The Great Scientific Discoveries – Part 2

“Great lives never go out; they go on.”
Benjamin Harrison

“Curiosity” featuring Richard Feynman (courtesy of melodysheep):


“The Spheres” from “Sunrise Mass” by Ola Gjeilo, performed by Tenebrae and The London Chamber Orchestra:


YogaYoga, one of India’s inventions

PloughThe plough, one of Egypt’s inventions

This series of scientific discoveries profiles some of the people whose brilliant minds have helped to shape the modern world. The great discoveries started with the fashioning of the first stone tools by our distant ancestors more than two million years ago. More recently, old stone age (Palaeolithic) people invented weaponry, fire-making, and clothing. The great civilizations that followed – in ancient Mesopotamia, China, India, and Egypt – introduced many fundamental technologies. Innovations such as the wheel, bricks, boats, ploughs and the smelting of metals are still of great importance today, but in most cases, little or nothing is known of the inventors.


Alphabet, one of Mesopotamia’s inventions.

abacusAbacus, one of China’s inventions.

I will continue with those Greats whose lives have been recorded.



c.1400  –  3 February 1468


One cannot overestimate the importance of the printing press in the history of the world. The mass production of books made them affordable, which promoted literacy. The inventor of this new technology was the German goldsmith, named Johannes Gutenberg. He was born in Mainz, Germany, around 1400, and came from a privileged background. He attended the University of Mainz and trained as a goldsmith.

Courtesy of HumanProgress:


Around 1420, several families were exiled from Mainz after a rebellion by the tax-paying middle class. Gutenberg was among them, and he travelled to Strasbourg, where he was involved in several ventures. One of them, he told his financial backers, was ‘a secret’. It is very likely that this secret was the development of the printing press.


At the time, nearly all books were painstakingly written out by scribes. Books, therefore, were rare and extremely expensive, and literacy was confined to religious and political leaders. Woodblock was used to print a few books – but each block, representing a whole page, had to be carved in its entirety. Gutenberg’s important innovation, ‘moveable type’, changed all that.

Scribe copying manuscripts in the Middle Ages
Medieval scribe writing at a desk, surrounded by open manuscripts. Hand-coloured woodcut of a 19th-century illustration


Moveable type is a system of printing in which a page of text is arranged in a frame by slotting in individual, raised letters. The letters are then inked and pressed onto paper. Gutenberg’s method was simple and efficient. First he made punches of hardened metal, each with the raised shape of a letter. With these, he punched impressions of the letters into copper. Next, he fitted the ‘negative’ copper pieces into a hand-held mould of his own invention, and poured in molten metal cast as many perfect copies of the letters  as he needed. The metal Gutenberg used was an alloy of lead, tin and antimony that has a low melting point and solidified quickly inside the mould.


While still in Strasbourg in the 1440s, Gutenberg experimented with another crucial element of his printing system: the press. The Gutenberg press was adapted from winemakers’ screw presses. The inked typeset text was slotted face-up on a flat bed, covered with paper, then slid underneath a heavy stone; turning the screw then pressed the paper onto the type. Repeating the process gave exact copies time after time.

Gutenberg1Gutenberg workshop

Gutenberg also formulated oil-based ink, which was more durable than the water-based inks in use at the time. He knew that by putting all these technologies together he was onto something very important.

“Quanta Qualia” by Patrick Hawes, performed by the Choir of the Earth and Jiaxin Chen on cello:


By 1448, Gutenberg was back in Mainz. He borrowed money from a wealthy investor, Johann Faust, to set up a printing shop there. Knowing that the church would be the main source of business, Gutenberg decided to print bibles. Work on the Gutenberg Bible began around 1452, after several test prints of other works, including books on Latin grammar. The relatively low price of the bibles, and their exquisite quality, secured the success of Gutenberg’s technology, which then spread quickly across Europe. By 1500, millions of books had been printed. Gutenberg produced 180 copies of his bible. Some were on vellum, others on paper; some were decorated by hand, others were left plain. The books caused a sensation when they were first displayed at a trade fair in Frankfurt in 1454.


Courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum:

Unfortunately for Gutenberg, Johann Faust demanded his money back, and accused Gutenberg of embezzlement. A judge ordered Guteberg to hand over his printing equipment as payment. Faust went on to become a successful printer, and Gutenberg set up a smaller printing shop in the nearby city of Bamberg. Gutenberg later moved to a small village where, in 1465, he was finally recognised for his invention and given an annual pension. He died three years later in relative poverty.

BambergAbove is Bamberg as it is today, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Although Gutenberg’s invention dramatically changed the course of history in a very short time, printing was still a laborious process. It required several people and produced only a hundred sheets per hour. The invention of cast-iron presses and the introduction of steam power in the nineteenth century improved that rate to about a thousand pages an hour. A further major step was the invention of the rotary press in 1843, by American inventor, Richard March Hoe (1812 – 1886), shown below.


Below is Hoe’s 6-cylinder rotary press:


Courtesy of wareboilers:

Hoe’s steam-powered invention could print millions of pages per day, largely due to the fact that paper could be led in through rollers as a continuous sheet. Hoe’s device relied upon lithography, a process invented by Bavarian playwright Aloys Senefelder (1771 – 1886). In lithography, ink is applied to smooth surfaces rather than to raised type, which was ideally suited to to the drums of Hoe’s press.

Below is Aloys Senefelder, inventor of lithography.


Courtesy of nationalgalleries:

GutenbergMuseumJohannes Gutenberg Museum in Mainz

Courtesy of TED-Ed:




Courtesy of TED-Ed:

Aspirin, the commercial name for acetylsalicylic acid, is one of numerous inventions which have been the object of claims which contradict their paternity. The use of natural remedies to relieve fever or pain goes back to time immemorial. Stone tablets dating from the Sumerian period describe the use of willow leaves by Assyrian physicians to treat inflammatory rheumatic diseases. Ancient Egyptians were also aware of the special property of willow leaves and used them to treat various inflammatory disorders. Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, recommended the use of extract of willow bark to alleviate the pain of childbirth and to reduce fever. It is said that the active ingredient has been known since at least 4th century BC. Numerous archaic recipes for fevers and headaches contain the decoction of the bark of the willow tree and the silver birch tree, and the leaves of the numerous plants species such as Spiraea, which are plants from the Rosaceae family, they include meadowsweet (below), and wintergreen. All these plants contain salicylic acid.


This compound was only actually ‘reinvented’ in 1763, when the English clergyman Reverend Edward Stone gave a paper to the Royal Society of London on the effects of the use of willow tree bark in the treatment of fever. Thus the practice of decocting this product was taken up again and extended.


In 1829 a French pharmacist Henri Leroux identified the active element in willow bark to be salicin. The modern age of aspirin began in 1838 when an Italian chemist, Raffaele Piria, isolated pure salicylic acid for the first time, extracting it from methyl salicylate taken from birch tree bark.

Below is Raffaele Piria


The modern inventor of aspirin can also be said to be the French chemist, Charles Frederic Gerhardt, who in 1853 was the first to synthesise acetylsalicylic acid by treating sodium salicylate with acetyl chloride, itself extracted from birch tree bark.

Below is Charles Gerhardt


Making tea with the bark of the willow tree was once used for medicinal purposes.

“Willow” by Jasmine Thompson:



3 March 1847  –  2 August 1922

The most lucrative patent of all time was awarded to a Scottish-Canadian-American inventor in 1876, for a device that had the magical ability to transmit the sound of the human voice across long distances. The inventor’s name was Alexander Graham Bell, and the invention was the telephone.


Courtesy of CloudBiography:

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father and grandfather were pioneers in the field of speech and elocution, and his mother had a condition that resulted in progressive hearing loss. These influences inspired Bell to study language and the human voice. The young Bell attended a prestigious school in Edinburgh, and when he left school, he went on to study in Edinburgh and London. After his studies, Bell taught deaf people to speak, using methods his father had developed, and it was at this time he began experiments in the transmission of sound using electricity.



