Top 25 Inventions That Changed the World


Most people keep photos as a reminder of special people and moments. Unfortunately, photos can also remind us of all our bad hair days and fashion blunders. Say Cheese.

People have known how to project images using a pinhole camera for thousands of years, they were using them in China 2,500 years ago. But no one managed to get a permanent image until the 1800s.

The first ever photograph was taken in 1826 by French inventor Nicephore Niepce. He used a pinhole camera to project the view from his window on to a photo-sensitive silver-compound-coated metal plate. It took eight hours of bright sunlight to make the image permanent!

Louis Daguerre teamed up with Niepce and improved and developed the process. Daguerre took the first photo of a person in 1838. Even though it’s a street scene, there’s only one visible person in the photo, a man having his boots polished; anyone or anything that didn’t stay still for at least ten minutes wouldn’t show up. (That’s why Victorians look so stiff in photos.)

Around the same time, William Talbot was busy inventing a method of taking a negative print, from which any number of photographs could be made.

The oldest surviving negative dates from 1835: a rather unexciting image of one of the windows in Talbot’s home. Daguerre’s and Talbot’s inventions were the two basic processes used for photography.

Fast Food

There’s plenty of food that’s quick, in fact, instant: bananas, for example. But most people think of fast food as pre-prepared meals that are heated up as soon as you order them and whisked to you in seconds.

Fast food has been around for a long time, but it took the last 100 years or so to make it really unhealthy. The first fast food was sold from street stalls in the earliest cities in the world.

The ancient Romans had stalls selling hot and cold snacks such as stews, pies and sausages. The delicious Indian fast food that’s still sold in the street has followed the same recipes for centuries.

Modern fast food began when, in 1902, ready-made meals were sold in coin-operated machines in a cafe called Horn & Hardart’s Automat in Philadelphia, and then ten years later in New York. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but the food became popular in the 1920s and 30s during the Great Depression. People started to buy cheap ready-made take-away food instead of always cooking themselves or eating out.

The biggest fast-food restaurant chain ever is McDonald’s. It started in 1948 as a restaurant run by two brothers, selling a limited menu very cheaply and quickly. They sold so many burgers, fries and milkshakes that Ray Kroc, a milkshake-mixer salesman, decided to buy the business.

Kroc’s clever marketing made McDonald’s the huge chain of restaurants we know today. The healthy alternative, in many parts of the world you can buy insect snacks, including grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and beetles.

In parts of Africa, termites are roasted and eaten by the handful. They’re much more nutritious than a bag of chips.

Do you want healthy fries with that? Fast food doesn’t have to be an unhealthy affair, in fact more often than not the healthy version tastes far nicer than the unhealthy one. Have a look at the fast-food recipes and make your own healthy smoothie, burger and fries.

Cloning of Plants and Animals

Is it only a matter of time before there are thousands of copies of you running about confusing everybody?

A clone is an exact copy of another plant or animal: the genes in both organisms are identical. Dolly, the first sheep to make history, was born on 5 July 1996 at the Roslin Institute in Scotland.

Animals had been cloned before using cells from embryos, but Dolly was cloned from a cell in an adult animal. Scientists at Roslin had taken an egg from a sheep, all the genetic material, and replaced it with a cell from Dolly’s mum.

This sounds like an awful lot of trouble to go to just for a sheep, after all, there are millions of the creatures and they all look exactly the same anyway. The point of cloning isn’t to make identical sheep, though, it’s to make it easier to produce animals or plants with particular characteristics.

If animals were bred in the usual way, this would take a lot longer than with cloning. For example, sheep have been genetically engineered through cloning to produce human insulin.

In the future, animals could be produced to provide human spare parts, like hearts, kidneys and livers. Another benefit of cloning might be to breed endangered animals: an Asian ox called a gaur was born to an ordinary cow in Iowa, USA, as a result of cloning.

So you think you haven’t been cloned – but since there are six billion people in the world, it would be impossible to know for sure. Not only could your double be out there somewhere, but identity theft means they might steal your name too.

Not surprisingly, cloning is the subject of heated debate. Goodbye, Dolly! Dolly died at the age of six, half the usual lifespan of a sheep, suffering from cancer and arthritis. It’s not known if her early death was due to the fact she was cloned. Dolly was named after country-and-western singer Dolly Parton.

Matches and Match Sticks

Considering how many years fire has been around, the invention of the match was a long time coming. Before matches there were various methods for lighting a fire, all of them painfully slow.

The best one was a tinder box, which used steel, flint and tinder, material that would easily catch fire, such as charred cloth or flakes of wood. The tinder had to be very dry for it to work well, so it often didn’t. People were desperate for something faster and more effective.

Sticks of wood impregnated with sulphur were used in China in the sixth century. In 1680 Robert Boyle developed the same thing in England. Boyle’s matches had to be handled very carefully or they caught light unexpectedly.

K. Chancel invented a match that used sulphur, asbestos and sulphuric acid, among other things. As you can imagine, this was quite dangerous too.

In 1826 John Walker invented a match that worked by friction. The mixture of chemicals he used on the head of the match burst into flames at low temperatures, striking it against a rough surface was enough to light one. Unfortunately this made them dangerous. And they smelled terrible, too.

