Show Mobile Navigation

10 More Major Breakthroughs of Humanity

Kate Mulcahy . . . Comments

Hot on the heels of the first list of major breakthroughs of humanity, we have the second installment. Here we continue from where we left off – breakthroughs after 1724 (vaccination). If you want to read the original list in case you missed it you can do that here. Be sure to mention any other significant events in man’s history via the comments – obviously listing only 10 items on two lists we can’t cover everything!




Although a number of substances were known for a long time to make people insensible to pain, they were not used in surgery until the nineteenth century. Up until this point, surgery was performed by butchers and their ilk, as it was done with the patient fully conscious (although often inebriated to dull the pain) and as quickly as possible. The patient would violently struggle, scream, and frequently bleed to death in a very short amount of time. Traditionally, a team of people held the patient down, a butcher chopped off the damaged extremity, and the stump was immediately coated with tar to stop the bleeding. Surgery was not done on a fine scale or with any attention to detail, as there simply was not enough time for such things. It was one’s last option, as the surgery more often than not resulted in death. The use of anesthesia allowed doctors the time to work more cautiously, to learn how to stem blood flow more carefully, and to perform increasingly delicate operations. Modern surgery and medicine are thankfully unrecognizable next to their barbaric ancestors. Even in the most underdeveloped countries, eye surgery is fairly common, something unheard of before the dawn of anesthesia.




In 1928, Alexander Fleming showed that the fungus Penicillium notatum could be grown in a special way that caused it to produce a substance he called penicillin. This had the wonderful property of killing many disease-causing bacteria, especially syphilis. In fact, earlier people had used similar fungi to treat illnesses, but never with a systematic, scientific approach. Penicillum was developed into many strains and for the first time, all kinds of incurable diseases were easily eliminated. The idea that a cure could be easily and specifically grown from simple mold was unprecedented, and today we use antibiotics as the modern descendants of the original breakthrough. Cures are found almost as quickly as new bacteria emerge, and bacterial diseases are no longer the formidable threat they once were.


Green Revolution
1940s to late 1980s


There is a finite amount of farmable land on Earth, which can be used to grow only so much food and in turn support only so many people. Up until the 1940s, this maximum number seemed to have been reached in many countries, with starvation and famine being rife due to there simply not being enough food. The father of the Green Revolution, Dr. Norman Borlaug, studied plant genetics before developing strains of wheat which produced a much higher yield than traditional wheat. This was followed by the development of better rice and other staples. Cereal production in India and many African countries doubled and famine was finally not a normal part of people’s lives. Thanks to Dr. Borlaug, a Nobel laureate, well over a billion more people are able to exist on the Earth today. Arguably, no single person has directly saved or enabled the existence of as many people as Dr. Borlaug.


Steam Engine

Pcousyn-Steam Engine

Although the steam engine has a history that is thousands of years long, it was not used widely until it brought about the industrial revolution. It heralded a new era of mass-production and transportation of goods through the widespread use of engines. It was the first engine to be extensively used around the world, and still today makes up the main power source on Earth: 90% of all the electric power in the world is derived from steam. The steam engine and the large-scale construction and manufacturing it enabled not only reshaped the lives of all in or near the British Empire, but it gave rise to modern capitalism, for which there had been no need by the paltry businesses that had previously existed. Electric lighting, travel by boat and railways, mining, textiles, chemicals, and glass manufacture all increased on a gigantic scale, turning much of the world into a machine of production. Today, even those who live without electricity use products created elsewhere by steam power. The effects of steam power, the Industrial Revolution, and mass-production have become ubiquitous.


Fossil Fuels
5,000 years ago


Fossil fuels had been used by ancient civilizations for a variety of purposes, but never on a large scale. In the middle ages, coal began to be mined extensively for use by smiths and metalworkers. Coal saw its biggest use at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Intimately connected with the use of the steam engine, fossil fuels provided a rich source of energy. Coal is the most widely used fossil fuel on the planet, although other forms such as liquid oil and various gases are also used. Coal provides much more energy when burnt than an equivalent mass of wood, and when a large quantity of fuel is needed, fossil fuels are more economical and less wasteful. Fossil fuels allowed the steam engine to proliferate and enabled electricity to be given to the world.


The Automobile


The use of steam power and the widespread use of large transport vehicles such as trains and ships gave rise to the natural human desire to refine what they already had to a more delicate scale. A personal transportation machine, a steam-powered carriage, was the dream of many. Several prototypes were produced, but all had various problems and were not suitable for widespread use. When the internal combustion engine, a specialized steam engine, was developed, it began to be adapted for automobiles. The technology developed, but was never entirely successful until Karl Benz created what is acknowledged as the first modern automobile in 1885. Gradually, the usefulness of these cars was seen and production steadily increased. There nearly a billion cars and small trucks being used on roads today, and although most people do not yet own their own car as has always been dreamed, many villages have one car which is shared between all the villagers in case of emergency. Cars are used all over the world when urgent travel is needed. The very layout of every city on earth is dictated by roads for use by cars.




Since our vague beginnings, humans have clung to the Earth, only able to gaze longingly at the divine freedom enjoyed by flying creatures. Around the world, all kinds of ancient myths and legends concern people taking flight as a sign of divinity or hubris. Kites and gliders were keenly investigated, but these could not, in their early form, carry the weight of a single skyward-yearning man. The first glider to support a man was built in 1853, and further developments lead to the controlled and powered flight of the Wright brothers. Aeroplane designs have been greatly modified since that time, but the use of an engine for propulsion and a body shape for lift remain constant. Today, flight still captivates the imagination, and it has played a major role in exploration, travel, and warfare. Even people in developing countries who might never fly themselves are often given aid via airplane.




