The 49 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time
We all love our gadgets; they save us time, keep us entertained and improve our productivity. Gadgets have a huge influence on our lives and some have literally changed the world. In this article we list, in no particular order, what we think are the 49 most influential gadgets of all time.
The invention of the Fridge has changed the way we shop and eat allowing us to store food longer. Refrigeration first began in the 1750s and was developed further in the 1800s. Refrigerators for home use were not invented until after 1913.
The Fax Machine
The idea of a fax machine was actually created in 1843 by Scottish Clockmaker Alexander Bain with his Electric Printing Telegraph. Samuel Morse invented the first telegraph machine several years later from which the technology for the fax machine slowly evolved. The first radio fax transmission was sent across the continent on 4th March 1955.
The Light Bulb
The light bulb is one of those gadgets that we often take for granted. The light bulb was actually first developed by Joseph Swan who then went on to work with Thomas Edison and together they perfected the invention.
In the 1870s there was a race to build a working telephone between Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell. Bell eventually won and he was the first person to be granted a United States patent for a device that produced clearly, intelligible replication of the human voice.
For the tea-loving British, the Kettle must be one of the most influential inventions. Non-electric kettles have been around for thousands of years but the convenient and time-saving electric kettle was first developed in Chicago in 1891.
After thousands of years of cooking toast over a flame, the toaster arrived in 1919. Charles Strite got fed up of burnt toast in the company cafeteria and created a box with heating elements that toasted both sides of the bread at once.
The Printed Circuit Board
Printed Circuit Boards are a key part of electronics today. They are made of plastic laminates with metal circuits and soldered chips and components. PCBs are found in nearly all gadgets such as mobile phones, televisions, washing machines, coffee machines and more.
The invention of the Television has had a huge impact on our daily lives changing how we spend our leisure time, keeping us informed and entertained. The Television was first demonstrated to the public by Scotsman John Logie Baird in 1925. After World War 2 televisions became popular in homes, businesses and institutions progressing to colour televisions in the 1960s.
The Electric Shaver
The electric shaver was invented by Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Schick while working in Alaskan mines. After struggling with foam and blades in the cold mines he created his own electric razor which he patented in 1928. Alexandre Horowitz, working for Phillips in the Netherlands, went on to invent the concept of the rotary electric razor.
The Credit Card
This small piece of plastic has changed the world of finance, the way we shop and the way we live. The Diners Club Inc introduced the first universal credit card in the 1950s. This was followed by American Express in 1958 which created a world-wide credit card network.
For those of us who are lazy when it comes to cooking, the microwave is an essential kitchen appliance. The first Microwave Oven was invented by Percy Spencer using radar technology that was developed during World War 2. The first commercially produced Microwave stood at around 6ft tall and weighed around 750 pounds.
The Polaroid Camera
Instant photography was first demonstrated by Edwin Land, the founder of the Polaroid Corporation, to the Optical Society of America on 21st February 1947. The first Land Polaroid Camera was sold for $89.95 on November 26th 1948.
The transistor is one of the most influential inventions in electronics but how many people actually know what it is? A transistor is a semiconductor device that is used to amplify and switch electronic signals and is an integral part of all your favourite gadgets. The transistor was developed in 1947 by American Physicists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley and their invention revolutionized electronics.
The TV Remote Control
A favourite of couch potatoes everywhere, the TV remote was first invented in 1950 by the US Company Zeneth Electronics. The first TV remote was connected to the TV by wire until the wireless TV remote was introduced in 1955.
The transistor Radio
Following the development of the transistor in 1947, the transistor radio was introduced in 1954. The first commercially manufactured transistor radio was the Regency TR-1. The Regency TR-1 was small and portable, allowing people to listen to music anywhere and sold around 150,000 units.
The Computer Chip
The first single-chip microprocessor, the Intel 4004, was invented by Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff and Stanley Mazor and was introduced by Intel in November 1971. The computer chip created the modern computer industry as we know it today which has changed business, industry and society.