In 1845 Swedish inventor J. Lundstrom made striking a match a lot safer. His idea was to put some of the chemicals on the match head and some on the striking surface, unless the two came into contact, they wouldn’t catch fire. They were known as safety matches.

Phosphorus was used in making matches until the early 20th century. It could be very deadly to factory workers, who might develop ‘phossy jaw’, a terrible condition that, made the jawbone glow in the dark and could eventually kill the sufferer.

The Mobile Phone

It’s hard to imagine how people managed to run their lives before cell phones. It’s good to know you can get hold of your family whenever you need them, although sometimes you might wish it wasn’t so easy for them to get hold of you.

You might have seen clunky 1980s mobile phones the size and weight of a house brick. But did you know mobiles have been around since 1947?

The first cell phone system was introduced in Saint Louis in 1946 by US telecom companies AT&T and Southwestern Bell. This radio-telephone system operated in cars, and a similar one for use on the road between Boston and New York was introduced a year later. Both systems used a single transmitter and both found that there was a lot of interference.

In 1947 Bell Laboratories came up with the idea for a cellular system, instead of using one large transmitter, each small area had its own low-powered one. This solved the interference problem.

A cellular mobile phone network wasn’t up and running for another thirty years. In the USA this delay was caused by strict regulation on radio frequencies set by the government. In 1978, Chicago had the world’s first.

Europe’s first cellular mobile phones were introduced in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway in 1981. Britain followed in 1985. At first it was easy to eavesdrop on other people’s calls, and criminals were able to make calls using genuine customers’ accounts. Secure networks have been around since the early 1990s.

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone in 1876, also invented an early metal-detecting device. The story goes that when US President Garfield was shot in 1881, Bell used his metal detector to search for the bullet.

How skilled are you with your cell phone?

Short Messaging Service ISMS) competitions are held to find the fastest text messager on the planet. The current world record holder is Ang Chuang Yang from Singapore. He typed 160 characters in 41.52 seconds.

How fast do you think you are? See how fast you can type the message that the Guinness Book of Records officials asked him to type:
The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.

What do the following abbreviations mean?


Some cell phone ringtones are so annoying that you want to throw the phone as far away as possible. Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that mobile phone throwing competitions have been held all over the world since 2000, when the first phone throwing contest was held in Finland.

The current world record for the furthest a mobile phone has been thrown is 94.97 m for a man and 53.52 m for a woman.


Far back in the mists of time, people must have got fed up with everyone being late for everything. Someone came up with the bright idea of time and how to measure it.

Second Nature. The most obvious way of measuring time is, of course, the Sun coming up, going down and then coming up again: a day. People probably caught on to that one fairly fast. And the Moon goes through phases, from a sliver to a circle, of about a month, which divides time into bigger chunks.

The Ancient Egyptians came up with the 365-day calendar. They’d noticed that some things happened once every twelve months, like the flooding of the River Nile. The earliest recorded year was 4236 BC.

If you want to be a bit more specific, you need to divide up the day into smaller chunks. The ancient Babylonians came up with 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day. Ever since then, people have been inventing time-measuring devices: clocks.

1 year is equal to 12 months • 52 weeks • 365 days • 8,760 hours 525.600 minutes • 31,536,000 seconds

10 years is equal to 1 decade • 120 months 520 weeks • 3,650 days • 87,600 hours • 5,256.000 minutes • 315,360.000 seconds

100 years is equal to: 1 century • 10 decades • 1,200 months • 5,200 weeks • 36,500 days • 876,000 hours • 52,560,000 minutes • 3.153,600,000 seconds

BUT these sums don’t include leap years. A leap year consists of 366 days instead of 365. This extra day is added to February every four years, giving the month 29 days instead of 28.

The last 10 leap years were in: 1972, 1776, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992. 1996, 2000. 2004 & 2008

The next 10 leap years are in: 2012, 2016, 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, 2044 & 2048

So for every four years that you’ve been alive, add 1 day • 24 hours • t.440 minutes • 86,400 seconds

AND if that isn’t enough to think about there are also leap seconds! Believe it or not but some years are longer than others! Every now and again scientists add an extra second to the year (and sometimes two in a year). There have been 23 leap seconds in the last 35 years. The last leap second to be added was to the end of 31 December 2005, making the time 23:59.60 – so bung a few extra seconds on to your answers for good measure!

Sundials were used to measure time over 5,000 years ago. Water clocks, which drip water at a constant rate, told the time in Egypt and Babylon around 3,500 years ago.

Dutch scientist Chrishaan Huygens invented the first mechanical pendulum clock in 1656. In the 20th century mechanical clocks were replaced by quartz-crystal clocks, in which crystals vibrate at a constant rate.

Atomic clocks use the resonance of atoms to measure time. The first accurate one was built by Louis Essen in 1955. But not many people need to be that precise.

Lunar-ticks: Sticks and bones with lines and holes scratched into them dating from 20,000 years ago are thought to be Ice-Age Moon calendars. Notches carved into the sticks are thought to represent days between each phase of the Moon.


