On any normal day, you might buckle your seatbelt, get cash from an ATM, check the news on your cellphone. Chances are, these things feel unremarkable—but it wasn’t so long ago that they each would have been utterly unthinkable. Thanks to six and a half decades of remarkable scientific and technological innovation, 2018 looks very little like 1953. From Velcro to virtual reality, LEDs to Facebook, these are the 65 top life-changing inventions of our time.
In 1945 Raytheon's Percy Spencer stands in front of a magnetron (the power tube of radar) and feels a candy bar start to melt in his pocket: He is intrigued. When he places popcorn kernels in front of the magnetron, the kernels explode all over the lab. Ten years later Spencer patents a "radar range" that cooks with high-frequency radio waves; that same year, the Tappan Stove Co. introduces the first home microwave model.
The year Jonas Salk finds a way to prevent polio, there are 28,985 global cases; by 2017, the number .
Honorable Inventions: Velcro, TV remote control
IBM releases the first computer hard disk drive, the 2,000-pound-plus, IBM 305 RAMAC, which introduces magnetic disk storage. Up until then, files were either kept on spools of magnetic tape or on good old-fashioned paper, with no way to jump right to the record you wanted to pull up. With the RAMAC, a mechanical arm would retrieve data by storing data at a particular magnetic orientation. This technology goes on to be used (at a smaller size) in laptops and computer servers everywhere.
Enovid, a drug the FDA approves for menstrual disorders, comes with a warning: The mixture of synthetic progesterone and estrogen also prevents ovulation. Two years later, more than half a million American women are taking Enovid—and not all of them have cramps. In 1960 the FDA approves Enovid for use as the first oral contraceptive.
Honorable Invention: Three-Point Seat Belt
The Boeing 707-120 debuts as the world's first successful commercial jet airliner, ushering in the era of accessible mass air travel. The four-engine plane carries 181 passengers and cruises at 600 mph for up to 5,280 miles on a full tank. The first commercial jet flight takes off from New York and lands in Paris; domestic service soon connects New York and Los Angeles.
Honorable Invention: Laser Beam, Super Glue
The first general-purpose computer, the nearly 30-ton ENIAC (1947), contains 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors and 10,000 capacitors. In 1959, the integrated circuit puts those innards on one tiny chip.
Honorable Invention: Float Glass
In 1956, Wilson Greatbatch grabs the wrong resistor and connects it to a device he is building to record heartbeats. When the circuit emits a pulse, he realizes the device can be used to control the beat; in 1960 the first Pacemaker is successfully implanted in a human.
Black and Decker releases its first cordless drill, but designers can't coax more than 20 watts from its NiCd batteries. Instead, they strive for efficiency, modifying gear ratios and using better materials. The revolutionary result puts new power in the hands of DIYers and—thanks to a NASA contract—the gloves of astronauts.
Honorable Invention: Industrial Robot, Carbon Fiber Composites
Telstar is launched as the first "active" communications satellite—active as in amplifying and retransmitting incoming signals, rather than passively bouncing them back to Earth. Telstar makes real a 1945 concept by science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who envisioned a global communications network based on geosynchronous satellites. Two weeks after Telstar's debut, President Kennedy holds a press conference in Washington, D.C., that is broadcast live across the Atlantic.
Honorable mention: Computer Mouse, LED, Video Games
Ivan Sutherland—The Father of Computer Graphics—revolutionized 3D computer modeling and simulation when he created the . As the earliest iteration of a computer-aided design (CAD) program, Sketchpad pioneered the use of geometric constraints (fi the length of a line or an angle between two segments). It was also one of the first programs to use a graphical user interface, as opposed to a text-based one—if you're reading this on a computer without knowing a single line of code, you can thank Sutherland and Sketchpad.
Widespread use of remotely piloted aircraft begins during the Vietnam War with deployment of 1000 AQM-34 Ryan Firebees. The first model of these 29-foot-long planes was developed in just 90 days in 1962. AQM-34s go on to fly more than 34,000 surveillance missions. Their success leads to the eventual development of the UAVs widely used today.
Honorable invention: Music Synthesizer
Thanks to DuPont's Stephanie Kwolek and Herbert Blades, who in 1965 invent a high-strength polymer called KEVLAR, the body armor of has protected them from fatal attacks.
The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines releases a semi-dwarf, high-yield Indica variety that, in conjunction with high-yield wheat, ushers in the Green Revolution. Indica rice thrives in tropical regions of Asia and South America, raising worldwide production more than 20 percent by 1970.
Rene Favaloro performs the first coronary bypass surgery in 1967, taking a length of vein from a leg and grafting it onto the coronary artery. This allows blood to flow around the blocked section. Thanks in part to these advances, the number of deaths from heart disease declines in the U.S. by almost 50 percent.
