The Best 20 Inventions Ever Invented

Fizzy Drinks

Too many fizzy drinks can be bad for you, but the first manufactured fizzy drinks were just bubbles in water, which isn’t so bad for you, just flavorless.

A Glass of Bubbly. The fizz in fizzy drinks is dissolved carbon dioxide (the same gas you breathe out). No one really invented fizzy drinks because they can occur naturally: underground volcanic action can put carbon dioxide into spring water.

The first person to copy naturally fizzy water was the English scientist Joseph Priestley. During his research into carbon dioxide, which he called ‘fixed air’, he discovered a way to put carbon dioxide bubbles into water by putting a bowl of water above a vat of fermenting beer.

He liked the taste of his fizzy water, offered it to his friends, and began producing it in quantity in 1772. He’d developed another way of making the water fizzy, using sulphuric acid and chalk, and no longer needed huge vats of beer.

By the 19th century, fizzy mineral water had become popular, especially in the USA where the drinks were sold from ‘soda fountains’ in chemist shops. Manufacturers began adding flavors, such as dandelion and birch bark, which people seemed to like even though they don’t sound very appetizing.

Today the best known fizzy drink in the world is Coca Cola. It was intended as a medicine by its inventor, John Pemberton, at the end of the 19th century.

Joseph Priestley also invented the eraser, and discovered hydrochloric acid and various gases, including oxygen (which he called `dephlogisticated air’) and nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. He was also a leading philosopher and anti-slavery campaigner.

Did you manage to make a fizzy drink?

How long did your drink stay fizzy for?

Morse Code

If ever you need to send a secret message to someone in the next room using a spanner and a pipe, you might have reason to thank Samuel Morse.

Morse code wasn’t invented to help people in dire emergencies but to send messages along a telegraph wire (this was in the 1830s, way before Instant Messaging).

Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail had developed an electric device that could send signals from one machine to another, but couldn’t send readable letters.

Morse came up with a method of sending signals that could be received by a machine and marked on to paper as dots and dashes. Different combinations of dots and dashes correspond to letters and numbers.

After a while, telegraph operators could translate the messages just by listening to the sounds made by the machines, a dot was a short click and a dash was a longer one (this is why your spanner and pipe could come in handy).

Messages can also be transmitted in Morse using a light (short and long flashes for the dots and dashes), so the code was used for sending messages from one ship to another. In fact it was the international standard code at sea until 1999. Now satellite communication is used instead.

Morse code might look complicated and time-consuming, but some experiments have proved that it’s quicker than texting (if you’re a Morse expert). Maybe it’s time for Morse code to make a comeback! Did you find learning/reading Morse Code difficult? Did the person receiving the message understand it?

Making a dramatic exit: When the French navy stopped using Morse code in 1997, the last message they ever transmitted was rather profound in tone: ‘Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence.

Morse code comprises the following components:

1. a dot (or dit) – a short audio tone (represented as .)
2. a dash (or dah) – a longer audio tone than a dot (represented as ‘-‘ ) 3. a very short gap between each dot and dash
4. a slightly longer gap between each letter 5. a mid-length gap between each word (represented as ‘/’ )
6. a long gap between each sentence (represented as ‘//’

You can send your messages as a series of audible tones or by flashing a light, using long and short flashes. Alternatively, you can write it out, as shown above. Below is a key to each letter and number in the Morse code alphabet. Make a copy for a friend and start practicing. You could even send text messages to each other in Morse code!

The Pencil

It must have been a relief when pencils were invented, at last, an easy-to use alternative to quills and ink. And you can rub out your mistakes, too. Straight to the Point.

The part of a pencil you write with isn’t lead but graphite, a type of carbon. In 1565 a huge deposit of pure graphite was found near Borrowdale in Cumbria. People didn’t know exactly what it was then, they just knew it was very useful for making marks on things, like sheep, and they called it plumbago, Latin for lead ore (that’s why the graphite in pencils is often called lead).

The graphite in Cumbria is the only pure kind ever found, so whoever found it is the person to thank for pencils. Soon people realized that the graphite could be used to write or draw with if it was cut into sticks and, because it’s very soft, encased in a wooden holder.

Graphite was found in other parts of the world but in a much less pure form, which meant it had to be powdered and didn’t make very good pencils. In 1795 Nicholas Jacques Conte, an officer in Napoleon’s army, found a way of firing powdered graphite and clay in a kiln to make graphite rods that made good pencils.