Bell lost both his brothers to tuberculosis, and in 1870, his own precarious state of health deteriorated. His parents decided the family should emigrate to Canada. Within a year of arriving he became a Canadian citizen, and his health had improved. The family settled on a farm, and Bell continued his experiments with sound and electricity. He spent time teaching deaf people in Montreal.


Bell eventually settled in Boston, where he founded a school for the deaf and became professor of vocal physiology at Boston University. In 1873, as he become increasingly preoccupied with his attempts to transmit sound with electricity, he resigned his position. He retained two deaf people as private students; as luck would have it, their wealthy parents became interested in what he was trying to achieve, and helped fund his work.



In 1874, Bell built a device called a harmonic telegraph, which was designed to transmit several telegraph messages at the same time through a single wire. Each message was sent as pulses of electricity with a distinct frequency of alternating current. Bell’s financial backers were keen for him to perfect his device, but Bell was much more interested in trying to adapt his device to transmit the human voice through a wire, that many thought impossible.

Laboratory of Alexander Graham Bell, Boston
Laboratory of Alexander Graham Bell, Boston

In 1875, Bell was getting close, but his knowledge of electricity was lacking. Fortunately, that year he met an electrical technician called Thomas Watson (1854 – 1934), whom he engaged as his assistant. When Bell was granted the patent for the telephone, his device had not yet transmitted any speech. But three days later, on 19 March 1876, Bell and Watson achieved success. Bell, in one room, spoke into the device, and in an adjoining room, Watson heard the now famous words, ‘Mr Watson, come here – I want to see you.’

Alexander Graham Bell (left) and Thomas Watson below.


In the following months, Bell made improvements to the microphone, and his device transmitted speech over increasing distances – and began to generate huge interest from scientists and the press. In 1877, he and his financial backers formed the Bell Telephone Company.


Bell’s inventions were not restricted to the to the telegraph and the telephone. He improved Edison’s most famous creation: an early sound-recording device called the phonograph. He also invented a record-breaking speedboat that rose up out of the water on submerged ‘wings’ called a hydrofoil,  and a chamber to help people with respiratory problems breathe (an early version of the iron lung), and the first metal detector. Bell’s HD-4 hydrofoil boat, set a marine speed record of 114.04 kilometres per hour. Bell became interested in the hydrofoil – which can lift a boat, like submerged wings – just after the Wright Brothers had successfully lifted into the air with aerofoils.

Below is the Graphophone, the phonograph refined by the laboratory of Bell.


In his later years , he spent a great deal of time and effort experimenting with flight. The invention of which he was most proud was the photophone, a device that transmitted sound using light rather than electricity.


In 1880, Bell’s photophone made the first ever wireless transmission of speech, across a distance of more than 210 metres. Although the idea never took off at the time, it is similar to the way telephone signals are transmitted today using laser light passing through optical fibres.


Below is the Bell Monument in Brantford, Ontario in Canada.


The Bell family home, Beinn Bhreagh Hall at Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia


Courtesy of HGTV Canada:


The evolution of technology (courtesy of WatchMedia):


“Time” by Hans Zimmer (courtesy of nopleaseyes):



43 thoughts on “The Great Scientific Discoveries – Part 2

  1. Fascinating, histories, Joanna. Great job. 👍🤓🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you, Pat, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.



  3. Another amazing post, Joanna. Truly enjoyed. Thank you so much for sharing.💕

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you, Grace, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Joanna, you deserve a prize, an award. This is fascinating and you have included music by one of my favourite composers, Patrick Hawes! 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹💖🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Dear Ashley, thank you so much for your wonderful comments! I am so glad that you like music too! I greatly appreciate your praise!


