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Zoom Inventors and Inventions
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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
1300's and Earlier 1400's 1500's 1600's 1700's 1801-1850 1851-1900 1901-1950 1951-2000
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Inventors and Inventions from the 1700's - the Eighteenth Century

BATTERY
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (Feb. 18, 1745- March 5, 1827) was an Italian physicist (at the University of Pavia) who invented the chemical battery (also called the voltaic pile) in 1800. This invention provided the first generator of continuous electrical current. Volta also discovered (and isolated) methane gas, CH4 (in 1778). He had earlier invented the electrophorus, a device that generated static electricity charges (in 1775). The volt, the unit of electrical potential, was named for Volta in 1881.

For more information on Volta, click here.

BIFOCAL GLASSES
FranklinBenjamin Franklin invented bifocal glasses in the 1700s. He was nearsighted and had also become farsighted in his middle age. Tired of switching between two pairs of glasses, Franklin cut the lenses of each pair of glasses horizontally, making a single pair of glasses that focused at both near regions (the bottom half of the lenses) and far regions (the top half of the lenses). This new type of glasses let people read and see far away; they are still in use today.

For more information on Benjamin Franklin, click here.

CARBONATED WATER
People have been drinking naturally-carbonated water (water with carbon dioxide bubbles) since pre-historic times. The English chemist Joseph Priestley experimented with putting gases in liquids in 1767, producing the first artificially-produced carbonated water.

In 1770, the Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman invented a device for making carbonated water from chalk and sulfuric acid.

CELSIUS, ANDERS
Anders Celsius (1701-1744) was a Swedish professor of astronomy who devised the Celsius thermometer. He also ventured to the far north of Sweden with an expedition in order to measure the length of a degree along a meridian, close to the pole, later comparing it with similar measurements made in the Southern Hemisphere. This confirmed that that the shape of the earth is an ellipsoid which is flattened at the poles. He also cataloged 300 stars. With his assistant Olof Hiorter, Celsius discovered the magnetic basis for auroras.
COTTON GIN
The cotton gin is a machine that cleans cotton, removing its many seeds. This device revolutionized the cotton industry. Previously, this tedious job had been done by hand, using two combs. Eli Whitney (1765-1825) was an American inventor and engineer who invented the cotton gin; he patented the cotton gin on March 14, 1794. The cotton gin made much of the southern United States very rich, but cotton plantation owners rarely paid Whitney for the use of his invention, and Whitney went out of business.
FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN
FranklinBenjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706-April 17, 1790) was an American statesman, writer, printer, and inventor. Franklin experimented extensively with electricity. In 1752, his experiments with a kite in a thunderstorm (never do this, many people have died trying it!) led to the development of the lightning rod. Franklin started the first circulating library in the colonies in 1731. He also invented bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove. The idea of daylight savings time was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784.

For more information on Franklin, click here.

GUILLOTINE
Many, many people were being executed during the French Revolution, and Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1821) suggested that decapitation would be a more humane method for execution. Experiments with cadavers (dead people) were done. The device that we call the guillotine was invented; it is a tall wooden framework with a hole to keep a person's head still and a large falling blade. Although he did not invent the machine we call the guillotine, Guillotin's name is forever attached to it. The guillotine was first was used on April 25, 1792 at the Place de Grève (the victim was a highway man). The most famous victims of the guillotine include the deposed French King Louis XVI and his extravagant wife Queen Marie Antoinette, who were beheaded on January 21, 1793. The guillotine was used in France until 1981, when capital punishment was abolished.
HADLEY, JOHN H.
John Hadley (1682-1744) was an English mathematician and inventor who built the first reflecting telescope and invented an improved quadrant (known as Hadley's quadrant). Hadley Rille, a long valley on the surface of the moon, was named for Hadley.
HARGREAVES, JAMES
James Hargreaves (1720? - April 22, 1778) was an English weaver and spinner (he spun wool thread using a spinning wheel). He invented the spinning jenny, a hand-powered multiple spinning machine.

The spinning jenny was much more efficient than the spinning wheel. With a spinning wheel, a person could produce only one yarn thread at a time. With Hargreaves' spinning jenny, a person could produce up to eight threads at once (it used one spinning wheel and 8 spindles on which threads were wound). The thread that the spinning jenny produced was coarse, and was only suited for filling material, but it was still quite a useful invention, and led the way to even better spinning devices.

Hargreaves is said to have gotten the idea for his remarkable invention after his young daughter (named Jenny) overturned his spinning wheel. When it was upturned, it continued to spin, and Hargreaves realized that many spinning wheels could be positioned like this, creating a multiple-wheeled spinning machine.