By varying the amounts of clay and graphite he could adjust the hardness. Now you can buy softer pencils (B, 2B, 3B, etc), harder ones (H, 2H, 3H, etc) and in between ones (HB). Coloured pencils weren’t invented until the 1920s. They’re made from colour pigments mixed with wax or oil-based binders, not graphite at all.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Rubber erasers weren’t invented until 1770, by Joseph Priestley, but before that people used bread (you should try it). In 1858 Hyman Lipman thought of attaching a small eraser to the end of a pencil. How long did it take you to draw?

2B OR NOT 2B Hail the mighty pencil! Use pencils to draw a picture your parents will think is good enough to put up on the wall. Add a copy of your work of art in the frame below for your records.

A typical pencil will write over 45,000 words in its lifetime. If you drew a line non-stop (except for sharpening) with a new pencil, it would be at least 35 miles long. Pencils rule where pens fail, under water, upside down and in outer space.


It might seem a strange idea, but using a sharp object to inject dye underneath the skin has been going on for a long time, and in many far-flung corners of the world. Scratching the Surface.

Believe it or not, we can still see the tattoos on a 5,500-year-old man. The oldest mummy ever found, known as Otzi the Ice Man, was preserved in ice in the Alps. Otzi has no fewer than 57 tattoos on his body. X-rays have shown that Otzi had arthritis in the places covered by the tattoos, so perhaps they were used as a magic charm or remedy to cure the condition.

There are tattoos on an ancient Egyptian mummy of a priestess called Amunet from around 4,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian clay dolls have also been discovered with similar tattoo marks on them. No one knows what the marks signified.

A tattooed chieftain from around 2,500 years ago was found in Siberian Russia. The body is covered in tattoos of elaborate animal designs. People of the South Pacific have worn tattoos for hundreds of years. The complicated designs carry meanings about the wearer’s status.

Our word ‘tattoo’ may derive from a Tahitan word ‘tatau’, which means ‘wound’. Tattoos are still as popular as ever. Samuel O’Reilly invented his electric tattooing machine in 1891 and modern machines can puncture the skin 3,000 times per minute, making the ancient art of tattooing a little quicker.

Useful tattoos: Scientists have invented a ‘smart tattoo’ that glows to warn diabetics when their blood sugar levels are low. At the moment, people with diabetes have to prick themselves with a needle to test their blood sugar.

It’s easy to make your own temporary tattoos if you have the use of a computer and color printer. You’ll also need special tattoo paper that can go through the printer, oh yes, and an eye for brilliant designs.

There are many types of tattoo paper, so make sure you read the instructions properly before printing. Scan examples into your computer or create your own using an art program, and then print them on to tattoo paper.

Playing Cards

Ever played Bridge, Gin Rummy, Cribbage, Whist, Poker, Snap? Or maybe you’ve built a house of cards or performed card tricks? They’d all be impossible without this simple but brilliantly versatile invention. Stacking the Deck.

No one knows where playing cards were first invented: maybe in India, China or Egypt. Some people argue that the jacks, queens and kings on playing cards are drawn as they are because of their origins in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, which are in the same two-dimensional style.

Wherever they first appeared, the Chinese were definitely playing card games in the first part of the twelfth century. Playing cards arrived in Europe around the late 1300s, probably based on the cards played with by Islamic soldiers called Mamluks. The Mamluks’ cards had 52 cards in a deck and four suits.

The four suits we know today, hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, began in France in the late I 400s. But there were and still are lots of different suits in different parts of Europe, including polo sticks, roses, helmets, horses, parrots, bears, banners, swords and cups.

At first, cards had to be hand-painted, so only very rich people could afford them. After a while playing cards were reproduced using woodcuts, and Gutenberg’s printing press, invented in 1440, made printing decks of cards easier still.

Pack animal or loner, here are tens of thousands of card games. You can play more than a thousand of them on your own: these one-player games are known as Solitaire or Patience and include Baker’s Dozen, Grandfather’s Clock and Idiot’s Delight.

This game is for two or three players but can be altered to include more players. The idea is to be the first person to get rid of all your cards. The loser may be given a forfeit for losing. but be careful when handing out punishments. You’re not going to win all the games and your opponents will want retribution.

In this game 2’s are the highest cards, followed by ace, then king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 and, finally, 3. The person whose birthday it is next deals first.

Firstly, the dealer deals three cards, face down in a row, to each player. These cards can only be looked at in the final part of the game.
Then the dealer deals to each player again, this time placing three cards face up on top of the first three cards.

