The Greatest Innovations Since the Wheel

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Innovation is integral to the physical and economic operating infrastructure of our modern world.

Innovation is integral to the physical and economic operating infrastructure of our modern world.Innovation is integral to the physical and economic operating infrastructure of our modern world.
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Innovation is integral to the physical and economic operating infrastructure of our modern world. Whether created out of necessity, out of a desire for comfort, a desire to achieve profitability through unique products on the market or even the result of accidental discoveries, innovation has always driven the advancement of civilisation.

The innovations on this list come from any number of contexts; be they innovations that extend life (eg: vaccinations), innovations that enabled the industrial revolution (the practical steam engine for example) or a product of the industrial revolution. It could be innovations in the realm of communications such as the telephone or the internet or innovation in the transport sphere like the internal combustion engine or the aeroplane. Wherever they are rooted, they have all made an unarguably immense impact on our world.


1.      The printing press, 1430s

When it became possible for knowledge to be disseminated freely

Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press with movable type was a watershed moment in human history. The ability to produce books cheaply and in large quantities meant that knowledge could be disseminated freely for the first time, sparking the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The printing press also played a crucial role in the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

2.      Electricity, late 19th century

Suddenly a mysterious natural force could be harnessed and used every day

Electricity is one of the most indispensable things in our lives today. It's hard to imagine going even a day without it. But that wasn't always the case. Before the late 19th century, when electricity was first harnessed, it was something of a mysterious natural force. It was used sparingly and only for special occasions. But with the advent of practical electrical generators and wiring, it suddenly became possible to use electricity every day. And so began the electric age.

Today, we can't imagine life without all the gadgets and appliances that run on electricity. We take for granted our televisions, computers, refrigerators and air conditioners. But all of these things were once novelties that changed the way we live.

3.      Penicillin, 1928

Accidentally discovered, has led to the development of many other antibiotics and the combating of hitherto fatal diseases

Alexander Fleming, a Scottish biologist, is credited with the discovery of penicillin, though he was not the first to discover its antibacterial properties. In 1928, Fleming was studying a type of staphylococcus bacteria that caused skin infections. He noticed that one of the Petri dishes he had left out in the lab had been contaminated with a fungal mould. The mould had inhibited the growth of the bacteria.

Fleming later extracted and purified the active ingredient in the mould, which he named penicillin. He tested it on various types of bacteria and found that it was effective against many types, including streptococcus, which causes pneumonia. Penicillin was eventually mass-produced and became a key part of the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany.

4.      Semiconductor electronics, mid-20th century

The hardware foundation of the software world

The invention of semiconductor electronics was a key moment in the history of humanity. With the development of transistors, microchips and other semiconductor devices, it became possible to create hardware that could run the software. This was a crucial step on the road to the information age.

Today, almost everything we do depends on semiconductor electronics. From the smartphones in our pockets to the computers that run our hospitals and airports, semiconductor devices are at the heart of our digital world. Without them, we would be lost.

5.      Optical lenses, 13th century

Led to eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes

The development of optical lenses was a watershed moment in human history. With the ability to magnify objects and images, it became possible to see things that were previously hidden from view. This led to the development of eyeglasses, telescopes and microscopes – three essential tools that have changed the way we see the world.

Eyeglasses were first developed in the 13th century by Italian craftsmen. They were initially used to correct vision problems, but over time they became fashionable as a status symbol. Today, eyeglasses are ubiquitous and come in all shapes and sizes.

The telescope was first developed in the early 17th century by Dutch scientist Hans Lippershey. It was originally used for navigation, but its most important application was in astronomy. The telescope allowed astronomers to see distant objects in space that was previously unavailable to them.

The microscope was first developed in the early 17th century by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Like the telescope, it was initially used for navigation, but its most important application was in medicine. The microscope allowed doctors to see the inner workings of the human body for the first time. It revolutionized medicine and led to many important discoveries about the human body.

6.      Paper, second century

An easily transportable media for communication

With the ability to write on a durable, easily transportable medium, it became possible to communicate over long distances. Paper allowed knowledge and ideas to be spread far and wide, and it played a crucial role in the development of civilization.

Paper was first invented in China in the second century AD. It was made from bamboo fibres and mulberry bark. Over time, the process of making paper was refined and it became more popular. By the 11th century, paper was being made in Japan, Korea and India.

The first paper mill in Europe was established in Spain in the early 12th century. Paper quickly spread throughout Europe and by the 13th century, it was being made in Italy, France and Germany.

Paper has been an essential part of human civilization for centuries and its impact can be seen in every aspect of our lives. It is a simple invention but its impact has been profound.

7.      The internal combustion engine, late 19th century

Turned air and fuel into power, eventually replacing the steam engine, allowing much more powerful personal motor vehicles due to their small power/weight ratio

The internal combustion engine was invented in the late 19th century by German engineer Nikolaus Otto. It was a revolutionary invention that turned air and fuel into power. This allowed for the development of much more powerful personal motor vehicles due to their small power/weight ratio.

The internal combustion engine was initially used in locomotives and boats, but it soon found its way into cars. The first car with an internal combustion engine was the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which was developed in 1885 by German inventor Karl Benz.

Over time, the internal combustion engine became more and more popular and it eventually replaced the steam engine as the primary means of powering cars. Today, it is the standard powertrain for cars and trucks all over the world.

The internal combustion engine has had a huge impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of much more powerful personal motor vehicles, which has had a profound effect on how we live our lives. It is a truly revolutionary invention and its impact will be felt for many years to come.

8.      Vaccination, 1796

British doctor Edward Jenner used the cowpox virus to protect against smallpox in 1796, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine in 1885 that medicine—and governments—began to accept the idea that making someone sick could prevent further sickness.

The vaccination invention has had a huge impact on human civilization. It is one of the most important inventions in the history of medicine and it has saved millions of lives.

Vaccination was first developed by British doctor Edward Jenner in 1796. He used the cowpox virus to protect against smallpox. Cowpox is a less deadly virus than smallpox and it provided immunity against the more deadly disease.

Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine in 1885 and this led to a change in attitude towards vaccination. Up until this point, many people were sceptical about the idea of making someone sick in order to prevent further sickness. However, with the success of the rabies vaccine, people began to accept vaccination as a viable medical treatment.

Today, vaccination is one of the most important weapons in the fight against diseases. It has saved millions of lives and it continues to play a crucial role in the health of people all over the world. It is without doubt one of the most important inventions in the history of medicine and its impact on human civilization will be felt for many years to come.

9.      The Internet, 1960s

The digital infrastructure of the modern world

The internet is the digital infrastructure of the modern world and it has had a huge impact on how we live our lives.

The internet was first developed in the 1960s by American scientist Leonard Kleinrock. He was one of the pioneers of packet switching, which is the basis of modern internet communication.

The internet began to gain popularity in the 1980s and it soon became the primary means of communication for people all over the world. Today, it is an essential part of our lives and we could not imagine living without it.

The internet has had a huge impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of new forms of communication, which has led to a more connected world. It has also had a profound effect on the economy, with the rise of e-commerce and online banking.

The internet is without doubt one of the most important inventions in the history of communication and its impact on human civilization will be felt for many years to come.

10.  The steam engine, 1712

Powered the factories, trains, and ships that drove the Industrial Revolution, eventually led to animal-drawn vehicles becoming redundant

The steam engine was first developed by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. It was a crude device that simply used steam to create pressure and force water out of a mine.

However, it was James Watt who developed the steam engine into the powerful device that we know today. He added a separate condenser chamber, which allowed the steam to be reused, and this made the engine much more efficient.

The steam engine was instrumental in driving the Industrial Revolution and it eventually led to animal-drawn vehicles becoming redundant. Today, it is still the primary means of powering trains and ships.

The steam engine has had a huge impact on human civilization. It is responsible for the development of the factory system and it has allowed for the transportation of goods and people on a massive scale. It is without doubt one of the most important inventions in the history of industry and its impact on human civilization will be felt for many years to come.

11.  Nitrogen fixation, 1918

German chemist Fritz Haber, also considered the father of chemical weapons, won a Nobel Prize for his development of the ammonia-synthesis process, which was used to create a new class of chemicals central to artificial fertilisation.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen gas is converted into ammonia. This process was first developed by German chemist Fritz Haber in 1918.

Haber was also considered the father of chemical weapons and he won a Nobel Prize for his development of the ammonia-synthesis process. This process was used to create a new class of chemicals central to artificial fertilisation.

Today, the nitrogen fixation process is still used to create ammonia, which is essential for crop growth. It has had a huge impact on human civilization and it has allowed for the production of food on a massive scale.

12.  Sanitation and sewage systems, mid-19th century

A major reason we live 40 years longer than we did in 1880, separates effluent from the water supply.

Sanitation and sewage systems are responsible for the separation of effluent from the water supply, which has led to a massive increase in life expectancy.

Prior to the development of sanitation and sewage systems, people lived in squalor and disease was rampant. Sewage systems allowed for the safe disposal of waste and they separated water from effluent, which prevented the spread of disease.

Today, sanitation and sewage systems are still essential for public health and their impact on human civilization cannot be overstated.

13.  Refrigeration, 1850s

Allowed preservation of food without drying it, preventing sickness and proving economically useful. Considered almost as profound a discovery as learning to cook.

Refrigeration is the process of cooling and preserving food by removing the heat from it. This process was first developed in the 1850s.

Prior to the development of refrigeration, food had to be dried in order to preserve it. This process led to the spread of disease and it was also very expensive.

Refrigeration allowed for the preservation of food without drying it, which prevented sickness and proved economically useful. It is considered almost as profound a discovery as learning to cook.

Today, refrigeration is still essential for the preservation of food. It has had a massive impact on human civilization and it has allowed for the production of food on a massive scale.

14.  Gunpowder, 10th century

Outsourced killing to chemicals and machines, dehumanised what had been previously a purely hand to hand concept. Also allowed for blasting for quarrying, mining and excavations.

Gunpowder is a chemical explosive that was first developed in the 10th century.

Prior to the development of gunpowder, people fought with swords and spears. Gunpowder allowed for the outsourced killing of enemies to chemicals and machines, which dehumanised what had been previously a hand to hand concept. It also allowed for blasting for quarrying, mining and excavations.

Today, gunpowder is still used for military purposes and it has had a huge impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of firearms and it has changed the way wars are fought.

15.  The aeroplane, 1903

Transformed travel, warfare, and our view of the world

The aeroplane is a type of aircraft that was first developed in 1903.

Prior to the development of the aeroplane, people had to travel by boat or by train. The aeroplane transformed travel and it allowed people to travel long distances in a short amount of time. It also allowed for the transportation of goods and it changed the way wars were fought.

Today, the aeroplane is still used for travel and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of airports and it has changed the way we view the world.

16.  The personal computer, 1970s

Augmented human capabilities on the micro (personal) level.

The personal computer is a type of computer that was first developed in the 1970s.

Prior to the development of the personal computer, people had to use large, expensive computers that were housed in specialised rooms. The personal computer allowed people to use computers on their own, which augmented their capabilities on the micro-level.

Today, the personal computer is still used for a variety of purposes. It has had a massive impact on human civilization and it has allowed for the development of a variety of software applications.

17.  The graduated compass, 12th century

Oriented us, even at sea with no landmarks or stars visible for navigation

The graduated compass is a type of compass that was first developed in the 12th century.

Prior to the development of the graduated compass, people had to use compasses that were not graduated. This meant that they could not measure distances accurately.

The graduated compass changed all that. It allowed people to measure distances accurately, even when there were no landmarks or stars visible for navigation. It was a truly groundbreaking invention and it transformed the way we travel and navigate the world.

18.  The automobile, late 19th century

Transformed daily life through ease of transport and by extension our culture, our cities and our communications.

The automobile is a type of vehicle that was first developed in the late 19th century.

Prior to the development of the automobile, people had to travel by horse and carriage. The automobile transformed daily life by providing people with a means of easy transport. It also changed our culture, our cities and our communications.

