10 Greatest Time Saving Inventions in History

Image: Les Carruthers

A huge amount of our modern lifestyle is shaped by the inventions and discoveries we use, which have been developed through history. The food we eat, the work we do and the entertainment we indulge in are all products of the time saving innovations of decades and centuries past, and labor-saving devices are all around us at work and at home – so many devices that we often take them for granted.

Washing machines, photocopiers and microwave ovens (to name but a few) have freed up countless hours each day, allowing us to work more productively and giving us more spare time than ever before. Indeed, with so many major inventions punctuating history it is difficult to whittle down their numbers to a mere ten. Everyone will have their own ideas of what should be included in this list and what should be omitted. What would you put at your number one? And what can you learn from these time saving innovations?

10. The Jet Airplane

Image: Danny Masson

The advent of the jet aircraft has done much to shrink the globe. It has made it possible for the traveler, the vacationer, the client and the business person to visit other continents and still be able to make it home for supper. The demand for speedy, jet-powered travel created an entire air industry, and suddenly, those who had never left their state or country were traveling to national and international destinations by way of affordable airline tickets. Many people even commute to work using an aircraft each week. This ‘global mobility’ has had a knock-on effect in other areas of tourism and commerce and allows us to make journeys that would previously have taken weeks by boat – a sign of our shrinking world. Power stations, ship propulsion, trains and a myriad of industrial and military applications have all also benefited from the jet engine.

9. The Printing Press

Image: Jost Ammam

Before the introduction of printing all books were painstakingly hand-written. This time-consuming and highly-skilled process meant that books were extremely expensive and an unthinkable possession for many average people. Changing all this was a German goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg, who in 1440 invented the printing press. His contraption would become one of the most influential inventions in the entirety of human history.

Gutenberg’s device suddenly facilitated the spread of knowledge and arts across the civilized world at a startling rate. By 1500, printing presses were used throughout Western Europe and had already produced an estimated twenty million volumes. A century later, the number had risen to as many as 200 million. Gutenberg’s innovation echoes throughout our modern society. Without printing (and the storage and transportation of information and ideas that it made possible) much of today’s world would be impossible. After all, information might be cheap, but it makes up the building blocks of everything we do.

8. The Telephone

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The telephone’s arrival suddenly rendered distances largely irrelevant. Alexander Graham Bell holds the 1876 master patent, but there was no real single inventor of the telephone. It was, like the television, a culmination of the work of a handful of inventors. Before the telephone, a message could only be relayed via a Morse coded telegram, a messenger or a postal letter. Once networks were in place, communication links became instant and accessible round-the-clock. By 2010, there were nearly 6 billion subscribers to phone services worldwide. Phones have now been freed from the constraints of a wire and provide truly portable access to the internet, e-mail, social networking, photographs, video and personal organizers.

7. The Steam Engine

Image: Nicolás Pérez

The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s was a landmark in history. It altered almost every aspect of daily life and directly paved the way for the modern manufacturing systems and the population growth of many of today’s cities.

Steam would provide industry with the steadfast power source it required and negate the need to rely upon the ever-changing elements as a means to drive mills, turn wheels and fill sails. It was an extremely important factor in the industrial revolution and led to fast and easy transportation for people and products through steamships and locomotives. The steam engine was used to drive all manner of new machines from construction and the military to agriculture. This technique remained the most prevalent source of power well into the 20th century, when internal combustion engines and electrically devices succeeded it. When you can make something else do the work for you, you don’t have to.

6. The Modern Computer

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Before the 1970s, computers were too expensive and bulky for widespread recreational use, but by the close of the decade Apple, Microsoft, Tandy and Commodore all helped to produce conveniently-sized models that included keyboards, monitors and cassette tape storage systems. The silicon age had well and truly begun.

As the 1980s moved into the ’90s, computers become more affordable, easier to operate and could be just as useful at home as in the office. Since then, they have become ever more powerful and ever more compact and are now essential parts of our lives, allowing us to shop, store videos and photographs, work, study and publish all from our desktops.

