Have you ever thought about how modern inventions have changed our home and lifestyle (usually) for the better? Or do you just take for granted how much easier creations from washing machines and microwaves through to mobile phones and MP3s have made our lives?
Chances are it’s the latter – we use these items day-in-day-out but give little thought to how they landed in our hands or homes, or the difference they’re making to how we live.
Below are 60+ inventions from the 1950s until the present day. Not all of them are still in use today, but they’ve all altered or in most cases – improved – our lives in some way.
Inventions of the 1950s
1950 – Credit Card Invented
The first “real” credit card was introduced in 1950 by The Diners Club. It was primarily used to cover purchases in travel and entertainment and by 1951, more than 20,000 of the cards were in use.
1951 – Liquid Paper Invented
Later patented as the now ubiquitous Tipp-Ex, liquid paper – a white fluid for correcting mistakes on paper – was invented by Wolfgang Dabisch in 1951.
1952 – Automatic Coffee Pot Invented
1952 saw British home appliances brand Russell Hobbs change the way we drink coffee at home when they launched the coffee percolator – a coffee pot that brews coffee to the precise strength required by cycling the brew through the coffee grinds using gravity.
1953 – Transistor Radio Invented
Invented in 1953 the transistor radio was a pocket-sized radio that allowed people to listen to music anytime, anywhere. They changed the way we listen to music forever, with billions of the devices being manufactured during the 60s and 70s.
1954 – Solar Cell Invented
The solar cell – a device that allowed us to turn solar radiation (essentially sunlight) into electricity – was invented by physicist Gerald Pearson in 1954.
1955 – Microwave Oven Invented
The microwave revolutionised the way we cook and consume food (ready meals, anyone?) Although the countertop microwave wasn’t introduced until 1967, the first microwave licensed for home-use was introduced by Tappan in 1955.
1956 – Television Remote Invented
Can you imagine a world without remote controls? The first ever wireless remote was developed by Robert Adler in 1956 and used ultrasound to change channel and volume.
1957 – Three-Point Seatbelt Invented
Prior to 1959 cars only boasted two-point lap belts (and few drivers or passengers bothered to buckle up at all). In the late 50s Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin was employed by Volvo to develop a safer replacement. After the three-point seatbelt’s introduction in 1959 Volvo decided its use was so important that they refused to patent the design, and made it available to other car manufacturers for free.
1958 – Super Glue Invented
Super Glue was actually invented by accident – twice – first in 1942 by Harry Coover and then in 1951 by Coover and his then colleague Fred Joyner. It didn’t enter the market however, until 1958, when Eastman Kodak (the company at which Coover and Joyner worked) launched it as “Eastman #910”. They later re-branded it as the much catchier “Super Glue”.
1959 – Non-Distortion Glass Invented
Non-distortion glass, also known as float glass, is produced using a molten tin bath that forms a continuous ribbon of glass which is almost entirely free of distortion. It first became commercially available in 1959.
Inventions of the 1960s
1960 – Halogen Lamp Invented
Halogen lamps were developed as a longer-lasting, brighter alternative to incandescent lamps. Although the first lamp to use halogen gas was patented in 1882, commercial halogen lamps didn’t become available until 1960.
1961 – Cordless Tools Invented
Black & Decker introduced the first ever cordless power tool – an electric drill – in 1961.
1962 – Satellite Television Invented
1962 saw the Telstar satellite relay the first ever public satellite TV signal from Europe to North America, although the technology wasn’t used to deliver programming until the late 70s.
1963- Touch-Tone Telephones Invented
Touch-tone telephones, which eventually replaced rotary dial telephones as the standard for communication devices – first entered the market in 1963 (although it wasn’t until the 1980s that most homes had replaced rotary dial with touch-tone phones).
1964 – Flymo Mower Invented
The Flymo Mower, invented in 1964 by Karl Dahlman, uses a fan above the mower’s spinning blades to make the machine much easier to manoeuvre by essentially lifting it off the ground.
1965 – Contact Lenses Invented
Although the idea of making molds to help improve vision has been around since at least the 1820s, and the first usable contact lenses were created and fitted to patients in 1888, the soft lenses we know of today – and that revolutionised comfort and safety for lens wearers – were patented in 1965.
1966 – AstroTurf Invented
The artificial turf commonly used in playing fields was invented, patented and sold in 1965, originally under the name “ChemGrass”. It gained notoriety after being installed at the Houston Astrodome in 1966.
1967 – Fan-Assisted Ovens Invented
The first instances of fans being used to help ovens cook food more quickly and evenly can be dated back to 1967.
