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20 Significant Inventions of the 20th Century

Updated on May 16, 2008
A canister vacuum cleaner
A canister vacuum cleaner

1. Vacuum Cleaner, 1901


Here's how inventor H. Cecil Booth came up with the idea. He noticed a device on trains that blew dust off chairs and thought it would be better to have a device that sucked the dust instead. To test his idea he laid a handkerchief on a chair, put his mouth on it and sucked as much dust as he could. Seeing the amount of dust and dirt on the underside of the hanky effectively made it the first vacuum cleaner filter and realized the idea could work. It's a good thing he wasn't looking to invent a machine that cleans manure.

A disposable razor
A disposable razor

2. Disposable razor blades, 1909

Invented by King Camp Gillette (the best a man can get) as an inexpensive alternative to using a straight razor. The straight razor was like going to your kitchen and taking a chef's knife to your face. Instead of paying two bits for a shave and a haircut, men could save one bit and just get the haircut, likely parted down the middle.

The Wright Brothers and their Flyer
The Wright Brothers and their Flyer

3. Powered, Controlled Airplane, 1903

Orville and Wilbur Wright didn't invent the first airplane, but applied the principles of jumping before flying. Through a lot of trial and error, building their own wind tunnel, and testing 200 wing designs they were finally able to fly their prototype 121 ft (37m) in 12 seconds. The design was further improved with regards to safety, power, and control to the point in October of 1905 when the aircraft could maintain a sustainable flight and land with pilot safe and the craft undamaged. Today we see the airplane's influence in aeronautical engineering, transportation, and warfare. It was only a matter of time before the Mile High Club was invented.

An early parachute rendering
An early parachute rendering

4. Parachute, 1913

With the invention of the plane it is only natural to invent the parachute. Although the idea of the parachute has been around since the 15th century, Slovakian inventor Stefan Banic is credited with the invention of the first one widely used by the military. He donated the U.S. patent to the U.S. Army and received little fame or fortune for it. The parachute was used extensively during World War I. Today it continues to be used in military and civilian aircraft as well as by thrill seeking skydivers.

Professor Goddard and the Rocket
Professor Goddard and the Rocket

5. Liquid Fuel Rocket, 1914

Powered by liquid oxygen and gasoline, the first flight of a liquid fuel rocket occurred on March 16, 1926. American professor Robert H. Goddard launched it and it rose 41 feet and flew for 2.5 seconds. It demonstrated that liquid fuel rockets were possible, eventually leading to Sputnik, the Moon Landing, and the movie Armageddon- effectively making Ben Affleck a superstar.

6. Electronic Television, 1923

Inventors Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin are credited with the invention of the first fully electronic television (as opposed to electromechanical TV's). It changed the way we receive information and entertainment by providing a visual format to the sound. Nearly everyone you know now has a TV or three. We can thank Mr. Farnsworth and Mr. Zworykin for our adult ADD and the inexplicable fixation with Tila Tequila's love life.

7. Sliced bread, 1928

"The greatest thing since sliced bread" says it all. Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa invented the first machine to slice bread one loaf at a time. You could say he invented convenience. Other inventors stood on the shoulder of this giant by inventing a ready to eat PB & J sandwich with the crusts cut off for the unimaginably lazy.

8. Antibiotics, 1928

Although the ancient Chinese used antibiotics 2500 years ago, it was not isolated and identified until the 20th century. It was Scottish biologist and pharmacologist Alexander Fleming who accidentally discovered that most famous of antibiotics, penicillin. After forgetting about some germ cultures he was working on he noticed that they were contaminated with fungus, like your feet. He then noticed there were zones in certain cultures where bacteria were not growing and it turned out the fungi were causing those germ free zones. After isolating an extract he identified it as part of the Penicillium genus, hence the name. It is used to treat stuff like cellulitis, endocarditus, gonorrhea, meningitis, pneumonia, and syphilis. So yes, penicillin is good stuff.

9. Ballpoint Pen, 1938:


Hungarian inventor Lazlo Biro created this eventual replacement for the fountain pen. Though not as fancy or expressive as a fountain pen, ballpoints are cheap, reliable, and maintenance free. The ink dries after contact with paper almost immediately. With fountain pens where you have to refill the ink (way too much work), ballpoint pens are easily replaced. Ever trying writing with a fountain pen? They are for cursive writers only. All this typing has killed my penmanship anyway.

Where are some stairs when you need one?
Where are some stairs when you need one?