If you think people wear a lot of jewellery today, you may be surprised to hear that people were even more into their bling in the past.

Good As Gold. Our ancestors were wearing necklaces and bracelets 40,000 years ago! Early jewellery was made from shells, bone, teeth and stone.

Around 7,000 years ago, the first metal jewellery was made from copper. Jewellery was made in workshops in China about 5,000 years ago. The favorite ancient Chinese bling material was jade, a beautiful green stone.

From around 5,000-4,000 years ago, rich men and women all over the Middle East loved to wear jewellery. Archaeological finds from the ancient city of Ur (in modern-day Iraq) include necklaces, bracelets and brooches made from gold, silver and semi-precious stones.

The ancient Egyptians liked their bling too, especially made from gold. Ancient workshops made beautiful, intricate jewellery of all kinds, using gold, silver, precious stones and glass beads. Cleopatra’s favorite gemstones were supposed to have been emeralds.

The people of the Indus Valley (the modern-day Indian subcontinent) were the first to mine diamonds around 300 BC.

We’re pretty restrained in our bling compared to most ancient people. Few understood the concept of ‘less is more’: if you could afford it, you’d struggle along under as much precious metal, beads and stones as you could carry.

Diamonds are forever: The first diamond miners, in the Indus Valley, prized diamonds above other jewels as we do today. But the ancient Chinese people didn’t think much of them: they used them to cut jade, but not to make jewellery.

Microscope and Telescope

The invention of Microscope and Telescope opened up whole new worlds, one tiny, the other huge. Without them, the universe wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.

Teeny Weeny. The inventors of the first microscope were Dutch spectacle makers Zaccharias and Hans Janssen, around 1600. A few years later the famous inventor Galileo came up with an improved version that had a focusing device.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) was the first person to devote himself to the study of really tiny things, and developed an instrument that enabled him to see bacteria and blood corpuscles. Leeuwenhoek’s microscope could magnify objects by 270 times.

Today’s light microscopes allow us to see objects as small as one thousandth of a millimeter! And electron microscopes, invented in 1931 by Max Knott and Ernst Ruska, can magnify objects by several million times.

Round about the same time as microscopes were invented, someone was b inventing the telescope (no one’s quite sure who was the first, Hans Lipperhey, James Metius or Zaccharias Janssen).

Galileo (him again) got his hands on the design, improved it, and used it to discover all kinds of exciting stuff, including Jupiter’s moons and the rings of Saturn.

The most powerful telescopes today are the two Keck telescopes in Hawaii. Each one is eight storeys high and weighs 300 tonnes. They don’t give as clear images as the Hubble Space Telescope though, which is much smaller but orbits the Earth in space.

Inter-Stellar Travel

The universe is really very big indeed. So it seems a shame that we’re confined to just one tiny little bit of it.

Warp Drive. At the moment, no one knows whether travel to other star systems is ever going to be possible. If you want to invent something really cool, here are just two of the problems you’ll have to overcome.

Speed: A light year is the distance traveled by light in one year. Apart from the Sun, a mere 150 million km away, our nearest star is Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light years away. Current space rockets can’t reach anywhere near the speed of light.

It would take the Voyager spacecraft, which can travel at 60,000 km/h, 80,000 years to get to Proxima Centauri! You’ll have to work out a way of achieving speeds close to or exceeding the speed of light (about I ,000,000,000 km/h). Do some research on worm holes, warp drives and space drives.

Fuel: If Voyager were to try and set off on its 80,000-year journey, it would need more fuel than we could ever find. Even nuclear rockets would need to take thousands of supertankers of fuel with them. So you’ll have to find a new way of converting energy into motion without using fuel. Tricky.

Even though the cleverest scientists in the world are applying their mighty brains to these problems, it doesn’t look as though we’ll be traveling to distant stars any time soon. But don’t let that put you off, get inventing.

Big numbers: Galaxies up to 16 billion light years away can be seen from Earth with the most powerful telescopes. There are more than 100 billion galaxies in the Universe. It makes you think there must be life out there somewhere, doesn’t it?

Only four robotic spacecraft have earned the title of ‘inter-stellar probes’: Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Of the four, Voyager 1 (launched on 5 September 1977) has traveled the furthest distance. Its original mission was to take a close-up look at Jupiter and Saturn and transmit its data back to Earth.

After completing this mission successfully, Voyager 1 was given a new mission: to boldly go where no probe has gone before: out of our solar system. Even after 30 years of operations. Voyager 1 is still sending back its data and it is hoped that it will keep on communicating for many years to come.

Voyager 1 is now over 10 billion miles from the Sun and travels at around a million miles a day! By 2017 it is believed that Voyager 1 will leave the heliosphere (the edge of space that is influenced by our Sun).

Voyager 1 doesn’t have a specific destination, but it is heading towards the Camelopardis constellation. It estimated that Voyager 1 will reach the constellation in the 40th millennia! (This translates as AD 40,000!)

You don’t have to wait that long for the next interstellar fly-past, Voyager 2 will fly close to the Barnard star (5.96 light years from the Sun) in AD 8600!


Glass is useful for all sorts of things, especially windows. Before glass, homes must either have been very dark but warm, or light but cold.

