When it comes to inventors who don't need to use their last names,
even Tom (Edison), Ben (Franklin) and Alexander (Bell) needed a
surname. But Archimedes, Galileo and Leonardo needed only their
Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) was
born in the city-state of Syracuse and educated in Alexandria,
Egypt. He invented the hydraulic screw, also known as the -- all
together now -- Archimedes screw. It was used in pumping water from
the Nile River. Another one of his inventions, the worm gear, is
still in use today. He also invented the world's first winch; it
used a system of ropes and pulleys, which he used to move a ship
while it was docked on land.
Wartime inventions go all the way back to Archimedes' era, and it
was Archimedes who invented the catapult. Known more as a
mathematician than an inventor, he also calculated the value of pi.
He had a couple of inventor colleagues who were known by just their
first names, too: Ctesibius and Hero.
If you've ever wondered where the word "eureka" comes from or
what it means, it was Archimedes who coined this word. He did so
when he discovered the displacement of water while taking a bath one
day. He sprang up out of the tub and ran through the streets naked,
yelling "Eureka." The word literally means "I've found it."
When the Romans invaded Archimedes' hometown in 212 B.C., the
Roman ruler ordered that Archimedes be left alone. One of the
soldiers didn't recognize him, though, and killed him with his
Galileo (1564-1642) was an Italian mathematician, astronomer and
physicist. He never ran through the streets yelling "Eureka," but he
did invent the thermometer in 1593. He did not, however, invent the
device for which he is most famously known -- the telescope. That
was invented by optician Hans Lippershey, who needed two names.
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Galileo did make improvements to the telescope, but his only
lasting improvement is the technology used in opera glasses. He also
discovered "the law of the pendulum," at age 20, and suggested using
a pendulum to time the pulse rate of medical patients.
It's been said that the world doesn't want an invention that's 15
years ahead of its time, but rather one that is 15 minutes ahead of
its time. Well, left-handed inventor Leonardo da Vinci created new
inventions as much as 400 years ahead of their time. For example, he
designed the submarine before Cornelius Van Drebbel invented it in
1620; he designed the world's first bicycle 200 years before
Germany's Baron Karl von Drais invented it in 1817; and he designed
the first modern scissors nearly 300 years before Louise Austin
invented them in 1893.
In the world of aviation, he designed his version of what an
airplane should look like nearly 300 years before the Wright
brothers invented their version in 1903. He also designed his
version of a parachute nearly 300 years before the Baldwin brothers
and Stefan Banic both invented their own versions of it in the early
He designed a rocket with an engine 400 years before the first
rocket was invented, and he designed a helicopter that is believed
to have inspired Igor Sikorsky, the inventor of the modern
helicopter, to study helicopter design.
In case you were wondering, Galileo's last name was Galilei. It
remains unknown what Archimedes' last name was, or even if he had
one. Or maybe "Archimedes" was his last name.
Paul Niemann's column has appeared in
more than 75 newspapers and counting. He is the author of the
"Invention Mysteries" series of books and can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2009