With the ease of inter-continental travel, communication between distant people became the norm. Postal services struggled to keep up with people who were increasingly used to the notion of speedy replies. Smoke signals, flags, and fires have all been used, but never widely. The availability of electricity in the Industrial Revolution enabled the development of the telegraph wire, which was used with Morse Code to transmit messages across thousands of miles instantly. Further developments in the new field of electricity and electronics allowed the telegraph to evolve into the telephone, which could convert sound into current at one end and back into sound again at the other end. Incredibly, people could speak to one another when they were on opposite sides of the Earth. Instant communication has sped up business, reshaped warfare, and has changed the standards at which we live our lives in ways too numerous to mention. Very nearly every human settlement on earth has telephone access, and telecommunications are now less dependent on wires and have developed into instant messages, email, and data transfer. The amount of information available to people has drastically increased, just as the effective distance between foreign people has decreased through telecommunication-induced globalization.


Genetic Modification


This was what enabled Dr. Borlaug to create better strains of wheat. The understanding of the heritability of traits has always been with people, if only in a vague sense. After all, children resemble their parents, and livestock can be selectively bred. Direct manipulation of genes, a more accurate and accelerated form of genetic manipulation through clever breeding and directed evolution, first occurred in 1973. A number of medicines and other substances used today are produced from bacteria and yeasts which have been genetically manipulated. Insulin, vaccines, multivitamins, and all manner of antibiotics used today are produced through simple genetic manipulation. There is even research in the direction of growing whole organs from a single cell for the purpose of organ transplantation, which has been met with some success but is not yet ready for wide-scale use. Similarly grown meat tissue might eliminate the need for farming animals, and genetically modified bacteria can be used to clean up oil spills and nuclear waste. With genetic modification, we can and have improved the lives of billions of humans and innumerable other animals.



Apple Mac-Wide

In the past, abacuses and other instruments have been used to help with human mathematical computations. The first machine to be able to store data and perform all four basic arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication) was conceived by Charles Babbage and was entirely mechanical. The next major development was the mechanical loom of Joseph Jacquard. It wove intricate patterns according to the sequence of holes it detected in paper fed to it, the early beginnings of programming. The computer, in the modern electronic sense, was developed by Alan Turing and used in the Second World War to break the unprecedentedly complex Nazi codes. Computers were originally the size of buildings, but they have since shrunk thanks to advances in the miniaturization of electronics. Computers and telecommunication together gave birth to the World Wide Web. Computers are now used in watches, cars, televisions, phones, and all sorts of other casual everyday items. The public availability of computers has made information accumulation and education increase to levels never seen before, and is the most recent step in a globally aware populace.

  • Doctor


    • Notimpressed

      Poor list. Famines are never caused by lack of farmland. It is poor management and natural disasters. There is plenty more arable land on this planet, we will see in the future even more forest being cut down and used for pastures and crops. Considering also that most of the world is developing, most existent farmland is not effectively managed and utilised to the degree it is in richer countries.

      Poor, poor, just like the journalistic skills of a certain New Zealander. Why do I bother.

      • odaltyr

        You replied to the first comment (although your comment isn’t an answer to the first) just so that your comment could be on top and seen by most people.

        How cheap of you.

        • Anony

          He’s a loser who wants to be notice. As I say let it be, but I will agree that this list is mediocre and wasn’t worth the wait.

        • Zach

          How can you answer “FINALLY! IT’S HERE!!” ??

      • also notimpressed

        yes, pray tell…. why DO you bother?

      • Honestly,

        If you’re visiting a website you hate you might be addicted to the internet. There are treatments for this. If you want professional writing go to PubMed or something. You keep making the same mistake over and over again (coming to a website you hate) and you’re doing it loudly, annoyingly, publicly. Your last post should read: “I give up”.

        • Angie

          here here

      • Why do I bother


        You ask, “Why” (although, without a question mark it’s a bizarre statement)?

        The answer is simple. You like the attention.

      • GrammerNazi

        I have to reply and make it clear to you that we all know you are also AussieNik. You are such a bland troll the only thing you can change is your name. How does it feel to know we all realize you are the same person? Why even bother changing names? Did you realize that you can’t troll?

        • Notimpressed

          It looks like some people can’t take a bit of constructive criticism. And no, I am not AussieNick. I am genuinely…

          not impressed

          • some people can’t take a bit of constructive criticism

            The problem, Notimpressed, is that criticizing is all you ever offer.

          • constructive criticism

            …and your criticism is not constructive.

      • Annoyed

        This list was too Americanized

        • dizit

          too Americanized

          You do know that the list writer is not an American, don’t you?

          Your assumption (or trolling) that the list is too American is just flat out false:

          Alexander Fleming was Scottish

          Karl Benz was German

          Charles Babbage and

          Alan Turing were English

          The Steam Engine was developed in Germany, England and Wales.

          • Marx

            If anything is to ‘Americanized’ it’s the spelling of ‘AmericaniZed’.

          • Marx

            *too… sigh…

      • Anonyme7333333

        It wasn’t a ”poor” list, although I think it missed some key elements such as gun powder, law (or justice) or philosophy. In my opinion, it was a little too scientifically oriented; why would genetic modifications be placed higher than law?

        • dalinean

          Genetic modifications are placed above law because they work.

          Law seldom works, particularly the english/american common law variety.

          ‘Common law’ was evolved by lawyers for lawyers.