Smashing Stuff. Glass is sand that’s been heated to a very high temperature. Obsidian is a natural glass, made by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Lightning strikes on sand also produce natural glass, called fulgarites.

We don’t know when, where or how the first synthetic glass was made, or who invented it. Someone probably invented it by accident. As far as we know, the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians were the first to use it, as glass beads for jewellery, around 2500 BC. A thousand years later, the Egyptians were making glass bottles in moulds.

Around 10 BC, someone in Syria realized that glass could be blown: if you put a blob of liquid glass on the end of a hollow tube and blow, you can make it into a bubble, then shape it to produce bottles, glasses, bowls and other objects. (This takes a bit of practice, obviously.)

The first glass window panes were made in the Middle Ages. The most common method was to blow liquid glass into a disc, which could then be cut and flattened into panes. Windows were made in this way until the 1800s, when a method of making glass in plates was invented. Soon ordinary people were able to look out of the window and keep out the rain at the same time.

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Early window glass was quite e difficult to see through. Until the late 1700s, anything seen through a glass window wasn’t admissible as evidence in an English law court.

Make your own stained-glass window and give these medieval church builders a run for their money! The way stained glass is made hasn’t really changed since the Middle Ages – until someone invented colored tissue paper, that is.

Roller Coasters

If your favorite entertainment is plunging down a 97-degree incline at over 200 km/h, you’d probably like to thank the inventor of the roller coaster.

Thrills and Spills. People managed to find ways of terrifying themselves at high speeds long before roller coasters. In the 1700s the Russians built steep icy hills that people slid down on seats made of wood or ice. Later, wheels were attached. They didn’t have many safety features. Modern-day roller coasters began in the USA.

A steep 14-km switchback railway track used for delivering coal in Pennsylvania was built in 1827. People paid 50 cents each to ride on it.

La Marcus Adna Thompson created a ‘Switchback Railway’ in 1884 as an amusement ride. It wasn’t wildly exciting but it was the first roller coaster.

Rides soon became popular and new and better roller coasters were built, including the first one that formed a circuit, built by Charles Alcoke.

One of the first roller coasters to loop the loop was the Flip Flap, opened in Brooklyn in 1895. It was extremely dangerous so it was soon dismantled.

Wooden roller coasters appeared all over the world in the early 20th century. By 1959 the first steel track was used in Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobslides and 80 years after the disastrous Flip Flap, the Corkscrew safely looped the loop at Knott’s Berry Farm, California.

Kingda Ka in New Jersey, opened in 2005, is the world’s fastest roller coaster at 206 km/h and has the longest drop: 127 m.

The oldest roller coaster that still works is Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park, dry Pennsylvania. It first opened in 1902. In some languages, the word for ‘roller coaster’ translates as ‘Russian mountain’, remembering the invention’s ice-slide origins.


Concrete is a mixture of cement, gravel or sand, and water. It’s used more than any other man-made material, yes, even more than plastic.

Rock Hard. People knew about concrete thousands of years ago. The ancient Mesopotamians, Assyrians, Chinese and Egyptians all used types of concrete. The oldest concrete ever found was used to make the floors of Stone-Age homes built near the River Danube over 7,000 years ago.

The ancient Romans used a type of concrete quite similar to the kind we use today. They discovered that adding volcanic ash made it set under water, and adding horse hair made it less likely to shrink.

Everyone forgot about concrete for a few centuries. Eventually, French architect Philibert de l’Orme wrote about the ingredients of the concrete he used in the 16th century.

In the 18th century, engineer John Smeaton invented a hard concrete using quicklime. He also came up with a new concrete that hardened under water, and used it to rebuild Eddystone Lighthouse in Cornwall in 1793.

Today extremely strong concrete can be made by reinforcing it with steel. It’s even possible to make concrete that conducts electricity and concrete that transmits light.

Concrete production has high energy costs that make it very bad for the environment. But the use of recycled material is becoming more common.

Cement is a substance used to bind other materials, because when mixed with water it sets and hardens. Concrete, mortar and grout use cement, which is usually ‘ made from a calcium source, like limestone, and a silicone source, like clay.

There are some incredible buildings and monuments around the world, built for a variety of reasons and out of a variety of materials.

The World Wide Web

Where would we be without access to all that astonishing information, email and messaging, shopping, blogs, home videos and bad jokes?

Tangled Web. There would be no web without the internet. Before its invention, you could only connect to one other computer at a time, using an expensive telephone connection.

The internet began as a computer network in the US defense department, which was designed to let computers communicate with one another even if there were a nuclear war. Thankfully, Armageddon never arrived, but the internet did.

It was made possible by ‘packet switching’, a way of sending data invented in the 1960s by Donald Davies and Paul Baran, working independently of one another in the UK and the USA.

Most people’s experience of the internet is the World Wide Web, all those billions of pages of incredibly useful, or sometimes completely useless, stuff. That was invented by an English computer scientist called Tim Berners-Lee who was working for the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland.

His invention meant that the information on the internet was much easier to get at, and made it possible to easily transfer text, images, sound and video. The web was being used by the scientists at CERN in 1990, and the following year it was available for everyone. Today there are more than 1 billion users around the world. is the address of the first ever website, created in 1990. The indexed World Wide Web now contains over 14 billion pages – and that’s just the indexable pages (the ones everybody can find on search engines). And there are new ones added every day.