1968 – Computer Mouse Invented
Still widely used today, the computer mouse was publicly unveiled by Douglas C. Engelbart in 1968 (although he invented it 4 years prior, in 1964).
1969 – Battery Operated Smoke Alarm Invented
These life-saving devices have been around since the 1890s however they didn’t become commonplace until 1969, when Randolph Smith and Kenneth House patented the first ever battery operated smoke detector, and with it, made the devices far more affordable for the masses.
Inventions of the 1970s
1970 – VCR Invented
The VCR was an early form of video cassette introduced by Philips in 1970.
1971 – Email Invented
Email as we know it today first began to take shape in 1971, when Ray Tomlinson adapted the SNDMSG program so it could transmit messages from the mailbox of one computer to another.
1972 – Home VHS Cassette Invented
Not to be confused with 1970’s VCR, which was specifically for use by a TV station, Philips introduced the VHS – a video cassette format for home use – in 1972.
1973 – Mobile Cellular Phone Invented
The mobile phone has come a long way since the launch of its 1973 prototype, which was developed by Martin Cooper, a researcher and executive for Motorola.
1974 – Sticky Notes Invented
It might be surprising to learn that such a simple invention entered the market after the VHS cassette and mobile phone. The idea for sticky notes, later branded as post-it notes, first came about in 1974.
1975 – Laptop Computer Invented
The first commercially available “portable” computer, the IBM 5100, was introduced in 1975. It cost around $20,000.
1976 – Energy-Saving Lightbulb Invented
Energy-saving fluorescent bulbs were invented in 1976 by Ed Hammer, who at the time was working for General Electric. Unfortunately cost restrictions (about $25 million to build the factories needed to produce the lamps) meant that the invention was shelved. It was later copied by other brands.
1977 – Inkjet Printer Invented
Printer technology first underwent development in the 1950s and by the 70s, was capable of reproducing digital images. It wasn’t until 1977 however, when technology invented by Siemens made printers more affordable, that they became more widely commercially available.
1978 – Computer-Controlled Sewing Machine Invented
Singer developed electric motors for sewing machines in 1880 and in 1978, invented machines that were controlled by computers.
1979 – Sony Walkman Invented
Sony’s Walkman revolutionised the recording industry and the way music was consumed. It first landed on store shelves in 1979 and sold around 200 million units.
Inventions of the 1980s
1980 – Dual-Flush Toilet Invented
The idea for the water-saving dual-flush toilet was first introduced in 1976 by Victor Papanek, however it wasn’t until 1980 that a usable version of the design became available.
1981 – Auto-Focus Camera Invented
Auto-focus cameras made it quicker and easier to take high-quality photos. The first camera to combine auto-focus with a motorised lens appeared in 1981, courtesy of Asahi Optical Co.
1982 – CD Player Invented
The first commercially available CD player was sold in 1982 by Sony.
1983 – NES Invented
The original Nintendo games’ system was launched in July 1983 in Japan. It was initially called Famicon and was rebranded and sold as the NES in the US in 1985.
1984 – Sony Discman Invented
Always at the head of the portable audio industry (at least until Apple came along…) Sony launched the first ever portable CD player in 1984; just two years after launching its home CD player.
1985 – Microsoft Windows Invented
Microsoft’s first ever operating system, Windows 1.0, was released in November 1985.
1986 – Disposable Camera Invented
The disposable camera revolutionised photography, making it cheaper and therefore much more accessible to the masses. The first disposable camera was developed by Fujifilm in 1986.
1987 – Disposable Contact Lens Invented
Disposable contact lenses are safer and more hygienic than their predecessors. Johnson & Johnson were first to the market in 1987 with their disposable lens brand ‘Acuvue’.
1988 – Digital Mobile Phone Invented
Mobile phones reportedly first when digital in 1988.
1989 – HD Television Invented
The first “HD” LCD TV, the Crystaltron, was launched by Sharp in 1989.
Inventions of the 1990s
1990 – Nintendo Game Boy Invented
Nintendo’s Game Boy reached European shores in 1990. It was the second hand-held gaming device on the market, preceded by 1980’s Game & Watch (also a Nintendo product).
1991 – WWW Invented
By October 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had created HTML, URI and HTTP – three technologies that still today form the foundation of the web. By the end of that year the first web page appeared on the open internet and in 1991, the World Wide Web became available to the public.
1992 – Memory Foam Mattress Invented
Memory foam was invented by NASA-funded researchers who were tasked with finding a way to keep test pilots cushioned during flights. This resulted in Tempur-Pedic’s 1991 Swedish launch of the first ever memory foam mattress. In 1992 the product was rolled out to North America, to high acclaim.
