Timeline of historic inventions

The timeline of historic inventions is a chronological list of particularly important or significant technological inventions and their inventors, where known.

Note: Dates for inventions are often controversial. Sometimes inventions are invented by several inventors around the same time, or may be invented in an impractical form many years before another inventor improves the invention into a more practical form. Where there is ambiguity, the date of the first known working version of the invention is used here.

A proportion of all discoveries within the United States made during the 20th[1] (after 1943[2]) and 21st centuries were made within skunk work enterprises.[1]


The dates listed in this section refer to the earliest evidence of an invention found and dated by archaeologists (or in a few cases, suggested by indirect evidence). Dates are often approximate and change as more research is done, reported and seen. Older examples of any given technology are found often. The locations listed are for the site where the earliest solid evidence has been found, but especially for the earlier inventions, there is little certainty how close that may be to where the invention took place.

Lower Paleolithic

The Lower Paleolithic period lasted over 3 million years, and corresponds to the human species prior to the emergence of Homo sapiens. The original divergence between humans and chimpanzees occurred 13 (Mya), however interbreeding continued until as recently as 4 Ma, with the first species clearly belonging to the human (and not chimpanzee) lineage being Australopithecus anamensis. This time period is characterized as an ice age with regular periodic warmer periods – interglacial episodes.

Middle Paleolithic

The dawn of Homo sapiens around 300 kya coincides with the start of the Middle Paleolithic period. Towards the middle of this 250,000-year period, humans begin to migrate out of Africa, and the later part of the period shows the beginning of long-distance trade, religious rites and other behavior associated with Behavioral modernity.

Upper Paleolithic to Early Mesolithic

50 ka has been regarded by some as the beginning of behavioral modernity, defining the Upper Paleolithic period, which lasted nearly 40,000 years (though some research dates the beginning of behavioral modernity earlier to the Middle Paleolithic). This is characterized by the widespread observation of religious rites, artistic expression and the appearance of tools made for purely intellectual or artistic pursuits.

Agricultural and proto-agricultural eras

The end of the Last Glacial Period ("ice age") and the beginning of the Holocene around 11.7 ka coincide with the Agricultural Revolution, marking the beginning of the agricultural era, which persisted until the industrial revolution.

Neolithic and Late Mesolithic

During the Neolithic period, lasting 8400 years, stone remained the predominant material for toolmaking, although copper and arsenic bronze were developed towards the end of this period.

Bronze Age

The Nippur cubit-rod, c.2650 BCE, in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey

The beginning of bronze-smelting coincides with the emergence of the first cities and of writing in the Ancient Near East and the Indus Valley. The Bronze Age is taken as a 2000-year long period starting in 3300 BC and ending in 1300 BC.

Iron Age

The Late Bronze Age collapse occurs around 1300-1175 BC, extinguishing most Bronze-Age Near Eastern cultures, and significantly weakening the rest. This is coincident with the complete collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation. This event is followed by the beginning of the Iron Age. We define the Iron Age as ending in 510 BC for the purposes of this article, even though the typical definition is region-dependent (e.g. 510 BC in Greece, 322 BC in India, 200 BC in China), thus being an 800-year period.

It's worth noting the uncertainty in dating several Indian developments between 600 BC and 300 AD, due to the tradition that existed of editing existing documents (such as the Sushruta Samhita and Arthashastra) without specifically documenting the edit. Most such documents were canonized at the start of the Gupta empire (mid-3rd century AD).

With the Greco-Roman trispastos ("three-pulley-crane"), the simplest ancient crane, a single man tripled the weight he could lift than with his muscular strength alone.[175]

Classical antiquity and medieval era

5th century BC
4th century BC
Egyptian reed pens inside ivory and wooden palettes, the Louvre[201]
3rd century BC
An illustration depicting the papermaking process in Han Dynasty China.
The earliest fore-and-aft rigs, spritsails, appeared in the 2nd century BC in the Aegean Sea on small Greek craft.[223] Here a spritsail used on a Roman merchant ship (3rd century AD).
2nd century BC
  • 2nd century BC: Paper in Han Dynasty China: Although it is recorded that the Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220) court eunuch Cai Lun (born c. 50–121 AD) invented the pulp papermaking process and established the use of new raw materials used in making paper, ancient padding and wrapping paper artifacts dating to the 2nd century BC have been found in China, the oldest example of pulp papermaking being a map from Fangmatan, Gansu.[224]
  • Early 2nd century BC: Astrolabe invented by Apollonius of Perga.
1st century BC
1st century
2nd century
3rd century
Schematic of the Roman Hierapolis sawmill. Dated to the 3rd century AD, it is the earliest known machine to incorporate a crank and connecting rod mechanism.[248][249][250]
4th century
5th century
A Nepali Charkha in action
6th century
7th century
8th century
9th century
A Mongol bomb thrown against a charging Japanese samurai during the Mongol invasions of Japan after founding the Yuan Dynasty, 1281.
10th century
  • 10th century: Fire lance in Song Dynasty China, developed in the 10th century with a tube of first bamboo and later on metal that shot a weak gunpowder blast of flame and shrapnel, its earliest depiction is a painting found at Dunhuang.[297] Fire lance is the earliest firearm in the world and one of the earliest gunpowder weapons.[298][299]
  • 10th century: Fireworks in Song Dynasty China: Fireworks first appear in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), in the early age of gunpowder. Fireworks could be purchased from market vendors; these were made of sticks of bamboo packed with gunpowder.[300]
11th century
12th century
  • 12th century: Bond trading in France.[307]
13th century
14th century
The 15th-century invention of the printing press with movable type by the German Johannes Gutenberg.[320]
15th century
16th century

Modern era

17th century

A 1609 title page of the German Relation, the world's first newspaper (first published in 1605)[329][330]

18th century


19th century


20th century


21st century


See also

By type


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