Hargreaves began selling spinning jenny's from his home, near Blackburn, Lancashire, England. After hearing of his invention, local spinners became fearful of losing their jobs and broke into Hargreaves' house, destroying his spinning jennies. He then moved to Nottingham, England (in 1768).

Thomas James became Hargreaves' partner and they began a spinning mill which used spinning jennies (which could now produce even more threads per machine). Hargreaves patented the spinning jenny on July 12, 1770.

hot-air balloonHOT-AIR BALLOON
A hot-air balloon is a balloon that is filled with hot air; it rises because hot air is less dense (lighter) than the rest of the air. Joseph and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier were two French bothers who made the first successful hot-air balloon. Their first balloon was launched in December, 1782, and ascended to an altitude of 985 ft (300 m). This type of hot-air balloon was called the Montgolfiére; it was made of paper and used air heated by burning wool and moist straw. The first passengers in a hot-air balloon were a rooster, a sheep, and a duck, whom the Montgolfier brothers sent up to an altitude of 1,640 ft (500 m) on September 19, 1783 (the trip lasted for 8 minutes); the animals survived the landing. This event was observed by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
INTERCHANGEABLE PARTS
Clock makers used the idea of interchangeable parts since the early 1700's. In 1790, the French gunsmith Honoré Blanc demonstrated his muskets entirely made from interchangeable parts; the French government didn't like the process (since with this process, anyone could manufacture items, and the government lost control), so it was stopped. The idea of interchangeable parts was introduced to American gun manufacturing by Eli Whitney (1765-1825) in 1798. The concept of interchangeable manufacturing parts helped modernize the musket industry (and mass production in general). Whitney made templates for each separate part of the musket (an early gun). The workers then used the template when chiseling the part. Whitney was an American inventor and engineer who also invented the cotton gin.
Light BulblightbulbLIGHT BULB
The first electric light was made in 1800 by Humphry Davy, an English scientist. He experimented with electricity and invented an electric battery. When he connected wires to his battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light. This is called an electric arc.

Much later, in 1860, the English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914) was determined to devise a practical, long-lasting electric light. He found that a carbon paper filament worked well, but burned up quickly. In 1878, he demonstrated his new electric lamps in Newcastle, England.

In 1877, the American Charles Francis Brush manufactured some carbon arcs to light a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. These arcs were used on a few streets, in a few large office buildings, and even some stores. Electric lights were only used by a few people.

The inventor Thomas Alva Edison (in the USA) experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.

In 1903, Willis R. Whitney invented a treatment for the filament so that it wouldn't darken the inside of the bulb as it glowed. In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments. The incandescent bulb revolutionized the world.

MAYONNAISE
Mayonnaise was invented in France hundreds of years ago, probably in 1756 by the French chef working for the Duke de Richelieu, The first ready-made mayonnaise was sold in the US in 1905 at Richard Hellman's deli in New York. Hellman sold his wife's mayonnaise in open wooden boats. In 1912, he sold the mayonnaise in large glass bottles; the type he called "Hellman's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise" was very popular and is still sold today (it is now owned by Best Foods).
METER (and the METRIC SYSTEM)
The metric system was invented in France. In 1790, the French National Assembly directed the Academy of Sciences of Paris to standardize the units of measurement. A committeee from the Academy used a decimal system and defined the meter to be one 10-millionths of the distance from the equator to the Earth's Pole (that is, the Earth's circumference would be equal to 40 million meters). The committee consisted of the mathematicians Jean Charles de Borda (1733-1799), Joseph-Louis Comte de Lagrange (1736-1813), Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), Gaspard Monge (1746 -1818), and Marie Jean Antoine Nicholas Caritat, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794)

The word meter comes from the Greek word metron, which means measure. The centimeter was defined as one-hundredth of a meter; the kilometer was defined as 1000 meters. The metric system was passed by law in France on August 1, 1793. In 1960, the definition of the meter changed to 1,650,763.73 wavelengths of of the orange-red radiation of krypton 86. In 1983, the meter was redefined as 1/299,792,458 of the distance that light travels in one second in a vacuum.

