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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
Clothing Communication Food Fun Medicine Science/Industry Transportation Undersea
African-Americans Women British Isles China France Germany Greece Italy Scandinavia USA/Canada

Transportation and Navigation Inventors and Inventions

AIRPLANE
airplaneThe first working airplane was invented, designed, made, and flown by the Wright brothers, Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) and Orville Wright (1871-1948). Their "Wright Flyer" was a fabric-covered biplane with a wooden frame. The power to the two propellers was supplied by a 12-horsepower water-cooled engine. On December 17, 1903, the "Flyer" flew for 12 seconds and for a distance of 120 feet (37 m). The flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.

For more information on the Wright brothers, click here.

For a cloze activity on the Wright brothers, click here.

ANDERSON, MARY
The windshield wiper was invented by Mary Anderson in 1903 to help streetcars operate safely in the rain. In 1905 she patented her invention, which allowed the car operator to control the external, swinging arm wipers from within the car. Windshield wipers became standard equipment on cars a decade later. Anderson was from Alabama, USA.
AQUALUNG
The aqualung is a breathing apparatus that supplied oxygen to divers and allowed them to stay underwater for several hours. It was invented in 1943 by Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910 -1997) and the French industrial gas control systems engineer Emile Gagnan. Among the innovations in their device was a mechanism that provided inhalation and exhaust valves at the same level. That summer, the new device was tested in the Mediterranean Sea down to 210 ft (68 m) by Cousteau, Philippe Tailliez, and Frédérik Dumas. This safe, easy-to-use, and reliable device was the first modern scuba system.
Model T carASSEMBLY LINE
Primitive assembly line production was first used in 1901 by Ransome Eli Olds (1864-1950), an early car-maker (he manufactured the Oldsmobile, the first commercially successful American car). Henry Ford (1863-1947) used the first conveyor belt-based assembly-line in his car factory in 1913-14 in Ford's Highland Park, Michigan plant. This type of production greatly reduced the amount of time taken to put each car together (93 minutes for a Model T) from its parts, reducing production costs. Assembly lines are now used in most manufacturing processes.
ASTROLABE
An astrolabe is an instrument that was used to determine the altitude of objects in the sky (like the sun or stars). It was first used around 200 B.C. by astronomers in Greece. The astrolabe was replaced by the sextant.
bar codeBAR CODE
Bar codes (also called Universal Product Codes or UPC's) are small, coded labels that contain information about the item they are attached to; the information is contained in a numerical code, usually containing 12 digits. UPC's are easily scanned by laser beams. UPC's are used on many things, including most items for sale in stores, library books, inventory items, many packages and pieces of luggage being shipped, railroad cars, etc. The UPC may contain coded information about the item, its manufacturer, place of origin, destination, the owner, or other data. The first "bullseye code" was invented by Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, from work which they began in 1948. On October 20, 1949, they patented their bullseye code (a series of concentric circles that were scannable from all directions, using regular light). Woodland and Silver patented a new UPC in October 1952; the UPC was also improved and adapted by David J. Collins in the late 1950's (to track railroad cars). UPC's were first used in grocery stores in the early 1970's.
BATHYSPHERE
A bathysphere is a pressurized metal sphere that allows people to go deep in the ocean, to depths at which diving unaided is impossible. This hollow cast iron sphere with very thick walls is lowered and raised from a ship using a steel cable. The bathysphere was invented by William Beebe and Otis Barton (around 1930). William Beebe (1877 - 1962), an American naturalist and undersea explorer, tested the bathysphere in 1930, going down to 1426 feet in a 4'9" (1.45 m) diameter bathysphere. Beebe and Otis Barton descended about 3,000 ft (914 m) feet in a larger bathysphere in 1934. They descended off the coast of Nonsuch Island, Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. During the dive, they communicated with the surface via telephone.
BEHAIM, MARTIN
Martin Behaim (1459-1537) was a German mapmaker, navigator, and merchant. Behaim made the earliest globe, called the "Nürnberg Terrestrial Globe". It was made during the years 1490-1492; the painter Georg Glockendon helped in the project. Behaim had previously sailed to Portugal as a merchant (in 1480). He had advised King John II on matters concerning navigation. He accompanied the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cam (Cão) on a 1485-1486 voyage to the coast of West Africa; during this trip, the mouth of the Congo River was discovered. After returning to Nürnberg in 1490, Behaim began construction of his globe (which was very inaccurate as compared to other maps from that time, even in the areas in which Behaim had sailed). It was once thought that Behaim's maps might have influenced Columbus and Magellan; this is now discounted. Behaim may have also developed an astrolabe. Behaim's globe is now in the German National Museum in Nürnberg.
BELL, ALEXANDER GRAHAM
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the telephone (with Thomas Watson) in 1876. Bell also improved Thomas Edison's phonograph. Bell invented the multiple telegraph (1875), the hydroairplane, the photo-sensitive selenium cell (the photophone, a wireless phone, developed with Sumner Tainter), and new techniques for teaching the deaf to speak. In 1882, Bell and his father-in-law, Gardiner Hubbard, bought and re-organized the journal "Science." Bell, Hubbard and others founded the National Geographic Society in 1888; Bell was the President of the National Geographic Society from 1898 to 1903.
BELL, HENRY
Henry Bell (1767-1830) was a Scottish engineer and inventor who built a steam-powered boat in 1812. His 12-foot (3.5-meter) steamboat, called the Comet, was the first commercially successful steamship in Europe. This boat regularly sailed between Greenock and Glasgow (Scotland) along the River Clyde. The Comet was the beginning of a revolution in navigation.
BICYCLE
The earliest bicycle was a wooden scooter-like contraption called a celerifere; it was invented about 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac of France. In 1816, Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, of Germany, invented a model with a steering bar attached to the front wheel, which he called a Draisienne. It has two wheels (of the same size), and the rider sat between the two wheels, but there were no pedals; to move, you had to propel the bicycle forward using your feet (a bit like a scooter). He exhibited his bicycle in Paris on April 6, 1818.

