Scissors: Circa 100 A.D.
From the civilization that brought us roads, arches, concrete and the steam engine came the first pair of cross-bladed scissors around 100 A.D. The Romans were the most productive inventors in Europe in their day, proving that even the earliest Italians had an unparalleled knack for ingenuity.
In fact, the Romans pioneered the first science of civil engineering, which probably helped them figure out the basic mechanics for which scissors are so famous: crossed blades hinged together by an elementary fulcrum.
It’s easy to take for granted the simple genius of scissors, but the earlier Egyptian attempt to develop the tool in 1500 B.C. shows there’s nothing especially straightforward about the idea of having not just one scissor, but two. The Romans cleverly realized there must be a pair in order to easily slice and dice garments, hair, and other items needing a cutting.
The Parachute: 1495
While Leonardo da Vinci didn’t actually create a physical gadget to match his design for a device that could slow a falling person, his famed 1495 sketch of the first parachute was fundamental to later developments. The claim to first invention, however, remained contested until the turn of the millenium.
Fast forward five hundred years to Adrian Nicholas, a British skydiver determined to prove that da Vinci deserves credit for the first workable parachute design.
Before Nicholas leapt out of a hot-air balloon hitched to a 190-pound gizmo made of canvas, wood and some rope, no one had dared test out the viability of da Vinci’s 15th century scribbles.
Despite warnings, the Briton took a leap of faith, jumped—and floated safely to the ground with a huge grin, proving definitively the Italian polymath knew exactly what he was talking about centuries ago. The parachute can be thus added to the long list of things the original “Renaissance man” fathomed centuries ahead of his time.
The Battery: 1800
Once upon a time, Italian scientist Alessandro Volta noticed that dead frogs twitched violently in the presence of electrical energy. He theorized that the muscles were being electrified by nearby metal conductors, like the scalpel or table. One idea sparked another, ultimately inspiring Signor Volta to successfully develop the very first chemical battery, a simple stack of metallic disks.
With his primitive battery, Volta had brought the world its first compact, reliable source of continous electric current—though he wasn’t sure how it worked. This achievement posthumously earned him a spot in the pantheon of scientists after whom units of measurement are named. A half-century after his death, electrical potential was deemed a phenomenon of voltage out of respect for the creative Italian physicist.
The Artificial Heart: 1969
Italy is a land of great passions, so it’s no surprise the first total artificial cardiac organ was invented by an Italian with a big heart. Domingo Liotta is not only an ingenious scientist and pioneer in the field of heart surgery, he’s also reknowned for unparalleled dedication to the promotion of human welfare and moral medical practice.
In 1969, the “Liotta heart,” a pneumatic pump, was first implanted into a man suffering from severe cardiac failure. The organ supported the man for three days until a donor heart arrived. This event demonstrated that it was possible to keep patients alive via a mechanical circulatory system until matching donors materialized.
Over four decades later, Liotta’s innovations have become standard tools around the world, saving thousands of lives annually.