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another fascinating post❣️
    I found it very interesting and detailed. the result of a deep and accurate research. You are an excellent writer🤗

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you, Luisa, for your wonderful comments! Greatly appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

  9. As ever, you are most welcome, dear Joanna!


  10. So much interesting information. What must it be like to create something that affects the future of mankind? Do you suppose they realized the potential? Your posts are always fascinating and thought provoking.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The historical facts regarding important inventions like printing press, aspirin and telephone with relevant illustrations in this post of yours are attention grabbers. It’s quite interesting to know how paleolithic people invented fire, weapons and cloths. They proved how necessity is the mother of invention.

    The struggle of Gutenberg against all odds, who was even accused by Faust of embezzlement, is really inspiring. And so was the case of Graham Bell, who got inspired by speech and elocution for inventing transmission of human voice through electricity. His contributions to hydrofoil and gramophone are also remarkable. It’s interesting to note that Thomas Edison who put hello into common usage for answering the phone, while Graham Bell was in favour of using the word ahoy.

    So one more interesting post, Joanna! Thanks again for sharing such valuable information in a lucid way, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Apologies, Kaushal, for being late in thanking you for your wonderful beyond words comments! I was watching the adaptation of the book that shaped my whole life; “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is about the magic of nature. Your analytical praise of my post made my day! Thank you!


    Liked by 2 people

  13. This is such a terrific post Joanna that I don’t quite know where to begin. How you compile an article like this within a week astounds me – honestly!

    All these scientific discoveries and inventions probably deserve a post of their own, but the ones that I was attracted to the most were the ones about printing – and that’s because I spent my whole working life in the printing trade, and just in case you really wanted to know, I was a qualified Lithographic printer involved in everything from beginning to end.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Thank you, Carolyn, for your lovely comments. I think that those who are gifted to such an extent as the innovators I write about are aware of the power of the gift they were given.
    Greatly appreciated your words.



  15. Thank you, Malc, for your fascinating comments and revelation! What a wonderful coincidence! I am very glad that you find my post interesting, very much appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

  16. I most certainly do. I hope you’re having a lovely weekend and looking forward to your next offering 😊


  17. And your comment brightened my day, Joanna. I came to know about this wonderful book that I haven’t yet read. Thank you. You’re welcome, always.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. If you can, please read it, Kaushal, it is magical!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Oh sure, will do. Thanks!


  20. Knowing some of the history of the origins of books, aspirin, & the telephone makes me appreciate them more. Thank you for shining light on the people & processes behind things that have changed the world! Great job, Joanna! 🌞


  21. Thank you, Lisa, for your wonderful comments. Your praise is greatly appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

  22. An amazing post! It was so fascinating to read about Gutenberg, had no clue that it was rather Faust who made money out of the invention while Gutenberg lived in relative poverty. I am always in awe of the research that you put into each of the posts…looking forward to reading more.


  23. Thank you, Ninu, for your wonderful comment! Greatly appreciated!



  24. Such an awesome read Joanna, thank you for sharing these discoveries of people whose brilliant minds have helped to shape the modern world. As always, your posts are very interesting and informative.


  25. It is strange when one starts enjoying readers reactions on your posts, as much as the post itself my dearest Joanna. And this post is no exception because i can say, I have been loving reading everything that you write since the time immemorial.

    Being an Imagemaker, i closely observe your chosen images and in some find myself lost in contemplating on the faces these old world greats had. The ones who never read on screen or used phone to hear any talks. Bare an Raw. Consciously supreme and focused like a hungry predator.
    I have to thank you for choosing so aptly the images each week.

    It is the subject you choose, and above all not for your own self, but us- your loyal readers. I second each and every person who wrote. And want to award Ashley who wrote about awarding you, Joanna, It was an important read. Many a times knowing only half truths make it so plain and simple, but when someone like you goes deep in research, only then we get to learn how much each and every inventor, creator had toiled with their time, blood and sweat to bring their idea come to life. Doesn’t matter if they had to give it all away, including nothing in return. And nothing is as much heartbreaking as it is motivating to keep going on for the good of the world.