For a bicycle diagram printout to label, click here.

For more information on the invention of the bicycle, click here.

CARAVEL
The caravel (also spelled carvel) is a light sailing ship that that was developed by the Portuguese in the late 1400's, and was used for the next 300 years. The Portuguese developed this ship to help them explore the African coast.

For more information (and activities) about caravels, click here.

CAT'S EYE ROAD REFLECTOR
The cat's eye road reflector is a simple device that has saved countless lives. These inexpensive glass and rubber reflectors are set on the roadway at regular intervals, and help motorists see where the road is at night. Each of the cat's eyes reflects oncoming light, acting like lights set into the road. This device was invented in 1933 by Percy Shaw, from Yorkshire, England. He invented it after he had been driving on a dark, winding road on a foggy night; he was saved from going off the side of the hill by a cat, whose eyes reflected his car's lights. Shaw's invention mimicked the reflectivity of a cat's eyes. Because of his invention, Shaw was awarded the Order of the British Empire ("OBE") by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1965.
COMPASS
The earliest-known compass dates from China, during the Han Dynasty (2nd century BC - 2nd century AD). This early compass was made from lodestone, a naturally-magnetic variety of magnetite ore. A spoon-shaped piece of lodestone was placed upon a bronze disk, and the lodestone always pointed north. This early compass was not used for navigation at first; it was used for divination (like Feng Shui), to determine fortuitous placement of buildings, etc.

COUSTEAU, JACQUES

Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910 -1997) was a French undersea explorer, environmentalist, and inventor. In 1943, Cousteau and the French engineer Emile Gagnan invented the aqualung, a breathing apparatus that supplied oxygen to divers and allowed them to stay underwater for several hours. Cousteau traveled the world's oceans in his research vessel "Calypso," beginning in 1948. (Calypso was a converted 400-ton World War 2 minesweeper; it sank in 1996, after being hit by a barge in Singapore harbor). Cousteau's popular TV series, films, and many books (including "The Living Sea, "1963 and "World Without Sun", 1965) exposed the public to the wonders of the sea.
DAVENPORT
Thomas Davenport (July 9, 1802 -July 6, 1851) was an American blacksmith and inventor who established the first commercially successful electric streetcar. Davenport, from Vermont, invented an electric motor in 1834 and began a small electric railway in 1835. He patented a device for "Improvements in propelling machinery by magnetism and electromagnetism" in 1837 (his electric railway). Davenport later started a workshop in New York City, New York, and published a journal on electromagnetism (it was printed on a press that was powered by motors which he devised).
Da VinciDA VINCI, LEONARDO
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian inventor, artist, and scientist. Da Vinci had an interest in engineering and made detailed sketches of the airplane, the helicopter (and other flying machines), the parachute, the submarine, the armored car, the ballista (a giant crossbow), rapid-fire guns, the centrifugal pump (designed to drain wet areas, like marshes), ball bearings, the worm gear (a set of gears in which many teeth make contact at once, reducing the strain on the teeth, allowing more pressure to be put on the mechanism).
ELEVATOR BRAKE
Elisha Graves Otis (1811-1861) invented the elevator brake, which greatly improved the safety of elevators. He used a ratchet on a spring to catch the elevator in the event of an accident (like a broken cable).

In 1854, at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York, Otis demonstrated how safe his elevator was by cutting the elevator's cable with an ax, and the elevator car stayed where it was in the shaft. Otis' invention spurred the development of skyscrapers, changing the look of cities around the world forever.