1993 – Bagless Vacuum Cleaner Invented
James Dyson launched the first ever bagless vacuum cleaner (and the best-selling vacuum ever) in 1993.
1994 – Sony PlayStation Invented
The “next generation” of games consoles hit shelves and shook up Nintendo’s hold on the market in 1994, in the form of Sony’s PlayStation. It later faced competition from the Nintendo 64 (released in 1996) and to a far lesser extent, the Sega Saturn (released a couple of months after the PlayStation).
1995 – DVD Invented
The DVD (meaning “digital versatile disc”) was developed by Panasonic, Philips, Sony and Toshiba and launched in 1995.
1996 – Pokémon Invented
Pokémon first appeared in 1996 as a pair of video games for Nintendo’s Game Boy. The franchise now includes multiple video games alongside television shows, movies, trading card games, comic books, and toys.
1997 – WiFi Invented
WiFi was first released to the consumer market in 1997, following the creation of a set of standards that defined communication for wireless local area networks (WLANs).
1998 – MP3 Player Invented
Windows music player, Winamp, launched in 1998 and helped boost the availability of the MP3 format to the masses.
1999 – Digital TV Recorder Invented
The first two digital TV recorders both launched in 1999 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas – ReplayTV and TiVo.
Inventions of the 2000s
2000 – Nokia 3310 Invented
The best-selling phone of all time, Nokia’s 3310, first became available in 2000. 17 years later, in a world dominated by hi-tech smart phones, a demand for back-to-basics functionality led Nokia to relaunch the phone (with a few key differences like a camera, and expanded storage).
2001 – iPod Invented
Taking Sony’s crown as the king of personal music players, Apple introduced the first generation of their iconic iPod in 2001.
2002 – High-Speed Wi-Fi Invented
2003 – Skype Invented
There was once a time when calling someone overseas could cost a pound a minute (or more). This all changed when Skype entered the scene in 2003, allowing people to make free voice and video calls to anywhere in the world, via their internet connection.
2004 – Facebook Invented
The biggest social media site in the world was initially launched in 2004 to students at Harvard University only, as “The facebook”. It was rebranded as simply “Facebook” and rolled out to other Universities (both in the US and the UK) in 2005. In 2006 the platform became publicly available.
2005 – YouTube Invented
Video sharing site YouTube was invented by three former employees of PayPal and launched in February 2005. Not even two years’ later, in November 2006, it was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion.
2006 – Blu-Ray Invented
Sony developed their first prototype of the high-definition alternative to DVDs in 2000 but the format wasn’t released to the public until 2006.
2007 – iPhone Invented
Few inventions have transformed our lives more than the smart phone. Although the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, it was certainly a game-changer for the industry. The original iPhone hit stores in 2007.
2008 – Android Phone Invented
Hot on the heels of the iPhone, the first smartphone to use the Android operating system, the HTC Dream (or T-Mobile G1) became available in 2008.
2009 – Bladeless Fan Invented
The bladeless fan cools air by pulling it through vents and then pushing it out via a hidden impeller over a circular airfoil-shaped ramp. This creates a continuous stream of cold air and it’s safer than conventional fans, too. It first appeared in 2009.
Inventions from 2010 onwards (the highlights)
2010 – iPad Invented
It was far from the first tablet computer but as with the iPhone and iPod before it, Apple’s 2010 launch of the iPad turned tablets into a must-have piece of technology.
2010 – Nest Invented
iPod designer Tony Fadell was behind the 2010 launch of Nest. It was created as a more “accessible” alternative to existing home automation technology, which was clunky and largely unappealing to anyone except the most tech-savvy. Consequently, Nest brought smart home technology to the mass market.
2014 – Amazon Echo Invented
In 2015 Amazon publicly launched its artificially intelligent Bluetooth speaker – the Amazon Echo (the product was actually unveiled at the end of 2014, but was available on an invitation only basis until June 2015). Features include streaming music, having Alexa read any Kindle books to you, set timers, play trivia games, order pizza, and much, much more – all via voice control.
2013 – Chromecast Invented
The first Chromecast, which allows users to, amongst other things, stream audio and visual content to their TV (so you can display the contents of your web browser on your TV, for instance) was launched in 2013.
2010 – Siri Invented
Siri is an intelligent personal assistant that first appeared as an iOS application in 2010. The software is now integrated into all Apple products from the iPhone to the Apple TV.
2010 – Wireless Charging Invented
Also known as inductive charging, wireless charging uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects. The technology has been around since the 1990s (and was first used by Braun for their rechargeable toothbrushes) however it started gaining widespread popularity in the early 2010s when it was adopted by a number of mobile phone manufacturers.