Top 25 Inventions That Changed Our Lives Forever

Sliced Bread

You often hear things referred to as the best thing since sliced bread’. But when was sliced bread invented, and why is it such a good thing?

Bread: Who Kneads It? You wouldn’t have thought that inventing a machine to slice bread would be that difficult. Yet one man spent 16 years of his life on the project: Otto Rohwedder worked tirelessly to save everyone the effort of using a bread knife.

In 1917 a fire destroyed his prototype slicer after five years’ work nd he still didn’t succeed in inventing a bread-slicing machine until 1928. The problem wasn’t slicing the bread but keeping it fresh once it had been sliced.

Rohwedder’s machine sliced the bread then immediately wrapped it up to keep it fresh. The first pre-sliced bread went on sale in Missouri, USA, in 1928.

Cutting your own bread isn’t always easy, depending on the shape of the bread and the sharpness of the knife, so ready-sliced bread is pretty handy. Within five years of Rohwedder’s invention, 80% of bread sold in the USA was sliced.

Born and bread: Nearly everyone in the UK eats bread – 99% of households buy it regularly and more than 12 million loaves of bread are sold every day. We should eat more wholemeal bread, though – 70% of the bread we eat in the UK is white.

Arguably, the most important part of the sandwich is the filling. Name two essential ingredients in your ultimate savoury sandwich and your sensational sweet sandwich.

If two fillings aren’t enough, then list any extras that make your creation so special. It’s no good having the secret to the ultimate sandwich if you don’t have a name for it.

Pop-up Toasters. The easy way to make toast requires sliced bread and a pop-up toaster, which had handily been invented first. The first electric toaster was invented in 1893 by a British company, Crompton and Co, but early toasters didn’t turn themselves off once the bread was toasted. The first toaster to pop out the toasted bread automatically was invented by Charles Strite in 1919. It went on sale in 1926, just in time for sliced bread.

How many different types of bread have you tried?


Whether you love school or hate it, it’s quite handy to be able to read, write and maybe even do some basic maths. You have to admit, we’re all better off with a bit of book learnin’.

Top of the Class. Back in the days before school dinners, children learned from their parents.

In the very beginning, subjects included Hunting, Gathering, and Food Poisoning and How to Avoid It. Later, Farming and Keeping Animals joined the curriculum. Formal education came later.

The first schools were in ancient Egypt, around 3000 BC, and were for boys from rich families who would become scribes (professional writers —few people could read and write), priests or government officials.

In ancient India, teachers called Gurukuls ran schools that taught subjects including philosophy and medicine. The schools were free, but richer families paid a contribution when the child had finished his or her studies.

The ancient Romans had private schools for the rich, where children (mainly boys) were taught to read and write in Greek and Latin, and arithmetic.

Schools were set up in Europe during the Middle Ages, often by the Church or by guilds, associations of skilled workers, who would teach their trade.

The Education Act of 1870 provided compulsory state-funded schooling for all children aged between 5 and 13 in England and Wales. Before that, unless they could afford to pay, few children went to school at all.

Every term your school will write reports on you. Isn’t it time you had the chance to turn the tables and write a report on your school?

What is your least favorite subject? What is your average grade? How much freedom do you get in and out of class? What is the main thing you would you like k see changed in your school? Give your school a final

Learning the hard way: School for ancient Egyptian scribes was tough. One teacher wrote in a sort of school rules book, ‘pass no day in idleness or you will be beaten’. Teachers were still beating pupils in the UK until the late 20th century!


Love it or hate it, football has had enough fans to keep it in the premier league of the world’s most popular sports for many, many years.

Match of the Day. People have been kicking balls around for thousands of years, so it’s impossible to say who invented football or when.

The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all played football games. An early form of football called cuju was played in ancient China about 2,500 years ago. Two teams of twelve players competed to kick a leather ball through a total of twelve goals. In Japan, Kemari was played from about AD 600. It was a bit like a keepie-uppie competition.

During the Middle Ages in England, huge football games were played between entire villages, in which players tried to kick a blown-up pig’s bladder into the opposing team’s church. It’s thought that the game we know today as football originated in these riotous matches.

Football began to be played in public schools in England from the 1500s onwards. Rules were made so that matches could be played between schools and the game gradually evolved into the sport we know today.

The first football clubs were set up in England in the 19th century, and the Football Association, founded in 1863, established a universal set of rules for the game. The first match of Association Football was between Barnes and Richmond (in south-west London). It ended in a goalless draw.


Hold a penalty shoot-out with a mate and record the outcome. Toss a coin to decide who gets to choose whether to start in goal or take the first penalty.

If a goal is scored, good job. Then it’s the other person’s turn and the goalie becomes the penalty-taker. Keep taking turns until you have both taken five penalties each. The winner is the person who has scored the most goals. If you didn’t win the first time, how many times did it take until you did win?


Organise a friendly match between your mates. It is your job to manage one of the teams. Before the game, plan out some goal-scoring moves for your team, using the diagram below. Make sure your team know what to do to seal victory! Did your team win? What was the final score? Did your planned moves work?

Football phobia: Edward II banned football in London in 1314 because it caused noise and disruption and ‘many evils’. In 1349 Edward III also banned football, because he thought everyone should practice archery instead.

If kicking a ball around isn’t your idea of fun, but bossing people around is, why not try your hand at management instead?


Before spectacles were invented, short- or long-sighted people had to get very close to objects or very far away to see them. Or just live in a blur.