10. Slinky, 1945

Elegant and ingenious in its simplicity, the Slinky is one of the greatest toys ever. When picked up nobody with a soul can resist its allure to walk it down stairs or simply wobble it back and forth. In 1943 after observing the movement of a torsion spring (a spring with no tension or compression) after it fell off a table, engineer Richard James told his wife Betty of the possibility of making it a toy. After various tests and materials they came up with the toy we know and love today. Forget the cheap plastic ones, the metal ones rule.

11. Microwave Oven, 1945

This common kitchen appliance was discovered by accident. Working at Raytheon, Percy Spencer noticed a peanut chocolate bar he had in his pocket started to melt while he was working on an active radar set. It was the microwaves from the radar, not pocket pool,that caused the gooey mess. He then deliberately cooked popcorn, then an egg. Spencer then isolated the microwaves by feeding them into a metal box, rapidly heating the food placed in it. After Raytheon filed a U.S. patent it had the first microwave oven built in 1947. It was 6 feet (1.8m) tall, weighed 750 lbs (340 kg) cost about $5,000.00, and consumed 3000 watts (compared today's standard 1000 watt) Thankfully, today they are a tad smaller and a wee bit more economical. Because of the microwave, ordinary non-scientific types can now generate the heat of the sun's core with the apple cobbler in a Swanson's TV dinner.

12. Integrated Circuit, 1958

Although the invention of what we know as the microchip has been attempted a couple of times, the successful manufacturing of integrated circuits was done independently by two scientists: Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor. The impact of the microchip is obvious in all our modern digital technology, including the internet. Our modern society is wholly dependent on the integrated circuit. I wouldn't be writing on Hub Pages without it.

13. Laser, 1960

As with a lot of inventions, the laser didn't spring out of nowhere but was the result of a series of steps based on sound theory. Theodore H. Maiman made the first laser that worked at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California in 1960, beating some other researchers to the punch. They knew they had something with this laser, but didn't know what the hell kind of problems they were going to solve with it. Today it's used in everything from DVD players, to check out counters, to corrective eye surgery, to precision guided munitions. Sweet.

Will not play Halo.
Will not play Halo.

14. Video Game Console, 1968:

Although the earliest known "electronic interactive game" was in existence as early as 1948, the Magnavox Odyssey invented by Ralph Baer was the first commercially available video game console. (He also invented the light gun and the 80's game sensation Simon) The Odyssey and its successors ushered in the multibillion dollar video game industry; it makes more money than the movie industry. Definitely influential and definitely not kid's stuff anymore.

15. ARPANET, 1969

The global Internet owes its existence to the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) developed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) of the United States Department of Defense. It was the world's first operational packet switching network originally used for countermeasures in the event of nuclear attack by the commies. Today the Internet permeates our lives and greatly changed the way we communicate (e-mail), shop (Amazon, etc.), do our banking (, etc.), conduct business (insert business name here), find information (Google), and entertain ourselves (porn). Best (and worst) of all, anyone can publish anything. It's the freest of free speech, as long as net neutrality remains in place.

The beginning of frustration.
The beginning of frustration.

16. Rubik's Cube, 1974

Erno Rubik created a monster. Ever since I got my Rubik's Cube when I was a kid in 1984, I've never been able to solve this thing. Ever. Even when I peeled off the stickers. To this day whenever I see one I impulsively pick it up and go through the motions, but my brain hurts.

17. Mobile Phone, 1977


The invention of the mobile phone in 1977 (probably the size of a Buick back then) by Bell Labs brought in a new era of communication convenience. Once reserved for business executives or the super-rich, cell phones are now so ubiquitous that they have effectively replaced payphones and in some cases household land lines. Your grandma has a cell phone. Kids in Third World countries have cell phones. If only someone would invent a machine that enforces cell phone courtesy, with force, the world would be a better place.


18. Compact Disc, 1980

Electronics giants Sony and Phillips joined forces to design a digital audio disc as a spin-off from those cumbersome and expensive Laserdiscs. The CD was commercially available in 1982. As costs of development for CD's and CD players became lower it became the primary format for music. Although MP3's are quickly replacing CDs as the primary media for music today, CD technology is still used in CD-ROMs, DVDs, and Blu Ray. I can't imagine physically rewinding or fast forwarding anything anymore.

