Inventions that Changed the World
(Telephone, penicillin, Velcro, Braille)


Human beings often invent by learning from nature and famous inventions frequently have as much to do with chance as they do with intelligence and curiosity. Join Active Minds as we tell the fascinating stories of inventions and inventors that changed the world. This class will cover the invention of the telephone, penicillin, Velcro, and Braille.

Key Lecture Points

  • The way we live today is in a large part due to the efforts of inventors from around the world. From advancements in communication to medicine, inventors and their inventions have altered our quality and manner of living.
  • The invention of Braille allowed for written communication for blind and visually impaired people; the telephone allowed eventually for global communication by voice; penicillin advanced the fight against bacteria and infectious disease, prolonging human life; and, Velcro has allowed for the quick and easy fastening of numerous items integral to our health and safety (like bullet proof vests and slings for broken limbs) and has also been indicated as a tool helpful for early childhood development.
  • The histories of these life-altering inventions and their inventors are fascinating stories in themselves. But, they also illustrate several important points: human beings often invent by learning from nature; and, famous inventions often have as much to do with chance as they do with intelligence and curiosity.
  • Braille, a system of tactile communication used by the blind and visually impaired, was invented by Frenchman Louis Braille in 1821, with a little help from a French soldier. Today, some 5,500 American children rely on the system as their primary medium of communication.
  • The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, paving the way for global voice-to-voice communication. Bell’s interest in communication stemmed from his close relationship with his mother, who was deaf.
  • Penicillin was discovered on accident by Alexander Fleming in 1929, as he contemplated a strange mold that had grown on one of his lab’s petrie dishes. Penicillin, an antibiotic, was a revolution in medical science and has prolonged the life of human beings.
  • Velcro was invented by Swiss engineer George de Mestral in 1948, who took a cue from the greatest engineer of all: Mother Nature. By analyzing the manner in which common burrs stuck to his pants, de Mestal would invent a tool used by millions, including NASA, police agencies and the US Army.

Exploration Questions

  • Inventions often respond to a common problem. Can you think of a problem that could stand for an invention?
  • Of the four inventions described in this curriculum, which do you think has had the most profound impact upon society? Explain your answer.

Reflective Questions:

  • What is your favorite use of Velcro?
  • What invention has helped you most in your lifetime?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Van Dulken, Stephen and Phillips, Andrew. Inventing the 20th Century: 100 Inventions that Shaped the World from the Airplane to the Zipper. New York University Press, 2002. 246 pages. From the Slinky to the copy machine, this book of invention stories is accessible to the lay person even as it relates complex ideas from engineering, chemistry, and physics.
    Click here to order