A further three cards are dealt, face down, to each player. The players pick up these cards. The remaining cards are placed face down in the center of the table.

Look at your hand and the face-up cards on your three piles. You can change all the top cards on the piles for the cards in your hand if you wish. It is best to have high cards left face up on the table. You are better off having lower cards (with the exception of 2’s) in your hand to start with.

The play starts with whoever has a 3: this card is laid in the center of the table face up, next to the facedown pack. If more than one person has a 3, the person closest to the dealer lays their card. If there are no 3’s then start with a 4 or the next lowest card.

Each player must play a card and then pick up a new card from the pack. Always have 3 cards in your hand unless you’ve had to pick up the pile of laid-down cards (see 12). You must either place the same card number that has already been played or something higher. It is always best to get rid of your lower cards first.

If you cannot lay a higher card or a card of the same amount, you must pick up a new card from the pack, but you cannot play this straight away; you must wait until your next go.

If you have duplicates of the same number card then you can put them all down at the same time. For example, if on your go you have three 8’s. you can play them all, but you must make sure you pick up three new cards to replace them.

Continue in this way until you cannot play a higher card. For example if the card on the pile is a queen and you only have a 6, 8 and 9 then you pick up until you pick up a higher card, a 2 or a 10.

Special Cards. 2’s can be played at any time and a 2 resets the play so the next card can be a 3 or the next lowest card. 10’s can also be played at any time and all the cards underneath are removed from play and cannot be used again. The whole pile is also removed if four cards of the same suit are played in a row.

Cards are picked up and played until all the cards run out and no more can be picked up. Keep playing until you run out of cards in your hand, BUT if you cannot play a card from your hand from this point on, you must pick up ALL the cards that have been laid down on the pile!

Once you have got rid of all the cards in your hand you can play the three cards lying face up in front of you on the table. Once you have played these cards then you can play the 3 face-down cards blind, one at a time, in any order, and hope that it is a higher number. If it isn’t playable you must pick up all the cards in the pile.

The winner is the first person to get rid of all their cards, but play is continued until there is a single loser. The loser is then issued with a forfeit to complete.

There are many thousands of card games out there, far too many to list below, so here is an old favorite. It’s a great card game called ‘Karma’, although it does go by other names. Try it.

Space Satellites and Space Stations

Did you know that you’re on a satellite right now? No, not the armchair, planet Earth. Into Orbit.

A satellite is an object that is in orbit around another one, the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth because of the force of gravity. The little bits of rock and ice in the asteroid belt are all satellites. But there are artificial satellites too, far above your head, in orbit around the Earth.

The International Space Station.

The first section of the ISS was launched in November 1998 and the very first crew joined the station two years later in November 2000. It has been inhabited ever since.

On the 35th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s golf swing on the Moon, Mikhail Tyurin, a Russian cosmonaut aboard the ISS, hit a golf ball, making it into the record books for the furthest golf ball drive. Track the ISS (but unfortunately not the golf ball) by visiting this link: http://spacetlight.nasa.govirealdata/tracking

The Space Shuttle

If you see a space shuttle in the night sky, you’re looking at one of three shuttles that are still in service (Atlantis, Discovery or Endeavour). The first manned shuttle mission began with Columbia, April 1981.

Since then the shuttle fleet has flown over one hundred missions and is due to fly many more before it retires in 2010. So visit the link and see the shuttle in orbit before it is taken out of service for ever:

In 1957 the USSR launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite. Sputnik weighed just 83 kg, took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth, and was used to conduct experiments on the atmosphere. After the Second World War, the USA and the USSR (now split into Russia and other countries) were bitter rivals.

The Americans must have been very annoyed indeed that their rivals had done something they hadn’t, and they were aware that there were all sorts of uses for satellites, including spying. The following year, the USA launched its first satellite, Explorer I, the ‘Space Race’ was on.

Spy Satellites Space Junk

You’re not supposed to know about these satellites, so here’s a tip: the best way to spot a spy satellite is by its orbit – spy satellites travel north to south! To track the Cosmos 1222 spy satellite, go to and in the satellite name box, type Cosmos 1222 and click submit – when you spot the satellite, keep an eye out for space junk. It is followed by the spent rocket that launched it!

Now there are tens of thousands of artificial satellites in orbit above the Earth. There are satellites for communication, navigation, monitoring the weather, observing the Earth and scientific research. Since we use them for making phone calls, watching TV, finding our way and forecasting the weather, life wouldn’t be the same without them.