Perfect Vision. Looking through a lens to make something small appear bigger has been going on for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians made lenses as early as 2600 BC. The short-sighted Roman playwright, Seneca, looked through a glass globe of water in order to read books. During the Middle Ages, myopic monks looked at books through pieces of glass they called ‘reading stones’. But it was a while before anyone had the idea of strapping them to people’s heads.

No one really knows who invented specs, but in the 1200s the Fransiscan friar Roger Bacon was the first person to write about lenses and how they could be used to correct sight. There’s no evidence that he made any specs, though. The first pair probably appeared in Italy around 1300.

The earliest glasses had to be held in front of the eyes or balanced precariously on the nose. A rigid bridge wasn’t invented until the 1600s and the first spectacles with side pieces that went over the ears to stop them falling off all the time didn’t appear until about 1750.

Life through a Lens. The first wearable contact lenses were made in 1887 by Adol Eugen Fick, they covered the whole eyeball, not just the area around the pupil, and were extremely uncomfortable.

In 1936 William Feinbloom used plastic to make contact lenses easier to wear. During the 1950s and 60s contact lenses became lighter and thinner, and the first soft lenses became available in 1971.

A monocle is a circular lens for one eye only, kept in place by the eye socket. They became fashionable for wealthy men in the late 19th century. Famous monocle-wearers of more recent years include astronomer Sir Patrick Moore and former boxer Chris Eubank.

Toilets and Toilet Paper

Life without flushing toilets simply doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?

Flushed with Success. Toilets have been discovered from nearly 5,000 years ago, but the world’s oldest flushing loos are the ones at the Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete, which are 4,000 years old. Ancient Minoan royalty sat on a wooden seat over a clay bowl, which was flushed with water flowing through pipes and into stone sewers.

3,600 years later, the UK’s first flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington, Queen Elizabeth’s godson. In 1597 he installed one in his godmother’s palace at Richmond. The Queen was pleased with it but banished Harrington from court for writing a rude essay about it.

Harrington’s toilet wasn’t commonly used until the late 1700s, when Alexander Cumming invented the ‘S’ bend. Cumming took out the first patent on a modern toilet, which was improved upon by Joseph Bramah in 1778.

The House of Lords in London still has an original Bramah loo, and it’s still being used.

On a Roll. Toilet paper has probably been used since the invention of paper. The earliest record of it is in 14th-century China.

The first paper to be made and sold exclusively for using in the loo was made by Joseph Gayetty and went on sale in the USA in 1857 as ‘Gayetty’s Medicated Paper’.

Before toilet paper people used all sorts of things, including moss, leaves, corncobs and shells.

Very rich people have used materials like wool and even lace. In 1391, the first toilet paper was used by a Chinese emperor, but how big were the sheets? The same size as today’s paper Big – equivalent to A4 paper Massive – 60 x 90 cm

What caused the smell during the ‘Great Stink’ in London in 1858? Untreated sewage in the street or pollution from factories entreated sewage in the Thames rat infestation

Before the invention of toilet paper:

Hawaiians used coconut shells
Eskimos used snow
Romans used their hands
Early Americans used corncobs

In the middle ages, before the invention of toilets in the home, where did the waste from chamber pots go? On average, how much time do people spend on the loo over a lifetime? When is World Toilet Day? Where does the word ‘toilet’ come from? What is toilet humor?

Veni vidi wee-wee: Ancient Roman public toilets really were public – people used a jell multi-seated toilet without dividing walls or doors. And what’s more, these loos were unisex, and could seat up to 100 men and women.

Sign Language

Our need to communicate is part of what makes us human. So the invention of a standard sign language was pretty essential for millions of people.

Silent Speaking. For anyone who can’t hear or speak, making signals with the hands and body is the only way of communicating, unless you want to write everything down or have access to a keyboard all the time. Before the invention of a standard sign language, deaf and mute people invented their own.

We’ll never know, but perhaps our ancestors used a form of sign language before humans developed speech, or used it if they were out hunting and didn’t want to make a sound, or needed to communicate with a different tribe.

If a group of people get together and invent their own sign language, it’s not going to be understood by anyone who hasn’t learned it.

Standardized sign languages have been used since the 1600s. The first ones were developed in Italy and France as a way of improving education for deaf people.

In 1755 Abbe de l’Epee set up the first free school for the deaf and helped to develop a system of signed communication which forms the basis of French Sign Language today, and influenced many other international sign languages.

Even so, different countries have different sign languages just as they have different spoken languages. British Sign Language, Irish Sign Language and American Sign Language are all very different, even though English is the common spoken language.

Some hearing-impaired people can lip-read. It can be hard to distinguish different words: author Henry Kisor wrote a book about his experiences called What’s That Pig Outdoors?, which was how he’d interpreted the question, ‘What’s that big loud noise?’

Certain gestures, such as a thumbs up for ‘OK’, can cross language barriers and aren’t only used by people with hearing difficulties. If you don’t already know any, why not learn some sign language and take talking with your hands a step further?


You probably have a finely developed sense of what’s fashionable and what isn’t. Your granny’s fashion sense is no less keen than yours, it just happens to date from another era. But has fashion always been around?

Fashion Victims. It’s likely that the first people to wear clothes mainly cared about keeping warm, this was especially crucial during the Ice Age. Later on, clothing became important as a way of showing class, status, wealth and occupation as well as keeping warm and covered up.