Al Gross invented and patented the first telephone pager in 1949. The pager was not commercially successful until the release of the Pageboy in 1974 by Motorola. These pagers had a limited range and were mainly used on-site in locations such as hospitals. Once wide-area pagers had been invented in the 1990s pagers became popular for personal use.
The Soviet inventor Oleg Losev created the first LED in 1927 although no practical use was made of his discovery for decades. LEDs first went into production in October 1962 after James R. Biard and Gary Pittman filed a patent titled “Semiconductor Radiant Diode” which described an LED with efficient emission of infrared light.
The Computer Mouse
US radar technician Douglas Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute produced the first computer mouse or “X-Y position indicator” in 1964. It was named a mouse because of its tail-like cable.
Not really a gadget but the internet has had such a huge impact on the world that we had to include it in this list. The internet has changed the way we communicate and the way we live, creating many new industries and opportunities. The World Wide Web was created by Tim Berners Lee in 1989 but the internet actually existed a long time before that as it was first developed in the 1960s with Arpanet, the first real network to run on packet switching technology. The first hosts were computers at Stanford University and UCLA which on October 29th 1969 connected for the first time.
The Floppy Disk
The floppy disk was developed in the 1960s but did not become commercially available until 1971. The first floppy disks were 8 inches in diameter with the first 51/4 inch floppy disk being introduced in 1976 by Shugart Associates.
The Pocket Calculator
The first pocket calculator was the Busicom LE-120A "HANDY" which was released in 1971. The first pocket calculators were expensive although more affordable alternatives followed such as the Sinclair Cambridge which launched in 1973.
The Digital Watch
The first watch with a digital display was produced by Hamilton Watch Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1972. In 1973 the first LCD watch was made by watch manufacturer Seiko. The LCD uses less power allowing the display to be on permanently.
The Digital Camera
Kodak engineer Steve Sasson invented the first Digital Still Camera in 1975. At first digital cameras were mainly used in military, science, medical and news and they did not become popular among consumers until the mid to late 1990s.
The VHS Recorder
In 1927 John Logie Baird worked on video recording using wax discs. It wasn’t until 1956 that the first commercially successful video recorder, the Ampex-VRX 1000 was released. In the late 1970s and 1980s there was a videotape format war between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS. VHS eventually won and VHS recorders were popular for years until the introduction of DVDs.
GPS (Global Positions System) was first developed by the US Military in the 1970s and it became globally available in 1994. GPS is used in a number of areas such as agriculture, industry and in technology such as Satellite Navigation Systems. Most mobile phones now have GPS built in allowing a variety of location based apps and services to function.
On 17th August 1982 the first compact disk was produced which was a recording of Claudio Arrau performing Chopin waltzes. This started a huge industry which despite the invention of alternatives such as mini discs and mp3 players is still going strong today.
The Sony Walkman
Introduced in 1979, the Sony Walkman changed the way people listen to music. Whilst most people still listened to vinyl records at home, the mobility of the cassette was attractive to many and the first Sony Walkman sold over 200 million units.
The Personal Computer
The very first personal computer was designed by John Blankenbaker in 1971. It was called the Kenbak – 1 and it had 256 bytes of memory. The first personal computer using a microprocessor was the Micral in 1973 designed in France by Andrè Truong Trong Thi and Francios Garnelle.
The Commodore 64
The IBM 5100 was the company’s first personal computer. It was released in 1975, although it was not accessible to most people as it was very expensive. The first highly successful mass-produced personal computer was the Apple II, which was released in 1977.
The Osborne 1 was released in 1981 and is considered to be the first laptop, but weighing over 10 kg it wasn’t very portable. The first flip-form laptop was the Dulmont Magnum, released in Australia in 1981 – 1982 although it was not actually marketed internationally until 1984 – 1985. The Grid Compass 1100, costing $8,150, was released in 1982 and was mainly used in the military and at NASA.
Video cameras were originally designed for television and were large and heavy. The first consumer camcorder, The Betamovie BMC-100P, was released in 1983 and recorded onto Betamax cassette. The first VHS camcorder was released by JVC in the same year. Camcorders greatly reduced in size as new technology was developed and a modern HD digital camera today can fit in your pocket.