A network roughly demonstrates how your router sends and receives information via the internet. Once requested, the information travels through a series of connections, including modems, ISP (Internet Service Providers) ports and reefers.

Routers help to get your messages from one computer to another. There is not one set route to send information – it depends on which will be quickest. The combinations are limitless, but you still end up with the same information.

The Duplication Machine

Life would never be the same again with a fully functioning duplication machine! You’d never run out of money or be down to your last Rolo. And think of the good you could do, you’d be able to save animals on the brink of extinction!

And if you could copy yourself, the real you could have endless fun while the other did all your schooling and homework. Should you ever be tempted to copy yourself, however, you should take the precautions below. Your duplicate would need to know who’s boss.

Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd. Make sure that you’re in charge of delegating the workload. If you don’t lay down the law from the start, your duplicate could take over. It might be YOU who ends up doing all the work while your duplicate has all the fun.

Build a security system into the machine and change the password as soon as you’ve duplicated yourself. If your duplicate were able to use the machine and copy themselves over and over, you’d quickly be overthrown by your duplicates and almighty chaos would ensue.

Make two T-shirts to be worn at all times, one for you, saying ‘Original’, and the other for your duplicate, saying ‘Copy’, so no one gets confused.

As you can see, duplication could be fraught with danger. And remember that if you could copy anything any number of times, that thing would quickly lose its value, and nothing and nobody would be unique any more. It sounds great in theory, but think twice before inventing this machine!

Fool’s gold: The highest value US banknote ever minted was for $100,000, but this didn’t stop ambitious counterfeiter, Tekle Zigetta, who was caught forging $1 billion-dollar bills in 2006. Now the US government has stopped the production of dollar bills above $100 in value.

The quickest way to annoy someone is to copy EVERYTHING that person does. Repeat everything they say out loud and copy every move they make. It’ll drive them crazy!

The Steam Engine

No one uses the power of steam much today, but steam once drove trains, ships, factories and the entire industrial revolution.

Letting Off Steam. It might surprise you to hear that an ancient Greek called Hero invented the steam engine in about AD 50. The ancient Greeks weren’t especially impressed with it, though, and couldn’t really see its potential for moving things about. So they forgot about it.

It was another 1,650 years before Thomas Savery came up with another steam engine, a steam pump, for pumping water out of mines. Unfortunately it had a tendency to blow up. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen built a better one that didn’t explode so often, but it was still pretty inefficient. Over the 1760s and 70s Scottish inventor James Watt improved on these earlier versions, and his one was so good that he’s become famous for it. But Watt’s were still mainly used for pumping water.

In 1804 Richard Trevithick tested out a steam engine that moved, but he didn’t have much success with it. George Stephenson was the inventor of the first really good moving steam engine. Initially these locomotives were used for hauling heavy goods from mines and quarries.

In 1829 his steam engine, Rocket, won a competition run by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway to find a locomotive that could carry goods and passengers. Rocket could pull a coach full of passengers at 39 km/h, and there were no cancellations!

Train victim no. 1: George Stephenson’s Rocket was responsible for the first train fatality. It ran over and killed MP William Huskisson at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 as the MP made to cross the track to speak to the prime minister.

Trains have moved on a lot in the last 180 years. A French TGV train became the fastest train on tracks in April 2007, reaching a speed of 356 mph (574.8 km/h).

Going really fast has its advantages, and it can be exhilarating, but there is an undeniable charm about steam trains, which is why them are still a number of steam train services running around the UK. Take a trip on a old steam train and a modern train and record your experiences. How did they differ?

The Yo-Yo

The yo-yo is thought to be one of the oldest toys in the world, they’ve been around and up and down for roughly 2,500 years.

Round, Round, Get Around. The world’s first yo-yo was invented in ancient Greece round about 500 to 400 BC. We don’t know exactly who worked out that two discs (made from metal, clay or wood), an axle and a piece of string could be so much fun.

The word ‘yo-yo’ isn’t ancient Greek but probably comes from the Philippines, where yo-yoing was popular for centuries.

In the late 1700s the yo-yo finally arrived in Europe. They were known as bandalores or quizzes in England, and also ‘the Prince of Wales’s toy’, and became fashionable with posh people.

By the 19th century Americans were playing with yo-yos.

In the 1920s Pedro Flores, originally from the Philippines, began to make and sell yo-yos in California. A businessman called Donald Duncan bought the yo-yo company, trademarked the name and advertised the toy. He also made some improvements to the design, making yo-yo tricks easier to do.

The yo-yos became so popular that Duncan’s factory produced 3,600 yo-yos an hour in the 1930s.

The toy has gone in and out of fashion since then and various improvements have led to new and ever more flashy tricks. Every year the World Yo-yo Contest takes place, drawing competitors from all over the globe to perform in eight different categories.

Space, 1985: Yo-yos were taken on board the space shuttle Discovery, as part of the Toys in Space project, to observe the effects of zero gravity on yo-yoing. In 1992 the space shuttle Atlantis also had yo-yos on board, in order to film a video of slow-motion yo-yoing!