Until the 20th century, most people didn’t have very much choice about what they could wear, clothes weren’t mass-produced, so most things had to be handmade and, unless you were really rich, that was probably your job or your mum’s. But if you did happen to be dead posh, the clothing you wore was a way of telling everyone about it. And that’s how fashion began.

In some societies, the upper classes were worried about people who were rich but not properly posh: if they looked upper class because they wore expensive clothes, who was to tell they weren’t? So ‘sumptuary laws’ were made to stop ordinary people with spare cash from wearing certain fashions!

There were laws like this in ancient Rome and medieval England. Today, however, most people don’t care whether you’re posh or not, or even how much money you have. So it’s possible to be common and broke and still be fashionable. Hooray!

Big-bottomed beauty: One of the strangest fashions ever must be the bustle. It was popular with ladies in Victorian England from the mid to late 1800s, and consisted of a special framework designed to make bottoms stick out more.

Build up a fashion portfolio with photos or drawings of your favorite outfits (and, if you dare, some of the worst ones too!). Good posh or bad posh?

Bow and Arrow

If you lived ten thousand years ago, a dead animal might provide you with food, clothing, tools (bones or antlers), string (tendons), and perhaps a bag (stomach). Animals were so useful when dead that an effective means of killing them was high on the agenda.

Ancient Archery. Using a bow and arrow, people could kill animals that were quite far away with a minimum of fuss and effort. There is evidence to suggest they have been used in many areas of the world for tens of thousands of years.

The bow and arrow had been invented in Africa by around 30,000 BC —they’re shown in cave paintings from that date.

By around 18,000 BC flint was used to make deadly arrow heads.

The oldest bow ever found was discovered in a bog in Holmgaard, Denmark. It’s 1.5 m long, made from elm and beautifully designed using 8,000-year-old technology.

The 5,000-year-old mummy found in the Alps, Otzi the Iceman, had been shot by an arrow and was carrying a bow made of yew. Bows and arrows had been used in warfare long before that.

During the Middle Ages the longbow became the most feared weapon on the battlefield. It was as tall as the archer, who had to be very strong and skilled to fire it. An arrow shot from a longbow could travel up to 400 meters!

Guns replaced bows and arrows as weapons of war from the 1500s. Crossbows fire arrows mechanically. They were first used in China and Greece around 2,500 years ago, and were used in warfare until the Middle Ages. Though very powerful, they were slow to fire and expensive to make.


You need a great aim to go hunting with a bow and arrow. The best thing to do is practise, practise, practise, and all you need for that are five empty tin cans, a tennis ball and a friend to make the whole thing more exciting as a competition.

Set up five empty tin cans and practise your aim by trying to knock them over with a tennis ball.

Take one shot at each can. Reset them and give your friend a go. You should both attempt to get all e cans down five times. Jot down your scores as you go, marking your cards with a tick for a hit and a cross for a miss. At the end, count up your overall score to see who’s got the best aim.

CDs and DVDs

Only a hundred years ago, listening to music was a rather complicated business and watching moving images was completely impossible.

Sound and Vision. In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the first machine to record sound. Ten years later, Emile Berliner invented the gramophone, which recorded sound on to a zinc disc, and eventually on to vinyl.

In 1926 John Logie Baird, famous for inventing television, invented a machine that recorded video on to a wax disc. He called it Phonovision.

Many people were frustrated by the sound quality of vinyl records and their lack of durability. By 1970 scientist James Russell had developed a way of digitally encoding information, including sounds, on to a disc, read by a laser. Sony eventually licensed this technology.

At the same time, Klass Compaan and Piet Kramer, working for the Dutch company Philips, came up with a prototype glass disc that could record video. But the idea didn’t take off for another 20 years.

Throughout the 1970s, Sony and Philips worked to perfect CD technology. They collaborated to come up with a standard that was demonstrated in public in 1979 and went on sale in 1982.

In the 1990s Digital Versatile Discs for recording video were developed, based on Compaan’s and Kramer’s invention. Even though they’re the same size, DVDs can store much more information than CDs.

DVDs went on sale in Japan in 1996, and in North America and Europe in the following two years. They very quickly replaced video tapes.

Playtime: Akio Morita, head of Japanese company Sony, insisted that CDs should have a playing time of at least 74 minutes because that’s how long it takes to play his favorite piece of music: Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Take a typical week in your life and make your own ‘soundtrack to your life’ album mix. Write down the songs that describe your week. Some suggestions for moments in your week have been made to get you on track, but you don’t have to use them if your songs don’t fit. Make a copy of your soundtrack and add it to your music collection.


Have you ever wished you could say ‘Beam me up, Scottie!’ and be instantly transported to wherever you wanted to go?

Energise! There’s no doubt that a teleporter, a device that can transport anything instantly over any distance, would be one of the most brilliant inventions ever, if only someone had got round to inventing it. No more waiting for buses in the pouring rain, no more sitting in traffic jams. Think of all the time you’d save for more important things.

However, the chances of someone inventing a real teleporter seem pretty remote. Somehow, you’d have to work out a way of converting every atom of a person or thing into a stream of fast-moving energy, find a way of directing that energy wherever you wanted it to go, then rearrange all the atoms exactly as they were to start off with at the destination (otherwise you might end up with an ear in the middle of your face).

On the other hand, physicists are currently researching ‘quantum teleportation’, which relies on a strange phenomenon in which two particles can be co-related, so that if one behaves in a certain way, the same thing happens to the other, no matter how far apart they are.

One day this spooky-sounding science could be used to communicate and even to create copies of the particles at remote destinations.

