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Revolutionary inventions from the year you were born

  • Revolutionary inventions from the year you were born

    Over the past 100 years, inventions and discoveries have made life safer and healthier. Medical breakthroughs have given diabetics insulin, created the artificial heart, and made blood banks possible. The discovery of penicillin led to modern antibiotics, and vaccines have eradicated polio.

    Some inventions have helped the world connect and fundamentally changed all aspects of people's personal and work lives. Technological advances in the 1960s gave rise to the modern internet, which gave the world websites and email addresses. Steve Jobs changed everything when he unveiled the iPhone in 2007, putting a computer and a camera in just about everyone's pocket.

    Some inventions just made things a little easier. People can save time by heating their food in the microwave, and Band-Aids keep cuts clean. At the home or office, Post-it notes and Scotch tape can come in handy. Still others promised to change our everyday lives but fell short: Within two decades, Segway went from the future of personal transport in 2001 to its announcement in June 2020 that it would cease production by July 15.

    Depending on your birth year, you may have lived through the creation of many of these iconic items, and it is only you who can confirm or deny which inventions were the best thing since sliced bread (1929). For those born in the last 20 to 30 years, you can recall several passed-down stories from your parents and grandparents—perhaps those of visual significance, such as when the color television, contact lenses, and polaroid camera emerged and left a vast cultural footprint. 

    As with most of human history, many of the best inventions are simply the byproduct of improving upon old ideas; the pinnacle of fully fleshed-out designs. There is no DVD player without the VCR forebear. No iPod without the Walkman. No augmented or virtual reality video game systems without its ancestors in the first gaming consoles.

    To find some of the most interesting inventions of the last century, Stacker scoured news reports and patents. Click through to find brilliant inventions from the year you were born.

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  • 1919: Pop-up toaster

    Scotland's Alan MacMasters invented an electric toaster in 1893. The first toasters didn't heat both sides at once, requiring people to flip the bread. Almost three decades later, Charles Strite made breakfast a little easier and created the modern pop-up toaster.

  • 1920: Band-Aid

    Earle and Josephine Dickson created the first adhesive bandage in 1920. The two took the idea to Johnson & Johnson, where Earle was a cotton buyer. Their invention became trademarked as Band-Aid. The company now makes a liquid sealant and some come pre-treated with antibiotics.

  • 1921: Polygraph

    John Larson, a police officer in Berkeley, California, created the first polygraph machine in 1921. It was designed to detect sudden changes in blood pressure with the thought that if someone was nervous, it might be a sign they're lying. The machines have been controversial, and most courts don't allow results as evidence. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2018 funded artificial intelligence technology called AVATAR that assesses truthfulness by subtle changes in eye movement, voice, or how someone shifts their body.

  • 1922: Insulin

    On Jan. 11, 1922, Dr. Frederick Banting administered the first treatment of insulin for diabetes, which he developed along with medical student Charles Best. Before insulin treatment was available, most people with type 1 diabetes didn't live very long. Modern-day insulin still can't be administered in pill form, but people can give themselves daily shots or wear a pump.

  • 1923: Q-tips

    After Leo Gerstenzang saw his wife adding cotton to toothpicks, he created cotton swabs and founded the Q-tips Company. Their original name was “Baby Gays,” but Gerstenzang changed the name to Q-tips—the Q stands for quality.

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  • 1924: Frozen food

    People have been freezing foods for millennia, but Clarence Birdseye is often credited with inventing the modern way of quick-freezing food. Birdseye invented the method after realizing that ice would form on food if it was frozen too slowly. When defrosted, the crystals would melt and affect the quality and taste of the food.

  • 1925: Mechanical television

    In 1925, inventor John Logie Baird showed off a mechanical device that projected the shadow of a doll on the other side of the room. A year later, he would unveil the mechanical TV, the precursor to the modern electric television that was invented by Philo Farnsworth in 1927.

  • 1926: Liquid rocket fuel

    On March 16, 1926, Robert Hutchings Goddard used liquid rocket fuel in a rocket he built and tested. Goddard proposed the idea of a rocket reaching the moon back in 1920. His research and inventions directly contributed to the existence of modern space flight.

  • 1927: Iron lung

    Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw Jr. invented a tank respirator known as the iron lung to help patients with polio. The machine acts as a mechanical diaphragm, forcing air into the lungs of people who could no longer swallow or breathe on their own. Most patients only needed treatment for a few weeks, but some required lifelong assistance.

  • 1928: Sliced bread

    Richard O. Rohwedder filed his patent for a bread-slicing machine in 1928. That same year, he sold his invention to the Chillicothe Baking Company in Missouri, which became “The Home of Sliced Bread.” Also in 1928, Scottish physician and scientist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin; he noticed that something in mold had inhibited bacterial growth. In June 1929, he published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology.

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