Today, the automobile is still used for transportation and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of cars and it has changed the way we live our lives.

19.  Industrial steelmaking, 1850s

Mass-produced steel, made possible by a method known as the Bessemer smelting process, became the basis of modern industry.

The industrial steelmaking invention is a type of invention that was first developed in the 1850s.

Prior to the development of industrial steelmaking, people had to use cast iron for most of their metal needs. Cast iron is a type of iron that is not very strong and it is not very suitable for mass production.

The industrial steelmaking invention changed all that. It allowed people to produce steel, which is a type of metal that is much stronger and more suited for mass production. Today, industrial steelmaking is still used for the production of steel and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of steel and it has changed the way we manufacture products.

20.  Nuclear fission, 1939

Gave humans new power for destruction, and creation. Altered the course (and ultimately ended) the largest conflict in history and changed the geo-political landscape completely. Also introduced new methods of propulsion and power generation.

The nuclear fission invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1939.

Prior to the development of nuclear fission invention, people had to use coal and other forms of energy for the production of electricity. The nuclear fission invention changed all that. It allowed for the development of a method known as nuclear fusion, which is a type of energy that is much more powerful than coal or other forms of energy.

Today, nuclear fission invention is still used for the production of electricity and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of nuclear reactors and it has changed the way we generate power.

21.  The sextant, 1757

Allowed us to navigate by, and map, the stars.

The sextant invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1757.

Prior to the development of the sextant, people had to use compasses for navigation. The sextant changed all that. It allowed people to navigate by using the stars. It also allowed people to map the stars.

Today, the sextant is still used for navigation and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of sextants and it has changed the way we navigate the world.

22.  The telegraph, 1837

Allowed our words to travel over almost limitless distances instantaneously, before it information could travel no faster than a man on horseback.

The telegraph invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1837.

Prior to the development of the telegraph, people had to use messenger boys to send messages from one place to another. The telegraph changed all that. It allowed people to send messages from one place to another instantaneously.

Today, the telegraph is still used for communication and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of telegraphs and it has changed the way we communicate with each other.

23.  The telephone, 1876

Allowed our words to travel over almost limitless distances instantaneously.

The telephone invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1876.

Prior to the development of the telephone, people had to use messenger boys to send messages from one place to another. The telephone changed all that. It allowed people to send messages from one place to another instantaneously.

The telephone is still in use today and has had a significant influence on human civilization. It has led to the creation of a variety of various sorts of telephones, as well as altering the manner we communicate with one other.

24.  The mechanized clock, 15th century

Quantified time, allowed timetables, economy planning (charging by the hour), and more without relying purely on looking at the heavens.

The mechanized clock invention is a type of invention that was first developed in the 15th century.

Prior to the development of the mechanized clock, people had to use sundials to tell time. The mechanized clock changed all that. It allowed people to tell time without having to rely on the sun.

Today, the mechanized clock is still in use and it has had a significant impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of clocks, as well as altering the way we tell time.

25.  Radio, 1906

The first demonstration of electronic mass media’s power to spread ideas and homogenize culture. Also allowed voice communication between ships (and later aircraft).

The radio invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1906.

Prior to the development of the radio, people had to use messenger boys to send messages from one place to another. The radio changed all that. It allowed people to send messages from one place to another instantaneously.

The radio is still in use today and has had a significant influence on human civilization. It has led to the creation of a variety of various sorts of radios, as well as altering the way we communicate with each other.

26.  Photography, early 19th century

Changed journalism, art, culture, and how we see ourselves.

Photography is a type of invention that was first developed in the early 19th century.

Prior to the development of photography, people had to use paintings and drawings to capture images. Photography changed all that. It allowed people to capture images without having to rely on paintings and drawings.

Today, photography is still in use and it has had a significant influence on human civilization. It has led to the creation of a variety of different types of photography, as well as altering the way we see the world around us.

27.  Archimedes’ screw, third century BC

The first water pump was a rotating corkscrew that pushed water up a tube. It transformed irrigation and remains in use today at many sewage-treatment plants.

The Archimedes' screw is a type of invention that was first developed in the third century BC.

Prior to the development of the Archimedes' screw, people had to use buckets to get water from one place to another. The Archimedes' screw changed all that. It allowed people to get water from one place to another without having to use buckets.

The Archimedes' screw is still in use today in many third-world nations, as well as sewage treatment facilities. It has had a significant influence on human civilization by allowing irrigation and providing clean water to many people who would otherwise be unable to do so.

28.  Pasteurization, 1863

One of the first practical applications of Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, this method for using heat to sterilize wine, beer, and milk is widely considered to be one of history’s most effective public health interventions.

Pasteurization was first developed in 1863 by Louis Pasteur.

Prior to the development of pasteurization, people had to rely on fermenting food in order to make it edible. Pasteurization changed all that. It allowed people to make the food edible without having to rely on fermentation.

Pasteurization is still used today, and it has had a significant impact on human civilization. It has resulted in the invention of a variety of pasteurization processes as well as food storage methodologies.

29.  The Gregorian calendar, 1582

Essentially debugged the previously used Julian calendar, jumping ahead 10 days to synchronize the world with the seasons.

The Gregorian calendar is a type of invention that was first developed in 1582.

Prior to the development of the Gregorian calendar, people were using the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar is an old calendar. It was first used in the year before Jesus was born. However, it had a problem. The problem was that it did not have enough days in the year for people to use. People would get ahead and then fall too far behind because of how many days were in a different month every year. For example, if you were born one month after Christmas, you might be three months old when Jesus’ birthday came around again!

The Gregorian calendar fixed this problem by adding 10 more days to make 365 days per year instead of just 335 (a leap day every 4 years to make up for the extra 1/4 day).

The Julian calendar was not accurate and it led to a lot of confusion. The Gregorian calendar changed all that. It was much more accurate than the Julian calendar and it helped to synchronize the world with the seasons.

30.  The steam turbine, 1884

Turbines are the backbone of today’s energy infrastructure: they generate 80 percent of the world’s power.

The steam turbine was first developed in 1884.