To boldly go where no man has gone before. Teleporters were invented back in the 1960s in the TV series Star Trek. The program’s ‘matter transporter’ was used countless times to remove the main characters from perilous situations.

Unlike a time machine, you can’t travel through time with a teleporter, you can only travel from one place to another in the present. Which situations have you wished you could be teleported to or away from? List six times when you wished you could disappear, e.g. an embarrassing moment, a boring family function, or a telling-off. GET ME OUT OF HERE!

The Battery

Today, batteries are useful if you can’t plug something into an outlet, but when they were first invented they were the only things capable of generating an electric current.

A Bright Spark. Alessandro Volta was born in 1745, when people used candles to light their homes and no one knew what electricity was. He worked as a physicist and, in 1775, he invented a machine that could produce and store static electricity, which he generated by rubbing cat fur across a metal plate.

Volta’s most famous invention came about because of frogs’ legs rather than cat fur. In 1780 a doctor called Luigi Galvani noticed that dissected frogs’ legs twitched when they were brought into contact with two different metals. Galvani thought that this was due to ‘animal electricity’.

Volta realised that the electricity was due to the metal and had nothing to do with the dead frog. He began experimenting and discovered that some metals could generate an electric current if they were submerged in acid.

In 1800 he invented the ‘voltaic pile’, the first ever battery, made from copper and zinc strips separated by paper soaked in salt water and submerged in diluted sulphuric acid. He had worked out a way of generating an electric current.

Volta’s battery was the first portable source of energy and without it radio, telegraph and electric light, among other things, wouldn’t have been possible.

I HAVE THE POWER! Did you know it’s possible to make your own battery using things you can find around the house?


Gnawing on bones looks so undignified. And how would you eat jelly without the invention of cutlery?

Knives, Foons and Sporks. Spoons were probably the first items of cutlery ever to be used. Back in the Stone Age, people started using shells to scoop up their food instead of using their fingers. Then someone had the bright idea of attaching a handle. Eventually spoons began to be made as one object, usually from wood.

Knives were around before spoons, but they were used as weapons or tools rather than cutlery. At some point in the past, it was realized that cutting up food was a lot less messy than tearing at it with your hands or teeth. Knives were used to cut things, then to stab them and put them in the mouth.

Forks hold food more securely than knives. They seem to have developed last, though some have been found dating from ancient Lydia (modern-day Turkey), ancient Greece and Rome. Forks didn’t become popular until the Middle Ages and even then they were considered immoral and banned by the Church.

Gradually they developed several tines (the first forks had just two), which became curved rather than straight. In the 19th century, sporks, combining the bowl of a spoon with the tines of a fork, were invented, as well as foons (like a spork but with the bowl facing the opposite way). You may have seen sporks provided with fast food, if not in your cutlery drawer!

Spoonerisms galore: In 2002 the knirk was invented – a fork and a knife combined. The blade element might be dangerous, so the knirk has a safety device to stop users stabbing themselves. It’s not proved popular.

The Compass

Before the compass was invented, life could be very tricky. Not only did people have to do without a reliable direction indicator, but they also had to do without street lights, torches, road maps and satellite navigation. This must have meant a lot of dark nights lost in the woods.

First Star on the Right. A compass uses a magnetized needle that aligns itself with the magnetic north of the Earth. It sounds simple, but people had to find their way without it for thousands of years.

Around 200 BC, the Chinese used a magnetic metal pointer like a compass, but not for navigation: it was for working out lucky days for special events.

But we do have the Chinese to thank for the earliest compass (well, probably): an early form of compass was used in China during the 11th century. It was a magnetic needle floating in a bowl of water.

The more familiar form of a compass, a needle inside a box, appeared in Europe at the end of the 1200s. No one knows who invented it, or whether it came from a Chinese idea or was developed independently in Europe.

When it was clear, people used the stars to guide them at night. But of course lots of places tend to be a bit cloudy for at least some of the year. So the compass made getting about a lot easier. It also meant that people could explore new lands and have a much greater chance of getting home again. It’s an invention we’d be lost without.


Even though we all know it’s a clever trick (well, most of us do), magic continues to entertain us, in theaters and on TV. But magic that makes you invisible and turns your enemies into toads has yet to be invented.

Hocus Pocus! No one knows who was the first person to put a ball under a cup then make it vanish (one of the first magic tricks ever), but we do know that people were performing illusions in ancient civilizations all over the world.

A piece of 4,000 year-old ancient Egyptian writing tells of the magician Dedi, who cut animals’ heads off then miraculously put them back on – which sounds rather messy.

Performing illusions in Europe in the 16th century was a risky business because ‘witches’ were being executed for their magic powers. A helpful book called The Discoveries of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot explained how to tell the difference between magicians and real witches.

Many magicians performed in the streets, but by the 19th century they were appearing in theatres too, and magic acts were becoming more popular. Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805-1871) is often called ‘the father of modern magic’ because of the many mechanical devices he invented to perform illusions.

The early 20th century saw lots of astonishing new magicians, such as the escapologist Harry Houdini, and new magic tricks, such as Sawing a Woman in Half, invented by P. T. Selbit in 1921.

NOW THAT’S MAGIC! Here is a cup and ball trick – one of the earliest types of magic trick we know about. All you need to impress your friends is some scrunched-up paper balls, 3 plastic cups, a bit of practice and a lot of showmanship!

