50 Inventions That Are Way Older Than You Think

50 Inventions That Are Way Older Than You Think

Tin Cans

The first can openers appeared in 1855 and were of a primitive claw-shaped design. This was about 83 years after the tin can first came in use. Food preserved in tin cans was in use by the Dutch Navy from at least 1772. So for nearly a century, the cans weighed more than the food they contained and required ingenuity to open, using whatever tools available.

Headphone Jack

The headphone jack we use today was invented back in the 19th century. The larger version of the phone connector was invented for use in telephone switchboards in 1878. Its design has remained unchanged except for its size. The original 1/4″ design is still standard on a lot of audio equipments.

Roller Skates

Roller skates were invented in the 1700s. While the first reported use of roller skates was on a London stage in 1743, the first patented roller skate was introduced in 1760 by Belgian inventor John Joseph Merlin. He designed them for a masquerade party. Not bothering to practice, he smashed into a wall-length mirror upon entrance.

Birth Control

While latex condoms and birth control pills are a modern form of contraceptives, humans have been practicing birth control for a long time. Greeks used Silphium, a plant which was known to have contraceptive and abortifacient properties. The demand for the plant was so great that by the third or fourth centuries, Silphium went extinct. The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BC and the Kahun Papyrus from 1850 BC have within them some of the earliest documented descriptions of birth control: the use of honey, acacia leaves and lint to be placed in the vagina to block sperm.


Monks or craftsmen in Italy produced the first form of eyeglasses between 1285-1289. In 1306, a monk in Pisa, Italy named Giordano da Rivalto remarked in a sermon that he knew the man who created glasses, but he failed to give the person’s name. Its inventor attempted to keep the idea a secret to avoid economic competition, but a monk named Friar Alessandro Spina knew of the design and decided to make pairs of glasses himself and then distribute them to everyone. Even before this, Roman Emperor Nero, who lived in the 1st Century A.D. used a polished emerald to correct his vision.

Cataract Surgery

The first modern European physician to successfully extract cataracts from the eye was Jacques Daviel who did it in 1748. One of the earliest forms of cataract surgery recorded is now known as ‘couching’ which was introduced in ancient India and subsequently introduced to other countries by the Indian physician Sushruta in 3rd century A.D., who described the procedure in his work the “Compendium of Sushruta”. Even before him, Greek surgeon Aelius Galenus performed an operation similar to modern cataract surgery in 2nd century A.D.


Vibrators were created in the 1880s by an English doctor named Joseph Granville, who is now known as the ‘father of the modern electromechanical vibrator’. These early vibrators became popular among the medical professionals to treat a (now debunked) condition called female hysteria. Doctors used to treat this condition by masturbating the patients to orgasm. Vibrators helped doctors as it saved their hands from cramping from all the orgasms they gave to women.

Middle Finger

The middle finger gesture was used in ancient times as a symbol of sexual intercourse, in a manner meant to degrade, intimidate and threaten the individual receiving the gesture. The Romans gave each other the middle finger. Greek Philosopher Diogenes was the first recorded person to flip somebody off as an insult in 4th century B.C. He did it to Demosthenes when he got tired of arguing.


Lighters were invented before matches. Lighters were invented in 1823. It wasn’t until 1826 that a man named John Walker from England invented the first actual match. It was the kind which needed friction to light. It wasn’t until 5 years later a Frenchman named Charles Sauria developed a match that used white phosphorus.

10 Contact Lenses

Leonardo da Vinci introduced the idea of contact lenses in his 1508, wherein he described a method of directly altering corneal power by wearing a water-filled glass hemisphere over the eye. In 1888, German ophthalmologist Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick constructed and fitted the first successful contact lens. These were large scleral lenses, which rested on the less sensitive rim of tissue around the cornea and were made from heavy blown glass.

11 Vending Machines

The first vending machine was invented 2000 years ago in 1st Century Roman Egypt and it sold Holy Water. When a coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever which let some water flow out. A counterweight snapped the lever up and turned off the valve once the coin was tilted off the pan. Coin-operated machines that dispensed tobacco were being operated as early as 1615 in the taverns of England.

12 Pipe Organs

Pipe Organ is one of the oldest instruments still used in European classical music that has commonly been credited as having derived from Greece. Its earliest predecessors were built in Ancient Greece in the 3rd century B.C. Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing this organ.

13 Video Games

Video games became popular with the beginning of the golden age of arcade video games in 1978 and the release of Atari 2600 in 1977. But video games had existed long before this. The earliest example of a video game is from a patent that was filed in 1947 named a “Cathode ray tube Amusement Device.” It was inspired by radar display technology. It consisted of an analog device that allowed a user to control a vector-drawn dot on the screen to simulate a missile being fired at targets, which were drawings fixed to the screen.