Prior to the development of the steam turbine, people were using waterwheels to generate power. The waterwheels were not very efficient and they did not generate a lot of power. The steam turbine changed all that. It allowed people to generate a lot of power using a steam engine.

Steam turbines are still in use today. They are the backbone of our energy infrastructure, generating ~80% of the world's power. Without steam turbines, we would not be able to generate the amount of power that we need to live the way we do today.

31.  Cement, first millennium BC

The foundation of civilization. Literally.

Cement was first developed in the first millennium BC.

Prior to the development of cement, people were using mud and straw to make bricks. Cement changed all that. It allowed people to make bricks without having to use mud and straw.

Cement is still extensively in use today. It is the foundation of civilization. Literally.

32.  Oil drilling, 1859

Fueled the modern economy, established its geopolitics, started wars… its influence on world history right up to the present day cannot be overstated.

Prior to the development of oil drilling, people were using coal to generate power. Oil drilling changed all that. It allowed people to generate a lot of power using an oil-fired engine.

Oil drilling is still extensively in use today. It is the foundation of our modern economy. It has established its geopolitics and started wars. Its influence on world history right up to the present day cannot be overstated.

33.  The sailboat, fourth millennium BC

Transformed travel, warfare, and our view of the world

The sailboat was first developed in the fourth millennium BC.

Prior to the development of the sailboat, people were using rafts to travel across the ocean. The sailboat changed all that. It allowed people to travel across the ocean using just a sail.

Sailboats have also been used for warfare. They have been used to attack enemy ships and to transport troops. Sailboats have also been used for exploration. They have allowed people to explore new lands and discover new civilizations.

Sailboats have also transformed our view of the world. They have allowed us to see the world from a different perspective.

34.  Large scale rocketry, 1926

Our only way off the planet.

Large-scale rocketry was first developed in 1926.

Before rockets were developed, people were using cannons to launch projectiles into the air. Rockets changed all that. They allowed people to launch projectiles into the air using a rocket engine.

Large-scale rocketry is still extensively in use today. It is our only way off the planet. If we want to send people or payloads into space, we need to use a rocket. Rockets are the only way to do that.

35.  Air-conditioning, 1902

Could we imagine summer without it?

Air conditioning was first developed in 1902.

Before air-conditioning was developed, people were using fans to cool down their homes. Air-conditioning changed all that. It allowed people to cool down their homes using a refrigeration unit.

Air conditioning is an increasing necessity in many parts of the world.

36.  Television, early 20th century

Brought the world in pictures directly into homes.

Television was first invented in the early 20th century by John Logie Baird.

Before television was invented, people were using radios to listen to the news and to entertain themselves. Television changed all that. It allowed people to watch the news and to entertain themselves directly in their homes.

Television has also been used for propaganda. It has been used to spread misinformation and to control the population. Television has also been used to educate people. It has allowed people to learn about the world and about other cultures.

Television has had a profound impact on our society. It has brought the world in pictures directly into our homes.

37.  Anaesthesia, 1846

Increased the survivability of surgical procedures by an estimated 75%.

Anaesthesia was first developed in 1846 by William Morton.

Prior to the development of anaesthesia, people were using opium and alcohol to numb their pain. Anaesthesia changed all that. It allowed people to undergo surgery without feeling any pain.

Anaesthesia has increased the survivability of surgical procedures by an estimated 75%. Without anaesthesia, many surgical procedures would be too dangerous to perform. Anaesthesia has allowed us to safely perform complex and dangerous surgeries.

38.  The assembly line, 1913

Turned an individual craft-based economy into a mass-market one.

The assembly line was first developed in 1913 by Henry Ford.

Before the development of the assembly line, people were making things one at a time. The assembly line turned that into a mass-market economy. It allowed people to make things in large quantities using just a few workers.

The assembly line has also been used for the production of cars. It has allowed us to produce cars in large quantities at a low cost. The assembly line is responsible for the proliferation of the automobile.

39.  The combine harvester, 1930s

Mechanized the farm, freeing people to do new types of work. Led to the development of other farm machinery.

The combine harvester was first developed in the 1930s by John Deere.

Prior to the development of the combine harvester, people were harvesting their crops by hand. The combine harvester changed all that. It allowed people to harvest their crops using a machine.

The combine harvester has also been used for the harvesting of wheat. It has allowed us to harvest wheat in large quantities at a low cost. The combine harvester is responsible for the proliferation of wheat as a crop.

40.  Paper money, 11th century

The core of our modern economy, promissory notes with a face value higher than their material value.

Paper money was first invented in the 11th century.

Prior to the invention of paper money, people were using coins to buy things. Paper money changed all that. It allowed people to buy things without having to use coins.

Paper money is also a promissory note. It is a piece of paper that has a face value higher than its material value. This allows people to borrow money without having to use coins or other valuable items as collateral.

Paper money is the core of our modern economy. Without it, our economy would not function properly, and while other forms of currency such as crypto-currencies are growing in popularity, they still have not supplanted paper money as the dominant form of currency.


This list is not in any particular order. Depending on your perspective, any of the above could be the most important. Nor is it in any way claiming to be definitive. What it is intended to do though is provide a snapshot of the most important innovations in history. Each of the above points has had a profound impact on the world and the way we live.

What do you think should be on the list (or shouldn’t be)? Let me know.

Have you got a dream that needs realising? Whether it is the next groundbreaking, history-making, society-changing development or simply tweaking an existing product to provide a point of difference, Innovolo is here for you. Contact us today and get your innovation journey underway (or keep it rolling).

Innovation is integral to the physical and economic operating infrastructure of our modern world. Whether created out of necessity, out of a desire for comfort, a desire to achieve profitability through unique products on the market or even the result of accidental discoveries, innovation has always driven the advancement of civilisation.

The innovations on this list come from any number of contexts; be they innovations that extend life (eg: vaccinations), innovations that enabled the industrial revolution (the practical steam engine for example) or a product of the industrial revolution. It could be innovations in the realm of communications such as the telephone or the internet or innovation in the transport sphere like the internal combustion engine or the aeroplane. Wherever they are rooted, they have all made an unarguably immense impact on our world.


