20 American Inventions That Changed the World

Updated on June 14, 2016

From the mundane to the truly spectacular, numerous American inventions have changed the world. Here is a countdown of twenty things invented by Americans that have become part of our everyday lives here and across the world.

20. A visit to a theme park or a carnival is never complete without a ride on a Ferris wheel. It is a popular ride which features an upright rotating wheel with capsules for passengers, is named after George Washington Gale Ferris who debuted the first Ferris wheel as the landmark of the Chicago World Fair on June 21, 1931.

19. Since childhood, most of us have carved out a special place for delightful and delicious cookies. Most likely at the top of our list of favorites is the classic chocolate chip cookie. A tasty treat made from flour, butter, brown sugar and semi sweet chocolate bits, it was made by accident in 1930 by Ruth Graves Wakefield, the owner of the Toll House Inn, a restaurant that served homecooking in Whitman, Massachusetts.

18. A vital part of the daily hygiene, flossing completes the brushing routine we use to take care of our pearly whites. Dental floss was introduced in 1815 by Levi Spear Parmly, a dentist from New Orleans. It was originally made from silk, unlike today’s dental floss which is made of nylon or plastic.

17. If you find buttons quite a fuss as you dress up for work, then you have to thank Whitcomb L. Judson, an inventor from Chicago, for inventing the clasp locker, the zipper’s predecessor which was introduced in 1893. The modern design was made by Gideon Sundbäck in 1913, the head designer of the Universal Fastener Company launched by Judson.

16. The hearing aid is an invaluable device for people who have hearing loss, whether from birth or other circumstances. The first electronic hearing aid was invented in 1902 by Miller Reese Hutchinson, an inventor from Alabama.

15. We have become very familiar with the hospital emergency scene with a doctor holding defibrillator paddles to the chest of a patient while urgently motioning a nurse to hit the switch. Defibrillators deliver a large dose of electrical energy to a heart affected with arrhythmia, ventricular fibrillation and tachycardia. First used on humans by Dr. Claude Beck in 1947, they were initially used during open chest operations only.

14.The technique to determine the age of artifacts from archaeological expeditions is called radiocarbon dating. This was developed by Williard Libby, who calculated the half-life of Carbon-14, in 1949 at the University of Chicago.

Radiocarbon dating has enabled experts to know more about the life on earth even before civilizations were formed.

13. Managing the traffic of pedestrians and vehicles at intersections would be nearly impossible without the help of the traffic light. The modern electric traffic light was invented in 1912 by Lester Wire, a policeman from Salt Lake City. It was originally just red and green, for stop and go respectively.

12. The first crash test dummy was developed in 1949 by Samuel W. Alderson an inventor from California. Information from research on animals and human cadavers is used to design the crash test dummies initially used to test aviation safety. Today, these crash test dummies are used in a wide array of situations to simulate human body response.

11. Now a common kitchen appliance, the microwave oven has become the irreplaceable gadget for cooking, thawing or reheating food, popping popcorn and making stews. The microwave was not originally intended for kitchen use until in 1945 when Percy Spencer, an engineer from Maine who was working on the magnetron for radar sets at Raytheon, found out that the microwaves had melted the chocolate in his pocket.

10. Cars, mobile phones, beauty products, processed food and even jewelry have something in common - they are all manufactured through an assembly line. The assembly line is a systematic, sequential method of production of goods which is cost-effective since it lessens mistakes and it hastens production time. In 1901, the basic concept was introduced by Ransom Olds, through his motor vehicle company in Michigan. But the assembly line that has left a lasting influence on the manufacturing world was that of the production of the Ford Model T by Henry Ford’s motor company in 1908. Initially, the assembly line was composed of workers, later replaced with machines and most recently, more sophisticated robots.

9. Often associated with science fiction, a LASER is an instrument that emits light that has been amplified through simulated emission. The word LASER is actually an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. The concept of a LASER was first proposed by Gordon Gould and it is based on masers which amplifies microwaves. The first LASER was built in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman, at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California. Today, the applications of the LASER range from industrial, medical, law enforcement to entertainment.