Hubble Space Telescope HST

The Hubble Space Telescope is an incredible camera. It has taken some of the most amazing pictures you are ever likely to see. Over the last eighteen years it has photographed stars being born, stars dying and it’s even been able to look back in time by photographing galaxies millions of miles away. To track the Hubble Space Telescope and many other satellites, visit

A month after Sputnik 1, the USSR sent the first living creature into space on Sputnik 2 – a dog called Laika. Since then, lots more living things have been sent into space, including humans (Soviet Yuri Gagarin was the first), spiders, bees, frogs and jellyfish.

Earth has over 8,000 artificial satellites and one natural one. Have you spotted a satellite before? If not, here are some tips on what to look for and how to find them. Tick the boxes below once you’ve spotted
each one. Earn your star when you’ve spotted at least three of the five.

The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite and the easiest to spot – just look up in the sky on a reasonably dear night and there it is. But did you know that the Moon is slowly moving away from us? Each year it moves 3.8 cm further away from the Earth.

At present the Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun. and coincidentally it’s 400 times closer to Earth. which means we are able to see very impressive solar eclipses. As the Moon moves away, total eclipses will become a thing of the past.


Without dynamite we wouldn’t be able to blow things up in a spectacular but relatively safe way. And without dynamite, we wouldn’t have the Nobel Prize. Tick, Tick, Tick Boom!

Large explosions are pretty dangerous by nature. But they’re also very useful in industries like quarrying and mining. Before dynamite was invented, explosives such as gunpowder were used, the problem was their tendency to explode when people were least expecting it.

Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel discovered that nitroglycerine, another very dangerous explosive, could be mixed with a special absorbent sand to make it safe enough to use.

He called his invention ‘Nobel’s Safety Powder’ before realizing that ‘dynamite’, from the Greek word for power, sounded a lot more catchy. Nobel went on to invent another explosive, gelignite, which was even more powerful than dynamite.

Dynamite made blowing up quarries a much safer affair, but it could also be used in warfare. In 1888 a French newspaper made a mistake and published an obituary for Alfred Nobel even though he wasn’t dead. The article said ‘the merchant of death is dead’ (except in French) and condemned Nobel for an invention that killed people more efficiently than ever before.

Alfred read the article and changed his will: he used his fortune to set up the Nobel Prizes, which are still awarded every year for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for work in peace.

A dangerous business: The Nobel family owned a factory where, not surprisingly, there were several explosions. The worst of them happened in 1864 when several workers, including Alfred’s brother Emil, were killed.

In the Wild West dynamite was hijacked by criminals and used for bank heists, safe-cracking and train robberies.


No two people have the same pattern of marks on the tips of their fingers, not even identical twins. This discovery revolutionized crime detection. Caught Red-Handed.

A scientist called Nehemiah Grew was the first person to study people’s fingertip patterns and he published a book of drawings of them in 1684. It was nearly 200 years before anyone realized how useful this might be.

In the 1860s an English civil servant called William Herschel became interested in fingertip patterns and discovered that people’s fingerprints remain the same for life. His findings were published in a scientific journal.

Francis Galton, an explorer and anthropologist, devised a system of grouping fingerprints by the different characteristics in their patterns.
Police officer Edward Henry used Galton’s system to create a comprehensive classification of fingerprints, which was published in 1900.

The following year the first United Kingdom Fingerprint Bureau was set up in Scotland Yard, the UK police headquarters.
Fingerprints were taken and collected together so that prints found at crime scenes could be used to link suspects with the scene of the crime.

In 1905 fingerprinting was used for the first time to convict criminals in a murder case, in a robbery and double murder in London.
Since then, fingerprints have been used countless times to prosecute criminals all over the world.

Wrapped around your finger. Francis Galton thought that fingerprints might be a sign of a person’s intelligence. He designed his system of classifying prints for measuring intelligence – but instead it was used for catching criminals.

When dusting for prints, use cocoa powder (the powder doesn’t have to be white as long as it is fine) and a fine brush. Dusting works best on glass or smooth surfaces. Finally, match the prints up to the correct culprit and clear your name!

Before you attempt this, print this page several times, then leave your fingerprints.

On the copies, take prints of the rest of your family and friends and file them away in a crime folder. When you get blamed for a crime you didn’t commit, dust for prints and find the real culprit.

In the Wild West dynamite was hijacked by criminals and used for bank heists, safe-cracking and train robberies.