1.      The printing press, 1430s

When it became possible for knowledge to be disseminated freely

Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press with movable type was a watershed moment in human history. The ability to produce books cheaply and in large quantities meant that knowledge could be disseminated freely for the first time, sparking the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. The printing press also played a crucial role in the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

2.      Electricity, late 19th century

Suddenly a mysterious natural force could be harnessed and used every day

Electricity is one of the most indispensable things in our lives today. It's hard to imagine going even a day without it. But that wasn't always the case. Before the late 19th century, when electricity was first harnessed, it was something of a mysterious natural force. It was used sparingly and only for special occasions. But with the advent of practical electrical generators and wiring, it suddenly became possible to use electricity every day. And so began the electric age.

Today, we can't imagine life without all the gadgets and appliances that run on electricity. We take for granted our televisions, computers, refrigerators and air conditioners. But all of these things were once novelties that changed the way we live.

3.      Penicillin, 1928

Accidentally discovered, has led to the development of many other antibiotics and the combating of hitherto fatal diseases

Alexander Fleming, a Scottish biologist, is credited with the discovery of penicillin, though he was not the first to discover its antibacterial properties. In 1928, Fleming was studying a type of staphylococcus bacteria that caused skin infections. He noticed that one of the Petri dishes he had left out in the lab had been contaminated with a fungal mould. The mould had inhibited the growth of the bacteria.

Fleming later extracted and purified the active ingredient in the mould, which he named penicillin. He tested it on various types of bacteria and found that it was effective against many types, including streptococcus, which causes pneumonia. Penicillin was eventually mass-produced and became a key part of the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany.

4.      Semiconductor electronics, mid-20th century

The hardware foundation of the software world

The invention of semiconductor electronics was a key moment in the history of humanity. With the development of transistors, microchips and other semiconductor devices, it became possible to create hardware that could run the software. This was a crucial step on the road to the information age.

Today, almost everything we do depends on semiconductor electronics. From the smartphones in our pockets to the computers that run our hospitals and airports, semiconductor devices are at the heart of our digital world. Without them, we would be lost.

5.      Optical lenses, 13th century

Led to eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes

The development of optical lenses was a watershed moment in human history. With the ability to magnify objects and images, it became possible to see things that were previously hidden from view. This led to the development of eyeglasses, telescopes and microscopes – three essential tools that have changed the way we see the world.

Eyeglasses were first developed in the 13th century by Italian craftsmen. They were initially used to correct vision problems, but over time they became fashionable as a status symbol. Today, eyeglasses are ubiquitous and come in all shapes and sizes.

The telescope was first developed in the early 17th century by Dutch scientist Hans Lippershey. It was originally used for navigation, but its most important application was in astronomy. The telescope allowed astronomers to see distant objects in space that was previously unavailable to them.

The microscope was first developed in the early 17th century by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Like the telescope, it was initially used for navigation, but its most important application was in medicine. The microscope allowed doctors to see the inner workings of the human body for the first time. It revolutionized medicine and led to many important discoveries about the human body.

6.      Paper, second century

An easily transportable media for communication

With the ability to write on a durable, easily transportable medium, it became possible to communicate over long distances. Paper allowed knowledge and ideas to be spread far and wide, and it played a crucial role in the development of civilization.

Paper was first invented in China in the second century AD. It was made from bamboo fibres and mulberry bark. Over time, the process of making paper was refined and it became more popular. By the 11th century, paper was being made in Japan, Korea and India.

The first paper mill in Europe was established in Spain in the early 12th century. Paper quickly spread throughout Europe and by the 13th century, it was being made in Italy, France and Germany.

Paper has been an essential part of human civilization for centuries and its impact can be seen in every aspect of our lives. It is a simple invention but its impact has been profound.

7.      The internal combustion engine, late 19th century

Turned air and fuel into power, eventually replacing the steam engine, allowing much more powerful personal motor vehicles due to their small power/weight ratio

The internal combustion engine was invented in the late 19th century by German engineer Nikolaus Otto. It was a revolutionary invention that turned air and fuel into power. This allowed for the development of much more powerful personal motor vehicles due to their small power/weight ratio.

The internal combustion engine was initially used in locomotives and boats, but it soon found its way into cars. The first car with an internal combustion engine was the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which was developed in 1885 by German inventor Karl Benz.

Over time, the internal combustion engine became more and more popular and it eventually replaced the steam engine as the primary means of powering cars. Today, it is the standard powertrain for cars and trucks all over the world.

The internal combustion engine has had a huge impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of much more powerful personal motor vehicles, which has had a profound effect on how we live our lives. It is a truly revolutionary invention and its impact will be felt for many years to come.

8.      Vaccination, 1796

British doctor Edward Jenner used the cowpox virus to protect against smallpox in 1796, but it wasn’t until Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine in 1885 that medicine—and governments—began to accept the idea that making someone sick could prevent further sickness.

The vaccination invention has had a huge impact on human civilization. It is one of the most important inventions in the history of medicine and it has saved millions of lives.

Vaccination was first developed by British doctor Edward Jenner in 1796. He used the cowpox virus to protect against smallpox. Cowpox is a less deadly virus than smallpox and it provided immunity against the more deadly disease.

Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine in 1885 and this led to a change in attitude towards vaccination. Up until this point, many people were sceptical about the idea of making someone sick in order to prevent further sickness. However, with the success of the rabies vaccine, people began to accept vaccination as a viable medical treatment.

Today, vaccination is one of the most important weapons in the fight against diseases. It has saved millions of lives and it continues to play a crucial role in the health of people all over the world. It is without doubt one of the most important inventions in the history of medicine and its impact on human civilization will be felt for many years to come.

9.      The Internet, 1960s

The digital infrastructure of the modern world

The internet is the digital infrastructure of the modern world and it has had a huge impact on how we live our lives.

The internet was first developed in the 1960s by American scientist Leonard Kleinrock. He was one of the pioneers of packet switching, which is the basis of modern internet communication.

