What took longest to invent?

I was watching 2001: A Space Odyssey the other day, and the scene where the apeman discovers (with the help of the monolith) that a thighbone can make a good smashy thing got me to thinking: What took the longest to invent?

I mean “invent” in the same sense as the apeman “invented” the club (because someone, somewhere, actually did). For the purposes of this question, all the precursors have to have been in place. The apeman had both opposable thumbs and a supply of animal carcasses to provide the material for clubs, he just had to make the mental leap and use Hand A to grip Shaft B and bash enemy C. Windows 7, which was invented approximately 200,000 years after that club, wouldn’t qualify as a 200,000 year project because it could not have been invented prior to the invention of computing, which needed techniques to extract and refine certain metals, the ability to create plastics, and a whole slew of other things. Something like a Dyson vacuum cleaner, on the other hand, would qualify as a several decade invention because (AFAIK), all of the elements to create it were around for quite some time before Mr. Dyson had his brainstorm (and five thousand failed prototypes.)

So, any nominations for what took us longest to wrench from the realm of the merely possible?

Not sure how you answer this.

Most inventions are the result of standing on the shoulders of previous inventions.

No one invents the Large Hadron Collider out of nowhere. It is the result of all of humanity’s collected knowledge of physics and engineering to allow it to be built.

Few things today could be said to be invented out of nowhere (e.g. not relying on a previous discovery).

If I had to answer I’d say the wheel since it took the Earth a few billion years to produce humans who invented it (or discovered if you prefer). After that everything else came a lot quicker relatively speaking.

Any number of modern inventions were technically possible using just bronze age technology. For example, there was nothing at all stopping the Babylonians inventing the telegraph, the steam engine, radiation detectors or brain surgery. All the materials for those things existed once people discovered metallurgy. You don’t need to invent anything else.

So by that standard there are literally thousands of 19th and early 20th century devices that took 3, 000 years or more to invent.

You can even look at recreational devices such as kite surfers which have been around for ~100 years, and that were perfectly and readily possible using just tried and tested stone age technology: wood, rope, glue and silk.

So by that standard it took us at least 120, 000 years to invent the kite surfer. It’s going to be hard to go past that.

True, I didn’t mean that the invention had to be out of nowhere, but something like the Large Hadron Collider only gets its clock started when the tech to build it is there.

That’s probably the winner. Not that kite surfers are that useful, but that is the sort of thing that makes you wonder what else is out there just waiting for somebody to think of it. Thanks to both of you!

I put my vote on The Pet Rock. It wasn’t invented until 1975, yet all that was required was a ‘rock’; something radiometric dating tells us had already existed on Earth for about 3.9 billion years by that time.

There is also the issue of inventions that were made and then lost, since there was no incentive to publish information about inventions without a patent law. Most inventions were treated as trade secrets or temple miracles or there were too few samples of an invention, so a sack or a flood could destroy all the samples and the people who knew how to make it.

For instance, we know now that metalsmithes in the middle east knew how to make batteries and do electroplating. The Alexandrian Greeks could make small steam engines and understood many of the principles of hydraulics. The fairly complex astronomical calculators like the Antikythera machine.

I’d call that a discovery and not an invention. :slight_smile:

I would call it domestication. :wink:

Apparently the flying carpet existed three thousand years ago. :dubious:

I’m not sure about the OP. Seems like any animal uses itself - and whatever it is holding - to hit. First you’d have to figure out when ape-men started to ‘play’ or ‘develop imaginations’ or ‘gain any kind of satisfactory sensory pleasure from holding the bone in the first place’ or whatever.

Then the wheel is your answer.

The tech was always there if even just using a log to roll under stuff.

Pick when humans became humans and go to around 8000 BC (or as late as 3500 BC…not entirely clear) and that’s how long it took.

The problem with the kite surfer is needing multiple tech and it is not a useful thing. It is a fun thing but hardly a necessary invention.

Saying inventing rope and silk was always there is like saying the LHC was always there. Each requires precursor tech to manufacture it and refine it for the use you want.

Of course until people had big things they needed to move, using a log to roll under stuff was absolutely useless. And HGs simply don’t have big things they want to move. A wheel would only be of use to a HG if it existed in the form of a wheelbarrow, then it could be used to carry a deer carcasse home in. A log placed under a deer carcasse would make it harder to move than using nothing at all, which is why HGs did not use the wheel. It took a lot of refinements of technology before any wheeled implement was vaguely useful to a HG. The basic log to roll under stuff is only useful to people who want to move large objects in one piece, something that HGs simply never want to do, because everything they possess must be able to be carried by one man. It was only after people settled into villages and built permanent dwellings that a log to roll under stuff became useful.

In contrast the ability to move rapidly over water has been highly useful throughout human history. Simply having an ability to reach offshore islands where birds nest would have been invaluable for humans since well before our species existed.

And of course the existing tech would need refining for the use you want. That is far more true of the wheel than it is of the kitesurfer. People knew how to sew, how to weave, how to shape wood, how to make glue and how to make rope for at least 60, 000 years. The fact that Aborigines knew how to do all those things suggest that humans have known how to do them for the entire history of our species. The actual refinements needed to produce a useful kiteboard from pre-existing technology was therefore much less than that needed for producing a useful wheel.

You tell me how a wheel was unnecessary for a long time so doesn’t count but then count a kitesurfer which, near as I can tell, did not exist till very recently and even today could not be said to be necessary.

You seems to be awfully confused about the meanings of “necessary”, “useful” and “available”. The three terms are not synonymous, or even particularly closely related.

Shotguns did not exist till very recently, so I guess you would argue that a HG 20, 000 years ago had no use for a shotgun.

Dugout canoes could not be said to be necessary today. Does that mean they were not needed 20, 000 years ago?

Snake antivenom was not invented until recently, does that mean that antivenom was neither needed nor useful 20, 000 years ago?

When you have thought about the answers to those questions, you should be able to see why the fact that kitesurfers did not exist till very recently and are not necessary in today’s world, does not mean that they were useless and unnecessary 20, 000 years ago.

Hero of Alexandria’s aeolipile: circa 50 AD

James Watt’s steam engine: 1765 AD

So, depending on your definitions of steam power, about 1700 years.

There are countless non-essential inventions that could have been developed hundred or even thousands of years ago. Something like swing(tether)ball could be constructed with basic woodworking skills.

I think a more interesting question is, what non-trivial invention took the longest period of time to develop? My nomination would be the steam engine. The Greeks had steam-powered toys, but we didn’t have the industrial revolution for another 2,000 years.

Edit - pipped.

Self-powered flight. From Icarus to 1904.

A rolling log is a wheel. The actual invention was the axle.

The stirrup certainly took a very long time, since I expect the necessary techniques already existed to make them when horses were domesticated; it’s just a loop attached to straps around a horse, after all. Any culture that could work leather or make ropes ought to have been able to make crude stirrups. Horses domesticated about 4500 BC; the first simple stirrups perhaps 500 BC. 4000 years.

People envisaged flat-screen TVs virtually from the day TVs first were marketed, but a commercially practical flat-screen TV eluded researchers for decades. It took the invention of the laptop computer to create a market for “good enough” flatscreens, which could be incrementally improved to the point that they became useful as televisions.

Invention is created on need so time is irrelevant. man needed to talk to eachother across the atlantic quickly. The telegraph. we need to keep in contact Facebook. we need green energy solar panels, wind turbines, we need to show power the atomic bomb, we need more power so we invented the hydrogen bomb the list is endlist.