    Thank you my dearest for alleviating us and all. Moreover, thank you for mentioning the book to Kaushal Ji. May be i will too watch its adaption. Lots of Love.

    Narayan x


  26. Are you a History teacher? You have done such a detailed work here! It reminded me of my History teacher in grade school. And again, this is just so informative. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻


  27. Thank you, Dearest Narayan, for your magnificent comments! Also, for finding time to read my post despite being away. You are right, it is my great pleasure to read such praise from my readers.
    Our friend, Kaushal, promised to read the book, as it is pure magic and a wonderful Ode To The Power Of Nature. I first read it as a child, and hundreds of times more since, and I know whole passages by heart. This book is always by my side.



  28. Thank you, Henrietta, for your generous comments! Greatly appreciated!


    Liked by 1 person

  29. Wow this is an amazing post Joanna and I’m not sure how I missed it! I am so happy to find with all of the colors and great song. It speaks to my yoga heart. I love it. Your images and vast knowledge are always gifts, thank you! 💖💖🙏🙏


  30. Thank you, Cindy, for your delightful comments, and the hearts! As such a special reader, you are a gift to me!


    Liked by 1 person

  31. Oh you are so welcome and it is very deserving as you gift us with your love and passion! Always! 💕


  32. I am not usually too interested in dates, but I found them fascinating in this post! I found myself putting the life of my grandfather, who was born in 1896, into focus. It gave me a better understanding of what his everyday life was like and a sense of what was in the newspapers during his lifetime.

    As a young man, he worked in the steel mills near Pittsburgh. When he bought a car, he went to classes in Chicago to learn how to do needed maintenance and repairs himself because there were no auto repair shops where he lived.

    I found the history of the printing press very interesting. I especially enjoyed the demonstration of making a lithograph.

    As always, this post is informative and enjoyable. Thank you for all your hard work, Joanna.


  33. Thank you, Cheryl, for your wonderful comments! I find your family stories fascinating! Thank you!


    Liked by 1 person

  34. It is amazing to me how we take all these inventions for granted in our everyday life. Sad that Gutenberg ended in poverty. Vision is so important in creating something new.


  35. Thank you, Dwight, for your kind comments. Many great people with great wisdom and talent were short on luck.
    Your thoughts are appreciated.


    Liked by 1 person

  36. You are most welcome!


  37. Hello Joanna,
    I’m back in winter mode and hoping to catch up with your posts of the last months. Great Scientific Discoveries #2 is another winner. My favorite, J. Gutenberg is an inventor with huge impact for the printed word. The images of those metal letter punches make be think of an old linotype machine. He must have gotten good at reading mirror images before he poured the molten softer metal in the mold to hold them in place. I didn’t know that the J.P. Morgan Library and Museum in NYC has several copies of his early bibles. We hope to visit there early next year and will look for them. This visit became better focused when we learned that Belle da Costa Greene, a light skinned African American who passed as white, was Morgan’s personal librarian and purchasing agent for years and then continued to work for Morgan’s son in that same capacity. It is sad that, like many inventors, Gutenberg was not adequately recognized for his invention and died a pauper.

    Alexander Graham Bell had more inventions than I was aware of – good old curiosity seems to be the underlying factor as Richard Feynman says in your first video.

    I enjoyed the “time line” in the evolution of technology section. It reminded me of the book, Longitude, … by Dava Sobel. This is about John Harrison who developed an accurate marine clock (chronometer) in the mid 18th century. Through his invention he could find longitude (and ultimately where a ship was on the earth’s surface) by understanding the connection between the ship’s speed, the earth’s circumference and time at different latitudes. How did those early explorers manage to navigate anyway? And, of course the last musical theme of “Time” supports the theme of “time and distance” as it is accompanied by images of different places on the surface of the earth.

    You are truly a master writer who entertains and educates at once.


  38. Thank you, Stewart, for your wonderful and interesting comments! I have Dava Sobel books including the one you mention. Welcome back and hope to hear from you soon.


    Liked by 1 person

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