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Top 10 Inventions in Energy and Mechanics



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Of all the inventions over time, those concerned with energy and mechanics probably have the most impact on our daily lives. Where would we be today without electricity, hydraulics, jet engines and the printing press, for example? Here - in no particular order - are some of the top inventions in the field of energy and mechanics.

Electricity (Thomas Edison)

But for Edison, this writer would not be typing this article, and you would not be able to easily read it if it's night time in your corner of the world. As well as being a fantastic discovery in itself, electricity has made so many modern inventions possible, or more effective, that it has to be one of the most important inventions of all time.

The steam engine (James Watt)

The first crude steam engine was designed by Thomas Savery in the late 17th century, as a means of pumping water from coal mines. His design was improved on by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. Newcomen's engine used atmospheric pressure, and was more efficient than Savery's.

In 1769, James Watt made improvements to Newcomen's engine and also patented a separate condenser, which kept cool while the cylinder in the engine was hot, thus producing the model for modern steam engines. Watt's invention made the Industrial Revolution possible, and also facilitated rail travel. While he didn't invent the steam engine per se, Watt is credited with the invention, as his improved engine was the first really effective and reliable engine.

Ball Bearings (Philip Vaughn)

The principle behind ball bearings goes back three centuries before the birth of Christ, when rows of rolling logs were used to transport heavy items such as stone blocks and boats in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Leonardo Da Vinci developed the first modern ball bearings in the 16th century, and Philip Vaughn took out the first patent in 1791, when working on improvements to carriage axles.

Ball bearings reduce friction between moving parts of a machine, and are important to the smooth running of such diverse machines as washing machines, bicycles, medical instruments, aircraft and watches. Ball bearings were such a vital component of the German war industry that factories that manufactured them were frequent targets in British bombing raids.

Jet engine (Frank Whittle)

Whittle was the first to patent a jet engine in 1930, although Hans von Ohain, who patented his engine in 1936, was the first to fly a jet using his engine, in 1939. Whittle's jet first flew in 1941. As a test pilot in the RAF, Whittle was only 22 when he first had the idea of using a gas turbine engine to power aeroplanes. His work has revolutionised both civilain and military air transport. 

Printing press (Johannes Guttenberg)

Guttenberg invented the printing press in 1440, and, although refinements were made, his method of printing with moveable type and oil-based inks was still the main method of printing until late in the 20th century. The printing press played a major part in universal education and leisure pursuits, as it enabled the mass printing of books, making them cheaper and accessible to all but the poorest individuals.

Aerodynamics (Various developers)

The concept of air resistance when connected with moving objects was considered centuries ago by Aristotle, Da Vinci and Galileo, but there were no thorough investigations into the subject until Sir Isaac Newton developed his theory of air resistance in the late 17th century.

Today, aerodynamics is an important consideration in aerospace engineering, vehicle design, and the building of bridges and large buildings. Aerodynamics allows structural engineers to calculate wind loads and town planners to produce comfortable open spaces and reduce pollution, so it touches everyone's lives in one respect or another.

Nuclear energy (Various developers)

Albert Einstein's work highlighted atomic fission in 1907. His discovery paved the way for the atomic bomb, which effectively ended World War II. These days, nuclear power is used in a controlled, non-explosive power to generate electricity, and it provides around 15% of the world's electrical energy. Many naval vessels are also powered by nuclear means.

Bicycle (Various developers)

Leonardo Da Vinci came up with an idea for a bicycle but never developed it. Kirkpatrick Macmillan of Scotland built the world's first pedal cycle in 1838, but he never patented the design. Pierre Michaux of France is thought to have built the first practical bicycle, which was affectionately known as the 'Boneshaker.' Ernest Michaux, also of France, came up with the crank and pedal system used on modern bikes in 1861.

Cycling has always been a popular form of transport but these days, with concerns about environmental pollution and the rising cost of gasoline, pedal power is more prominent than ever.

Internal combustion engine (Gottleib Daimler)

Although many inventers had a hand in the inception of the internal combustion engine, Daimler's engine is credited with being the prototype of the modern car engine, with a vertical cylinder and fuel injected through a carburetor. He built the first four-wheeled motor car in 1887. Daimler and Karl Benz can be said to have made the modern automobile age possible.

Military tank (Ernest Swinton)

Swinton developed the first tank after seeing how the caterpillar track worked on an American tractor in France in 1914, just after the start of the First World War. It was the most rapidly developed weapon ever, and allowed the transportation of of artillery with increased protection against firepower.

The development of the tank has changed the deployment of warfare beyond recognition. The advent of the internal combustion engine facilitated the birth of the tank.

Any 'Top 10' list is by nature subjective, but the inventions detailed above made it to the list because of their significant and enduring impact on everyday life.

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