Why did it take so long to invent the wheelbarrow? Have we hit peak innovation? What our list reveals about imagination, optimism, and the nature of progress.
The Atlantic asked a dozen scientists, historians, and technologists to rank the top innovations since the wheel.
The clearest example of consensus was the first item on the final compilation, the printing press. Ten of the 12 people who submitted rankings had it at or near the top. To draw another parallel to our Influential Americans survey, the printing press was the counterpart to Abraham Lincoln as the clear consensus for the top choice.
Innovations that expand the human intellect and its creative, expressive, and even moral possibilities. This group includes the printing press (1) and also paper, (6) and now of course the Internet, (9) the personal computer, (16) and the underlying technology for the modern data age, semiconductorelectronics (4), plus photography (29).
Innovations that enabled the Industrial Revolution and its successive waves of expanded material output. These include the steam engine (10), industrial steelmaking (19), and the refining and drilling of oil (35 and 39, respectively).
Via Deb Nystrom, REVELN