Post-It Notes

Post-it notes were invented by Arthur Fry, working for the company 3M, in 1974. By accident, a few years before, Fry’s colleague Spencer Silver had discovered a very weak glue that was reusable and easily removed from paper without leaving a mark. Silver tried to think of a use for his seemingly useless glue, but couldn’t.

Eventually, Arthur Fry came up with an idea for using the glue while he was at church one Sunday. He needed to mark his place in his hymnbook and thought how handy it would be if the bookmark stuck to the page but could then be removed easily. He developed the idea, and quickly discovered that Post-it notes were useful not only as bookmarks but for all sorts of other things too.

Post-its went on sale for the first time in 1980 and now you’ll find them stuck all over the place. Since they’re so useful, it seems strange that it took so long to come up with them.

AND DON’T FORGET IT. Post-it notes help us to remember so many things that we would otherwise forget and get in trouble for – and they’ve made our books and desks a lot more colorful. But here are a few other things that your Post-it notes can be used for:

POST-IT ART. Post-it notes are great for producing mini works of art. The best thing is that you don’t need nails to hang your picture, just stick your art to the wall in the safe knowledge that you won’t ruin the wallpaper when you take it down. Place your favorite Post-it note art here. A piece of art on a Post-it note by artist R. B. Kitaj sold for £640 in December 2000. Maybe you could sell yours. What is the title of your Post-it note art? How much do you think it’s worth?

Give each player a Post-it and write the name of a famous celebrity on it without anyone seeing. When everyone has written down a name, stick yours to the forehead of the person next to you.

Each person asks questions in turn to find out who is on their forehead. The other players can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The winner is the one who guesses the name on their Post-it in the fewest guesses.

How long did it take you to draw? Take note: In 1986, Andy Rourke, the bass guitarist in The Smiths, was sacked by Post-it note. It was left on his car windscreen by the lead singer. The note read: ‘Andy, you have left The Smiths. Good luck and goodbye, Morrissey.’

POST-IT NAUGHTY. How sneaky are you? Try to stick a Post-it note to someone’s back without them knowing. What did you write on the note?

Paper clips. If you use Post-it notes, you probably use paper clips too. Johann Vaaler, who patented a paper clip design in 1899, is usually credited with their invention, but various forms of wire paper clip have been around since 1867.

The paper clip design we know today was patented by Henry Lankenau in 1934, although a very similar design called the Gem, which was never patented, has been around since the early 1890s.

The Lie Detector

Some teachers and parents seem to have an uncanny ability to see through a lie, but they can never really know for certain, that would involve mind-reading!

A polygraph machine can’t mind-read either, but it has become known as a ‘lie detector’ because it is pretty good at picking up on the telltale signs of tall tales!

Ask No Questions, Hear No Lies. If you tell a lie you’ll probably feel a bit nervous about it. If it’s a real whopper, your heart might start to pound and you might get a bit hot and sweaty. A polygraph machine is a device that monitors changes in the body that are associated with telling lies, such as blood pressure, heart rate, how sweaty you are and how fast you’re breathing. These results are analyzed.

US psychologist William M. Marston invented an early type of polygraph that measured blood pressure and was used in the First World War to question prisoners. Another psychologist, John A. Larson, invented a more modern type of polygraph in 1921 that was able to measure changes in a person’s breathing and pulse rate too.

Leonard Keeler, who worked with Larson, made further improvements in 1938 by adding a psychogalvanometer, a device that measures activity in the sweat glands.

But what if you’re anxious, hot and sweaty for other reasons? Just the thought of taking a lie-detector test might worry you. Or what if you’re really good at covering up stress? And polygraph results can be interpreted in different ways by different examiners. For these sorts of reasons, polygraphs are not foolproof and they can’t be used as evidence in a law court in the UK.

Wonder Man: William Marston, one of the inventors of the polygraph, also created the cartoon character Wonder Woman under his pen name Charles Moulton. Wonder Woman had a Lasso of Truth that forced anyone caught in it to be honest.

IT’S ALL LIES. They may be little white ones or massive whoppers, but the long and short of it is that everyone tells porky pies, although some people are better at lying than others. Use the tips below to try to catch someone out and uncover their web of deceit.


It’s impossible, unless you’re a mind-reader, to know for certain if someone is telling the truth or lying, but here are some things to look out for which might give the game away:

Are they avoiding eye contact or making too much deliberate eye contact?

Are they touching their face and hands more than usual?

Do they appear nervous – for example, fidgeting a lot and looking uncomfortable?

Are they slow to answer questions (perhaps stalling for time to invent their story)?

Are they avoiding giving details, or including an unusual amount of detail?

Is their story inconsistent? Do they change certain details under intense questioning?

Are they accusing you or someone else in order to cover up or deflect their lies?

Are they refusing to answer your questions or trying to change the subject?

YOU LIAR! Name and shame the biggest liar you know! Who among your family and friends lies the most? What is the worst lie they’ve told? How good at lying are they? How many times have you caught them lying? How good at lying are YOU? Did you get found out? Did you get into trouble?


People everywhere like pizza, there are hundreds of thousands of pizzerias around the world. But who invented it, when and where?

Pizza Premiere. Bread has been around for a very long time, at least 10,000 years. Ever since its invention, people have been adding toppings and tucking in. The ancient Greeks had a flat bread called plakuntos that they topped with onions and herbs, and there were similar flat breads with toppings all over the Mediterranean.

The pizza we know and love today has a dough base made from water, flour and yeast topped with various ingredients, but the most basic, and the one that makes it a pizza, is tomato sauce.

