Many years before Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan introduced their own light bulbs to the world, a Scotsman called James Bowman Lindsay demonstrated a constant electric light at a public meeting in Dundee. Reportedly, Lindsay’s light was so powerful and stable — for 1835 at least — that he could read his book from a distance of 0.4 metres (1.5 feet). Lindsay had invented the world’s first electric light bulb, however he neither patented the device nor sold it, instead moving on to wireless telegraphy. Regardless, Lindsay’s innovation was continuously honed in the following decades and, after Edison married a stable electric generator to this revolutionary light-giving device, the stage was set for its widespread adoption. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without electric light bulbs and they’re often voted one of the greatest inventions of all time in polls.
For centuries the only way to record a person or place was with paint, which was a time-consuming and expensive process. That all began to change in 1826 when Joseph Nicephore Niepce — a French inventor from Chalon-sur-Saone — produced the first permanent photographic image by covering a pewter plate with bitumen. Niepce continued to experiment and, after replacing the bitumen with silver, produced one of today’s earliest surviving photographs.
While canned food may get a bad rap today for not being ‘fresh’, it has been and remains a critical source of nourishment in many parts of the world. Indeed, canned food has many benefits, including acting as a preservative and providing a protective container for transportation. As such, when it was invented in the early-19th century, it radically transformed what the average person ate.
When Italian scientist Alessandro Volta made his voltaic pile in 1799 he started the journey to today’s widespread electrochemical batteries. The pile, which was a stack of silver and zinc discs separated by pieces of brine-soaked fabric, was crude but when its ends were connected via metal wire, it produced a small electric current. In the years following the pile’s invention, the battery was improved again and again, and now it is a fundamental source of portable power many of us couldn’t live without.
Okay, so this isn’t an invention but rather a discovery. It is still, however, so momentous that it deserves a mention. While scientists had been fascinated with lightning and electricity for thousands of years -indeed, great philosopher Thales of Miletus undertook numerous experiments into the nature of static electricity in 600 BCE — it wasn’t until Benjamin Franklin studied the phenomenon in 1752 that the two were reconciled and its true power realised. Following Franklin’s work, electricity was harnessed in increasingly diverse ways, with Michael Faraday using it to lay down the foundations for the electric motor.