          Law has always been circumvented by the rich and the powerful one way or another.

          It is the common people who make a great society, not it’s laws.

          Justice before law (and legalism) is the mark of a good society.

          • Anonyme7333333

            Whether laws are fair or just by anyone’s standards or whether they actually work all the time is another debate: their simple existence is what allows a form of society to even exist, it is what allows justice to exist; and I think anyone could rightfully agree that we could live without genetics modification, but not without a form of justice — again, it does not matter if you personally think it is just, it simply needs to exist.

            Moreover, despite it being true that every society has a different system of laws and justice, even if some are similar, the principle of justice and law are shared by everyone, everywhere, even if fair or not.

            Obviously, justice or laws don’t exist by themselves, but that doesn’t make them less useful or vital to society: people make them, but I don’t see what is wrong with that: computers don’t exist in nature, last time I checked.

            Also, simply stating, that I did not say ”Common Law”; it could be any law — the ”Sharia”, the ”Code Napoléon”, the ”Bible”, the ”Justinian Code”, etc.

          • bob

            That’s where your wrong Anonyme, there’s literally millions upon millions of people who wouldn’t be able to live without genetically modified food, and who are living in a place with effectively no justice/law. Also if you’re being so general in law, then there’s deffinitely some forms of law we can do without. Any form of religious law, for instance, or any kind of law that isn’t based upon the principles of care and equality for all. I think you’re substituting law for morality.

            Also, somebody just read the republic. ;D

        • Mantis

          Law isn’t universal, since there are many types and not all people even have law. Same as for government. They are quite rightly missing from this list. GM on the other hand has improved the lives of people who are still living without modern conveniences by wiping out diseases.

          • Anonyme7333333

            The basis of law and justice are universal even if applied differently; whether you cut someone’s hand for stealing or sentence him to jail or anything, the premises of law and justice remain the same. Any society could not exist without law or justice for we live in group: that in mind, law or justice should have been at least on this list, if not higher than genetic modification. Name one country or want-to-be country without law or a form of ”justice”; it is literally impossible. From the moment two people decide to work together, a form of law or justice is set up simply by their agreement; and even if the details of laws aren’t universal, the principle is.

          • Anonyme7333333

            @ bob And there’s literally every society who wouldn’t be able to exist without a form of justice: ubi socitas ibi ius. Moreover, like I already stated, the form law takes does not matter: only its existence does for that is what allows a society to exist and for its members to interact properly with one another. The righteousness or morality of the law implemented is not really in question since it is always an improvement to living completely isolated in the wild; the moment you work in a group of 2+ people, law exists, which is one of the basis of society. For instance, you probably would agree to not kill that person you are working with, etc., which is a form of law, even if not written or said explicitly.

            Saying there are some laws that are worse than others is missing the point and is not in question here. Definitely, for instance, the Sharia isn’t the best thing to live under, but it still remains a way to organize a society; without it, those societies would not even exist.

            Literally, law is something that allows our societies, modern or not, to be able to exist, and for that it is universal and a great achievement in the history of mankind.

            And I definitely am not substituting law for morality, that would make no sense at all considering what I have just said.

            Finally, not that this really affects anything, but while genetic modifications may help some people, it also is a nuisance to some: Monsanto, anyone?

        • Jed

          I find it frightening that anyone with full access to the internet chooses to remain ignorant about something as basic as how many billions of lives have been saved through breeding food. I find it much more disturbing that someone like that is so quick to spout their distortions to others as part of some political or religious crusade–or just for the attention.

          Every single item on this list is a physical invention. The car, steam power/electricity, computer technology, anaesthetics. They have all undeniably improved the standard of living of over 99% of humans, either directly or indirectly, as is quite clearly pointed out under each item. Law is not a physical construct per se, and even baboon and chimp societies have their own rules and primitive ‘laws’. Law as an applied concept is not a human domain. Its invention lies with our distant ancestors, not with modern homo sapiens.

          Philosophy is wonderful, no-one is denying that, but I fail to see how it has helped someone living in a tribe-society in an African desert, say. GM gives them food, whether they know the source or not, vaccines free them of diseases without them even knowing, aid and education are given via aircraft and automobile. The aid, in its many forms, is manufactured using electricity and global networking via computers. Even someone who is almost entirely isolated from the modern world is affected by these things. Philosophy? Not so much. Apart from “we should help unfortunate people” which is hardly a solely philosophical concept.

          The introduction to the previous list explained explicitly that the lists were not finite, and that all of these were chosen because they have undeniably improved the lives of as close to everyone on the planet as we are aware of. I fail to see how philosophy should be placed higher than fundamental things like food and health. Until basic needs like these are universally taken care of, the science that provides them will always be ranked higher than the mental disciplines only available to the rich few who are not too busy suffering from famine, war, or poverty.

          I know this anon idiot is a troll, but this really got me worked up. Sorry for being verbose. The list was well justified and clearly explained, and here someone says that he’d rather deny absolute fact and propose that musing about existence is better than allowing people to have food? That is seriously sick.

      • Mon

        There were studies that the green revolution which were centered on Rice reseaqrch in the Philippines and wheat research in Mexico actually one of the few reasons of famines in Africa. The green revolution allowed scientists from around the world to create grains that grow well in Asian and South American conditions, but not in Africa.

  • gg

    At last! Thankyou, JFrater!

  • bomboozle

    i thought this day was never gonna come.

  • Borlaug Man

    Glad to see Borlaug mentioned. Very nice list.

    • Pauly

      Dr. Borlaug has my vote for greatest man of the late 20th Century.