8. In the current campaign for the use of green energy, the use of light emitting diodes for lighting and image displays has increased because of the minimal energy it needs to produce light. The LED has come a long way from its initial use as an indicator light for electronic devices. It was developed in 1962 by Nick Holonyak Jr., a consulting scientist at General Electric Company in Syracuse, New York.

7.Finding one’s location on earth has evolved through the centuries. The technology of today is the global positioning system, which uses the global navigation satellite system managed by the government of the United States. Though this was developed in 1973 by the US Department of Defense, it became fully operational only in 1994. Though it is primarily for military use, it can be accessible by anybody with some limitations, for navigation, map making, clock synchronization and other uses.

6. Today, cancer and chemotherapy are sadly, two commonly understood words. The use of chemotherapy for cancer treatment started in the 1940s, when two pharmacologists from Yale University, Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman made observations that nitrogen mustard, a chemical warfare agent, suppressed the growth of lymphoid and myeloid cells.

5. Aside from social networking, the most popular computer-based pasttime is video gaming. A video game allows interaction between a user and a device with video feedback. The first one was actually an analog electronic game using a cathode ray tube. Called the ‘cathode-ray tube amusement device’, it was made by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann in 1948.

4. Email became popular at the onset of the 21st century. It has become the preferred form of communication because it enables quick relay of messages and at the same time saves resources like ink and paper. The first email was sent in 1971 using ARPANET, by Ray Tomlinson, between two computer terminals placed side by side. Ray Tomlinson, a programmer from New York, is also credited for using the ampersat (@) sign to separate the user’s name and the user’s machine, the latter changed to the domain name later.

3. At first the mobile phone was tailored for busy professionals who were people who were always on the go. But it has become commonplace and a almost a necessity for everyone in contemporary society. The first hand held mobile phone was developed by a team headed by Dr. Martin Cooper. Dr. Cooper was formerly the vice president of Motorola. He was the division head when he showcased a 1kg mobile phone in 1973.

2. The development of the computer spans centuries, but the modern digital computer has its roots in America. In 1937, it was invented by George Stibitz while he was working at Bell Labs. But widespread use only came with the invention of the personal computer in the 1980s, which owes its popularity in no small part to innovations and genius of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

1. It is common belief that humans have always been interconnected, but nothing confirms this better than how much the Internet connects most of 21st century humanity. A network of networks, it was formally introduced with the Internet Protocol Suite of the National Science Foundation in 1982, which was funded by US government.

Indeed, the internet tops this list of inventions because it has created a means for the other inventions and related technology to become so ubiquitous and well known. There are countless other impactful inventions (by non-Americans as well as Americans of course) that have not been mentioned here, but these twenty stand out. Something to add to the list? Feel free to comment! Thanks.


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    • profile image

      colt 4 weeks ago

      I love microwave wave oven they are very useful it can cook toast bagels and even more so you don't need a microwave or toaster

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      bethany 6 weeks ago

      where is the light bulb? ah duh!

      these aren't even the best and certainly not the most important inventions of the US.

      WHAT THE HECK!!!!!!!!!!

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      moataz 7 weeks ago

      This is great I enjoyed it so much

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      Billybobbins4972 2 months ago

      America's greatest contribution to the universe? The banjo, surely? Although most Americans seem to be so full of national pride, I'm sure they think they invented everything.

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      landon 1133 2 months ago

      very very very very helpful

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      chris 2 months ago

      what about the national park system? An idea adopted around the globe that is still alive and well today.

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      Nathan H 4 months ago

      Dear author

      I have to disagree with you on a few of them. Where is the telephone? Light Bulb? And poo you are soooooo funny


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      au 5 months ago

      there were multiple inventors for the world wide web ppl

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      Bob 7 months ago

      microwave for the win of people that don't have a wife

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      dr Harris 9 months ago

      A lot of people; not all of them laymen; wrongly assume that particular individuals INVENTED Electric Lights, Radio, Television, Computers, Record Players, Tape recorders, hovercraft, aircraft, helicopters and of course; JET ENGINES. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how science, and its application to engineer useful products, actually works.