Time Machines

Do you wish you could fast-forward a few years and find out whether you will become rich and famous? Or travel to the distant future and marvel at all the new inventions? If so, get to work inventing a time machine.

Futurama. H. G. Wells’s 1895 novel The Time Machine fired people’s imaginations about time travel. Then, in 1905, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity made it seem possible. His theory says that time isn’t constant but slows down the faster you go, and the theory has since been proven (admittedly, you have to be going very fast indeed).

Some scientists have theorized that, if it were possible to travel at the speed of light, we could go backwards in time. (Einstein decided it meant that travel at the speed of light is impossible.)

Other time-travel theories involve wormholes in space and time, black holes and other mysterious bits of physics. But you probably won’t be surprised that no one has actually managed to build a time machine, yet. There’s a big problem that any time machine would have to overcome: if you travel backwards in time, you can alter the future.

And if you travel to the future and then come back to the present, that can alter the future too. But if you can get round this basic paradox, come up with some extremely sophisticated technology, and understand an awful lot of complicated physics, perhaps you can become the inventor of the first time machine.

A Time Traveler Convention was held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005, the hope of attracting visitors from the future – 300 people attended, none of them was from the future, but the event continues to be advertised so that future time travelers might go.

If you had a time machine, where would you go and what period of time would you investigate? Make a list of the years you’d like to visit.

To be a successful time traveler you’ll need to master blending in with the locals. When travelling to the past, wearing your own clothes, talking about modern life or making predictions about things that you know will happen in the future will probably land you in trouble.

You might be burnt at the stake for being a witch. Make sure you get all the up-to-date injections from your doctor before you go, as you don’t want to travel to the past and contract the bubonic plague or some extinct disease and bring it back to the present.

On the other hand, you don’t want to travel to the past with a common cold either and then kill off half of the population of the world. If that happened, you might wipe out your own family tree and then you’d disappear, as if you were never born in the first place!

If you could travel to the past and change one thing in history, what would it be? If you could visit yourself in 20 years’ time, what would you hope to find?


Before money, people got along by swapping things they had for things they needed. You can see how difficult this could become: what happens if you have a herd of sheep and need some clothes, but the tailor only wants potatoes? And how many potatoes make a pair of trousers, anyway?

Then someone, somewhere had a brainwave: money. Well, it probably didn’t happen quite like that.

The first units of money were valuable in themselves, cowrie shells in ancient China around 1200 BC and other parts of the world, small amounts of grain in ancient Babylon, salt in the Roman Empire, and precious metals in many different places.

The first metal coins were made in Lydia (modern-day Turkey) about 640 BC. Paper money is useful because it’s a lot lighter than coins. It was first used in China from the 800s, when it was known as ‘flying cash’! Elsewhere in the world paper money wasn’t used for centuries.

Credit cards were invented in the 1950s, plenty of people probably wish they hadn’t been. Curious Cash.

The following have all been used as money in different parts of the world:

Pepper – Europe
Stones – Pacific Islands (on Yap in Micronesia, stone money is still used)
Coils of red feathers – Pacific Islands
Dogs’ teeth – New Guinea
Bread – Iraq
Iron nails – Scotland
Whales’ teeth – Fiji

The Inca people of South America used gold and silver to make beautiful objects but they didn’t use it, or anything else, as money. They seem to be one of the only civilizations that managed to do without it.

Who needs money? Before the invention of money, to be able to get what you wanted you had to exchange items. This kind of trading can still be done today.

In July 2005, Kyle MacDonald began his quest to own a house by swapping items. He started with a paper clip, and a year and fourteen swaps later (including swapping a doorknob, snow globe and a film role), he now owns a house.

Nuclear Weapons

When the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945 it changed the world for ever. Many people wish it had never been invented at all.

Splitting the Atom. The idea for a weapon made from atomic energy had been around since Albert Einstein came up with his equation E = MC2 (which means there’s an awful lot of energy in absolutely everything, inside atoms). During the Second World War, when many countries were carrying out bombing campaigns on one another, the race was on to find a bomb that used the power of atoms.

Getting at the energy inside atoms isn’t easy: for that you have to split them (this is called nuclear fission). Atoms are the tiny units of matter everything is made of and they are a million times smaller than the width of one of the hairs on your head. So you can imagine how tricky it is to split one.

The top secret Manhattan Project in America gathered together some of the brainiest scientists in the world to try and manage it. Eventually, they succeeded. In 1945 two fission (or atomic) bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, killing more than 200,000 people. Some people argue that the bombs saved lives because they ended the Second World War.

