Renaissance period ranging from AD 1300 to AD 1600 marks a period of human awakening in which the mankind leaped to the brighter modern era from the less bright middle ages. Inventions in the field of science and technology, developments in various art forms and formation of new faith, beliefs and practices in politics and religion during this period paved way for drastic changes in the intellectual, social and cultural perceptions of mankind. In this article we are going to explore the most important inventions during this period which have helped to change the destiny and progress of mankind.
The idea of steam engine was introduced in the first century by a Greek mathematician known as ‘Hero of Alexandria’.
Elementary steam engines were developed from sixteenth century onwards. Thomas Savery developed the first water pump powered by steam and this is considered as the first steam engine of the modern form.
Savery had spent much energy and time studying and planning how to construct a steam engine and operate it successfully. In 1698 he could successfully construct a steam engine which was called a ‘fire engine’ and a working model was given to ‘Royal Society of London’. He continued the experiments and spent much time in perfecting the engine and demonstrated the performance of the stream engine before King William III and secured a patent for his invention without much delay.
Even though the steam engine developed by Savery was a crude model and was not economical as large quantity of coal was needed for producing the steam, this was a great leap in the history of mankind. This invention helped to accelerate the industrial revolution which had already started taking shape. Further developments were introduced by Thomas Newcomen who developed an improved version known as ‘atmospheric engine’.
Newcomen Steam Engine Replica at Black Country Museum in Dudley (Birmingham, England) (video):
Another scientist James Watt modified the ‘atmospheric engine’ by attaching a separate condenser. By this improvement the use of coal was reduced by 75 % and steam engines became cheaper to operate.
Savery Steam Engine demonstration (video):
Johannes Guttenberg, a German and a goldsmith by profession developed the first printing press. Guttenberg started the task of producing the printing press in AD 1436 with borrowed money and was completed successfully in AD 1440.
The printing press developed by Guttenberg used metal letters which can be replaced easily by other letters. The required metal letters are selected and attached in lines in their correct positions. Printing ink is applied to this plate and the plate is pressed with high pressure on the paper thereby creating the impression of the letters on the paper.
To demonstrate the effectiveness of the printing press, he printed the holy bible, which contained 42 lines per page. Some copies of the holy bible printed by Guttenberg are still available in archives.
The introduction of fast and easy printing technique was a curtain raiser for the spread of knowledge and culture across the world. The accumulated knowledge of the previous centuries was made available to everybody by the quick, cheap and easy printing system developed by Guttenberg.
Gutenberg Printing Press (video):
The credit of invention of telescope goes to Galileo Galilei. This is a very interesting story. A Dutch lens maker offered a new instrument which can be used to see the distant objects magnified. As soon as Galilei came to know about this fact, he started constructing the device himself. In 1609 he began to use this instrument known as telescope to observe heavenly objects and became the first person to do so.
The first instrument developed by him was having a magnification power of three only. With hard work he could improve the magnification power to 30 and was able to conduct a detailed study about moon. He also discovered that stars are a part of the Milky Way and also found out that Jupiter has four moons.
Galileo’s Telescope (video):
It is believed that measurement of time was known to man even during the period around 4000 BC. In those days primitive form of clocks like sundials and water clocks were used to measure/know time. The development of mechanical clock was a gradual process which took several years to reach its present stage. In the earlier mechanical clocks mercury was allowed to pass through the holes on the drums. These drums had compartments which contained mercury. The movement of the drum was controlled by the flow of mercury. By the introduction of the mechanical clocks it became possible to measure the time period of a day as twenty four hours and its fractions. It is believed that Filippo Brunelleschi in Florence, Italy, invented mechanical clocks in 1410.
Filippo Brunelleschi (video):
Leonardo Da Vinci, the famous artist and scientist does not hold the credit of inventing the mechanical clock, but had contributed considerably to the development of the modern mechanical clock.
Artillery (Rocket launching tubes)
Rockets were used in the second, third and fourth Mysore wars. After these wars some Mysore rockets were transported to England. William Congreve spearheaded the mission for the development of better rockets. In 1805 AD Royal Arsenal, the British armed force’s research and development center demonstrated the use of solid rockets by test firing them. William Congreve made use of launching tubes to improve the accuracy of the rockets.
Another important invention which helped in the growth of civilization was the magnetic compass. Though the compass was invented originally by Chinese during the regime of Qin dynasty during the second century BC, it was used as an instrument for navigation by Zheng He, the famous Chinese warrior and navigator. He conducted seven voyages through Indian Ocean with a fleet of ships which opened opportunities for trade with India, China and Africa. The magnetic compass was improved upon during early renaissance era.
Hans Janssen and Zacharias Janssen jointly hold the credit for the invention of the microscope. Hans Janssen is the father of Zacharias Janssen. Both of them were engaged in spectacle making and were interested in experimenting with lens. The first compound microscope is considered to be developed around 1590 and Zacharias Janssen was too young at that time. It is believed that the father invented the microscope and the son developed it, taking into account the age factor of both these persons. In the 17th century, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek made microscopes with magnification up to 270 times original size.
Flush toilets have been used since ancient BC; but the credit of introducing the flushing water closet of the renaissance era goes to John Harrington, who erected his first flushing water closet at Kelston which is near to Bath in England. The design had a flush valve to let water out of the tank, and a wash-down design to empty the bowl. Queen Elizabeth-I got interested in this new system and the same was erected in the Royal Palace also. The flushing water closet worked satisfactorily for some time. One of the inconveniences inherent with the system was that the ventilation of the system was not perfect. Because of this imperfection, sewer gases leaked to the Royal Palace also. Queen overcame this drawback by placing fragrances and herbs in the rooms of the palace.
Leonardo Da Vinci has developed the idea of a submarine. Like many of the other novel ideas put forward by him this also remained in paper till Cornelius Van Drebbel dared to take up the task and constructed a submarine. He successfully constructed the submarine and operated it at a depth between 12 to 15 feet under water. His submarine was made of wood and was covered with water proof leather. Oars protruded out of the submerged vessel and the power of oarsmen moved the submarine.
Robert Boyle the famous scientist was the first person on earth to produce fire by chemical action of two substances which paved the way for the modern match boxes. He found that if phosphorus and sulfur are rubbed together it would instantly burst into flame. He was convinced that the friction between the two substances is not the reason for the formation of the flames. The modern matches were developed as a result of further experimentation in 1827 by John Walker, an English chemist and apothecary. He used antimony sulfide, potassium chloride, gum and starch to create the first set of friction matches.
It is believed that the eye glasses were invented by Salvino D’Amate who lived in Florence. While D’Amate was experimenting with refraction of light he got injured in his eyes. During the earlier experiments he had found out a method to increase the image size of the objects by using two convex mirrors. He applied the above knowledge to improve the visibility of his own eyes and by continuous experimentation he could develop the first eye glass.