Thank goodness for language: without it we’d be trying to communicate using grunts and hand signals, which are quite difficult to write down.

In the Beginning Was the Word. No one knows when people, or our prehistoric ancestors, first used language. It’s possible that the human-like creatures that existed 1.5 million years ago had already developed some kind of verbal communication, because the main areas of the brain associated with speech had evolved by then.

But most experts think that language probably developed round about 50-60,000 years ago, because that’s when lots of different innovations, like painting, sculpture and complex social organization, appeared in human society.

It’s not surprising that we don’t know how exactly language came about, either, no one wrote anything down that might tell us. Perhaps hand gestures were used before speech, then words gradually developed from noises made to accompany them. Or perhaps language evolved from cries to warn others of danger.

However it happened, language soon acquired a wide vocabulary and complicated grammar, which we need to express all the clever thoughts we have. It was only about five thousand years ago that people started writing things down and not long after that someone invented spelling tests!

Squawk talk: No other animals have developed language, but a chimpanzee called Washoe was the first animal to be taught sign language. Alex, an African grey parrot at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, speaks and seems to understand language, and can count up to six.

Pig Latin (also known as ‘backslang’) is a word game that can also be used as a secret code, so your snooping parents can’t listen in on your private conversations.

Variations on backslang were used by criminals in Victorian London to talk to each other without their plans being rumbled. English butchers and grocers am also known to have spoken a type of backslang. Nowadays it is only really used as a bit of fun.

The rules for Pig Latin are very simple. This is how it works:

With words that begin with a consonant, take the first letter and place it at the back of the word then add ‘ay’. For example ‘cat’ would become ‘atcay’. Here are a few more examples:

school = choolsay holiday = olidayhay Pig Latin = igpay atinlay

This rule also applies to words with silent letters at the start, such as

know = nowkay
honest = onesthay
gnome = nomegay

With words that begin with vowels you only add ‘ay’ (or, if you prefer, yay). For example:

out = outay
apple = appleay
offer = offeray

That’s pretty much it! So the sentence ‘Meet me at midnight’ becomes `Eetmay emay atay idnightmay’

Ready? Now you try it! Find a friend and learn to speak and write Pig Latin together. Who was the best at speaking Pig Latin?


Make-up is supposed to make us look more beautiful. From the earliest times people have used it in an attempt to increase their pulling power.

Drop Dead Gorgeous. The earliest evidence of make-up was found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating from around 5,000 years ago. Both men and women used skin cream, perfumes, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, lip colour and rouge.

The ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans also used all kinds of make-up. A 1,800-year-old ancient Roman skin cream was discovered recently in London, the oldest preserved cosmetic ever found.

Poisons, especially lead, were used in ancient cosmetics and continued to be used until the 1800s. Eyeshadows, lipsticks and face powder all contained dangerous chemicals, and women made their eyes sparkle with deadly nightshade. Skin was whitened with powder containing lead because pale-skinned women were supposed to be beautiful.

Ironically, from the 1920s, darker skin became more desirable, so some women started to use make-up or dye to make their skins look tanned.

Victorian and Edwardian ladies tried to keep their beauty secrets secret, because, for a period, make-up was frowned upon and associated only with actresses and prostitutes. Rich ladies would sneak into beauty parlors by the back door.

By the 20th century make-up became acceptable again, and today the cosmetics industry is worth billions of pounds.

Make-up doesn’t have to be used for beautification. Here are some examples of face make-up you can use to scare your family with! WARNING: Before you put the paint all over your face, test a small patch on the back of your hand, as your skin may be sensitive to certain face paints.

The main colours you’ll need are black, white, green, grey, red and brown.

A simple transformation: use white paint all over your face, except around your eyes. You can fill in the eye area with red, black or grey.
Finally, paint two triangles on your bottom lip for fangs.

Paint your whole face green and darken under your brow and in your eye sockets with brown paint. Make two bolts from chunky plastic bottle tops and fasten them around your neck with elastic.

Paint your whole face red, darkening the area around your eyes with black or brown. Then add a mustache, beard and wicked eyebrows. Make two horns from card and fasten them on your head.

Paint your whole face grey and darken the areas around your eyes, Then draw thin black lines up from your mouth to make you look old and haggard. Finally, paint a red drip from your mouth like blood. You could also add some brown scars to your face.

You need two different shades of brown for this monster. Cover your face in the lighter brown and then draw thick hair as shown with the darker brown. Don’t forget to add white fangs on your lips and a black wolty nose.

Paint the white areas of the skull face first as shown, and then use black paint in the non-bone areas for definition. Remember to paint eye holes, a triangular shape for the missing nose and teeth on your top and bottom lips.

Looks fishy. ‘Pearl essence’ is a lipstick ingredient that gives a shimmery effect. It sounds rather lovely but in fact it’s fish scales – mostly herring. And cerebrosides, found in moisturizing skin-care products, are animal brain cells or nervous system tissue.


If it wasn’t for printing, a scribe would have to copy out this entire book word for word. There wouldn’t be many copies and they’d cost a bomb.