      • Borlaug Man

        Why aren’t we taught about him at school? He did a lot more than most of the historical figures we have to learn about.

  • Stumpy

    Reliant Robin #5!

  • Arun

    Nuclear Energy…

    • Dumkopf

      …hasn’t affected the lives of everyone on the planet, so it wouldn’t fit with this type of list. Read the intro to the first part of it.

      • jer187

        …and airplanes have? And genetic modification has? Nice try.

        • Read

          Planes are one of the main methods of providing aid to people in need in developing countries. In developed countries, they are a major form of transport.

          GM enabled the green revolution (if you read the list) which allowed at least a billion more people to live and let nearly all of the rest of us live without starvation, especially those in developing countries.

          • KAzmo

            But When I pooped my bum! accidentally, sometimes forest.

        • tj


  • Buzzy

    Brilliant list. Excellent sequal to the first half.

  • Stromberg

    The first computer was actually invented in 1936. It was called the Z1 Computer and was invented by Konrad Zuse.

    • d`d
      “He finished the Z1 in 1938”
      “…never worked well due to insufficient mechanical precision”

      I don’t think it quite counts, but good to know that someone else made a computer too, even if it took him a few attempts.

  • PJ

    Although Turing laid down the underlying principles for the computer (his ‘Universal Machine’), the actual first computer, Colossus, was designed by Tommy Flowers for Bletchley Park to assist in cracking the German Lorenz cipher.

    • Chris

      Turing actually worked with and inspired Flowers at Bletchley Park. Tommy’s digital computer was based on Turing’s electronic but still largely mechanical one. It’s cool how connected they all were.

  • Good list, I’m glad to see the follow up up so soon after the original rather than having to wait a few weeks.

  • Vincent

    Alexander Fleming was the first to suggest that the Penicillium mold must secrete an antibacterial substance, and the first to isolate the active substance which he named penicillin, but he was not the first to use its properties. Others involved in the mass production of penicillin include Ernst Chain, Howard Florey and Norman Heatley. (Wikipedia).

    The discovery of the mold was most likely accidental, since Fleming was a slob in the lab. When he visited Florey’s lab to see their efforts (early 1940s), he left without saying a word. Still, he shared in the Nobel Prize with Florey and his team.

    • Briton

      Yeah, like the list says, other people had used it before, just not systematically, and had not made it available for widespread use. Even the ancient Britons used to eat moldy bread when ill because of similar effects to penicillin.

  • Dalek6450

    Some of the pictures could be a bit better. Number 1 (Pic=Mac) and Number 5 (Pic=Reliant Robin?) aren’t the best examples. The picture should probably be the about the peak of the technology-maybe, custom, water-cooled, Windows PC and a Bugatti Veyron.

    • Vincent

      Windows PC, peak of technology? ROFL!

      • Dalek6450

        What else there? Linux? *smile* Mac OS? *ROFL*

    • Claire

      Not everyone will ever agree as to which type of computer or car is the best, so it’s better to use the most common types. Windows pc and a volkswagon beetle or something. After all, the point of this list isn’t the height of technologies but the universal use and effect of them.

      • Vincent

        Agreed. I was thinking that in terms of the “aeroplane” entry; perhaps it could be simplified to “flight,” since it pretty much covers any heavier-than-air mobility (Montgolfier Bros. all the way thru today, including space flight).

  • keitha

    Beautifully written and inspiring list. Thank-you, kate mulcahy.

  • Liam

    I just read the first part of this list and followed immediately with this part. I really reccomend this to everyone else. Well written, great examples, and fantastically inspiring. The best two-part list on listverse.

  • To…

    To Kate Mulcahy: Please keep writing such amazing lists!

    To Jamie Frater: Please tell us you’re paying her for her incredible work. Offer her money of just beg, it doesn’t matter, just get more lists from this woman!

    • qwertybob

      Please Jamie offer her a job or something. Please.

  • Carpet Shark

    I wonder how many here would consider ‘religion’ a breakthrough?

    • Flamer

      Enough to start a flame war, I’d wager.

    • ‘religion’

      Awww, then you’d have to differentiate between organized religion and the apparent religious activity depicted in elaborate cave art produced in Europe up to 30,000 years ago. Evidence also shows early man, from that same era, also often buried their dead with what looks like religious ritual. See:

      Richard Leakey in The Origin of Humankind (1994) for detailed evidence.

      Animism would probably be the oldest type of religion. In animism, spirits are considered to inhabit familiar objects in the landscape. Only gradually did spirits began to take on the form and power of gods with which we are familiar.

    • Maggot

      What exactly did it break through? If anything, superstition creates more obstacles blocking the way for the advancement of humanity, than it does by breaking through anything.

  • Reggie

    Yet another quality kate mulcahy list. I can’t help but suspect that yesterday’s blunder was to make today’s list seem even better in comparison.

    • Watson

      That’s a sneaky idea, but it might be true. It’s unlikely that that list was put up by mistake, but theonly reason to post drivel would be to make something else look good.

  • A few comments…

    On no.8 and 2: The green revolution was a great thing, genetic engineering is great, but it should be looked at with more apprehension. Toying with nature can byte us in the ass someday.

    No. 6: What you’re seeing is condensation. If you look at those towers in summer, you won’t see that smoke.