Tomatoes may not seem very exotic, but they come from America and were only introduced to Europe in the 1500s. At first people regarded tomatoes with suspicion and thought they were poisonous, but eventually they became popular. Towards the end of the 1700s in the area around Naples in southern Italy, people began to add tomato sauce to their local flat bread, and the pizza was born.

Although we don’t know the culinary genius who first came up with this delicious snack, the world’s first pizzeria is thought to be Antica Pizzeria in Naples, which opened in 1830 and is still going. It’s only since the second half of the 20th century that pizza has become popular across the world as well as in Italy.

Pizza Deluxe: The most expensive pizza in the world cost £2,150 and was made to raise funds for a charity in 2007. Toppings included caviar, champagne, lobster, venison, brandy and edible gold!

Making your own pizza is the best way for you to get exactly what you want, because you decide what goes on the pizza and in what quantity!

Here are some suggestions for toppings on your pizza

various cheeses, tomato, sundried tomato, spinach, egg, mushroom, pesto, aubergine, olives, pineapple, pepper (green, red and yellow), jalapenos, onion, chillies, sweetcorn, leek, garlic, asparagus, artichoke, ham, pepperoni, salami, sausage, bacon, chicken, anchovies, tuna, prawns

The Submarine

People had been paddling about in boats for thousands of years before submarines were invented. Underwater travel proved a lot trickier to invent, even though fish make it look so easy.

Deep Down. The first working submarine was built in 1620 by Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch inventor employed by James I of England. We don’t know exactly how it worked, it looks suspiciously like an upturned rowing boat and was powered by men pulling oars. A similar design had been drawn up by English naval officer William Bourne in 1578, but it was never made.

The Turtle, built in 1775 by the American David Bushnell, was designed to sink a British warship. It failed, but it’s the first military submarine and the first vessel we know about that could move and operate underwater.

In 1864, the first submarine to sink a ship was the CSS H. L. Hunley, named after its designer. Unfortunately the submarine sank too.
In 1870 Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea featured a submarine called Nautilus that inspired inventors to come up with more sophisticated machine-powered designs for submarines.

In 1906 the first German U-boat was launched. During the First World War, U-boats proved very effective at sinking enemy ships. War at sea changed for ever and thousands of subs were used during the Second World War. In the 1950s new technology, including nuclear power, allowed submarines to remain underwater for months.

Submariners on today’s nuclear subs spend weeks at a time in cramped conditions and without seeing the Sun. They often have ‘coffin dreams’ – they wake up convinced they’re inside a coffin. True claustrophobia sufferers are rooted out during submarine training.

It would be impossible for you to build your own working submarine, but you can demonstrate one of the principles behind submarine engineering – buoyancy – in this simple experiment. You can also check out the great films listed below featuring submarines.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) U

Das Boot (1981)12

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) PG

The Abyss (1989) 15

The Land That Time Forgot (1975) PG

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
(2003) 12A

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) 15

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) PG

The Hunt for Red October (1990) PG

Yellow Submarine PG (1968) U


Poetry has been around for thousands of years as a way of recording and expressing human experience through language. Simple rhyming and rhythmical verses are some of the first words we learn.

Prehistoric Poems. The oldest poetry wasn’t written down at all. People told stories, made up or based on historical events, as poems, often very long ones. The words were remembered and passed on from generation to generation.

The earliest written poems might well have been spoken aloud for centuries before they were written down.The oldest surviving poem we know about is the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s from ancient Sumer, modern-day Iraq, and the earliest version dates from around 2000 BC. The poem is supposed to be about a real king, Gilgamesh of Uruk. Gilgamesh probably did exist, and reigned round about 2500 BC, but the things that happened to him in the poem are a little unlikely.

The ancient Greek epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are by a poet called Homer, though no one knows if he really existed. They were eventually written down around 700 BC.

The Iliad tells the story of the war between the Greeks and Trojans, and the Odyssey is about Odysseus, a Greek hero, and his long journey home from the war. Like Gilgamesh, the subject of the poems have some basis in reality; the one-eyed giants, singing mermaids and sea monsters were probably all made up though.

The world’s longest poem is the Mahabharata, an Indian epic poem sacred to the Hindu religion. It’s about 1.8 million words long. One of the shortest poems in the world is by Charles Ghigna, called ‘I’, and it goes: Why?

A limerick tells a funny short story in 5 lines, rhyming a a b b a. The a-lines have 3 beats and the b-lines, 2 beats. They usually start something like: There was a young lady/fellow called/from


An acrostic poem can be any length, rhyming or non-rhyming, but the first letter of each line can be read down, spelling out a word or
message relating to the poem.

A haiku consists of three unrhyming lines. The first and third lines must have five syllables, and the second line seven syllables.

The Hot-Air Balloon

Flying machines were invented 120 years before the Wright brothers’ plane made its first flight. They were quieter, more beautiful to look at and not nearly so bad for the environment. But they were a bit harder to steer.

Up, Up and Away. Brothers Josef and Etienne Montgolfier came up with their invention after noticing that the hot air in an open fire made pieces of ash rise upwards. They didn’t want to take any chances though: instead of going themselves, their first balloon-flight passengers in 1782 were a sheep, a cockerel and a duck, who flew successfully for 33 m over ten minutes. (The duck would have done better than that on its own.)