14 Digital Distribution of Video Games

Platforms like Steam and Xbox Marketplace have changed the way games are delivered and consumed by gamers. These have made it easier for consumers to play games without the exchange or purchase of new physical media. The first example of the digital distribution of video games was seen in 1981 with Gameline, a service which allowed Atari 2600 owners to use a specialized cartridge to connect through a phone line to a central server and rent a video game for 5–10 days. Also, computers of the 80s were capable of saving and loading games to/from cassette tapes in a tape recorder. This basically worked by interpreting the audio data as game data. This prompted some pirate FM radio stations in the 1980s to broadcast games right over FM radio every weekend.

15 Central Heating

The ancient Romans (the wealthy ones) had central heating in their homes. They used a system called ‘hypocaust’ that produced and circulated hot air below the floor of a room, and also warmed the walls with a series of pipes through which the hot air passed. The earliest example of such a system was the temple of Ephesus that was built in 350 B.C. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro in what is now Pakistan have unearthed what is believed to be a hypocaust lined with bitumen-coated bricks. If it fulfilled a similar role, the structure would pre-date the earliest Roman hypocaust by as much as 2000 years.

16 Musical Instruments

The oldest known musical instrument is a 43,000-year-old flute that was carved from a bear femur. This is older than the extinction of Neanderthals, domestication of animals, the extinction of Ice Age mammals, and the invention of the wheel.

17 Concrete

Ancient Romans used a mixture of limestone, water, and volcanic ash to make concrete. This mixture and its curing technique produces a stronger and more environmentally friendly concrete than modern Portland cement. By 25 B.C., Romans had even developed a recipe for concrete to be specifically used for underwater work, which is essentially the same formula we use today. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the technology to make concrete was lost for nearly 1000 years before it was found again in the 14th century.

18 Submarines

The first submersible of whose construction there exists reliable information of, was designed and built by a Dutchman named Cornelis Drebbel in 1620. It had Oars that stuck through leather seals and had snorkel hoses for air. The first military submarine was the Turtle which was built in 1775. It was a hand-powered acorn-shaped device designed to accommodate a single person. The Turtle was used during the American Revolutionary War.

19 3D Movies

The earliest confirmed 3D film shown to an audience was ‘The Power of Love,’ which premiered in Los Angeles in 1922. Even before this, in 1915 audiences were presented with clips of random scenes shot in 3D at the Astor Theater in New York City.

20 Billiard Balls

The earliest known written reference to ivory billiard balls is in the 1588 inventory of the Duke of Norfolk. By the mid-19th century, elephants were being slaughtered for their ivory at an alarming rate, just to keep up with the demand for high-end billiard balls.

21 Fax Machine

Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received British patent in 1843 for his “Electric Printing Telegraph”. The first device resembling the modern fax machine was the pantelegraph which was invented by an Italian physicist. He introduced the first commercial telefax service between Paris and Lyon in 1865, some 11 years before the invention of the telephone.

22 Automatic Doors

In the 1st century A.D., Greek mathematician Heron of Alexandria invented the first known automatic door. He described two different automatic door applications. The first application was used to open temple doors. The device used heat from a fire lit by the city’s temple priest. After a few hours, atmospheric pressure built up in a brass vessel caused it to pump water into adjacent containers. These containers acted as weights that, through a series of ropes and pulleys, would open the temple’s doors at about the time people were to arrive for prayer. Heron used a similar application to open the gates to the city.

23 Color movies

Even in the earliest days of silent film, color was used in motion pictures. The technique utilized in the earliest color films like “Vie et Passion du Christ” (“Life and Passion of the Christ”) (1903) and “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) was stenciling, in which each frame of a film was hand-colored. The process to hand-color each frame of a film — even films much shorter than the typical film of today — was painstaking, expensive, and time-consuming. The first feature film with a sound was The Jazz Singer, which was released in 1927.

24 Animation

Humans made animated art tens of thousands of years ago. The 21,000 years old cave paintings in Lascaux, France were made in such a way that flickering oil light would create the illusion of motion on the cave-painted animals. When the cave was discovered in 1940, more than 100 small stone lamps that once burned grease from rendered animal fat were found throughout its chambers. A flickering flame in the cave may have conjured impressions of motion like a strobe light in a dark club.

25 Checks and Credit

The check is older than cash. Ancient Romans are believed to have used an early form of check known as praescriptiones in the 1st century B.C. Credit predates the check and it actually predates writing. According to historians, the concept of using a valueless instrument to represent banking transactions dates back 5,000 years, when the ancient Mesopotamians used clay tablets to conduct trade with the Harappan civilization. While still cumbersome, a slab of clay with seals from both civilizations certainly beat the tons of copper each would have had to melt down to produce the coins of that era.