    No. 5: Reliant Robin FTW :D

    No. 1: No Stefan Odobleja? I’m disappointed…

    • Eric

      It should be looked at with apprehension, definitely. More apprehension, though? It’s already quite extreme. When I was a postgrad, my supervisor found a way to engineer a bacterium so it would produce what was basically a treatment for breast cancer. As he pointed out, developing it is one thing. Then it gets tested for 8-10 years to make sure it’s safe and so on. Then, even if it’s shown to be perfectly safe and that it works and all the rest of it, testing on bacteria and plants and animals and humans to show no ill effects, it usually takes another 10-15 years to get it approved. And if one guy on a panel, with absolutely no scientific background and who doesn’t even read the summary of the treatment, decided to tick the ‘no’ box, the whole process has to start again. He doesn’t need to justify it or even have a reason. We could have the elixer of life at our fingertips and not see it for a century. Hysterical movies and media stuff about how these things get out of hand are about 30 years out of date. The restrictions we have now are very much over the top and are holding us back. Restrictions are definitely good, but at the moment it is too extreme.

      • Jeremy

        I’m so glad you said that! I’m sick of people saying how dangerous GE is. Of course it’s potentially dangerous, just like anything else, and that’s why there are billions of restrictions. The media get more viewers if they sensationalise the danger though, and never mention that it’s one of the most restricted and carefully watched fields there is.

        • Hawking

          If it weren’t for this misconception, we’d be able to produce medicines etc under better and perfectly safe rules but much more efficiently. Who knows how much better we’d be? There are loads of cures and treatments that have passed the ‘are they safe’ decade of testing but are stuck in limbo because of all the superfluous rules. So many diseases have cures that we can’t give people because of this. It’s shocking. And that’s not even mentioning organ transplants, famine, etc.

          • widget

            i hope aliens never come to earth. because if they do, it’s going to look very bad when we explain that we keep medicines away from sick people on purpose due to public misconceptions.

        • Planet Earth

          Jeremy you are so wrong . Go look at the Cancers rates between country that use GMO VS country’s that don’t . Remember when cigarettes we’re good for you . In the future ppl will remember we thought GMO were safe .

          • Oh God…

            Wow this guy really knows nothing. Look then at the life expectancies of said countries. Higher life expectancy means more likelyto die from cancer (I hope I don’t have to explain why, surely it’s pretty obvious). More GM means better health and longer lives.

            Or, you know, yell about how dangerous something is without knowing what you’re talking about. Very persuasive.

          • bob

            Planet Earth, please shut up. You obviously don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about.

      • Yes. It is regulated. Heavily. In some areas. And I wasn’t talking about apprehension towards all the benefits that it could bring us (cure diseases, provide better quality food – although Monsanto’s pesticide, roundup has been linked to cancer and some of their plants are growing their own pesticides), I was talking about the dark side. Bio-weapons, bio-engineered viruses which can kill most of wold’s population if it accidentally is released (and which are kept in level 2 facilities when they should be in the level 4), new species of animals which can completely replace the native species etc. etc.

        And because the military is researching the bio-weapons, there are no official institutions which can provide restrictions, because the work is top-freakin-secret. So officially it doesn’t even exist.

        But sorry if it appeared I was generalizing the subject.

      • Planet Earth

        @ Eric go watch Pink Ribbon INC.

    • Steve

      Odobleja was the cybernetics guy, yeah? That’s not necessarily a computer thing. Plus he didn’t actualy invent the cmputer like all the other peopl mentiond in no 1. Cybernetics might be worth a mention, but in its own category, not as part of computer. but computers are probably effected more people than cybernetics anyway.

  • Will Trame

    It’s amazing how the computer has progressed over the past three or four decades. I still recall the old keypunch machines and card readers….cumbersome to say the least. It’ll be interesting to see what the computerized age will look like a few decades down the line.

    Excellent list.

  • Carpet Shark

    Two lists, twenty items but still wanting: that is how one could describe the effort. Concepts like ‘money/capital’, ‘democracy’, ‘state’, ‘republic’, ‘capitalism/socialism’ all are major breakthroughs in the history of civilization, but are strangely missing in the lists.

    • You

      Money was covered in the first list. And the basic premise of these two lists is to include things which have affected basically everyone. So the specific forms of government you mention are out. And besides, the intro to both lists makes it clear that they are not absolute since that’s basically impossible.

    • Be Clearer

      Are you saying you don’t like the lists, or that you do like them and want another with more stuff? If that’s the case, then just ask for it, rather than sounding stand-offish.

      The intro said to suggest any other items in the cmments, but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re attempting to do here. Can’t tell if you’re trying to criticize.

      • aldrin

        I think he’s trying to suggest more items but just in a rude way.

      • Carpet Shark

        The idea of Statehood and Republic appeared during the French Revolution and is definitely among the most powerful ideas that influenced every part of the world in some way or the other. It is no less than, say, the green revolution in overall influence.

  • ulysses

    Excellent list again, Kate. Please make more.

  • Ed

    Does anyone know anything about this author, besides the wonderful lists? Does she have a blog or does she write anywhere else? Or even what nationality she is, or her job or something. I’m becoming a huge fan but have nothing to go on!

  • Ni99a

    When I was small, I thought nuclear energy must be using some kind of super cool way to give us electricity. But then when I learnt later that it was just heating up water for steam to turn the turbine I was like ok.jpg…

    • Steamer

      I know what you mean. It’s kind of funny how all these different sources of electricity we have still rely on basic steam power. Except wind turbines and a few others, but they’re not used much still.

  • Zair

    Great follow up after the long wait :)

  • oouchan

    Well done and well executed. Glad to see computers listed along with things that really have made a difference in everyone’s lives.

    Good list.