Computers perform billions of time saving tasks for us today, many of which had never been dreamt of when the hardware was built. However unbelievable it might seem, one should never assume that an established way of doing things is the best or the only way to work. Who knows in what ways the usefulness of home computers will increase in the future?

5. The Internet

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The internet’s impact on society, industry and the world of business is extensive. Never before could people browse a company’s itinerary, find locations, research products, employ a service, get directions or make purchases with such comfortable ease.

The internet, despite its youthfulness, has become an integral part of mainstream and alternative culture, and its influence grows daily. It enables even the smallest, homegrown business to reach an audience or customer base of millions. Indeed, it’s almost a prerequisite for a business to have a website in order to appear modern and accessible and to compete in cash-strapped markets. Thanks to the internet, almost any information you could possibly want is only a few clicks away. It’s safe to say that the internet’s future is inseparable from ours.

4. The Model T Ford

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The Ford Model T’s influence is considerable. Henry Ford’s creation of the moving assembly line brought a substantial cut to manufacturing time, thereby cheapening the overall costs of production and making the Model T an affordable purchase to a whole new class of people. Cheap automobiles meant positive changes to America’s “manufacturing and employment landscape”, not to mention newfound freedoms for average motorists. This allowed economical mass transportation of workforces and cheaper haulage of goods. It is easy to see why the Model T sold 15 million units, becoming “the best-selling vehicle ever, until 1972 when the [Volkswagen Beetle] finally surpassed it.”

3. The Television

Image: Evert F. Baumgardner

Thanks to John Logie Baird and the work of his predecessors, October 30, 1925 saw the first television (a hybrid word from Greek and Latin meaning ‘farsight’), which could transmit a moving picture of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Seven years later and the British Broadcasting Corporation launched the world’s first consistent TV broadcasts. The TV has provided business with an easy access to national and overseas markets that was never before possible. Ideas and commodities can now travel across oceans to reach into the very homes of target demographics through advertising and entertainment. The TV set has undeniably become an everyday item in today’s household and one that is very much here to stay. One advertisement can now be broadcast in hundreds of countries around the world, saving time and money while achieving an intimate commercial message that is viewed in the most comfortable surroundings.

2. Money

Image: Jpatokal

Before money, people had to barter as part of everyday trade. This system had many disadvantages: one product might be considered valuable in one area, yet unwanted in another; others were bulky and inconvenient. The system was clearly awkward, and the invention of money would go on to found the idea of trade as we now know it.

The use of metal as currency has been around since 5000 B.C. but it was the Lydians (of modern-day Turkey) who became the first Westerners to mint coins. The advantages of using money in exchange for goods and services were clear, and the practice would eventually spread to encompass the entire globe. Metal makes an ideal material for coins due to its value, hardiness and recyclability. Can you imagine paying for your goods at the supermarket checkout with goats and beads? Through cooperation a system of mutual benefit was created – which resulted in the world we know today.

1. The Wheel

Image: Derek Ramsey

As surely the most important mechanical device of all time, the wheel has become as ubiquitous as humankind itself. Such a simple invention not only helped to found civilization but it has also hardly changed since its indistinct beginnings. There have been many ancient wheels unearthed by archaeology, but it is impossible to say exactly who made the very first example.

Undoubtedly though, an item that began as straight logs used as rollers, later became today’s rubber-clad, high-performance wheels. The wheel has given people the ability to transport goods, possessions and materials across distances that would either take much longer or even be impossible by hand or foot.

Some of the greatest monuments and edifices of early human civilization would have been impossible without the wheel. But the usefulness of the wheel didn’t stop with construction and transport: mill wheels and the cogs that comprise industrial machinery have all helped to create the smoother-running, more efficient society we live in today.


One Comment

  1. Sarcastic Reader says:

    TV as a time-saving invention? Why don’t you add computer solitaire to the list, for saving us the time of shuffling all those cards?

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