Skip to main content

5 Modern Inventions That Are Way Older Than You Think

We live in wondrous times, if you can ignore politics, most news media, most popular music, endemic xenophobia, and occasional outbreaks of horrid violence. OK, let’s try that again: We live in technologically wondrous times. Private companies routinely launch rockets into space, our phones have more data-crunching power than the super computers of yesteryear (or yester-century, anyway), and we have these cylinders in our homes that we can command to play music or answer random trivia questions.

Ah, but let’s not sit too heavily upon our laurels, my fellow modern men and women — many of the fancy, technologically advanced inventions we might think are a product of our times are actually surprisingly old.

Did you know, for example, that the first working mobile phone was developed in New Mexico the 1750s? You did? Well, it wasn’t.You have some remedial history courses to attend, sir. But don’t worry, there are lots of other other inventions that are way older than you think. Like …

The Mobile Phone – 1918

Public Domain

That’s right, the first device that can be fairly termed a mobile phone was invented during the final year of World War I. Alexander Graham Bell famously invented the telephone in the year 1876, and wireless radios were first used in 1901 (with two-way radios following five years later), but it was in 1918 that German military engineers married the two technologies and linked two telephones together without using wires. They did so by combining radio transmission and receiver technology with telephone hardware, creating a more reliable mobile communication device than the erratic radios of the day. The system was used to link trains and stations, so this mobile phone wasn’t one you could carry around in your pocket, but it was certainly mobile. The first personal-sized cellular phone that uses essentially the same technology as today’s devices was unveiled in 1973.

Contact Lenses – 1888

Adolf Fick

The first functional contact lenses were developed by a German ophthalmologist named Adolf Fick in the year 1888, though the concept of a vision-correcting lens applied directly to the eye predated his invention by centuries (versions were proposed by Leonardo da Vinci and Descartes in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively). Fick’s contacts were made of blown glass and were so large that they covered much of the eyeball, including the whites. Their use required application of a liquid between the cornea and the lens, and they could only be worn for short stretches of time (an hour or two at most) before they would cause extreme dryness and discomfort. But they worked, dammit, and probably many years before you would have expected too.

The Automobile – 1769

Public Domain/Wikimedia

More than a hundred years before the first gasoline-powered automobiles were rattling down late 19th-century roadways, a Frenchman named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created the first self-propelled vehicle that did not require a track. His fardier à vapeur used a steam engine with three large wooden wheels, and was intended to carry heavy loads over all sorts of terrain, primarily in military applications. In practice, the steam car was slow, poorly balanced, had to be stopped every 15 minutes for the boiler to be re-heated, and once knocked over a brick wall due to poor driving. So while perhaps a proof of concept success, it was a de facto flop.

Condoms – 16th Century


While a practical condom was not widely available until the 1800s, the concept dates back at least to the 1500s, and perhaps even farther. Renaissance era Italian physician Gabriele Falloppio is most notable for the fallopian tubes named in his honor, but can also be thought of as the father of the condom. While writing about the then deadly disease syphilis, he proposed use of a linen sheath treated with chemicals be used to cover the penis during sex, thereby preventing transmission of the affliction. These fabric condoms were shorter than later varieties, covering only the glans, and they had to be kept in place with a string. One would understand, then, if a gentleman of the era chose abstinence instead.

Vaccines – 10th Century


While today everyone who isn’t an idiot knows that vaccines prevent all sorts of serious disease and don’t cause other ill effects, for most of human history we had no way to prevent viral sickness. However, people have been vaccinating themselves against viruses for longer than you might think. Many regard British surgeon Edward Jenner as the father of vaccination thanks to his 18th-century work using cowpox exposure as a vaccine against the more serious smallpox disease, but evidence of smallpox vaccination actually dates back hundreds of years before his birth. In 10th-century China, a technique involving nasal inhalation of dried smallpox scabs proved effective at preventing later development of the disease. Whether there were anti-vaxxers a thousand years ago is a mystery for the ages.

Editors' Recommendations

Steven John
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
How to ditch your home’s ‘dorm room’ feel, according to an expert
If you bring a date home or cook them dinner, you want to impress
Fluide design + relocation

Stacey Herman has seen it all over her years working with men as an interior decorator and pro on how to decorate an apartment: The mattresses lying on the floor, the stolen road signs that harbor sentimental value, the collections of liquor bottles atop the kitchen cabinets. But it's all got to go. "You're an adult now," said the founder and chief transition officer of Stripe Street Studio. "You have to live in that adult world to accomplish the goals you've set out for yourself."

With her guy-focused design firm firmly planted in Miami, New York, and Tulsa (and consulting even more widely), it's obvious that American men are clamoring for advice and guidance when it comes to transitioning from dorm room to board room. But if you're anything like her myriad hapless clients, breathe easy: With a few pointers, you, too, can make that jump with ease — and even better, without a lot of money.

Read more
Best TV deals: Save big on Samsung, Sony, LG, and more
Vizio 65-inch V-series 4K TV in living room.

We consume so much of our content from TVs, that' it's probably not a surprise that the TV market has boomed massively in the past few years. Whether you want a new TV to watch the news, your favorite show, or to hook up a console or gaming PC, there are a lot of great options out there. That's why we've collected some of our favorite TVs across various brands so that you can pick one that you're comfortable with, or that matches the ecosystem you're already in. Also, be sure to check out our guide on what size TV you need before taking the leap so that you can get a better sense of what is going to work best for your space.
Best LG TV deals

LG makes some of the best TVs around making it an easy brand to recommend to most people. It sells a wide range of different products so you can buy an inexpensive 4K TV from the company as well as high-end OLED TVs with the latest technology. The C3 and G3 range are the most up-to-date but there are often some great discounts on the A and B ranges if you want an OLED TV without spending so much. webOS and its Magic Remote make browsing for content super simple too.

Read more
Best Samsung TV deals: Get a 50-inch 4K TV for $280 and more
Samsung's The Frame on a wall surrounded by paintings and docarations

If you know what size of TV you need for your living room, then you may want to consider grabbing something from Samsung. Not only is it one of the biggest brands on the market, it also makes some of the best TVs available, with options on everything from OLED to QLED TVs. Of course, if you want to go for something a bit higher end from Samsung, it is going to get quite pricey, which is why we've collected some of our favorite Samsung TV deals below. That said, if you don't quite find what you're looking for below, be sure to check out some of these other great TV deals.
Best Samsung TV deals

Samsung sells a wide range of different TVs. That means you can buy inexpensive 4K TVs from the company but you can also spend thousands on the latest 8K technology or a Neo QLED TV. Whatever your plans, we’ve picked out some core highlights below so you can save big on what’s out there.

Read more