26 Screw

Although the Pythagorean philosopher Archytas of Tarentum (5th century B.C.) is the alleged inventor of the screw, the exact date of its first appearance as a useful mechanical device is obscure. Though invention of the water screw is usually ascribed to Archimedes (3rd century B.C.), evidence exists of a similar device used for irrigation in Egypt at an earlier date. The screw press, probably invented in Greece in the 1st or 2nd century B.C., has been used since the days of the Roman Empire for pressing clothes. In the 1st century A.D., wooden screws were used in wine and olive-oil presses.

27 Catheters

Catheters were used as early as 3,000 B.C. to relieve painful urinary retention. In those times, many materials were used to form a hollow catheter, some of which were straw, rolled up palm leaves, hollow tops of onions, as well as, gold, silver, copper, brass, and lead. Malleable catheters were developed in the 11th century. In time, silver was used as the basis of catheters as it could be bent to any desired shape and was felt to have an antiseptic function.

28 Ice Creams

During the 5th century B.C., ancient Greeks ate snow mixed with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens. In 400 B.C., the Persians invented a special chilled food, made of rose water and vermicelli, which was served to royalty during summers. The ice was mixed with saffron, fruits, and various other flavors. A frozen mixture of milk and rice was used in China around 200 B.C. They poured a mixture of snow and saltpeter over the exteriors of containers filled with syrup, for, in the same way as salt raises the boiling point of water, it lowers the freezing point to below zero.

29 3D Printing

3D printing has burst into the mainstream media in recent years, but in reality, it has been around since the 1980s. Patent for stereolithography process was filed in 1984 and the technology used by most 3D printers to date, i.e., fused deposition modeling was developed in 1988. It has been gaining mainstream attention because most of the patents used in manufacturing them have expired, which has made them affordable.

30 Soft Drinks

Dr. Pepper was released in 1885, one year before Coca-Cola. Even before that carbonated lemonade was widely available in British refreshment stalls in 1833. The first company that sold carbonated water was established in Geneva in 1783. Even before carbonated drinks, in the medieval Middle East, a variety of fruit-flavored soft drinks were widely drunk, such as sharbat, and were often sweetened with ingredients such as sugar, syrup, and honey.

31 Cheese

Earliest proposed dates for the origin of cheesemaking range from around 8000 B.C. when sheep were first domesticated. Since animal skins and inflated internal organs provided storage vessels for milk, it is probable that the process of cheese making was discovered accidentally by storing milk in a container made from the stomach of an animal, resulting in the milk being turned to curd and whey by the rennet from the stomach.

32 Music Streaming

Music streaming was invented in 1897 in New York. It was called the Telharmonium and took up the entire basement of the Broadway building it was located in. It was 220 feet long and it used different sized/cogged gears spinning beneath a pickup (magnetic coil) to create different tones. These different gears and pickups were connected to an organ on the main floor of the building. Key presses would activate the corresponding tone to play from the Telharmonium and it had pedals and such to shape the sound. It delivered this music via the telephone, and subscribers could have the operator connect them.

33 Fidget spinner

Fidget Spinners have been around since 1993, but it wasn’t until 2017 when they became a craze, partly because non-autistic children picked up the practice from autistic classmates. They are sold by shops catering to people with special sensory needs, as a calming device. In general “executive pacifiers” like the fidget spinner have been around since the 1920s or earlier, and include Newton’s cradle and the drinking bird.

34 Marshmallow

The history of marshmallows goes back as early as 2000 B.C. Ancient Egyptians were said to be the first to make them and eating them was a privilege strictly reserved for gods and for royalty, who used the root of mallow plant species to soothe coughs and sore throats, and to heal wounds. The first marshmallows were prepared by boiling pieces of root pulp with honey until thick. Once thickened, the mixture was strained, cooled, and then used as intended.

35 Nintendo

Nintendo is mostly known today as a video game company. While video games have certainly been one of their most successful business ventures, they existed a long time before computers were even invented, as a toy company. The company was founded in 1889 when it produced playing cards, which it still does to this day.

36 Death Growl

Death growl, which is usually employed by death metal singers and in other heavy metal styles is centuries old. Growled vocals may have been a part of Viking music. In the 10th century, Arab-Spanish Sefardi Jewish merchant Ibrahim ibn Yaqub visited Denmark and commented on the local music as follows: “Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig. The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed.”

37 Clothing

The sewing needle is over 40,000 years old. Human beings may have begun wearing clothing as far back as 190,000 years ago. Humans already had pants and jackets 20,000 – 12,500 years ago. Dyed flax fibers dated 36,000 years ago found in a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia suggests that people were wearing clothes at that time.

