The flamethrower is thought to have been invented in 1901 by Richard Fielder as a petroleum weapon. It was first used in World War 1. But 1300 years earlier, the Byzantine Empire was already using a unique weapon that could burn on water, called Greek Fire. They used it as a naval flamethrower to set enemy ships a blaze. Modern scholars speculate that it was made using petroleum and sulfur, but exactly how it worked remains a mystery. By the 1950s, the US army was using a similar explosive weapon that also used petroleum. It was called Napalm and was infamously used to burn down jungles during the Vietnam War.
Modern plastic surgery was developed by Sir Harold Gillies in 1917. He used skin grafting to treat the facial burn injuries of Walter Yeo, who was horrifically woundedin World War 1. But plastic surgery dates back to at least 3,000 BC. Ancient Egyptians actually introduced the practice of nasal reconstruction, as documented in the Edwin Smith Papyrus. This was often done to rebuild thieves’ noses, which were cut off as a punishment for stealing.
Vending machines were first introduced in late 19th Century London to dispense post card sand books. But the vending machine has a 2,000-year history. In the 1st Century, the Greek physicist Hero created coin-operated machines that dispensed holy water in temples. A coin placed in the machine’s slot would push down on a lever, releasing water, until the coin would eventually fall off. These were introduced to stop worshipers from taking more holy water than they were paying for. Today vending machines dispense everything from burritos in Los Angeles, to mashed potato in Singapore, and even school girls’ used panties in Japan.
The invention of the alarm clock is usually accredited to Levi Hutchins. In 1787 he created a clock that made an alarm sound every day at 4am. But around 440 BC in Ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato used a water clock to wake him up forhis lectures. Plato’s water clock resembled an hourglass that gradually filled up with water through various tubes and siphons. When these vessels filled up quickly, they would produce a whistling sound, waking thesleeper up.
In 1875 the Italian scientist Filippo Cecchi invented the modern seismograph to detect earthquakes. This consisted of two vibrating pendulums and a large metalcoil. But the lifesaving practice of predicting earthquakes began almost 2,000 years ago,when Chinese inventor Zhang Heng created the very first seismoscope in 132 AD. Zhang’s seismoscope was a 1. 8 m bronze vessel, ornamented with dragons. When an earthquake was detected, a small bronze ball would drop from the mouth of a dragon into the vessel, acting as an alarm. Six years after inventing the device, Zhang used it to detect a magnitude 7 earth quake 2,500 km away in the Gansu Province.
In 1954, American entrepreneurs Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt were inspired to create automatic doors to combat the problem of swing doors in windy weather. But in 50 BC, Hero of Alexandria had already beaten them to it, designing an automatic door for temples. When Priests lit a fire on the door altar, it caused pressure to build up in a brass vessel. This activated a water pump, which displaced the mechanism’s weight, causing a series of ropes and pulleys to slide the temple doors open.
The history of the battery is often traced back to 18th Century Italian scientist Luigi Galvani. He discovered that when he attached 2 pieces of metal to the legs of a dead frog,the legs would twitch, indicating the presence of electricity. Inspired by Galvani’s experiment, physicist Alessandro Volta built a crude battery in 1799, which consisted of copper zinc disks and cardboard, soaked in acid. But this wasn’t the first.
In 1938 an archaeologist discovered a clay pot in Baghdad, containing a copper cylinder and an iron rod. These are thought by some archeologists to be an early battery from 200 BC. They’ve been dubbed the ‘Baghdad Batteries’, but expert on Iraqi archaeology, Professor Elizabeth Stone, stated that she does not know a single archaeologist who believed that these were batteries. However, in 2005 Mythbusters proved that the artifact could produce 4 volts of electricity when acidic solution was added to the iron = electrodes in the vessel. And this charge that would have been strong enough to electroplate coins or jewelry.
In 1900 a 2000-year-old machine known as the Antikythera mechanism was discovered in a shipwreck. For more than 100 years, scientists were mystified as to the purpose of this highly complex and ancient device, which was comprised of intricate bronze cogs and dials. Today it’s theorized that this is an analog computer created by the ancient Greeks to determine astronomical positions, eclipses, and the dates of Olympic games. Another mechanism of the same complexity wouldn’t be made for another 1,500 years, when in 1834 scientist Charles Babbage devised the first ever mechanical computer, an analytical engine that calculated mathematical functions. Measuring 3 meters long and weighing 5 tons, Babbage’s device is quite a contrast to Apple’s 28-cm, 1 kg MacBook air.
In 2007 the US military unveiled the Active Denial System. This weapon releases highly focused particle beams as hot as 50 C, that are capable of inflicting 2nd degree burns. But in 212 BC the Greek physicist Archimedes had already invented a death ray. He used highly polished copper to reflect sunlight onto approaching ships, causing them to catch fire. In 2004 Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters tried and failed to replicate Archimedes’ death ray, as they couldn’t achieve the 593 C temperature needed to ignite the ship. But 1 year later, researchers at MIT University managed to set an oak ship ablaze after just 10 minutes of reflecting sunlight onto it.
The first electronic autonomous robots were created by William Grey Walter in 1948. Shaped like tortoises, the robots were capable of re-locating their recharging station when they ran low on battery power. But the existence of robotics dates back 2,000 years to the ancient Greek engineer Hero of Alexandria. Hailed as the first roboticist, Hero engineered steam-powered automatons to put on the atrical performances for audiences. The robots could be programmed to do specific tasks and then left to themselves to complete the work, using a system of pulleys, carts, and rotating cylinders.