Top 10 Inventions of the 20th Century

Hundreds of items were invented in the 20th century, changing the way the world operated. Many of these inventions seem benign now, while others served as precursors to advanced models. It’s hard to point to just 10 great inventions of the century; however, a few creations made housework and travel faster and easier, and even changed the way people have fun.


Many people have heard the phrase, “The greatest thing since sliced bread” and not know the origin of this statement. Although bread is one of the oldest foods prepared in the home, it has not always been as easy as opening a package and taking sliced bread out of a package. At one time, the now simple task of making a sandwich was a time-consuming process of using a knife to slice each piece of bread. Imagine how enormous this task was for a mother of three or more children. In 1928, though, inventor Otto Frederick Rohwedder sold the first bread slicer. His invention led to an increase in toaster sales. More importantly, making a sandwich was an easy task.

Brownie Camera

Before 1900, the general public could not afford cameras for personal use. George Eastman changed that with the invention of the Kodak Browning Camera. The camera only costs $1 and a roll of film only costs $.15, allowing anyone to become an amateur photographer.


The microwave oven came about by accident, while Dr. Percy Spencer, an engineer, worked on a radar-related research project. While he tested a vacuum tube at Raytheon Corporation in 1946, a candy bar in Dr. Spencer’s pocket melted. Out of curiosity, he and his colleagues tested other food. Dr. Spencer and Raytheon produced the first commercial microwave in 1947.

Assembly Line

Henry Ford, the man responsible for the Model T, contributed to the invented the factory assembly line in Detroit, Michigan. This changed the way people worked in factory, leading to a division of labor and the production of more automobiles at a faster pace. The assembly line contributed to specialized skills and less working hours.


Numerous people from the United States and Europe experimented with television transmissions. Two men – Baird of Scotland and Farnsworth of the United States – are generally given credit for inventing television. While Baird’s television sent its first transmission in 1925, Farnsworth applied for a patent in 1927, solidify his claim as inventor of the television. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to appear on television.


In 1903, the Wilbur and Orville Wright performed the first successful flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers first flight led to further advances in flight, first for the military, then for passenger flights and ultimately stepping foot on the moon.


From the beginning of civilization, humans have experimented with ways to preserve foods for later consumption, from sticking it in cold water to burying it in ice. General Electric created the first mass-produced refrigeration system, called “The Monitor Top,” in 1927. The invention of the refrigeration led to improved models and frozen food.


Like most inventions of the 20th century, curious individuals experimented with the processes. In the 1800s, American physicist Dr. John Gorrie created an ice machine to cool hospital rooms of patients suffering from malaria and yellow fever. It wasn’t until 1902, though, that Willis Carrier engineered a machine that cooled a publishing company in Brooklyn, New York. Carrier air-conditioned the Minneapolis home of Charles Gates in 1914.  Home air-conditioning units still bear the Carrier name.

Home Computers

Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems marketed the Altair 8800, first home computer for hobbyist, in 1975. It arrived as a build-it-yourself kit, which did not include a keyboard or its own programming language. This computer led inventors Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Paul Allen to create better home computers with all the accessories. As years progressed, computers got smaller but had more memory and accessories.

Washer and Dryer

Efficient washers and dryers appeared in the 1930s, making the work of housewives and housekeepers easier to accomplish. John W. Chamberlain of the Bendix Corporation created a device that helped washing machines wash, rinse and remove excess water. J. Ross Moore invented a dryer that ran on either gas or electricity.

The above-mentioned 10 items changed the way the world functioned, especially in people’s personal lives. Some of these inventions became indelibly associated with their creators, while others inspired other tinkerers to work harder on their own inventions. These inventions helped people travel and work faster, and provided entertainment at leisure times.