Machines That Changed the World

Famous machines that helped to change the world – from the Archimedes screw to the computer and petrol engine.

Archimedes Screw

The ability to draw water uphill, against the flow of gravity revolutionised irrigation and the supply of water. Designed in 213 BCE, the Archimedes screw is still used in irrigation today.

The printing press

In 1455, Johannes Gutenberg developed the first mechanised printing press. He converted an old wine press to enable a heavy screw to press a printing block against paper. His machine enabled a huge reduction in the cost of producing books and would remain in use until the steam driven press in the 19th Century.


A very primitive form of calculator was developed by Blaise Pascal

Pendulum Clock

In 1656, Christiaan Huygens developed a pendulum clock which kept time accurate to within a few seconds. His pendulum clock was based on the ‘Grandfather clock designing with weights and a pendulum swinging.)

The Telescope

Galileo is credited with building the first telescope. This was later improved upon, the first reflecting telescope was built in 1668 by Sir Isaac Newton. Previous telescopes had been designed, but Newton used parabolic mirrors instead of lenses and operated using reflection. His telescope designs would later be used in mapping the stars and gaining a much better understanding about the earth’s position in the Universe. The telescope

The Steam Train

The first working steam engine is often credited to be Richard Trevithick in 1804. However, George Stephenson’s engines were more famous because of their greater impact. For example, his Rocket, built in 1829, running along the Great Liverpool, Manchester railway helped to usher in the new railway age and the age of industrialisation in Britain and later the world.

James Watt played a key role in making the steam engine more efficient.

The Internal Combustion Engine

The internal combustion engine, enabled the development of the modern motor car and related transport.


Enabled popular entertainment to be broadcast into every home. It also became an important source of news and propaganda. In the second world war, the radio was instrumental in influencing public opinion. For example, Churchill’s famous speeches were broadcast on radio and reached nearly the whole population. Previously, great speeches could have taken weeks to reach the rest of the population. The allies even used BBC world service to broadcast coded messages to agents in occupied territories.


TV brought cinema to people’s home. It also revolutionised the distribution of news and information. Since the second world war, society has spent more time watching TV than any other leisure activity. Often TV is bland entertainment. But, TV images has also shaped public opinion in a way, the written or spoken word couldn’t. For example, images of casualties in Vietnam made the war deeply unpopular. TV images of starving children in Africa led to world wide charity drives. Key person in development of TV – John Logie Baird

Enigma machine

The enigma machine was a prototype of the computer. The real importance of the enigma machine is that it allowed the allies to break the German high commands secret code and give Allied commanders information in real time. This helped them know about troop movements and morale in the German forces.


When Charles Babbage created a first type of computer, no-one could have realised how later computers would influence the world. Even when the first micro computers were sold in the 1970s, few saw how powerful and wide ranging they would become. The pace of computer development took most people by surprise It enabled more efficient communication and databases. Through the internet computers have been used to reduce the distance of communication.

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