Making an Impression. One of the earliest surviving printed books is a Buddhist text, written in Chinese and dating back to AD 848. It was printed using wooden blocks which had the words and illustrations carved into them.

In the 11th century the Chinese invented a new way of printing, using moveable raised letters made, firstly, from clay, but later wood and then metal. These letters could be moved into place, inked, then stamped on to paper, as many copies as were needed. The only time-consuming bit was putting the letters and words in the right order in the first place.

But the printing invention that really changed the world was the printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in 1440. It wasn’t based on the Chinese invention but on olive- and wine-presses and it was so good that for more than 300 years hardly any changes were needed. More efficient versions were made after the industrial revolution, but still they used the same basic design.

The printing press created a revolution: for the first time, ideas and information could be easily communicated to lots of people much more cheaply than ever before. More people learned to read as a result.

Stop the press! The printing press led to the development of different kinds of printed material: the first newspaper was published in Germany in 1605; the first magazine appeared in London in 1731. It was called The Gentleman’s Magazine and it ran for over 170 years.


If getting up early every day to go to school and having to stay there for hours is cruel, then bringing a bit of school home with you at the end of the day is just prolonging the torture! Unfortunately, homework is something we all have to suffer. Until someone comes up with this brilliant invention.

Whistle While We Homework. If such a machine did exist, then all that time normally lost to homework could be reclaimed. No longer would you have to endure the last-minute homework rush on Sunday nights, or valuable TV time being held to ransom by parents who insist that homework comes first. But how would it work?

You could invent a duplication machine and create a second ‘you’ to do the work. Although you might have a strike on your hands when the other ‘you’ realized the fun he/she was missing out on.

You could go for the more traditional method, and bribe a friend or sibling to do the work for you. (Warning: this could be rather expensive.)

Some teachers and politicians believe that a type of homework machine already exists: the internet. But even the internet can’t do everything you want it to, and it certainly can’t imitate your handwriting.

The main problem with the methods above is that you wouldn’t actually learn anything, which would become a problem in lessons and exams. A really clever machine would incorporate a Know-It-All Hat so that your brain wouldn’t miss out on the learning, just the hard work!

Web of deceit: The internet may be able to help you with your homework, but don’t rely on it too much. It is reported that only 90% of the information on the web is true, so you should always double-check your facts. Stick to websites designed for schools to be on the safe side.

It you add up all the hours you put into doing your homework, by the time you leave school you will have clocked up months! Now it’s your turn to set the homework. Write a quiz for your teacher too. Ask them the questions you think EVERYONE should know the answers to, and when they’ve completed it, grade them and set them another one for next week!


You’ve probably taken aspirin if you’ve had a headache or a cold. There are other similar drugs available now, but aspirin was the first of its kind.

What a Pain. Aspirin is used to kill pain, reduce swelling and thin the blood to help heart-attack and stroke patients. It’s related to a natural remedy that’s been known for thousands of years.

About 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates wrote about the healing properties of a tea made from the bark of a willow tree. It’s also mentioned as a remedy in writing from other ancient civilizations in the Middle East and North America.

In 1763 an English Reverend, Edmund Stone, described how farm workers used willow bark to make a cure for fevers.

In 1838 the Italian chemist Rafaele Piria discovered a way to extract the active ingredient of willow bark, salicin, and convert it into salicylic acid. But, used on its own, salicylic acid gives patients stomach pains and sickness.

In 1899 Felix Hoffman, an employee of the pharmaceutical company Bayer, used his arthritic father as a guinea pig. After trying various compounds, he discovered that acetylsalicylic acid was effective and free from side effects. It was a great discovery, and a great relief for Hoffman’s father.

Acetylsalicylic acid, called aspirin, went on sale as a powder. It was an instant success.

Everyone knows that eating certain foods can help you stay fit and healthy, especially food rich in vitamins and minerals. Before pharmaceutical drugs were available, though, people had to rely far more on different types of food to not only keep them well, but help them feel better when they did get it.

Choose some healthy foods and herbs and see if you can create the ultimate cure-all smoothie. Try different combinations to find one you like. Most will probably taste disgusting, but no pain, no gain!

A few days after he’d invented aspirin, Hoffman invented another drug, heroin, which was marketed at the same time. At first, heroin was more successful because people believed it to be healthier, then they discovered that it was also addictive.


Radar is now essential safety equipment for ships and planes, but it was planned as a deadly weapon.

Bouncing Waves. Radar uses radio waves to detect objects and can plot their position, course and speed. Various inventors helped develop it. German physicist Heinrich Hertz discovered radio waves in 1888 and found that they could bounce off other objects.

In 1904 Christian Hulsmeyer invented a way of detecting ships using radio waves, although his `telimobiloscope’ couldn’t measure distance.

Rudolf Kuhnold demonstrated the first practical radio detection equipment in Germany in 1934.

In 1935 the British government asked physicist Robert Watson-Watt to research radio waves and their use in destroying enemy planes. Watson-Watt quickly concluded that radio waves couldn’t be used as death-ray weapons but discovered that by bouncing radio waves off planes and measuring the delay in the echo, the direction and distance of the plane could be calculated. Only a few weeks after he’d begun his research, Watson-Watt demonstrated radar by plotting the course of an aircraft.

