The Renaissance period (c. 1300-1600 CE ) in Europe is known for rapid and path-breaking inventions and developments that took place in fields like science, arts, and philosophy. It is believed that Florence, Italy, was its epicenter. An important phase from the point of social, political, cultural and scientific changes, the Renaissance period marked the beginning of a revolution that bolstered Europe’s economy and military prowess.
The Renaissance period also had an indirect, positive influence on the culture and social life of Europe. The sociocultural influences in turn brought about changes in the field of science. Renaissance was the transitional phase in Europe between the medieval and modern times. Inventions of this period proved to be the building blocks of scientific development.
The Renaissance Inventions and Technology
The earliest design of a submarine was created by Leonardo da Vinci. However, Cornelius van Drebbel was the one who successfully developed the submarine in 1624. It was tested in the river Thames and remained submerged under water for about 3 hours. David Bushnell of the United States built the first submarine named ‘Turtle’ for military use in 1776. John Holland and Simon built, what can be called, the true submarine in the 1890s.
The mechanical clocks that functioned with the help of ‘verge-and-foliot’ mechanism were introduced in the 14th century. The earliest designs of mechanical clock incorporated a drum which contained mercury; the drum was driven by means of weights. Measuring a day’s time in a 24-hour cycle became possible after the invention of mechanical clock. In 1656, a pendulum clock was made by Christian Huygens. He improved the clock to reduce the error from 1 minute a day to 10 seconds a day.
In 1721, George Graham reduced the error up to 1 second a day and in 1889, Sigmund Riefler further reduced the error to 1/100th of a second a day. In the 1930s, the quartz crystals, which exhibit piezoelectric properties, were used to make the quartz clocks.
The printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg of Germany in 1440. He started working on this machine in 1436. Before this woodblock technology was used for the purpose of printing. Invention of the printing press proved to be of great help in making vernacular literature available to the masses. Metal molds and alloys were used in the earliest form of printing press made by Gutenberg. The technique used by Gutenberg for printing was known as the letterpress printing.
He made use of the ‘movable type’ of letters for printing. In this technique, protruding surfaces of the matrix, meant for printing, were inked. The ink was used to create an impression of letters on the paper. The technique of printing developed by Gutenberg was used for a long period, i.e. from mid-15th century to second-half of 20th century, until the development of offset printing.
There are no clear records available as to who invented eyeglasses. Salvino D’Armato degli Armati from Italy is credited with making wearable eyeglasses in 1284. It was not until the 15th century that glasses for conditions like hyperopia, myopia and presbyopia were made. In the 13th century, Roger Bacon, had put forth a scientific theory on how to make use of corrective eyeglasses. However, There aren’t any documents or records which speak about his role in the invention of glasses.
Gunpowder and Artillery
The invention of gunpowder in China led to many different inventions like guns, rocket launchers, mortars, etc. The use of artillery with mechanical power was made by Romans in 399 BC. Gunpowder was accidentally invented in around 850 AD, in China. To improve the accuracy of rockets, an engineer called William Congreve made use of launching tubes. The ‘howitzer’ was invented in the 17th century. This artillery machine was used to hit targets positioned at steep angles.
Robert Boyle, a physicist from Ireland invented the match in 1680. Substances like phosphorus and sulfur, when rubbed together, produce fire. This concept was implemented by Robert Boyle in the process of inventing the match. However, the matches made by him were not the usable ones. Due to their combustible nature, the matches manufactured in those days were deemed unsafe. The first friction matches were invented by John Walker in 1827.
The compass was first used by a Chinese voyager Zheng He. He had undertaken seven ocean voyages in the period between 1405 and 1433 AD. The exact year of the invention of compass is not known. However, it is said to have been invented during the Qin Dynasty between 221 and 206 BC. Lodestone was the material that was used to make the compass. This ore of iron is available in the naturally magnetized form. These lodestones pointed southwards and therefore, people began using them as compass.
Earlier, the lodestones were made in the shape of spoon. Magnetic needles replaced them in the 8th century, after which they were used as pointing devices on ships. Eventually, Europeans also came to know about the compass. The Mariner’s compass has played a crucial role in the sea voyages undertaken by Europeans. There were able to discover new routes for trade and ultimately the continents new to them.
The early lenses got their name from lentils. This is because lenses had the shape of lentil seeds. Hans Janssen and Hans Lippershey are credited with the invention of the first compound microscope in 1590. The idea of placing one glass behind other, which increases their magnifying power, served as the basis of development of compound microscope. Earliest forms of microscopes offered 20-30 times greater magnification of objects.
It is one of the important inventions of the Renaissance period. The first paper mill was set up in 1496 in England. With the availability of paper, many different designs and patterns of wallpapers were developed. Stencils, hand painted designs and wood-block prints were used in the creation of wallpapers.
The first flush toilet was made in 1596 by John Harrington. It was only two hundred years after its invention that flush toilet was reinvented by Alexander Cummings.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Designs
Some of the sketches and designs made by Leonardo da Vinci were not converted into actual, workable machines. These designs, created in the Renaissance period, were quite sophisticated and detailed. The ornithopter was one such design which proved to be the basis on which today’s helicopters are designed.
Some of the important designs created by Leonardo da Vinci are listed below.
- Artillery Park
- Stretching Device for Barrel Spring
- Automatic Igniting Device for Firearms
- Flying Machine (1488 AD)
- Armored Car
- Machine for Storming Walls
- Giant Crossbow
- Eight-Barreled Machine Gun
- Boat Design
The phenomenon of Renaissance (i.e. rebirth) brought a lease of life to Europe – which was until then living in dark ages. Scientific developments played a major role in bringing about these changes. Therefore, the Renaissance inventions are considered to be of great significance. This period also instilled in the European culture a kind of respect for science. It was the beginning of a new age which brought knowledge and prosperity to this continent.