Dyson changed the way we clean with some innovative engineering. James Dyson came up with the idea of using cyclonic separation to prevent vacuum cleaners from loosing suction. He took his idea to major manufacturers but after receiving no interest he set up his own company Dyson Ltd in June 1993. Dyson now make a range of innovative products such as hand dryers, fans and heaters.
Whilst on a flight to Europe in 1978 the head of Bose, Amar Bose, was not impressed with the supplied headphones and decided to design a pair that can neutralise incoming noise using sound waves. In 1986 Bose applied the noise cancelling technology in headphones designed to protect the hearing of pilots. On 15th June 2006 Bose released the QuietComfort 3 Noise-cancelling Headphones which were their first pair of on-ear headphones.
The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X
The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X went on sale in 1983 costing $3995 and was the world’s first handheld mobile phone. The phone with its battery attached measured 19.5 cm high x 4 cm wide. It had a 17.5 cm antenna and weighed 1.35 kg, a long way from the compact Smartphones today.
The Palm Pilot
The Palm Pilot 1000 was released in March 1996 as was the world’s first successful PDA becoming an icon in mobile technology and changing the industry.
Bluetooth technology has been around since 1998. The first Bluetooth Headset was released in 2000 making talking on your phone hands free a lot more convenient, even if you do get a few strange looks.
The Playstation 2
The Playstation 2 is the best selling games console of all time with over 155 million units sold. The Playstation 2 cost about the same as a DVD player yet it included the functionality to play DVDs. This combination of gaming and being able to watch DVDs appealed to consumers and contributed to its success.
The much anticipated first generation iPad was announced on 27th January 2010. During the first 80 days Apple sold three million iPads and over 225 million iPads have been sold in total today.
SanDisk created the first MicroSD card which was first called T-Flash and Transflash before being named MicroSD. The MicroSD format was announced on 14th March 2005 creating a new format of memory storage for portable media players, mobile phones, GPS and many other products.
The Diamond Rio PMP300
The Diamond Rio PMP300 was one of the first portable mp3 players, 3 years before the arrival of the iPod. The Rio was introduced on 15th September 1998 and was the first commercially successful mp3 player.
The first Blackberry was a two-way pager introduced in 1999. It was the Blackberry Smartphone that was more successful in making Blackberry one of the major Smartphone vendors until 2012. Blackberry focussed on email and this contributed to its success, appealing mainly to business users.
The Apple AirPort
Steve Jobs showcased the Apple Airport at Macworld in 1999. The Apple Airport is thought to be one of the first wireless routers connecting not only devices to the internet but also connecting peripheral devices such as printers on the same network.
The Amazon Kindle
Amazon's Kindle was wildly popular because it allowed users to store multiple books on one device. Part of its popularity with book-lovers was because it utilised the electronic paper e-ink which replicated the touch and feel of real paper.
The Nintendo Gameboy
The first Nintendo Gameboy launched in Japan on 21st April 1989 but didn’t arrive in the UK until September 1990. The first Gameboy was big and chunky and had a small screen but was a revolution in gaming.
TiVo was one the first digital video recorders, alongside the Replay TV, first introduced at the consumer electronics show in 1999. TivO was more successful commercially than the ReplayTV and changed the way we watch TV making it easy and simple to record programs.
The iPod was ground-breaking because it allowed users to carry their entire music collection in their pocket. Along with its revolutionary technology, its sleek white design helped it become something of a style icon. In the 14 years since its initial release its design and features have drastically evolved, but it still remains one of our most popular personal gadgets.
Another favourite gadget for the lazy amongst us, the Roomba was released in 2002. It wasn’t the first robot vacuum cleaner but it was the first to become commercially successful. The Roomba’s success has resulted in a number of similar models from other manufacturers in the market
On 9th January 2007 Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone at the Macworld convention. The iPhone was released in the US on 29th June 2007. The iPhone was not the first touch screen mobile phone or even the first phone with apps but it completely changed the industry.
Well there you have it, our 49 most influential gadgets in history. What do you think of our list? Any gadgets that shouldn't be there? Or perhaps some you think we've missed out? Let us know in the comments below.