The first balloon flight with human passengers was made by Pilatre de Rozier and Francois d’Arlandes in Paris in 1783. Since the first balloons had a tendency to catch fire, the original idea was for condemned criminals to make the first flight. But Rozier and d’Arlandes decided to be brave and they made the journey themselves, without anything catching fire. Sadly Rozier was killed two years later when he tried to cross the Channel in a balloon.

Balloons have come a long way since 1782: they’ve soared as high as 34,000 m (in 1961), and travelled more than 40,000 km on a non-stop journey lasting 20 days (in 1999). The Channel, the Atlantic and even the Pacific have all been crossed successfully by hot-air balloon.

Funky fuel: The fuel used for the Montgolfier brothers’ first flight consisted of old boots and bad meat. No wonder they didn’t fancy the trip themselves. Today’s hot-air balloons are fueled by propane, which isn’t quite so smelly.


Plastic is used in packaging, toys, furniture, computers, clothing, just about everything! What on earth were things made of before it was invented?

Plastic Fantastic. There are natural plastics, cellulose is one type, found in cotton. But the first synthetic plastic wasn’t invented until the twentieth century.

In 1862 an English chemist called Alexander Parkes made a mixture of nitrocellulose (an explosive substance made from cellulose and nitric and sulphuric acids), and camphor. He called it Parkesine and it was used to make all sorts of domestic objects.

In 1905 Leo Baekeland, a Belgian chemist working in New York, mixed phenol (a disinfectant) with formaldehyde (a preservative) and came up with Bakelite, the first completely man-made plastic, which could be moulded into any shape. It was used to make music recordings, telephones, furniture, radios and electrical insulation, among other things.

During the 1920s and 30s, there were lots of important developments in the plastics industry: polythene was invented when an experiment went wrong at the plastics company ICI, nylon began to be used to make clothing, and neoprene (a synthetic rubber), vinyl and Perspex were invented.

Now it’s hard to imagine life without plastic. It’s useful stuff: light, inexpensive, extremely versatile and durable, and there lies the problem. Plastic is very difficult to get rid of because it takes so long to biodegrade. Rubbish tips all over the world are full of it.

Unfantastic plastic: It takes about 450 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade! 41.5 Recycling the same bottle can save enough energy to light a 60-watt light bulb for six hours and reusing plastic carrier bags could save millions of litres of oil a year.

It can be a maze trying to sort the plastic for recycling because there are so many different types. Recyclable plastic falls into seven categories – figure out which recycle group relates to which types of plastic object, then help organize the recycling at home and school with your detailed knowledge!

Some fancy names for plastic are, Polyvinyl Low Density Chloride Polyethylene Polypropylen Polystyrene Other, High Density, Polyethylene, Polyethylene, Terephthalate.

Plastic is used to make detergent bottles and plastic milk bottles, plastic cutlery, Drink bottles and Bin bags and take-away plastics jars, carrier bags boxes, peanut butter jars, foam cups, Bottle tops and drinking straws, Pipes, shrink wrap, outdoor furniture.


Being sent to prison is a common form of punishment today, but what did we do with criminals before prisons were invented?

In the Nick. There were plenty of punishments around before prisons, ranging from the expensive (paying a fine) to the horribly gruesome (having something chopped off, an ear, hand or nose, for example).

The worst punishment was death, and still is in some parts of the world, and plenty of terrible ways to die were invented. Prisons in the ancient world were mostly used as places where accused criminals awaited trial, or convicted criminals awaited execution.

During the Middle Ages, people were sometimes locked up in castle dungeons. In Warwick Castle one group of soldiers was held in the dungeon for four years, but it wasn’t a common punishment for ordinary prisoners.

In Britain in the 1700s, more than 200 crimes were punishable by death, which is one way of doing without prisons but seems a bit unfair. From the mid-1700s, people began to be locked up in prison as a punishment.

Prisons were filthy and overcrowded, especially on the ‘prison hulks’, huge prison ships, but conditions did improve over the 19th century and more emphasis was put on the rehabilitation of prisoners.

Today there are 139 prisons in England and Wales holding nearly 80,000 prisoners. But people are still arguing about the effectiveness of this form of punishment.

‘Oubliettes’ were pit-like castle dungeons with no windows and only a trapdoor on 4,5 the ceiling. Prisoners could be thrown in and forgotten about, sometimes until they died (‘oubliette’ comes from the French word ‘oublier’ – to forget).

Even the highest security prisons are not 100% secure. Can you match escapologists to the prison they escaped from, when and what happened to them next?


From the Stratocaster to the air guitar, this is one of the world’s most versatile and popular instruments.

Centuries of Strumming. People have been strumming instruments similar to modern-day guitars for thousands of years.

Sculptures from the ancient city of Susa, in modern-day Iran, show people playing instruments very like guitars. They’re more than 3,500 years old. Ancient guitar-like instruments include the kithara and the lyre, both strummed in ancient Greece.

The Arabic oud and the Mediterranean lute are stringed instruments like guitars, but without the guitar’s distinctive curved sides and ‘waist’. The guitarra Latina, which first appeared in Spain in the Middle Ages, developed into the guitar design we know today.

Guitar design changed over the centuries. By around 1800 the instrument had the six strings of most modern instruments, and the basic design has stayed the same for about the last 150 years.

In 1935 the electric guitar was invented by Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp (though various people had helped to develop it). The new louder sound led to a revolution in the music of popular culture.