ESCALATOR
An escalator is a moving stairway that helps people move easily from floor to floor in building. The escalator was invented by the American inventor Jesse W. Reno in 1891. On his "inclined elevator," passengers rode on an wedge-shaped supports attached to a conveyor belt at an incline of about 25 degrees. The original elevator had a stationary handrail (which was soon replaced with a moving handrail).

Horizontal steps were added to the escalator by Georg A. Wheeler and Charles D. Seeberger (who bought Wheeler's patent) in the late 1890's. The Otis company later bought the patents for the escalator and marketed it worldwide. The word escalator was first used at the Paris Exposition of 1900, when the Otis Company exhibited the moving stairway.

Model T carFORD, HENRY
Henry Ford (1863-1947) was an American engineer and industrialist who used the first conveyor belt-based assembly-lines in his car factory, revolutionizing factory production. Ford manufactured affordable cars and paid high wages to his factory workers, allowing workers to buy the cars they made. After early work as a machinist, Ford built a gasoline engine in 1893. In 1896, Ford built a "horseless carriage," which he called the "Quadricycle," which means "four wheels" (others, including Charles Edgar and J. Frank Duryea, Elwood Haynes, Hiram Percy Maxim, and Charles Brady King had built earlier "horseless carriage"). In 1899, Ford formed the Detroit Automobile Company (which was later called the Henry Ford Company and then the Cadillac Motor Car Company). Ford introduced the Model T in October 1908; it was a great success (every Model T was painted black). Ford introduced conveyor belt-based assembly-line factory production and a $5 daily wage in 1913-14 in Ford's Highland Park, Michigan plant (primitive assembly line production had been started in 1901 by Ransome Eli. Olds, another early car-maker). This type of production greatly reduced the amount of time taken to put each car together (93 minutes for a Model T) from its parts, reducing production costs.
FOUCAULT, JEAN
GyroscopeJean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868) was a French physicist who invented the gyroscope (1852) and the Foucault pendulum (1851). A gyroscope is essentially a spinning wheel set in a movable frame. When the wheel spins, it retains its spatial orientation, and it resists external forces applied to it. Gyroscopes are used in navigation instruments (for ships, planes, and rockets). Foucault was the first person to demonstrate how a pendulum could track the rotation of the Earth (the Foucault pendulum) in 1851. He also showed that light travels more slowly in water than in air (1850) and improved the mirrors of reflecting telescopes (1858).
GODDARD, ROBERT
Robert Hutchings Goddard (October 5, 1882-August 10, 1945) was an American physicist and inventor who is known as the father of modern rocketry. In 1907, Goddard proved that a rocket's thrust can propel it in a vacuum. In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents: for liquid-fueled rockets and for two- to three-stage rockets that use solid fuel. In 1919, Goddard wrote a scientific article, "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes," describing a high-altitude rocket; it was published in a Smithsonian report. Goddard's many inventions were the basis upon which modern rocketry is based.

After many years of failed attempts and public ridicule, Goddard's first successful rocket was launched on March 16, 1926 from a relative's farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. It was a liquid-fueled 10-ft. rocket that he called Nell. The flight lasted 2 1/2 seconds; the rocket flew a distance of 184 feet and achieved an altitude of 41 feet.

Goddard soon moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where he developed more sophisticated multi-stage rockets, rockets with fins (vanes) to steer them (1932), a gyro control device to control the rocket (1932), and supersonic rockets (1935). In 1937, Goddard launched the first rocket with a pivotable motor on gimbals using his gyro control device. Altogether, Robert Goddard had 214 patents.

For more information on Goddard, click here.

GLOBE
Martin Behaim (1459-1537) was a German mapmaker, navigator, and merchant who made the earliest globe, called the "Nürnberg Terrestrial Globe". It was made during the years 1490-1492; the painter Georg Glockendon helped in the project. Behaim had previously sailed to Portugal as a merchant (in 1480). He had advised King John II on matters concerning navigation. He accompanied the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cam (Cão) on a 1485-1486 voyage to the coast of West Africa; during this trip, the mouth of the Congo River was discovered. After returning to Nürnberg in 1490, Behaim began construction of his globe (which was very inaccurate as compared to other maps from that time, even in the areas in which Behaim had sailed). It was once thought that Behaim's maps might have influenced Columbus and Magellan; this is now discounted. Behaim may have also developed an astrolabe. Behaim's globe is now in the German National Museum in Nürnberg.
GYROSCOPE
GyroscopeA gyroscope is essentially a spinning wheel set in a movable frame. When the wheel spins, it retains its spatial orientation, and it resists external forces applied to it. Gyroscopes are used in navigation instruments (for ships, planes, and rockets). Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868), a French physicist, invented the gyroscope in 1852.
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) used in navigation. Hadley Rille, a long valley on the surface of the moon, was named for Hadley.
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.
McCOY, ELIJAH
Elijah McCoy (1843 or 1844-1929) was a mechanical engineer and inventor. McCoy's high-quality industrial inventions (especially his steam engine lubricator) were the basis for the expression "the real McCoy," meaning the real, authentic, or high-quality thing.