Nuclear fusion was developed soon after. This new way of releasing atomic power produces weapons hundreds of times more powerful than atomic bombs. They’ve never been used in warfare. Let’s hope they never will be.

Time Zones

It would be very confusing if the clock said midday in one place and the sun was high in the sky, but in another place at midday the sky was pitch-black and full of stars. Thank goodness someone had the bright idea of time zones.

Universal Time. Depending where you are on the planet, it might be the middle of the day or the middle of the night, because the Earth is orbiting the Sun. Of course, before time zones clocks weren’t set at the same time for everyone and no one ate their lunch at 3 a.m. or had breakfast at bedtime.

People used the Sun as their guide and the time was set locally, when the Sun was overhead, it was midday. As new ways to travel and communicate were invented, knowing the exact time in different parts of the world became more and more important, and a standard time was needed.

Sir Sandford Fleming first proposed time zones for the whole world in 1876. In 1884 an international conference at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, adopted the time zones we know today. Planet Earth rotates on its axis 15 degrees every hour, so the world is divided into 24 15-degree sections, with the clocks in each section set an hour apart (at least, that’s how it works for most of the world).

The zones are all measured from Greenwich, which the 1884 conference decided was the Prime Meridian. The time at Greenwich is known as Greenwich Mean Time or, more grandly, Universal Time.

The Pacific country of Kiribati used to have two different time zones. The eastern half of the country was a whole day and two hours behind the western half! In 1995 the time zone was changed so that Kiribati clocks all told the same time.

Room 101

If only there was a place you could banish all those inventions you wish had never been invented in the first place, some of which may already have been mentioned.

The Room 101 idea first appeared in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell. It is a torture chamber where prisoners are confronted by their own worst nightmares. The main character, Winston Smith, is taken to Room 101 and comes face to face with his deepest fear, rats.

Which inventions would you cast into Room 101? Open the door and throw in all those pointless machines that waste your time and ruin your day, or, worse still, pose a threat to life or the environment. Here are some suggestions:

Electric hand dryers. These inventions never work properly! You either have to fight to keep the air flow going and risk burning your hands, or give up and dry your hands on the back of your jeans! Banish them!

School. The institution we love to hate. Would you banish the whole thing or just certain classes and teachers, or just the homework?

Clowns. Some people love clowns but others find them more scary than spiders! Would you send in the clowns?

Mobile phones. Some say one of the most annoying things ever invented! Would you give yours up?

Banished by guests on the TV show, Room 101: cheese (Paul Daniels), caravans (Jeremy Clarkson), instruction manuals (Phil Collins), clipboards (Ross Noble), the piece of cotton that holds new pairs of socks together (Michael Parkinson) and Room 101 (Stephen Fry).

List your three most hated inventions and why you want to get rid of them.


Chindogu isn’t the name of an actual invention, it’s the Japanese name for the creation of pointless inventions that work but aren’t practical. The word chindogu translates as ‘useless tool’.

Heath Robinson Design. Imagine a device designed to grab toast as it pops out of a toaster, one that used a mechanical hand attached to a powerful spring to catch the bread in mid-flight.

This would require complex engineering to carry out what is an unnecessary task. If flying toast was a problem, the easier option would be to loosen the spring on the toaster or simply to buy a new toaster.

Some chindogu inventions, such as an umbrella that can shield you from rain from head to toe, would certainly get you noticed, but not for the right reasons, that is if you ever dared use it in public.

An easy chindogu invention to get you started would be a long stick designed to push the buttons on your TV. Who needs remote controls

Some Ideas That Didn’t Catch On (if they had they wouldn’t be chindogu!)

Portable zebra crossing

Roll it out like a mat and cross roads anywhere!


Like a glue stick but used to apply butter to toast

Duster slippers for cats

Your cats clean your floors as they walk around!

Chin stand

Catch 40 winks while you travel on public transport – without falling over

Solar-powered torch

Great idea in principle, but it can’t work in the dark!

‘Heath Robinson’ is a term used to describe any ingenious but ridiculous and complicated contraption, and is named after the English cartoonist W. Heath Robinson (1872-1944), who is best remembered for his delightful depictions of eccentric inventions.

Sticky Tape and Blu-tack

Wrapping gifts and putting up posters and decorations would be pretty hard without these simple inventions.