  • Lifeschool

    I’m still not convinced that genetic meddling will end up with positive results for the planet. What happens when you mutate something and can’t mutate it back again? What happens when mutated DNA gets into our DNA and we begin to find new and incurable diseases as a result? …and you forgot to say that by mutating penacillin from it’s natural form the human body is now almost tollerant to it and the effects are smaller – meaning we have to mutate it further to get the same effect. It’s all very well saying playing God or playing with fire is safe – but common sense says it isn’t. Just me view.

    • Rachel

      Um… You clearly have no idea how genetics works.

      • Donatello

        Actually his understanding of genetics is perfect… for teenage mutant ninja turtles. Maybe that’s where he gleaned his clearly impressive understanding from.

        • IAmAMutantCyborg*beep*

          Win! :D

    • Geneticist

      Mutated DNA can’t get into our own DNA any more than other DNA can. Mutated DNA looks and acts exactly like normal DNA, so if mutated DNA can affect us, then so can basically everything else with DNA. So eating a tomato or drinking juice would contaminate us with plant DNA. It doesn’t affect us, for the same reason that mutated DNA doesn’t.
      Basically, the idea that we can be ‘contaminated’ by doing stuff in genetics is very ignorant.

      DNA doesn’t discriminate. It can’t tell when it’s been mutated or not. So it’s not harder to mutate than it is to ‘unmutate’. If we mutate something one way, we can always mutate it back, it doesn’t get harder all of a sudden.

      The human body becoming tolerant to penicillin is a good thing. The way most medicines work is by being toxic, but killing the bacteria/viruses/whatever before they do any real damage to us. We’re harder to damage since we’re bigger and multicellular and all the rest. An ideal medicine is one which the human body is completely tolerant to but the bacteria are not tolerant to at all.

      It’s nice to be cautious, prudent, even, but for goodness’ sake, before spouting off about how dangerous something is, learn a few basic facts. Read the wikipedia page or *something*. Common sense says it’s a bad idea to form strong opinions about a field in which you know nothing except a few snippets of information from watching the news. You sound paranoid.

      • Planet Earth


        It’s not like you guy’s have been at it for a 1000 years . You guy’s are AMATEUR that learn for you’re own mistakes . You sound like a know it all and probably don’t know much in reality .

  • timmar68

    Would air-conditioning qualify for this list? I would imagine the number of heat-related deaths have gone down tremendously since it’s invention.

  • Wilkeh

    Should of actually used a PC rather than a MAC for the image. MAC’s are ‘effin awful things.

  • Niraj Shah

    Good work… but not near perfect….

    • Ronk

      Would you offer tips for improvement, or is that beneath your dignity? Is only criticism a worthy field for your greatness?

  • Bill

    Excellent list. Makes you feel proud of all we have achieved. I hope we can continue to do these kinds of feats!

  • Flippants an angel

    R.I.P Fippant 3~27~2012. You will be dearly missed. You were a great friend and the best sister anyone could ask for. As some of you may know, Flippant(as you know her) had been suffering from Lupus disease for years now, she finally succumbed to her illness and was moved to the hospital for a week where she could still access this site, some of her posts were from her death bed that shows what a person she was, she was that dedicated to every area of her life. She had been my life long friend and the best sister anyone could have asked for. I actually showed her this site, and it provided her with hours of entertainment, she loved it, and I am so happy she felt at home here, it really helped her get through the hard times. She was always talking about the conversations she had that day, sometimes she was flustered, but at the end of the day you were like a family to her. I still cannot believe she is gone, this feels like a dream. I know you are in a better place, and I am happy you are no longer in pain. I would have done anything for you, but their was nothing I could do, I feel so guilty, like I didn’t do something right and you would still be her if I had done it. We all miss you, the world was a better place with you. I know that one day I will see you and momma again, and that puts a smile on my face :) You always loved the smiley faces, and used them more than anyone I knew :)

    • Maggot

      Too bad her last few days spent on Listverse were marred by a punk-ass troll’s weak attempts at hassling her.

      • Ahh Maggie.. I won’t be leaving Listverse while you’re still here. Nuh-uh. Can’t do it, Sally. ;)

        • Maggy* even. 8o

        • Maggot

          Can’t do it, Sally

          Haha, that’s probably my most favorite movie quote ever…I actually use it now and then, but usually get puzzled looks in response.

          Lovely avitar btw. For some reason, I’m inspired to put the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” on the ol’ turntable…

          • my most favorite movie quote ever…

            Lol awww.. I’d like to be able to blurt out excitedly here “LOOK, Maggy! We must be soulmates or something!! We totally have the same favourites! You are so meant to be mine, mister!!” :D

            Hmmph.. but, if the truth be told, I already knew that was your favourite movie quote – lol and been waiting months for the perfect opportunity to pop out with it to impress. I’m a diligent and attentive fangirl.. picking up all the little gems and tidbits of info that you’ve left, over the years, scattered throught LV (for me). :lol:

            Lovely avitar btw

            Thank youuuu! ;) *wriggles with delight*

            I’m inspired to put the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” on the ol’ turntable…

            If you were to do that, I would come.. in colours.. everywhere! ;D

    • Lmfao! Wait! What? I go bush, up the mountains outta phone range, for a coupla weeks and you got me dead and buried already?? Gtfo! You’re not gonna get it that easy.. nor get rid of me that easily. :D

    • How Awful

      This is a fake. 1: Flip only made one comment in the last week, so no she did not write several as this cruel bastard implies. 2: Flip is Australian. There are no “momma”s in Australia. 3: There are 6 deaths a year in Australia from Lupus. I went and checked. There were none in the last three weeks.

