The Top 10 Inventions of All Time

In episode 37, we debated the top 10 inventions of all time (Haven’t heard it? Check it out here!) to come up with one list to rule them all. Here is what Unprofessional Engineering came up with as the greatest inventions of all time and why. Don’t agree? Let’s hear your thoughts at, or on Twitter @UnproEng.

#10 – Automobile

Providing people with incredible freedom of movement, the automobile has made traveling great distances simple. In addition, it has led to the creation of suburbs as people no longer need to live in the city center. Have you listened to our episode of cars of the future? Or read our blog on it? You probably should, because they might help the automobile climb up this list.

#9 – Sanitation

You know what’s better than dying a horrible death at the age of 36? Living longer… Sanitation designs across the board have improved the standard of living as well as more than doubled life expectancy. Just think of all the extra years of work you can now enjoy!

#8 – Wheel and Axle

No list of top inventions can be complete without the wheel and axle. Before the wheel showed up around 3500BC, we were very limited in how much and how far we could travel with products. Adding a wheel to a cart allows for easily carrying large amounts, opening the idea for trade centers, not to mention improving the lives of any laborer. Add it onto a cart and you now have transportation. Add it to the car and you can travel almost anywhere.

#7 – Internal Combustion Engine

This was a tough one, as the steam engine is pretty great too. We decided on the combustion engine primarily because it’s small! Not to mention you don’t need some guy shoveling coal into a furnace to make the magic happen. Without this, we’re still stuck on the train to get everywhere, the automobile doesn’t exist, and I’m still cutting my grass with scissors.

#6 – Written Language

Dating back to Sumerian in 3300BC, this was the key step to disseminating knowledge from one generation to the next. Just think where we would be if everything we learned was passed down through stories from one person to the next. I can’t even remember a phone number any longer, so how could I be expected to how to understand astrophysics without a book?!

It is also funny that during our podcast this was #10 on one list and not on the other, yet ended up at #6 on the final list. Still not sure how that happened.

#5 – Semiconductors

Are you reading this on a computer? iPad? iPhone? Watching TV while reading this? None of this would be possible without our little friend the semiconductor. And considering the top inventions on the list, this stepping stone is crucial for so many other amazing inventions.

#4 – Compass

Navigating by star light is a pretty cool skill to have, but it sure doesn’t work very well during the day or on a cloudy night. The compass took care of that problem, enabling mariners to travel far away from land, opening up trade routes around the world, and resulting in the discovery of unknown lands. Wow, this is only number 4?!

#3 – Light Bulb

We have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the light bulb. Before it was around, productivity was limited to the daylight hours, so when the sun went down everyone went to bed, and then got up to start working when the sun showed up again. The light bulb made it possible to work all day and night, significantly increasing productivity. Unfortunate for us, now 3rd shift exists…stupid light bulb. Oh, did I mention there is an episode on this? Check it out!

#2 – Computer

The computer has been a part of every significant advancement in the past 50 years or more. Getting to space wouldn’t have been possible without it. Our top invention of all time wouldn’t be possible without it. Producing Unprofessional Engineering wouldn’t be possible without it. Need I say more?

#1 – The Internet

Thanks to Al Gore, we have the greatest invention of all time, the internet! Really, Lawrence Roberts is given the most credit for this amazing invention that has changed the way we live, design, are entertained, communicate, learn and more. Thanks to the internet we can find information on just about any topic in seconds, while revolutionizing the way people do business. And the best thing about the internet? Unlike inventions like the wheel, the best is yet to come!

So, what do you think? Is something missing from the list? I was partial to adding the plow, but it just didn’t make the cut. Let us know what you think should be on the list by emailing us at

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