Radar was developed independently in Germany and the USA and was used extensively in the Second World War to plot enemy ships and planes. A US Navy Commander came up with the name, RAdio Detection And Ranging.

Magnetrons: The radio waves used in radar are generated by magnetrons, invented by John Randall and Henry Boot. Wartime radar operators discovered that magnetrons could be used as water heaters for their tea. Today they are used in microwave ovens.


Since ancient times, music has been used to help celebrate, tell stories, make protests, and generally cheer everybody up. What would we do without it?

Golden Oldies. Music is common to all cultures all over the world. Far back in human history people must have discovered they could produce interesting sounds with their voices. Someone somewhere must have banged two sticks together to keep time. Of course, no one knows who first came up with a tune, or what it sounded like, because people didn’t write anything down in those days.

The oldest musical instrument ever found is between 43,000 and 82,000 years old. It’s part of the thigh bone of a bear with four holes carved into it, it must have been a type of flute.

The oldest playable musical instrument found so far is 9,000 years old. Several flutes were found in China, made from the wing bones of the red-crowned crane. The best preserved flute has been played and we now know that Stone Age people listened to a sort of weedy recorder.

We don’t know what music people played on the Chinese flutes. But we do know what some other ancient music sounded like, the earliest written music that survives today is 3,400 years old and was found on clay tablets in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. The ancient Greeks were the first to study music in a scientific way, develop music theory and introduce a system of musical notation.

Deafening silence: 20th-century composer John Cage’s 4’33” is a piece of music in three movements, and was first performed in 1952 on the piano. It is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence.

There are so many music genres, bands and artists that it’s impossible to keep up with them all.

Elvis Presley Reddie Mercury Beyonce Knowles Michael Jackson Frank Sinatra John Lennon Duke Ellington Kurt Cobain Queen The Beatles Nirvana Destiny’s Child The Bike Orchestra Moon Boys Jackson Five


However bad your fashion sense, it’s hard to go wrong with jeans and a T-shirt. And jeans are comfy and hard-wearing too. Without them, deciding what to wear would be so much more difficult.

Rivet, Rivet. The first jeans, practical cotton trousers for sailors, were made in Genoa, Italy, as long ago as the I 500s. We don’t know who first made them, but they were named after the colour they were dyed: in French, blu de Gene (blue of Genoa). Jeans began to be made in serge, a hard-wearing fabric, that came from Nimes in France, which is how denim got its name: de Nimes (from Nimes).

In the 1850s, when the US gold rush was on, Levi Strauss was in business supplying the mining towns of California with cloth and other dry goods. Jacob Davis was a tailor who had noticed that the jeans he made using Strauss’s denim would wear out over time, especially around the pockets. He had the idea of using rivets to make the jeans stronger, and approached Strauss with the idea.

Their ‘Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings’ received a US patent in 1873 and they used Strauss’s money to start their business in making rivetted jeans. Like their 16th-century predecessors, at first riveted jeans were only worn as work clothes, but by the 1950s they’d become fashionable. In the 1980s designers started making their own brands and jeans became even more popular, as well as more expensive.

The ORIGINAL Levis Strauss: A pair of jeans dating from the 1880s was found in a Nevada mining town in 1998. They were bought by the company that had originally made them, Levi Strauss & Co, for $46,532. That’s a lot of cash for old clobber.

Jeans are incredibly versatile, which also means they’re incredibly popular. If you want to stand out from ad, you need to find a way to customize your jeans, making them unique to you. Experiment on a pair. If they’re torn or holey, why not make this a feature, or find some scissors and get creative looking shapes, or simply turn them into shorts?

Use fabric paints or dye to add some colour and unique designs. You could also attach or sew on extra features.

The Helicopter

Not content with being able to fly, a pretty good trick, someone decided it was vital to be able to hover as well.

Wingless Wonders. The big difference between helicopters and planes is the lack of wings: helicopters use rotors instead. Because of the rotors, helicopters don’t need to be moving forward in order to stay up in the air. This means they can do clever things like hover, rotate, fly backwards and stop in mid-air.

The idea of rotors had been around long before the Wright brothers’ plane: 1,500 years ago the Chinese had come up with a toy that flew using rotor blades. Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century notebooks show a drawing of a flying machine that uses rotors (it couldn’t really have flown, though).

The Chinese and Leonardo were ahead of their time. It wasn’t until the 20th century that helicopters really got off the ground: in 1907 Paul Cornu’s helicopter became the first to take off, but it only reached 1.8 m high, it had to be kept stable by men on the ground using sticks, and it managed 20 seconds in the air before it crashed.

Various helicopter pioneers worked hard over the next 20 years, improving on the design, making countless test flights. The first helicopter to do much better was designed by German Heinriche Focke and flew in 1936. In 1942 Igor Sikorsky’s helicopter became the first to go into production and was used by the US army during the Second World War.

Fasten your seatbelts: Flying a helicopter is very complicated because of the many different ways in which it can move. There’s a separate vital control for both hands and both feet and pilots need lots of training and skill. Good concentration is essential.