      This is sick and not remotely funny. What a disgusting ‘prank’.

      • Flip only made one comment in the last week…

        Thanks, How Awful. But if there was a comment made by “Flippant,” in the last week, then it wasn’t by me (the original Flippant). I had to leave on the 17th of last month and only got back today.. so anything between then and now was trolling by the fakey fake.

        You’re absolutely correct about the “momma” part.. we say Mummy or Mum. And I don’t have Lupus (bitten by a werewolf?) or any other damn diseases. Lol the troll WISHES I was dead.. but it’s not so lucky.

        • dizit

          Welcome back, moxie (flips)!

          Glad to see the avatar. Why am I not surprised to see the image you chose?

          • Thanks, Dizz! *hugs*

            LoL! Obvious stalker is obvious? :D

        • dizit

          Also not surprised by the moniker :D

          • *laffn* :lol:

            Yeah, I actually made a Flippant2 one first. But then I thought, bugger it, if they want my name they can have it. Me showering Maggy with attention seems to annoy them most, so I’ll run with that angle and get a better name. Win-win for me! ;)

  • some guy

    Correction on number 10: Cataract surgery has been performed in what is now India for thousands of years. Good list, but I couldn’t stand the style.

    • adrian

      And in China also, but not on a scale or in a way that could be widely applied. If I had cataracts and was offered anaesthetic-free surgery, I think I’d just go with foggy vision instead. Anaesthetics really did shape modern surgery.

  • Armadillotron

    I`m allergic to penacillin. It brings me out in spots. So there was a great breakthrough.. Makbe splitting the atom was a major breakthrough? (or not)

    • Stormageddon

      Your name is awesome, mate.

  • Genetic modification, 1973????????

    Really, it was first done thousands of years ago in Central America, by the people who created corn from the plants that existed at the time…

    • Doctor

      You seem to be confusing ‘created’ with ‘bred from existing stock’. And, as the list states explicitly, 1973 is the date of direct genetic manipulation, rather than indirect (breeding etc). Indirect genetic modification has been going on since agriculture began.

  • grunt

    What about the discovery of the blood types (ABO,MN, and Rh)?

  • paddy

    Great list, I like the dates included in headers. Kinda makes me want to play Civilization.

  • n1airwaves

    YES!! My eyes literally lit up when I saw this on the main page. Well worth the wait and well-written as always. Thanks again JFrater for posting the list so soon.

    Oh, and with this list (and its predecessor) Kate Mulcahy has “officially” become my second favorite writer on Listverse – second only to Flamehorse.

    • Name

      You do our fair author an injustice.

      • n1airwaves

        How? Flamehorse has written some of the best lists on this site. Sure, (s)he’s had a few duds (mainly his classical music ones – not a big fan) but so does everyone. Aside from “those” you really can’t go wrong with a FH list.

        If you don’t believe me check out…

        “10 Oustanding Actions Earning a Medal of Honor Recipients”

        “Top 10 Geniuses of 10 Fields of Human Activity”

        ” Top 10 Notorious Cases of the Bystander Effect”

        … to name a few.

  • lawn

    You always put up excellent lists, Kate, interesting and well-written. These make up for those lousy Flamehorse lists.

  • mom424

    Wow. Damn near perfect again. Very happy to see mention of Norman Borlaug; if anybody today deserves the title Hero, he does. Not some guy who genuflects before a football game. Just sayin’.

    Anyone who is interested may wish to visit the archives, specifically the Your View section. Most of these are covered, and some in much greater detail.

    Again, great job Kate.

    • Donatello

      or if the link above gets cut off too: it’s the entry called “Your View: What is the greatest human invention?”, about halfway down the page.

      • Donatello

        Hm. Mom424, why do your links get abridged but not mine? Surely it should be the other way around if at all, what with you being a moderator and all.

        • mom424

          It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re abridged – they work, at least in my superior Chrome browser.

          • Donatello

            My superior Chrome browser doesn’t let them work… :(

          • dizit

            They all work in my superior Chrome browser.

          • Donatello

            I think I may have offended my Google Chrome somehow. How do you apologize to a browser?

          • dizit

            How do you apologize to a browser?

            Feed it mouses ;)

  • constabledubs

    Gunpowder? It changed the course of human history forever.

  • Carl

    1. Paper

    2. The Wheel

    3. Fire

    4. The Lever

    5 – 10 Less important things you have listed which are all dependant upon my four things.

    • Jam strikes back

      That was in the previous 10 major breakthroughs of humanity list.

      • carl

        my bad.

  • Jam

    Why would you choose a Robin Reliant as the picture for a car?

  • Sardondi

    Pretty good, but #8 is misnamed – it’s plant genetics and simple botany/agriculture maximization you’re talking about, not a “Green Revolution” which if anything has had a minimal effect. Indeed, as unpalatable a truth as it is for Greens, industrialized farming has produced a safe and plentiful supply of food for the West and modern societies. It’s where traditional methods still prevail that shortages and famine exist and damage to the land occurs.

    • Donatello

      It’s not the author’s choice to call it the ‘Green Revolution’, that’s the official name worldwide, regardless as to the cause. It has nothing to do with the political group ‘The Greens’.

    • Patty O’Furniture

      Yes sir. My great uncle (Phd in Ag. from LSU) dropped by yesterday for a visit and we were discussing that very truth: conventional methods of cultivation that still exist can generally not cope with modern populations of those areas.

  • dizit

    Like others, I’ve been waiting for this follow-up to the first 10 Major Breakthroughs of Humanity. You haven’t disappointed, Kate, this is another brilliant offering!