The internet began to gain popularity in the 1980s and it soon became the primary means of communication for people all over the world. Today, it is an essential part of our lives and we could not imagine living without it.

The internet has had a huge impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of new forms of communication, which has led to a more connected world. It has also had a profound effect on the economy, with the rise of e-commerce and online banking.

The internet is without doubt one of the most important inventions in the history of communication and its impact on human civilization will be felt for many years to come.

10.  The steam engine, 1712

Powered the factories, trains, and ships that drove the Industrial Revolution, eventually led to animal-drawn vehicles becoming redundant

The steam engine was first developed by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. It was a crude device that simply used steam to create pressure and force water out of a mine.

However, it was James Watt who developed the steam engine into the powerful device that we know today. He added a separate condenser chamber, which allowed the steam to be reused, and this made the engine much more efficient.

The steam engine was instrumental in driving the Industrial Revolution and it eventually led to animal-drawn vehicles becoming redundant. Today, it is still the primary means of powering trains and ships.

The steam engine has had a huge impact on human civilization. It is responsible for the development of the factory system and it has allowed for the transportation of goods and people on a massive scale. It is without doubt one of the most important inventions in the history of industry and its impact on human civilization will be felt for many years to come.

11.  Nitrogen fixation, 1918

German chemist Fritz Haber, also considered the father of chemical weapons, won a Nobel Prize for his development of the ammonia-synthesis process, which was used to create a new class of chemicals central to artificial fertilisation.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen gas is converted into ammonia. This process was first developed by German chemist Fritz Haber in 1918.

Haber was also considered the father of chemical weapons and he won a Nobel Prize for his development of the ammonia-synthesis process. This process was used to create a new class of chemicals central to artificial fertilisation.

Today, the nitrogen fixation process is still used to create ammonia, which is essential for crop growth. It has had a huge impact on human civilization and it has allowed for the production of food on a massive scale.

12.  Sanitation and sewage systems, mid-19th century

A major reason we live 40 years longer than we did in 1880, separates effluent from the water supply.

Sanitation and sewage systems are responsible for the separation of effluent from the water supply, which has led to a massive increase in life expectancy.

Prior to the development of sanitation and sewage systems, people lived in squalor and disease was rampant. Sewage systems allowed for the safe disposal of waste and they separated water from effluent, which prevented the spread of disease.

Today, sanitation and sewage systems are still essential for public health and their impact on human civilization cannot be overstated.

13.  Refrigeration, 1850s

Allowed preservation of food without drying it, preventing sickness and proving economically useful. Considered almost as profound a discovery as learning to cook.

Refrigeration is the process of cooling and preserving food by removing the heat from it. This process was first developed in the 1850s.

Prior to the development of refrigeration, food had to be dried in order to preserve it. This process led to the spread of disease and it was also very expensive.

Refrigeration allowed for the preservation of food without drying it, which prevented sickness and proved economically useful. It is considered almost as profound a discovery as learning to cook.

Today, refrigeration is still essential for the preservation of food. It has had a massive impact on human civilization and it has allowed for the production of food on a massive scale.

14.  Gunpowder, 10th century

Outsourced killing to chemicals and machines, dehumanised what had been previously a purely hand to hand concept. Also allowed for blasting for quarrying, mining and excavations.

Gunpowder is a chemical explosive that was first developed in the 10th century.

Prior to the development of gunpowder, people fought with swords and spears. Gunpowder allowed for the outsourced killing of enemies to chemicals and machines, which dehumanised what had been previously a hand to hand concept. It also allowed for blasting for quarrying, mining and excavations.

Today, gunpowder is still used for military purposes and it has had a huge impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of firearms and it has changed the way wars are fought.

15.  The aeroplane, 1903

Transformed travel, warfare, and our view of the world

The aeroplane is a type of aircraft that was first developed in 1903.

Prior to the development of the aeroplane, people had to travel by boat or by train. The aeroplane transformed travel and it allowed people to travel long distances in a short amount of time. It also allowed for the transportation of goods and it changed the way wars were fought.

Today, the aeroplane is still used for travel and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of airports and it has changed the way we view the world.

16.  The personal computer, 1970s

Augmented human capabilities on the micro (personal) level.

The personal computer is a type of computer that was first developed in the 1970s.

Prior to the development of the personal computer, people had to use large, expensive computers that were housed in specialised rooms. The personal computer allowed people to use computers on their own, which augmented their capabilities on the micro-level.

Today, the personal computer is still used for a variety of purposes. It has had a massive impact on human civilization and it has allowed for the development of a variety of software applications.

17.  The graduated compass, 12th century

Oriented us, even at sea with no landmarks or stars visible for navigation

The graduated compass is a type of compass that was first developed in the 12th century.

Prior to the development of the graduated compass, people had to use compasses that were not graduated. This meant that they could not measure distances accurately.

The graduated compass changed all that. It allowed people to measure distances accurately, even when there were no landmarks or stars visible for navigation. It was a truly groundbreaking invention and it transformed the way we travel and navigate the world.

18.  The automobile, late 19th century

Transformed daily life through ease of transport and by extension our culture, our cities and our communications.

The automobile is a type of vehicle that was first developed in the late 19th century.

Prior to the development of the automobile, people had to travel by horse and carriage. The automobile transformed daily life by providing people with a means of easy transport. It also changed our culture, our cities and our communications.

Today, the automobile is still used for transportation and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of cars and it has changed the way we live our lives.

19.  Industrial steelmaking, 1850s

Mass-produced steel, made possible by a method known as the Bessemer smelting process, became the basis of modern industry.

The industrial steelmaking invention is a type of invention that was first developed in the 1850s.

Prior to the development of industrial steelmaking, people had to use cast iron for most of their metal needs. Cast iron is a type of iron that is not very strong and it is not very suitable for mass production.

The industrial steelmaking invention changed all that. It allowed people to produce steel, which is a type of metal that is much stronger and more suited for mass production. Today, industrial steelmaking is still used for the production of steel and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of steel and it has changed the way we manufacture products.

20.  Nuclear fission, 1939

Gave humans new power for destruction, and creation. Altered the course (and ultimately ended) the largest conflict in history and changed the geo-political landscape completely. Also introduced new methods of propulsion and power generation.

