvements to the steam engine. The first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built in the United Kingdom in 1804 by Richard Trevithick.



At the start of the twentieth century there were only about 25,000 cars worldwide.

In 1903 just under 63,000. By 1968 the worldwide figure had increased to 170 million; a figure that had more than doubled to 375 million by 1985. In 2002 there were 530 million cars worldwide, and an estimation for 2016 will be about 1,2 billion.


The popularity of cars was not directly a fact and was waiting for the development of good engines to make them available to the public. By the 1920s the automobile was no longer an esoteric toy for enthusiasts or for the rich and idle but was well on its way to becoming a necessity in industrialized societies and a mainstay of the modern global economy. However it took a long time before a car was common. Since 1970 it is a fast growing market.

Farmers transformed cars into tractors and farm machinery, long before the car industry sold them for that purpose.

Engines for cars are invented in the late 19th century. First a gas engine and later also a diesel one(Gas-engine – Otto (1877) US194047  and the first car related patent was granted for Benz DE37435  and somewhat later also a diesel engine R. Diesel (1895) US542846 )

Cars today are very sophisticated and contain a lot of other inventions like tires, air-conditioning, lighting, transmission systems, radio’s, airbags, etc.


Flying machines

Not only transport by road or railway becomes popular. Although for a long time overseen, the air become in view. A lot of attempts are made to make a flying machine, able to transfer people over longer distance.


The first successful Flying Machine was created by the Wright brothers (1906) – US821393 . However it again was in the 1970s that it became popular to travel by air and it became a growing market, with growing figures for almost all airports around the world. Today about 75-100 million people are transported every year by the biggest airports (Atlanta, Beijing, Dubai, etc.) and showing growing figures over the last years. It is expected in 2030 that about 4 billion people will be transported each year.


Other important inventions:

Electric bulb

Sitting in the dark, around a candle light or around a fire can be very romantic for a short time. But human beings feel more comfortable in an environment with sufficient light. The invention of an electric bulb cannot be seen as a surprise. Already in the 19th century it became reality. However there was still a need for electricity before it was commercially attractive. In the Western world the availability of electricity growth fast, as it was also important for industrial civilization. Still today they are in the lead.

The Electric bulb was patented by Edison (1880) – US223898



In 1887 Eastman developed the first camera and called him “Kodak” and filed a patent in 1888. It became more and more important for people to make family pictures available for the next generation. As well as keeping memories alive. It makes it possible to capture moments and memories, and it could be communicated with others by showing pictures.

– G. Eastman (1888) US388850


Atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967) – kept secret

On 6 August 1945 a US bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The dropping of the bombs, which occurred by executive order of US President Harry Truman, remains the only nuclear attack in history. At least the inventor was not happy with the use of his invention:

Oppenheimer quoted: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”

You can question if this invention really changed the world, knowing that approximately 120.000 people get directly killed. Also knowing that about 100.000 scientist has worked on it since 1942. Atomic bombs and military nuclear power are, after World War II, only used in diplomacy.

Nevertheless it initiated for example X-ray technology, nowadays broadly used


Nuclear reactor – Fermi, Szilard (1955) US2708656

For long time coal and natural fuels (like oil) has been used for generating energy mainly for house-hold and industrial use. This invention make it possible to use uranium as a source as well. The procedure as such seemed to be much cleaner, although in last decades we are faced with the waste problem created by nuclear power plants.

In 1942 Enrico Fermi builds the first nuclear chain reactor at the University of Chicago and filed a patent in 1944, granted in 1955. (Fermi, Szilard (1955) US2708656 )



Another invention with great impact was the discovery of penicillin, to be able to kill bacteria. Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming. However it took a while before and went into production. On production scale it was first produced in 1944 by A. Moyer US2423873 . Many lives has been saved by the use of penicillin. Before the availability of this medicine, almost all effected people die.



The Industrial Revolution and its consequences over the last three centuries have transformed historical circumstances so rapidly and in such profound ways that the current modes of intensified industrial existence are not likely to continue.

Maybe every development will follow Moore’s law (doubling every year) or is Moore’s law dead already? Can we expect even more inventions in the coming years, decades, centuries? Who knows?

The facts are: A female born today in the developed world has a life expectancy of 83.9 years. Life expectancy at birth in 1901 was only 49 years; by 1930 it had risen to 59.7 years, and in 2001 the figure stood at 77.2 years.

And ending with a famous quote:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”

(George Santayana (1863–1952)

Aalt van de Kuilen

Senior Patent Information Specialist in the field of Life Sciences and Chemistry. Read more about the background and expertise of Aalt van de Kuilen.