A Sticky Situation. The first sticky tape was invented in 1925 by Richard Drew, an engineer at the company 3M. Drew had noticed that the fashion for painting cars in two colours was causing problems for the spray-painters.

So he came up with an adhesive tape that could mask part of the car, then be removed, making a very neat join between the two different colours. In 1930 Drew came up with the first transparent sticky tape, known as Scotch tape in the USA. In the UK the Sellotape Company began producing sticky tape in 1937.

How Tacky. Generations of teenagers have stuck posters to their bedroom walls thanks to a 1971 invention, Blu-tack. Unlike sticky tape, it won’t tear off the wallpaper and you can reuse it. It was discovered by accident during the development of a heavy-duty glue by the US adhesive company Bostick.

You know the obvious uses for sticky tape and Blu-tack, but have you ever thought about using these clever materials to make pieces of art? Some celebrated artworks are made of stranger materials than these. For example, the artist Chris Ofili won the £20,000 Turner Prize in 1998 for his artwork made partly of elephant dung!

Art critics can get carried away with their insights into the art they review. Take the opportunity to say something profound about your ‘work of art’ here.

Glue. Thousands of years ago the first adhesives were made from tree resin. Glue made from animal skins dates back to Egyptian times. In the 1700s the first ever glue factory opened in Holland. The glue was still being made from animal skins.

In the 1750s glue made from fish was invented – which must have been rather smelly. From the beginning of the 20th century adhesives began to be made from plastics.

The latest sticky invention is a glue that bonds surfaces together even though it’s only one nanometer thick (one thousandth of a millionth of a meter). It bonds at high temperatures and could be used for gluing microscopic components and computer chips.


If we carry on ruining the planet it won’t be long before the world is uninhabitable. Or it might become too crowded. Either way, it’s always a good idea to have a Plan B.

Brave New World. Terraforming transforms another planet so that it ends up similar to Earth and humans can live there. The idea’s simple, but putting it into practice isn’t.

First, choose your planet. Mars is a popular option since it’s so near. If you set foot there now, you’d be frozen and/or gassed in an instant, but Mars does have some elements that could sustain life and it’s quite similar to the Earth billions of years ago.

The temperature has to be right for humans to live without freezing or boiling. One suggested way of doing this is to set up vast mirrors to reflect the heat of the Sun.

You don’t want everyone to have to carry huge tanks of breathable air wherever they go, so you need the right atmosphere. ‘Paraterraforming’ would be one way of doing this: simply make an enormous enclosure with a transparent roof a kilometre or two above the planet’s surface, then anchor it and pressurise it with breathable air. Hey presto.

That’s just the start, you’d also need sources of water and food. As you can see, terraforming is tricky and requires a lot of technology that doesn’t yet exist. But you never know, maybe you’ll be able to retire to Mars.

By 2020 there will be a base on the Moon. This will be the first time human beings have lived on any celestial body other than Earth. But the Moon isn’t ideal for terraforming, unlike Mars, which has similar properties to Earth.

Try to imagine what the Moon and Mars will look like when humans start to populate them – after all, it’s possible you might be around to witness both these events! What do you believe the moon base in 2020 will look like?

More Martian statistics: The atmosphere of Mars is mostly carbon dioxide and the average temperature is -62″C. A big draw for tourists is the biggest volcano in the solar system: Olympus Mons is 27 km high and 550 km wide.

Alcoholic Drinks

Alcoholic drinks are made when the sugars found in plants are left to go off.

A very, very long time ago, people discovered that grains of barley, wheat and corn, different types of fruit, and even honey, could be fermented to produce a drink that did more than quench your thirst, and it could play a role in hygiene, medicine, nutrition and religion too. It was probably discovered by accident, but we don’t know when or how.

In various ancient cultures, alcohol was used in religious rites, perhaps its effects were thought to be supernatural. Many ancient societies worshiped gods of wine or beer.

It wasn’t limited to the priests, though, and there are various references to people staggering about drunk and warnings of the need for moderation in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian records.

The oldest wine ever found was discovered in a Stone Age pottery jar in the mountains of modern-day Iran. Amazingly, residues of the liquid had survived more than 7,000 years to be identified by scientists as a wine that was probably a bit like the Greek drink retsina.

Another Neolithic site in Iran contained tiny amounts of a substance that experts think is beer. It’s 6,000 years old. And the ancient Egyptians were brewing beer at least 4,500 years ago.

Today, beer is the bestselling alcoholic drink. More than 133 billion litres are sold every year around the world, that’s over 20 litres per person!