19. Global Positioning System, 1993:

Another engineering breakthrough developed by the U.S. DoD, the Global Positioning System is the currently the world's only Global Navigation Satellite System that is fully functional. Russia, the European Union, China, and India are all working on their own versions. Our GPS is maintained by the USAF 50th Space Wing and costs $750 million per year to maintain, but it is worth every penny because I'm always getting lost.

Manhood pills.
Manhood pills.

20. Viagra, 1997:

Pfizer originally developed it to treat angina, but clinical trials demonstrated it had...other uses. Viva Viagra!


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    • profile image

      gepeTooRs 22 months ago

      How many smartphone users know that their smart devices can also help in keeping them healthy and fit? And so they settle for the next best thing, which is a $500-$1,000 a week income. It's also vital to find out the common reputation of a corporation so that you might know when you are hiring the best one.

    • profile image

      lola 23 months ago

      this didn't help me at all i searched for late 20th century and it showed me 19th century read my lips (i am saying this as i write) you need to update your research

    • profile image

      daniel 2 years ago

      its so bad

    • profile image

      dumdumb 2 years ago

      what a fantastic list

    • profile image

      Kay 2 years ago

      nice list really help meAdd Your Comment...

    • profile image

      Derabe 2 years ago

      Great job!

      Amazing facts! :)

    • profile image

      AsseceNiz 2 years ago

      Is that true? I’ll spread this information. Anyway, nice article

    • profile image

      Santi 3 years ago

      that, let me inform you just what exltacy did give good results. The article (parts of it) is certainly very powerful and that is most likely the reason why I am taking an effort to comment. I do not really make it a regular habit of doing that. Secondly, even though I can easily notice a jumps in reasoning you make, I am not necessarily confident of just how you seem to unite the points which inturn help to make the actual conclusion. For the moment I shall yield to your issue however wish in the near future you link your facts better.

    • profile image

      Jenifer 3 years ago

      What about the traffic cone? that's a 2oth century invention and those things are everywhere. It's got quite a history:

    • profile image

      Butter 4 years ago

      This is gr8

    • profile image

      bob 4 years ago

      needs more info

    • profile image

      Dorothy dosgrove 4 years ago

      hi thanks for telling me- some are funny hehe. thanks for the help now i know a website for looking at thing like this if i am ever doing work on it or something.

    • profile image

      pranavi 4 years ago

      Thanx a lot 4 the informaions....they were really useful


    • profile image

      Don't Care Just Want Facts 4 years ago

      Great but I would have put the atomic bomb in there

    • profile image

      Totally Random Person 4 years ago

      This is. Kind of useful as I am doing a project on inventions

    • profile image

      literate 4 years ago

      How about you learn to spell before calling someone an idiot?

    • profile image

      watever 4 years ago

      dude u didn't even mention necluer power ur a beeping idiot this stinks

    • profile image

      Simran gill 4 years ago

      Amazing facts

    • profile image

      lavanya 4 years ago

      what an awesome words to say.......great

    • profile image

      SkyDoesMinecraft 5 years ago

      BBBBBUUUUTTTTEEEERRR Is The Best Invention By God EVER!!!!!

    • profile image

      christopher 5 years ago

      it help for my strem homework

    • profile image

      Deema Jihad 5 years ago

      Really helpful on my language arts homework ;-)

    • profile image

      Shortie 5 years ago

      Was hoping for some good info for a 500 word essay... these were okay.

    • profile image

      Rajat Narwal 5 years ago

      it helped in doing my wrk proprly...... i just liked it

    • profile image

      VISGWA SETH 5 years ago

      My grandson was given home task to find out the information about best inventions of the 20th centuary. The information was available on the internet by just clicking. Indeed this helped much and I thank all those who joined together in compiling this information

    • profile image

      Tom 5 years ago

      Any greatest inventions list that's ignores beam steam engines is useless

      It was one of the most profound changes in human history

      For the first time ever we could do more work than manpower alone offers

    • profile image

      epicness 6 years ago

      integrated circuit: really helpful on my science project! thx

    • profile image

      frank 6 years ago

      Elevators Refrigeration


    • profile image

      Umm-e-Ruman 6 years ago

      wernrt these supposed to be the inventions of 20th century

    • profile image

      matthew dequarto 6 years ago

      this site is awsome its were i can look at really cool thing that i dont know about yet.