For the metric unit of mass, the gram was defined as the mass of one cubic centimeter of pure water at a given temperature. In common usage and in commerce, grams are used as a unit of weight.

hot-air balloonMONTGOLFIER BROTHERS
Joseph (1740-1810) and Jacques Etienne (1745-1799) Montgolfier were two French bothers from Vidalon-les-Annonay, near Lyons, who made the first successful hot-air balloon. Their first balloon was launched in December, 1782, and ascended to an altitude of 985 ft (300 m). This type of hot-air balloon was called the Montgolfiére; it was made of paper and used air heated by burning wool and moist straw. The first passengers in a hot-air balloon were a rooster, a sheep, and a duck, whom the Montgolfier brothers sent up to an altitude of 1,640 ft (500 m) on September 19, 1783 (the trip lasted for 8 minutes); the animals survived the landing. This event was observed by King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
PARACHUTE
A parachute is a device for slowing down one's descent while falling to the ground. Parachutes are used to skydive from airplanes, to jump from very high places, and to help slow down the descent of spacecraft. Parachutes are also used to slow down some race cars. The early parachutes were made from canvas (a strong cotton cloth). Light-weight (but very strong) silk cloth was then introduced for parachutes. Modern-day parachutes use nylon fabric.

The idea of using a parachute to fall gently to the ground was written about by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). The first parachute was demonstrated by Louis-Sébastien Lenormand in 1783 of France - he jumped from a very tall tree carrying two parasols (umbrellas). A few years later, some adventurous people jumped from hot-air balloons using primitive parachutes. The first person to jump from a flying airplane (and survive the fall) was Captain Albert Berry, who jumped from a U.S. Army plane in 1912. Parachutes were first used in war towards the end of World War 1.

PIANO
The modern piano (the pianoforte) was developed from the harpsichord around 1720, by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. His new instrument had a delicate pianissimo (very soft sound), a strong fortissimo (a very loud, forceful sound), and every level in between.

The first upright piano was made around 1780 by Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Austria. Thomas Loud of London developed an upright piano whose strings ran diagonally (in 1802), saving even more space.

SANDWICH
The sandwich was invented by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792). About 1762, he is reputed to have been too busy to have a formal meal, and instructed his cook to pack his meat inside the bread to save him time - and the sandwich was invented.
SEXTANT
The sextant is an astronomical instrument that is used to determine latitude for navigation. It does this by measuring angular distances, like the altitude of the sun, moon and stars. The sextant was invented independently in both England and America in 1731. The sextant replaced the astrolabe. The word sextant comes from the Latin word meaning "one sixth."
TIME ZONES
The Earth is divided into 24 time zones so that everyone in the world can be on roughly similar schedules (like noon being roughly when the sun is highest in the sky). The idea to divide the Earth into time zones was proposed by the Canadian railway planner and engineer Sir Sandford Fleming in the late 1870s.

For a more information on time zones, click here.

VOLTA, ALESSANDRO
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta (Feb. 18, 1745- March 5, 1827) was an Italian physicist (at the University of Pavia) who invented the chemical battery (also called the voltaic pile) in 1800. This invention provided the first generator of continuous electrical current. Volta also discovered (and isolated) methane gas, CH4 (in 1778). He had earlier invented the electrophorus, a device that generated static electricity charges (in 1775). The volt, the unit of electrical potential, was named for Volta in 1881.

For more information on Volta, click here.

WATT, JAMES
James Watt (1736-1819) was a Scottish inventor and engineer. In 1765, Watt revolutionized the steam engine, redesigning it so that it was much more efficient and four times as powerful as the old Newcomen steam engines. Watt's engines did not waste steam (heat), and had a separate condenser. Watt partnered with the businessman and factory owner Matthew Boulton in 1772, helping to promote Watt's ideas commercially. Watt also invented a method for converting the up-and-down piston movement into rotary motion (the "sun-and-planet" gear), allowing a greater number of applications for the engine. Watt produced this rotary-motion steam engine in 1781; it was used for many applications, including draining mines, powering looms in textile factories, powering bellows, paper mills, etc. It helped power the Industrial Revolution. Watt coined the term "horsepower," which he used to convey the power of his engines; Watt calculated how many horses it would take to do the work of each engine. One horsepower equals 33,000 foot-pounds of work per minute; it is the power required to lift a total of 33,000 pounds one foot in one minute. Parliament granted Watt a patent on his steam engine in 1755, making Watt a very wealthy man. In 1882 (long after Watt's death), the British Association named the unit of electrical power the "watt."
WHITNEY, ELI
Eli Whitney (1765-1825) was an American inventor and engineer. Whitney invented the cotton gin and the idea of interchangeable parts. He patented the cotton gin, which revolutionized the cotton industry on March 14, 1794. The cotton gin is a machine that cleans cotton, removing its many seeds. Previously, this tedious job had been done by hand, using two combs. The cotton gin made much of the southern United States very rich, but cotton plantation owners rarely paid Whitney for the use of his invention, and Whitney went out of business. He never patented his later inventions (like his milling machine). Whitney also helped modernize the musket industry (and mass production in general) by introducing the idea of interchangeable parts in a manufacturing system.

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