      Misplaced national pride often lead people to use the royal WE when claiming superiority of their own race or country based on the assertion that We have superior intelligence or natural flair and originality than other peoples or parts of the World as attested by these erroneous claims to fame.

      The breakthroughs often came as a result of advances in available materials. Much of the mathematical modelling required for Holography was laying in wait for a sufficiently pure and collimated beam of light; the laser unlocked the door.

      Kings ransoms have been thrown at projects that have extended the aims of an application beyond the limitations of the available materials; early exploding boilers, later exploding Comet aircraft; Concorde sitting at the extremes of what could be done and well beyond what should have been done. Man going to the Moon.

      Purely as a particular example to demonstrate the point, is the published history of ideas that led any number of people around the World to correctly predict and even try to realise motive thrust using known thermodynamics combined with compression and expansion using fans and turbines. (Jet Engines) it is a long list.

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      tia 9 months ago

      well done

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      Pip 9 months ago

      There is nothing wrong with being patriotic but you shouldn't twist history to suit your needs.

      Both the computer (Charles Babbage (mechanical) and later Alan Turing (electronic)) and the internet (www, Tim Berners-Lee) are UK inventions as were the telephone, jet engine etc.

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      maria prendi 10 months ago

      very interesting

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      Ben 12 months ago

      Hahhahahahha, the internet is british, big up Tim Bernards Lee

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      Haniho 12 months ago

      Add Tesla Model S

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      Angel 17 months ago

      Very interesting but what happened with the wheel and the lightbulb

    • profile image

      Har 17 months ago

      true these inventions are cool

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      rackle 18 months ago

      The Chicago World Fair was from May 1, 1893 – October 30, 1893 not on June 21, 1931.

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      hmmm 19 months ago

      this was a very useful site thank you :)

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      MLG goldenfreddy 19 months ago

      thanks for site its really helpful

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      MichaelK 19 months ago

      I think this website was very useful thank you creators!

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      Mike 2 years ago

      Your statement the the US invented "the internet" is misleading. The internet (proper) is simply the networking and protocols that allow computers to communicate. It is the "plumbing" if you like. However what most people think of as the internet these days is in fact the "world wide web" i.e. websites, streaming of data, online shopping etc.- and that was invented by an Englishman, Tim Berners-Lee.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very interesting and well thought out list.

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      Larry Wall 2 years ago

      You put together a very good list. I was wondering if contact lenses were an American invention. I have to wear regular glasses, but most people prefer contacts, I think.

    • B Lucy profile image

      B Lucy 3 years ago from Podunk, Virginia

      Thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub!!

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      kgcall 4 years ago

      One correction: the Ferris Wheel was designed for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, not in 1931.

    • idigwebsites profile image

      idigwebsites 4 years ago from United States

      Few of these inventions came from accidental discoveries, which is really interesting. Really awesome. You gotta love the nerds, so don't bully them at school. One day they will invent something that will make our lives better. Thanks for posting! Up and awesome. :)

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      Rich 5 years ago from New Jersey

      nice hub.

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      bailey 5 years ago


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      bjornv 5 years ago

      This was cool to read it teached me much. thanks

    • Jameshank profile image

      Jameshank 6 years ago from Japan, NY, California

      I'm glad you enjoyed reading. Thanks for dropping by!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      I love this Hub! Your list is fantastic! I enjoyed this thoroughly. Well done!

    • Jameshank profile image

      Jameshank 6 years ago from Japan, NY, California

      Thanks tillsontitan for also taking the time to read this hub on inventions! I'm also grateful for the vote up...

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

      Very interesting inventions for you to choose. You have skimmed the surface with some very important inventions with just the right mix of whimsical. Nicely written with a brief introduction to each invention keeping the hub flowing, especially for the non-technical of us. Voted up.