Drunk as a monk: Champagne, the poshest alcoholic tipple, was invented by a monk called Dom Pierre Perignon. He spent years trying to remove the bubbles from the wine he had made, before realizing that people seemed to like them!

The Know-It-All Hat

If you had the answer to every question ever asked, then you’d win every quiz and competition you ever took part in. But to have this knowledge without a know-it-all device, your brain would have to hold all the information that exists everywhere ever, in the dictionary, encyclopaedia, Guinness Book of World Records, and pretty much every book ever written in every single language! That’s a lot of information.

I Know Something You Don’t Know! Your hat would have to be a sophisticated computer that could transmit information directly to the wearer’s brain.

It would also need to be able to detect when you were being asked a question, so it could self-activate its search for the answer. The information could be collected in a similar way to how the internet works, but it would have to be able to search through all that information in a much faster and more intelligent fashion.

To solve the problem of how to hold the vast quantity of data required, your hat could work in conjunction with other hats, each holding a limited amount of information, and connect wirelessly with the hat network to find the required answer.

Once located, the answer could be ‘beamed’ back to your hat in seconds, and you would hear the answer in your head. All you’d have to do is repeat the answer out loud (acting as if you’ve only just remembered it to cover any short delay!). It would bring a new meaning to the phrase ‘keep it under your hat’!

Norris Macwhirter probably wouldn’t have needed a know-it-all hat. Co-founder of The Guinness Book of World Records, Norris had a photographic memory and could recite any answer in the book from memory. Mozart is also thought to have had a photographic memory. I KNOW EVERYTHING!

So you’ve nearly finished reading and you reckon you pretty much know it all already, well, not quite yet, There’s plenty more to learn about the inventions here.


The world would be a far less fragrant place without soap, and what would we buy Grandma for her birthday?

Come Clean. It’s anybody’s guess how people washed in the distant past. Maybe they didn’t bother and just picked off the crusty bits. Soap is an unlikely combination of fat and any alkaline substance, so it’s amazing that anyone invented it at all.

The ancient Mesopotamians somehow worked out that mixing animal fat with wood ash makes a substance that can clean clothes and people. They made soap in clay cylinders as far back as 2800 BC.

The ancient Egyptians were using soap made from fats and alkaline salts by about 1500 BC. Maybe they found out about it from their neighbors, the Mesopotamians.

The ancient Romans were very fond of bathing and built public baths all over their empire, but they didn’t use soap. There’s some evidence to suggest that Roman women used a soap-like substance on their hair starting from around AD 50.

People were making soap in Europe by the 600s, but they weren’t using it nearly enough. The Middle Ages saw personal hygiene at its lowest point. Soap was a luxury item until the middle of the 19th century, so be very glad you weren’t around in those days.

Getting into scrapes: Instead of using soap the ancient Romans cleaned themselves by oiling their bodies, then scraping off the oil using a special scraper called a ‘strigil’. Really posh Romans would have a slave do the scraping for them.

If you’re fed up of smelling of roses, make your own soap and you can smell however you like!

Flip Flops

Love them or hate them, flip flops have become an icon of summer fashion.

Sandals and Jandals. Some experts believe that our ancestors were wearing sturdy shoes between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago. No one’s found any shoes from that long ago, though. The evidence has to do with our toes, which became smaller and less useful around that time.

Apparently, if you don’t wear strong shoes, you need to use your toes much more to balance. So if we carry on wearing flip flops, which don’t help us to balance, perhaps we’ll evolve stronger toes again. In fact, flip flops are criticized because wearers’ toes have to grip in a way that can damage feet.

No one knows when they were invented, but flip flops are thought to be based on traditional Japanese sandals called zori. The main difference is that modern flip flops are made of rubber, while zori traditionally have a wooden sole and use plant fibers for the ‘thong’ part. In some areas of the world flip flops are known as ‘jandals’, short for Japanese sandals.

Flip flops are cheap to make, comfy, hard-wearing and perfect for the beach, and they’ve become more popular than ever in recent years. As well as the ordinary, cheap, rubber kind, now you can make a fashion statement with expensive designer flip flops. There are even flip flops that cost thousands of pounds: a gold-and-diamond-encrusted pair.

Prehistoric shoe fetish: The oldest footwear ever found are 9,000-year-old sandals made of bark and sagebrush plant fibers. Seventy pairs of the skillfully woven sandals were discovered in a cave in Oregon, USA, in 1938.