Small Inventions that Changed the World

Small Inventions that Changed the World

There are many small things easily taken for granted in our day-to-day lives. History tends to focus on large inventions, such as the printing press and the first computer, to point to how society functions. However, there are countless smaller inventions we use every day that are often forgotten about. Here are the top five small inventions that changed the world.


The first nail was invented around 3400 BCE in Egypt. Back then, nails were hand-wrought and made from bronze. These remained the most common nail form until the 1790s, when nails began to be made from steel wire. By the mid-1910s, almost all nails used in the United States were steel wire. Without nails, modern infrastructure would not exist, and most buildings we rely on today would not be possible.

Duct tape

Although tape was around for decades by the time duct tape was made, it still managed to revolutionize the world. Invented during World War II for ammunition cases, duct tape was brought back after the war and used in construction and industrial jobs. This led to the use of duct tape to hold together ventilation ducts and quickly became a household product most Americans rely on every day.


While the original match was invented in 1805, it was originally a large amount of chemicals on a stick about a yard long. The more useful and modern match was invented in 1827 by English inventor John Walker. These were the first matches able to be lit by friction—hence, the striking match. Without matches, the control humans have over fire today would be exponentially different and far less advanced. The ability to have fire at our fingertips allowed us to flourish in harsh conditions, develop and market restaurants, and much more.


Invented in 1877 by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, antibiotics saved millions of lives from infections by stopping harmful bacteria growth. Another leap in the antibiotics field was made by Alexander Fleming when he discovered penicillin’s effects. Today, it’s likely you have taken antibiotics for several common conditions. So many common ailments—that were once devastating—are now easily curable thanks to antibiotics.

Petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly was originally a disposable by-product of the oil business. A 22-year-old man named Robert Chesebrough witnessed oil workers using the waste-product to help heal their cuts and burns. It was then that he hatched the idea to collect, process, and market it into a gel. He took a decade to fine-tune and perfect his product and eventually had a booming business—plus, a product that remains a household name today.

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