  • Jimmy Johnson

    The Industrial Revolution is glaring in it’s omission, for breakthroughs in humanity.

    • mitch with a thought

      Next time try reading the list rather than just guessing whats not on i

      • Jimmy Johnson

        @mitch – I don’t consider “inventions” necessarily a breakthrough in humanity. There are plenty of inventions that could have changed the world that have gone nowhere.

        It is the widespread application of certain processes such as replication and automation that made the technology of it’s time economical and useful on a larger scale. Which then further drove wide-spread application of greater technological advancements due to economy of scale.

        Any mechanical device made up until then were time-consuming and costly one-offs.

  • Rhomboid

    I second Gunpowder. It’s had a much larger effect on humanity than the Green Movement.

  • I’ll add my +1 for gunpowder. I would have also included the lightbulb somewhere on the list.

  • theDogter

    I liked both lists, very well done. Something to add to the list is Nanotechnology. it is simply amazing in what it can create. It scares me like nothing else ever has (thanks Stargate) but it is an incredible advancement.

  • petet2112

    The Printing Press ; Air Conditioning ; Carbon-14 dating.

    • E3

      Read the first list. Although I’m not sure if C14 dating fits with the theme – they have to be things that changed the way basically everyone on Earth lives, and Carbon dating hasn’t really done that, despite how much knowledge we can get from it.

  • Wtf

  • tassie devil

    Fleming gets all the chicks for “discovering” penicillin but it was the hard work and genius of the australian Sir Howard Florey that allowed it to be a usable, mass-produced pharmaceutical. His work has literally saved millions and millions of lives. Please lift you hat for the man, he’s probably saved your life at some point.

  • Hajakuja

    Nice list but I have an objection about the part on eye surgery it was done much earlier (without the use of anaesthesia) by a medival Arab doctor

    • Daw

      Read the other comments. Your point has already come upand been dismissed.

  • smuggit

    this list is too american….. no wait it isnt :)

  • Jono

    #10 Many cultures had a strong mastery of aspects of surgery Western society has only begun to grasp in the last few hundred years. Cataracts were removed 1800 years ago in India, for one. So there’s a huge stuff-up right there.

    #9 MRSA.

    • Daw

      Read the other comments. Your point has already come up and been dismissed.

  • jobern

    Aww… Did it have to be a mac? Really?

  • Corinna

    Wow. I can’t believe one of the most active and entertaining commenters, flippant, has passed. Her sister wrote a gorgeous note and only one of you commented on it, then everyone else carried on blathering on about a list.
    I worry about this world.

    • How Awful

      It was a fake. It’s disturbing that someone would do that, though.

    • Lol I didn’t scroll far enough down, the first time, to catch this comment. Thanks, Corinna.. but I’m (Flip) very much alive. I think that post by “my sister” was a bit too ridiculous for anyone to believe.. that’s why it was, for the most part, ignored. Else that or.. *gasp*.. people really don’t care! 8O ;)

      • or.. *gasp*.. people really don’t care! ;)

        People care. The failtroll fail was too obvious to bother responding to.

  • ErnestineBromleyb

    this is really awesome buddy , but there is a problem with somethings like some r helpful or some r harmful , but overall this all is good for the people this is awesome ,

    • Uh, I guess you’re “bragging” that you required the “breakthrough” contained in your link to be enough of a pseudo-man to make your mark on the world…hahahahaha…poor little guy.

  • Billybobthetomato

    I don’t like fossil fuels. But I agree with the rest. Kind of..

  • Reblogged this on xukg and commented:
    nice work

  • mmmbox

    ???-2011 “?? ????? ??????!”

  • ema

    You missed SPACE TRAVEL

  • Rod

    Actually, penicillin was discovered by someone else before, read this about Clodomiro Picado:

    “In March 2000, doctors from the San Juan de Dios Hospital in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, published his manuscripts, in which he explains his experiences between 1915 and 1927 with the inhibiting action of fungi of the “Penicillin sp” genre in the growth of staphylococci and streptococci (bacteria that cause a series of infections). In 1927, he demonstrated the inhibitory action of the bacillus genus penicillium sp on the proliferation of the bacteria staphylococcus and streptococcus. Although, the discovery of penicillin has been attributed to Alexander Fleming, Picados’ old laboratory notebooks from 1923 show records of the antibiosis of penicillium sp.[5]
    For this reason he is renowned as one of the precursors of the penicillin antibiotic, discovered by the Scottish biologist and pharmacologist, Alexander Fleming, in 1928. The report with the results of the treatments performed with penicillin by Dr. Picado were published by the Biology Society of Paris in 1927″

    The discovery was attributed to Flemming but Picado deserves rightful mention if you are going to talk about Penicillin.

  • Arthur

    No love for watercraft?
    Aeroplanes, trains and automobiles are really nice but are nowhere near the age of a boat. Watercraft accelerated trade and revealed the other half of the world to modern civilization.

    What about assembly lines?
    Without it, modern “toys” would be fewer and far between and drastically more expensive for much of the world.

    How about the ability of speech?
    That’s certainly more efficient that singing like a dolphin, chirping like a bird, or waving arms around like a chimp.

    Looking at the cellular level has certainly sped up the process to discover and apply new medicines, and other scientific fields, which this list seems to be favoring.

    Beer production?
    Im being serious.

  • daniel

    alexander fleming did not discover it…and even after he did “discover it” he didnt see the use for it in medical science for almost ten years after

  • replicachasov


  • ocealsecelm