The nuclear fission invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1939.

Prior to the development of nuclear fission invention, people had to use coal and other forms of energy for the production of electricity. The nuclear fission invention changed all that. It allowed for the development of a method known as nuclear fusion, which is a type of energy that is much more powerful than coal or other forms of energy.

Today, nuclear fission invention is still used for the production of electricity and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of nuclear reactors and it has changed the way we generate power.

21.  The sextant, 1757

Allowed us to navigate by, and map, the stars.

The sextant invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1757.

Prior to the development of the sextant, people had to use compasses for navigation. The sextant changed all that. It allowed people to navigate by using the stars. It also allowed people to map the stars.

Today, the sextant is still used for navigation and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of sextants and it has changed the way we navigate the world.

22.  The telegraph, 1837

Allowed our words to travel over almost limitless distances instantaneously, before it information could travel no faster than a man on horseback.

The telegraph invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1837.

Prior to the development of the telegraph, people had to use messenger boys to send messages from one place to another. The telegraph changed all that. It allowed people to send messages from one place to another instantaneously.

Today, the telegraph is still used for communication and it has had a massive impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of telegraphs and it has changed the way we communicate with each other.

23.  The telephone, 1876

Allowed our words to travel over almost limitless distances instantaneously.

The telephone invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1876.

Prior to the development of the telephone, people had to use messenger boys to send messages from one place to another. The telephone changed all that. It allowed people to send messages from one place to another instantaneously.

The telephone is still in use today and has had a significant influence on human civilization. It has led to the creation of a variety of various sorts of telephones, as well as altering the manner we communicate with one other.

24.  The mechanized clock, 15th century

Quantified time, allowed timetables, economy planning (charging by the hour), and more without relying purely on looking at the heavens.

The mechanized clock invention is a type of invention that was first developed in the 15th century.

Prior to the development of the mechanized clock, people had to use sundials to tell time. The mechanized clock changed all that. It allowed people to tell time without having to rely on the sun.

Today, the mechanized clock is still in use and it has had a significant impact on human civilization. It has allowed for the development of a variety of different types of clocks, as well as altering the way we tell time.

25.  Radio, 1906

The first demonstration of electronic mass media’s power to spread ideas and homogenize culture. Also allowed voice communication between ships (and later aircraft).

The radio invention is a type of invention that was first developed in 1906.

Prior to the development of the radio, people had to use messenger boys to send messages from one place to another. The radio changed all that. It allowed people to send messages from one place to another instantaneously.

The radio is still in use today and has had a significant influence on human civilization. It has led to the creation of a variety of various sorts of radios, as well as altering the way we communicate with each other.

26.  Photography, early 19th century

Changed journalism, art, culture, and how we see ourselves.

Photography is a type of invention that was first developed in the early 19th century.

Prior to the development of photography, people had to use paintings and drawings to capture images. Photography changed all that. It allowed people to capture images without having to rely on paintings and drawings.

Today, photography is still in use and it has had a significant influence on human civilization. It has led to the creation of a variety of different types of photography, as well as altering the way we see the world around us.

27.  Archimedes’ screw, third century BC

The first water pump was a rotating corkscrew that pushed water up a tube. It transformed irrigation and remains in use today at many sewage-treatment plants.

The Archimedes' screw is a type of invention that was first developed in the third century BC.

Prior to the development of the Archimedes' screw, people had to use buckets to get water from one place to another. The Archimedes' screw changed all that. It allowed people to get water from one place to another without having to use buckets.

The Archimedes' screw is still in use today in many third-world nations, as well as sewage treatment facilities. It has had a significant influence on human civilization by allowing irrigation and providing clean water to many people who would otherwise be unable to do so.

28.  Pasteurization, 1863

One of the first practical applications of Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, this method for using heat to sterilize wine, beer, and milk is widely considered to be one of history’s most effective public health interventions.

Pasteurization was first developed in 1863 by Louis Pasteur.

Prior to the development of pasteurization, people had to rely on fermenting food in order to make it edible. Pasteurization changed all that. It allowed people to make the food edible without having to rely on fermentation.

Pasteurization is still used today, and it has had a significant impact on human civilization. It has resulted in the invention of a variety of pasteurization processes as well as food storage methodologies.

29.  The Gregorian calendar, 1582

Essentially debugged the previously used Julian calendar, jumping ahead 10 days to synchronize the world with the seasons.

The Gregorian calendar is a type of invention that was first developed in 1582.

Prior to the development of the Gregorian calendar, people were using the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar is an old calendar. It was first used in the year before Jesus was born. However, it had a problem. The problem was that it did not have enough days in the year for people to use. People would get ahead and then fall too far behind because of how many days were in a different month every year. For example, if you were born one month after Christmas, you might be three months old when Jesus’ birthday came around again!

The Gregorian calendar fixed this problem by adding 10 more days to make 365 days per year instead of just 335 (a leap day every 4 years to make up for the extra 1/4 day).

The Julian calendar was not accurate and it led to a lot of confusion. The Gregorian calendar changed all that. It was much more accurate than the Julian calendar and it helped to synchronize the world with the seasons.

30.  The steam turbine, 1884

Turbines are the backbone of today’s energy infrastructure: they generate 80 percent of the world’s power.

The steam turbine was first developed in 1884.

Prior to the development of the steam turbine, people were using waterwheels to generate power. The waterwheels were not very efficient and they did not generate a lot of power. The steam turbine changed all that. It allowed people to generate a lot of power using a steam engine.

Steam turbines are still in use today. They are the backbone of our energy infrastructure, generating ~80% of the world's power. Without steam turbines, we would not be able to generate the amount of power that we need to live the way we do today.

31.  Cement, first millennium BC

The foundation of civilization. Literally.

Cement was first developed in the first millennium BC.

Prior to the development of cement, people were using mud and straw to make bricks. Cement changed all that. It allowed people to make bricks without having to use mud and straw.

Cement is still extensively in use today. It is the foundation of civilization. Literally.