For more information on Elijah McCoy, click here. For a cloze activity on McCoy, click here.

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.
MORGAN, GARRETT
MorganGarrett Augustus Morgan (March 4, 1877 - August 27, 1963), was an African-American inventor and businessman. He was the first person to patent a traffic signal. He also developed the gas mask (and many other inventions). Morgan used his gas mask (patent No. 1,090,936, 1914) to rescue miners who were trapped underground in a noxious mine. Soon after, Morgan was asked to produce gas masks for the US Army.

For more information on Morgan, click here.

radioMOTORCYCLE
The earliest motorcycle was a coal-powered, two-cylinder, steam-driven motorcycle that was developed in 1867 by the American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper. A gas-powered motorcycle was invented by the German inventor Gottlieb Daimler in 1885. His mostly wooden motorcycle had iron-banded wheels with wooden spokes. This bone-crunching vehicle was powered by a single-cylinder engine.
OTIS, ELISHA GRAVES
Elisha Graves Otis (1811-1861) was an American mechanic and inventor. Otis invented the elevator brake, which greatly improved the safety of elevators. He used a ratchet on a spring to catch the elevator in the event of an accident (like a broken cable). In 1854, at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York, Otis demonstrated how safe his elevator was by cutting the elevator's cable with an ax, and the elevator car stayed where it was in the shaft. Otis' invention spurred the development of skyscrapers, changing the look of cities around the world forever. Otis also invented a railway safety brake and improvements to turbine engines and brass bed frames.
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.

RADAR
The first practical radar system was invented in 1935 by the Scotish physicist Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (April 13, 1892-December 5, 1973). He developed radar to help track storms in order to keep aircraft safe. His invention eventually helped the allies win World War 2 against the Germans.

Radar is short for RAdio Detection And Ranging. Radar is used to locate distant objects by sending out radio waves and analyzing the echos that return. Radar can determine where a distant object is, how big it is, what shape it has, how fast it's moving and in which direction it's going. Radar is now used to watch developing weather patterns, to monitor air traffic, to track ships at sea, and to detect missiles.

RAZOR SCOOTER
The Razor scooter is a new and very popular foldable scooter. It was invented by a team of people at the J.D. Corp. (a company that sells aluminum bicycle parts and electric scooters in Changhua, Taiwan, Republic of China). Gino Tsai, the president of the company, wanted a way to get around his factory floors faster (he says that he is a slow walker and he needed a more efficient means of getting around). It took about 5 years for the team to develop their current model, which uses airplane-grade aluminum and polyurethane wheels. It was introduced in 1998 at the NSGA World Sports Expo, when Tsai scooted around the show, attracting the attention of Sharper Image Corp., who ordered the first Razor scooters. The scooters quickly became popular world-wide.
RENO, JESSE W.
Jesse W. Reno was an American inventor who developed the first escalator in 1891. An escalator is a moving stairway that helps people move easily from floor to floor in building. On his "inclined elevator," passengers rode on an wedge-shaped supports attached to a conveyor belt at an incline of about 25 degrees. The original elevator had a stationary handrail (which was soon replaced with a moving handrail).
radioROPER, SYLVESTER HOWARD
Sylvester Howard Roper (1823-1896) was an American inventor from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Roper developed a coal-powered, two-cylinder, steam-driven wooden motorcycle in 1867. Roper also developed a steam-driven car. Roper died at the age of 73 while testing a new motorcycle.
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.

TRAFFIC SIGNAL
MorganGarrett Augustus Morgan (March 4, 1877 - August 27, 1963), was an African-American inventor and businessman. He was the first person to patent a traffic signal. He also developed the gas mask (and many other inventions). Morgan used his gas mask (patent No. 1,090,936, 1914) to rescue miners who were trapped underground in a noxious mine. Soon after, Morgan was asked to produce gas masks for the US Army.

For more information on Morgan, 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."
WINDSHIELD WIPER
The windshield wiper was invented by Mary Anderson in 1903 to help streetcars operate safely in the rain. In 1905 she patented her invention, which allowed the car operator to control the external, swinging arm wipers from within the car. Windshield wipers became standard equipment on cars a decade later. Anderson was from Alabama, USA.
WRIGHT BROTHERS
airplaneThe first working airplane was invented, designed, made, and flown by the Wright brothers, Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) and Orville Wright (1871-1948). Their "Wright Flyer" was a fabric-covered biplane with a wooden frame. The power to the two propellers was supplied by a 12-horsepower water-cooled engine. On December 17, 1903, the "Flyer" flew for 12 seconds and for a distance of 120 feet (37 m). The flight took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.

For more information on the Wright brothers, click here.

For a cloze activity on the Wright brothers, click here.

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