In 1939 Charlie Christian was the first to amaze an audience with an electric guitar solo. People have been playing air guitar ever since. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: In May 2007 guitar players gathered in Wroclaw, Poland, to play ‘Hey Joe’, by the famous guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Nearly 2,000 guitarists broke the world record for the largest guitar orchestra ever.

If the guitar had never been invented then the air guitar would never have been born. Air guitar is quite simply the art of playing an invisible guitar.

The cult of the air guitar has grown from an embarrassing dance move to a worldwide celebration of an ‘art’ that takes place in the form of international championships held every year to find the world’s best air guitarist.


Remember, anyone can play air guitar – you don’t need to he a guitarist and you don’t need a guitar.

1. Create an awesome stage name for yourself, like Bjorn Tiirogue (pronounced Bjorn to Rock, a perennial Air Guitar World Championships participant)

2. Turn a ruck classic up to eleven on the volume dial, one that features plenty of powerchords or dirty guitar riffs, like Motgrhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ or Iron Maiden’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’

3. Leap around the room and create a winning air-guitar routine using some of the moves below

4. Finally, look the part. Long hair is preferable, make-up is optional, a black rock T-shirt is standard and a rock attitude is essential.

Take a run-up and slide across the stage on your knees while playing your ‘guitar’.

Roth Leap. Leap in the air while playing your ‘guitar’. The higher you get and the further apart your legs are while airborne, the better.

Whip your head backwards and forwards. If you have long hair, throw it across your face with the first whip. Remember to keep playing
the ‘guitar’ throughout.

Stand with your legs as far apart from each other as possible. On lour Rum! Rock back and forth as if in prayer to a higher rock god.

Play With You Teeth. Hold the ‘guitar’ up to your face and mime as if your teeth were plucking the strings. Spin your arm in a continuous motion to play the chords on your ‘guitar’. Invent your own move.

The Thermometer

Before thermometers were invented no one could be very exact about temperature.

As far back as the ancient Greeks, the principle that some substances, like air, expand as they get hotter and contract when they get cooler, had been observed, but it took a long time before this theory was successfully applied to the production of a device that could measure temperature.

Freezing and Boiling. In 1592 Galileo Galilei produced a thermoscope, like a thermometer but without a scale, so it wasn’t very accurate. His contemporary, an Italian doctor called Santorio, is believed to have been the first to add a numerical scale.

In the 1680s Guillaume Amontons developed a thermometer that used mercury, which expands as it gets hotter (earlier ones used air, which isn’t as effective). But Amontons’ thermometer still wasn’t very good.

Gabriel Fahrenheit made a big difference to the development of the invention when he made the first successful mercury thermometer in 1714. Ten years later he came up with a temperature scale that’s still used widely today.

Although Fahrenheit is still used in the USA, most people use centigrade (or Celsius) for measuring temperature. Centigrade is a lot more sensible: Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius came up with the scale in 1742 based on the freezing point and boiling point of water (0 degrees centigrade and 100 degrees centigrade respectively, though originally it was the other way around). Fahrenheit chose 32 degrees as the freezing point of water and 212 as the boiling point, perhaps he just liked to make things complicated.


A thermometer is a really clever piece of kit. It’s hard to replicate such an accurate device, but here is a way to create a very basic one. Build one to earn your star.


water, a clear plastic bottle with lid, a clear plastic drinking straw,
food coloring, Blu-tack


Chill a bowl of water in the fridge overnight. Fill a clear plastic bottle right to the top with the tap water

(1). Add a few drops of food coloring to the water to make the temperature change easily visible. Cut a hole in the top of the bottle lid wide enough for the straw to fit through

(2). Push the straw into the bottle through the hole but don’t let it touch the base of the bottle. Take the Blu-tack and use it to seal the gaps between the straw and the bottle top

(3). As the cold tap water in the bottle rises to room temperature, so the water should rise up the straw. Mark the new level on the straw

(4). Place your thermometer in the bowl of cold water you kept in the fridge. Leave it to stand for 30 mins and watch as the water level falls

(5). Then place your device in the sink with hot water and watch as the water level rises

(6). The Kelvin temperature scale was developed in the 1880s by Lord Kelvin and is used for extremes of temperature. 0 degrees in the Kelvin scale is absolute zero – the coldest anything can get – and is equivalent to minus 273 degrees centigrade.


Imagine if you didn’t have your birthday to look forward to every year. It would be like canceling Christmas.

Happy Returns. People haven’t always celebrated the day they were born. In prehistoric times, people didn’t have diaries to help remember their friends’ and relatives’ birthdays. In fact, for much of human history, most people didn’t know the date they were born, or the date of anything else for that matter.

Ancient civilizations did celebrate birthdays, at least, important people’s, like kings’ and queens’. Predictions were made based on someone’s date of birth, just like today’s horoscopes. The early Jewish and Christian people didn’t celebrate birthdays because of this link with pagan fortune-telling.

Mithraism was a religion that became popular in ancient Roman times. Followers of Mithraism decided birthdays were a good thing, and the idea of celebrating your date of birth spread. The ancient Romans were very keen on holidays and festivals, so this was a handy excuse for yet another one.

Today, most people celebrate the day they were born, but not everyone. Some people are just a bit miserable about them because they don’t like the idea of getting older. Others have religious objections to birthdays, like the early Jews and Christians did.

Happy Birthday. What makes your special day even more special? Do you know which famous people share your birthday or what historical events happened on it and when

‘Happy Birthday to You’ is not only one of the most frequently sung melodies in the world, but is one of the three songs you’re most likely to hear sung in the English language. The other two are ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’.