    • profile image

      berthalamu 6 years ago

      thx aloy

    • profile image

      vinod kumar jha 6 years ago

      Good lessons above all

    • profile image

      kala 6 years ago

      really a slice of bread so dumb

    • profile image

      kala 6 years ago

      you rock cool

    • profile image

      momo 6 years ago

      great i love it

    • profile image

      sasha 6 years ago

      I LOVE IT

    • profile image

      bridget 6 years ago

      nice work it really helped thanks

    • profile image

      SOMESH KUMAR 6 years ago

      That's good but not about that for which I wanted to know! You must add some good inventions!!

    • profile image

      LE ME 6 years ago

      video games consols should be number one

      and slice bread should be last


    • profile image

      mildred 6 years ago

      de inventions not reaally good for a student who want to do an assignment for good marks. Please next time post important inventions, not a razor blade

    • profile image

      sam 6 years ago

      just used this for an assignment

    • profile image

      Demo 6 years ago

      Why isn't the internet on this list?

    • profile image

      anonimous 6 years ago

      these are good inventions

    • profile image

      qassam 6 years ago

      :D its so good

    • profile image

      lianne mae 6 years ago

      alright helpful nice

    • profile image

      Jenn 6 years ago

      Velcro! 1951

    • profile image

      Choko 6 years ago

      good inventions

    • profile image

      stupid 6 years ago

      this was not help ful at alllllllllllllllll

    • profile image

      joumana barbakh 6 years ago

      great invention i have haif of those things

    • profile image

      Truefacts 6 years ago

      Rubik's cube, razor blades, ..Slinky?? Are u serious? Didn't even bother to mention Nuclear Power or the real Internet's inventor, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee or the PC!! Shame on ya

    • profile image

      someone 6 years ago

      this website thing is alright!

    • profile image

      Bob 6 years ago

      This was an okay thing to use

    • profile image

      Kamarialiy Dasom 7 years ago

      So helpful,Used in almost all my tests!!

    • profile image

      Lenny 7 years ago

      You missed the most important one. The transistor!!! It makes at least 6 of your most important inventions possible.

    • profile image

      7 years ago

      this thinks

    • profile image

      Pamela Gonzalez 7 years ago

      Hey I LOVE this website thingy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      chris 7 years ago

      using this for my project

      has lots of information!!

    • profile image

      annon. 7 years ago

      nice list but these are not important per-say

    • profile image

      sam 7 years ago

      I love it!!!!

    • profile image

      jack 7 years ago

      This is an awsome list!

    • profile image

      Jorge 7 years ago

      I would like to know why no one engeneer invented a flyer chair yet?

      motorcicles are kiling so many peoples around the wuord!! I think that a simples motor of a motorcicles coud eject and move a person in the air, so accidents could be avoid!!

    • profile image

      Dan Fugate 7 years ago

      Wow, this is a great list. We missed some of these dates on Flash Past when we covered interesting dates in the 20th century.

    • profile image

      Johnson loves rebekah 7 years ago

      lolollllool woop woop

    • profile image

      Aidan eats noobs  7 years ago

      what the hell is this

    • profile image

      7 years ago

      when was te artificial heart invented????

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 7 years ago

      Good list, although I can tell that a few are just for fun: slinky, rubik's cube, etc. I cheated back in junior high and bought a book to teach me how to solve the rubik's cube. I think that my record was slightly over a minute. You might add the assembly line for auto production and anything related to either nuclear weapons or energy. Maybe also the birth control pill, and twinkies.

    • profile image

      jack  7 years ago

      you suck

    • Gilbert M. profile image

      Gilbert M. 8 years ago from California


      Yeah, the airplane, the internet, antibiotics...totally unimportant.

    • profile image

      blah blah 8 years ago

      this page doesn't help at all because i need important inventions and none of these are important seriously a vacuum cleaner is important really

    • profile image

      JennyBabez*(; 8 years ago

      This page was really usefull (:



    • profile image

      Brandon 8 years ago

      this dosent help me at all

    • profile image

      ComeOnNow 8 years ago

      How about "The Bomb"... probably the most significant invention in the 20th Century.

    • profile image

      hoyhoy 8 years ago

      erm. interesting tbh., could have more info on each one.

      and try extending the list?

    • profile image

      poop scoop 8 years ago

      your all geeks

    • profile image

      Jenny 8 years ago

      Thanks for the nice information! it will be very useful to my speech tmr!

    • profile image

      Aiste 8 years ago

      I'll use that info in my english classes. thx for info I've found here!

    • profile image

      Jade 8 years ago

      they r very useful information. I've just used it in my test ! thanks a lot!

    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 8 years ago from ma

      So many great inventions.

    • profile image

      aliyshs 9 years ago

      very good info


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