32.  Oil drilling, 1859

Fueled the modern economy, established its geopolitics, started wars… its influence on world history right up to the present day cannot be overstated.

Prior to the development of oil drilling, people were using coal to generate power. Oil drilling changed all that. It allowed people to generate a lot of power using an oil-fired engine.

Oil drilling is still extensively in use today. It is the foundation of our modern economy. It has established its geopolitics and started wars. Its influence on world history right up to the present day cannot be overstated.

33.  The sailboat, fourth millennium BC

Transformed travel, warfare, and our view of the world

The sailboat was first developed in the fourth millennium BC.

Prior to the development of the sailboat, people were using rafts to travel across the ocean. The sailboat changed all that. It allowed people to travel across the ocean using just a sail.

Sailboats have also been used for warfare. They have been used to attack enemy ships and to transport troops. Sailboats have also been used for exploration. They have allowed people to explore new lands and discover new civilizations.

Sailboats have also transformed our view of the world. They have allowed us to see the world from a different perspective.

34.  Large scale rocketry, 1926

Our only way off the planet.

Large-scale rocketry was first developed in 1926.

Before rockets were developed, people were using cannons to launch projectiles into the air. Rockets changed all that. They allowed people to launch projectiles into the air using a rocket engine.

Large-scale rocketry is still extensively in use today. It is our only way off the planet. If we want to send people or payloads into space, we need to use a rocket. Rockets are the only way to do that.

35.  Air-conditioning, 1902

Could we imagine summer without it?

Air conditioning was first developed in 1902.

Before air-conditioning was developed, people were using fans to cool down their homes. Air-conditioning changed all that. It allowed people to cool down their homes using a refrigeration unit.

Air conditioning is an increasing necessity in many parts of the world.

36.  Television, early 20th century

Brought the world in pictures directly into homes.

Television was first invented in the early 20th century by John Logie Baird.

Before television was invented, people were using radios to listen to the news and to entertain themselves. Television changed all that. It allowed people to watch the news and to entertain themselves directly in their homes.

Television has also been used for propaganda. It has been used to spread misinformation and to control the population. Television has also been used to educate people. It has allowed people to learn about the world and about other cultures.

Television has had a profound impact on our society. It has brought the world in pictures directly into our homes.

37.  Anaesthesia, 1846

Increased the survivability of surgical procedures by an estimated 75%.

Anaesthesia was first developed in 1846 by William Morton.

Prior to the development of anaesthesia, people were using opium and alcohol to numb their pain. Anaesthesia changed all that. It allowed people to undergo surgery without feeling any pain.

Anaesthesia has increased the survivability of surgical procedures by an estimated 75%. Without anaesthesia, many surgical procedures would be too dangerous to perform. Anaesthesia has allowed us to safely perform complex and dangerous surgeries.

38.  The assembly line, 1913

Turned an individual craft-based economy into a mass-market one.

The assembly line was first developed in 1913 by Henry Ford.

Before the development of the assembly line, people were making things one at a time. The assembly line turned that into a mass-market economy. It allowed people to make things in large quantities using just a few workers.

The assembly line has also been used for the production of cars. It has allowed us to produce cars in large quantities at a low cost. The assembly line is responsible for the proliferation of the automobile.

39.  The combine harvester, 1930s

Mechanized the farm, freeing people to do new types of work. Led to the development of other farm machinery.

The combine harvester was first developed in the 1930s by John Deere.

Prior to the development of the combine harvester, people were harvesting their crops by hand. The combine harvester changed all that. It allowed people to harvest their crops using a machine.

The combine harvester has also been used for the harvesting of wheat. It has allowed us to harvest wheat in large quantities at a low cost. The combine harvester is responsible for the proliferation of wheat as a crop.

40.  Paper money, 11th century

The core of our modern economy, promissory notes with a face value higher than their material value.

Paper money was first invented in the 11th century.

Prior to the invention of paper money, people were using coins to buy things. Paper money changed all that. It allowed people to buy things without having to use coins.

Paper money is also a promissory note. It is a piece of paper that has a face value higher than its material value. This allows people to borrow money without having to use coins or other valuable items as collateral.

Paper money is the core of our modern economy. Without it, our economy would not function properly, and while other forms of currency such as crypto-currencies are growing in popularity, they still have not supplanted paper money as the dominant form of currency.


This list is not in any particular order. Depending on your perspective, any of the above could be the most important. Nor is it in any way claiming to be definitive. What it is intended to do though is provide a snapshot of the most important innovations in history. Each of the above points has had a profound impact on the world and the way we live.

What do you think should be on the list (or shouldn’t be)? Let me know.

Have you got a dream that needs realising? Whether it is the next groundbreaking, history-making, society-changing development or simply tweaking an existing product to provide a point of difference, Innovolo is here for you. Contact us today and get your innovation journey underway (or keep it rolling).

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Farm+Stable is a client of Innovolo, a product development as a service provider offering R&D teams globally extra capacity, capability, and momentum in their product development and obsolescence management projects. As a company that specializes in the development and engineering of products for the agriculture and construction industries, Farm+Stable has benefited from Innovolo's expertise in helping to bring new products to market quickly and efficiently. In particular, Farm+Stable has been able to rely on Innovolo's team of experienced engineers to help with the design and development of a new line of products that are designed to be more durable and longer-lasting than previous models. With Innovolo's help, Farm+Stable has been able to bring these new products to market in a timely manner, and they have been well-received by customers. Thanks to Innovolo's innovative product development solutions, Farm+Stable has been able to stay ahead of the competition and continue to grow their business.
Innovolo is a product development as a service provider. It offers R&D teams globally extra capacity, capability, and momentum in their product development and obsolescence management projects. Its services are used by clients in a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, and medical devices. One of its clients is Kawneer, a leading manufacturer of aluminum products for the architectural and construction industries. Kawneer has been using Innovolo's services to help develop new products and to manage the obsolescence of its existing products. Thanks to Innovolo, Kawneer has been able to speed up its product development cycle and to reduce its costs. As a result, Kawneer has been able to bring new products to market faster and to better meet the needs of its customers.

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