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The Breakthroughs That Decided the Course of History

Find out more information about 11 breakthroughs that altered the trajectory of human history, ranging from game-changing ideas to significant advances in scientific research and medical practice.

The Printing Press comes in first.

printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg did more to facilitate the dissemination of information and the broadening of access to education. Gutenberg's machine, which was developed around the year 1440 in Mainz, Germany, was an improvement on presses that were previously in use. This was accomplished by the use of a mold, which enabled the rapid manufacturing of lead alloy-type parts. A single printing machine was able to produce as many as 3,600 pages per day when using this approach of replicating books using an assembly line. Before the year 1500, there were already over a thousand Gutenberg presses in operation across Europe, and by the year 1600, these presses had produced over 200 million new volumes. Not only did the printing press make it possible for people from lower social levels to purchase books, but it also contributed to the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment and made it easier for novel and frequently contentious ideas to propagate. In the year 1518, supporters of the German monk Martin Luther used the printing press to duplicate and spread his fundamental essay "The Ninety-Five Theses." This book was the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation and led to wars such as the Thirty Years' War (1618-48). Mark Twain would subsequently write that "What the world is today, good and ill, it owes to Gutenberg." This quote refers to the fact that the printing press proved to be so powerful in instigating revolutions, religious turmoil, and scientific thought.

This is the Compass

The first mentions of a compass being used by sailors have been traced back to China in the 12th century.

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The importance of magnetic compasses to early forms of navigation and exploration cannot be overstated despite the fact that they have been rendered partly obsolete by satellites and global positioning systems (GPS). Compasses were initially invented in China, but by the 14th century, they had largely supplanted astronomical techniques as the major navigational aid for seamen. Compasses were originally invented in China. It was the invention of the compass that made it possible for explorers to navigate the world's waters in a dependable manner, a development that sparked the Age of Discovery and brought Europe the wealth and power that would later fuel the Industrial Revolution. Most importantly, the compass made it possible for previously isolated tribes all around the world to communicate with one another, whether peacefully or not.

Currency printed on paper

For a significant portion of human history, money has taken the shape of precious metals, coins, and even unprocessed resources such as livestock and vegetables. The introduction of paper money marked the beginning of an exciting new era: a world in which goods and services could be purchased with currency despite the fact that the currency itself had no value. It wasn't until the late 1600s that paper money was introduced in Europe, yet it was common practice in China as early as the ninth century. Paper notes were issued by banks as a promise against future payments of precious metals. This practice was prompted by the common occurrence of coin shortages. By the end of the 19th century, many countries had begun producing government-backed legal currency that could no longer be convertible into gold or silver. These currencies were known as fiat money. The transition from gold and silver coins to paper money not only rescued failing governments during times of crisis (as it did for the United States during the Civil War), but it also ushered in a new era of international monetary regulation that fundamentally altered the nature of global economics. This was accomplished by changing the face of global economics. Even more importantly, the introduction of paper money was the first significant step toward a new manner of producing money, which eventually led to the development of credit cards and internet banking.


At the Penistone Steel Works in South Yorkshire, the Bessemer Process is being used to manufacture steel.

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Stone, bronze, and iron were all widely utilized in early human cultures; however, it was steel that was the driving force behind the industrial revolution and the construction of modern cities. Despite the fact that there is evidence of steel implements dating back 4,000 years, mass production of the alloy did not begin until the introduction of the Bessemer Process in the 1850s. This process is a method for making steel by employing molten pig iron. Steel then went on to become one of the most successful industries in the world and was utilized in the construction of a wide variety of things, ranging from skyscrapers and trains to bridges and bridge trusses. It was notably prominent in North America, where enormous iron ore resources were instrumental in the development of the United States of America into one of the largest economies in the world.

That of the Electric Light

Around the year 1920, Thomas Edison demonstrates the incandescent lamps that he developed in his laboratory.

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Even if it is easy to take artificial lights for granted, all it takes is a little interruption to our power supply to bring to our attention how essential they are. Electric lighting was pioneered in the early 19th century by Humphry Davy and his carbon arc lamp. Throughout the 1800s, thanks to the efforts of inventors such as Warren de La Rue, Joseph Wilson Swan, and Thomas Alva Edison, electric lighting developed at a rapid pace. Edison and Swan are credited with being the inventors of the first long-lasting light bulbs, which were patented in 1879 and 1880 respectively. This innovation freed humanity from an almost complete reliance on daylight. Electric lights went on to be employed in a wide variety of applications, including but not limited to home lighting, street lamps, flashlights, and automobile headlights. The intricate wire networks that were established in order to provide electricity to the very first light bulbs also led to the very first home wiring, which in turn made it possible for a wide variety of other home appliances.

The Process of Taming the Wild Horse

An illustration of a chariot racing can be found on Greek pottery that dates back to 525 B.C.

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Since they were first brought under human control approximately 5,500 years ago, horses have been an inseparable component of human progress. They made it possible for people to travel large distances and provided many civilizations with the opportunity to engage in commerce as well as the interchange of ideas and technology. Because of their strength and agility, horses were able to not only haul merchandise but also plough land, clear forests, and even work on farms. Horses were likely the most important factor that altered the character of warfare. The most terrifying aspects of combat were horse-drawn chariots and mounted warriors, and nations who were skilled at using cavalry were typically victorious in battle.

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