38 Electric Car

Tesla revolutionized the electric car’s image in customers’ minds – stylish, comfortable with a nice blend of traditional automotive stuff and futuristic features. However, electric cars are more than a century old. In 1884, over 20 years before the Ford Model T, the first practical production electric car was built in London that used specially designed high-capacity rechargeable batteries.

39 Toilet Paper

The first documented use of toilet paper in human history dates back to the 6th century A.D., in early medieval China. In 589 A.D. the scholar-official Yan Zhitui wrote about the use of toilet paper. An Arab traveler to China in the year 851 AD remarked: “…they [the Chinese] do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities, but they only wipe themselves with paper.”

40 Aspirin

Medicines made from willow and other salicylate-rich plants can be dated to at least 2000 B.C. in ancient Sumer as well as 1500 B.C. in ancient Egypt. Hippocrates referred to their use of salicylic tea to reduce fevers around 400 B.C. Willow bark extract became recognized for its specific effects on fever, pain, and inflammation in the mid-18th century. By the 19th century, pharmacists were experimenting with and prescribing a variety of chemicals related to salicylic acid, the active component of willow extract. One such formulation was later marketed as aspirin.

41 Smartphones

Most people might think true smartphones were first invented in the late 2000s when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. The first true smartphone was actually IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator which was launched in 1992. It came with features such as a touchscreen and the ability to send and receive e-mails.

42 Electronic Cigarette

As the slogan for a smokeless world has been raised, a new practice called “vaping” has come to the forefront recently, but vaporizers/e-cigarettes were invented back in the 60s. The earliest e-cigarette can be traced to Herbert A. Gilbert, who in 1963 patented “a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” that involved “replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated, moist, flavored air”. This device produced flavored steam without nicotine. The patent was granted in 1965. This concept never took off because smoking was still fashionable back then.

43 Rap Battles

The concept of the “rap battle” has existed since the 5th century, where poets would engage in “flyting,” a spoken word event where poets would insult one another in verse. The Norse god Loki is noted as having insulted other gods in verse. In Anglo-Saxon England, flyting would take place in a feasting hall. The winner would be decided by the reactions of those watching the exchange. The winner would drink a large cup of beer or mead in victory, then invite the loser to drink as well.

44 Autopilots

Autopilots on aircraft look like a modern comfort for the pilots, but they are as ancient as aircrafts themselves. In the early days of aviation, aircrafts required the continuous attention of a pilot to fly safely. The first aircraft autopilot was developed by Sperry Corporation in 1912. That is just 9 years after the Wright Brothers achieved first powered flight in 1903. This autopilot connected a gyroscopic heading indicator and attitude indicator to hydraulically operated elevators and rudder.

45 Pizza

Foods similar to pizza have been made since the Neolithic age (10,200 – 4500 B.C.). If a pizza is “flat, baked bread,” then pizzas are as old as the ancient Babylonians. If a pizza is “flat, baked bread with toppings,” then they were invented in ancient Greece.

46 Neurosurgery

Neurosurgery is considered a highly specialized modern specialty, but Incas appear to have practiced a procedure known as trepanation since the late Stone Age. Trepanation is the surgical process of drilling a small hole in the skull to treat health problems related to intracranial diseases or release pressured blood buildup from an injury. During the Middle Ages in Arabia from 936 to 1013 AD, Al-Zahrawi performed surgical treatments of head injuries, skull fractures, spinal injuries, hydrocephalus, subdural effusions, and headache.

47 Bowling

The earliest known forms of bowling date back to ancient Egypt. As early as 3200 B.C., balls made out of husks of grains and bound in leather and string were rolled along the ground to play a game similar to modern target bowl games. In Roman Empire about 2000 years ago a similar game was thriving, which eventually evolved into Italian Bocce or outdoor bowling. In about 400 A.D., bowling began in Germany as a religious ritual to cleanse oneself from sin by rolling a rock into a club (kegel).

48 Electrotherapy

Thousands of years before the modern procedure of electrotherapy was invented, the Ancient Romans successfully treated headaches and mental disorders with electroconvulsive therapy using electric fish.

49 Beer

Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world. There is some evidence that beer was produced as early as 6000 B.C, a full 2000 years before the invention and use of the wheel in 4000 B.C. Proven records of beer produced from barley dates to about 3500–3100 B.C. in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran, but unproven estimates date back even further to about 10,000 B.C., when cereal was first farmed. Archaeologists speculate that beer was instrumental in the formation of civilizations.

50 Checking Account

The checking account was invented by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. Crusaders would deposit their valuables with the Knights before journeying to the Holy Land and would receive a certificate entitling them to items of equivalent value upon their arrival. This innovative arrangement was an early form of banking and may have been the first formal system to support the use of checks.

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