In a landmark December 1968 demonstration, later known as The Mother of all Demos, engineer Douglas Engelbart illustrates the use of lots of recent technologies in conjunction with each other, including: on-screen windows, hypertext, graphics, file linking, revision control, video conferencing, the computer mouse, and word processing. Both Mac and Windows user interfaces will borrow heavily from the example set here.
Before the entire world is networked, there is the Arpanet—four computers linked in 1969. It introduces the concept of "packet switching," which simultaneously delivers messages as short units and reassembles them at their destination.
Honorable invention: Smoke Detector, Charge-Coupled Device, Automated Teller Machine
The term "fiber optic" is coined in 1956, but it isn't until 1970 that scientists at Corning produce a fiber of ultrapure glass that transmits light well enough to be used for telecommunications.
Honorable invention: Digital Music
Bill Bowerman, the track coach at the University of Oregon, sacrifices breakfast for peak performance when he pours rubber into his waffle iron, forming lightweight soles for his athletes' running shoes. Three years later, Bowerman's company, Nike, introduces the Waffle Trainer, which is an instant hit.
Chrysler paves the way for the era of electronic—rather than mechanical—advances in automobiles with the electronic ignition. It leads to electronic control of ignition timing and fuel metering, harbingers of more sophisticated systems to come. Today, these include electronic-control-transmission shift points, antilock brakes, traction-control systems, steering, and airbag deployment.
Everyone agrees that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a brilliant invention—but no one agrees on who invented it. The physical effect that MRIs rely on—nuclear magnetic resonance—earns various scientists Nobel Prizes for physics in 1944 and 1952. Many believe that Raymond Damadian establishes the machine's medical merit in 1973, when he first uses magnetic resonance to discern healthy tissue from cancer. Yet, in 2003, the Nobel Prize for medicine goes to Peter Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield for their "seminal discoveries." The topic of who is the worthiest candidate remains hotly debated.
A is the first product to integrate the usage of barcode technology when it's scanned at a grocery store in Ohio; the codes become the industry standard for storing pricing information at grocery stores and expand rapidly for both consumer-facing and internal tracking applications.
Not invented, but introduced to the lexicon in its modern sense of man-made climate change. The journal Science publishes a paper by geoscientist Wallace Broecker, “” the first time that the phrase is used in a scientific paper.
Broecker predicted that CO2 would drive global temperatures unprecedentedly high early on in the 21st century, and and speculated about negative consequences for agriculture and sea level. By 2018, a group of international climate scientists are anticipating a 2.7°F temperature change , accompanied by food shortages, ever more disastrous wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs.
The Cray-1, the first commercially developed supercomputer, is installed in the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It's the first supercomputer to successfully implement vector processors, a system that allows a single operation to quickly be performed on a large set of data, which is reflected in its speed of 160 MFLOPS—or 160 million floating-point operations per second. The Summit supercomputer, which goes online at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2018, will be capable of 143.5 petaflops.
The Apple II, Commodore Pet and Radio Shack's TRS-80 are introduced in 1977—four years before IBM, soon to become synonymous with the term "PC," unveils its personal computer.
The first satellite in the modern Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) is launched. (The GPS's precursor, TRANSIT, was developed in the early 1960s to guide nuclear subs.) It is not until the year 2000, though, that President Clinton grants nonmilitary users access to an unscrambled GPS signal. Now, cheap, handheld GPS units can determine a person's location to within 3 yards.
Honorable invention: Genetic Engineering, In-Vitro Fertilization
"This is the product that will satisfy those young people who want to listen to music all day." —Akio Morita, Sony Chairman, February 1979
John Bannister Goodenough invents the cobalt-oxide cathode, a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries—the rechargeable and portable batteries that are now in every smartphone, laptop, and electric vehicle. In 2017, the 94-year-old Goodenough, apparently deciding that his last invention wasn't good enough announces that he's come up with a with even better storage capability.
By moving the needle of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) across a surface and monitoring the electric current that flows through it, scientists can map a surface to the level of single atoms. The STM is so precise that it not only looks at atoms—it also can manipulate them into structures. The microscope's development earns IBM researchers Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer a Nobel Prize and helps launch the emerging era of nanotechnology.
Fifteen-year-old Rich Skrenta creates an application called as a prank—and ends up creating the first virus to spread outside its home network. Elk Cloner spreads via floppy disk and attaches to the Apple OS II operating system. When users boot from the disk, Elk Cloner transfers the computer's memory; any additional disks inserted without rebooting are also infected. On every fiftieth boot, the computer displays text written by Skrenta:
Elk Cloner: The program with a personality / It will get on all your disks / It will infiltrate your chips / Yes it's Cloner! / It will stick to you like glue / It will modify ram too / Send in the Cloner!
Multi-Tool Word, the precursor to the Microsoft Word text-editing program, makes its debut as free copies are bundled with the November issue of PC World. Unlike most contemporary rivals, Word is designed to be used with a mouse, and features the ability to undo typing and to display bold, italic, and underlined text.
Microsoft steadily revises the program, which becomes a major success in 1990 when it's bundled with the Windows 3.0 operating system.