It’s easy to get a bit arrogant these days with our modern technical prowess. Look upon our interwebs and weep ancient dirt dwellers! But humans have always been clever and adaptable creatures who have long been capable of extraordinary advancements and innnovations that were either forgotten or superceded. Like what?

Vending machines

Surely a rather modern invention? Nope, the earliest vending machine known was invented in roughly 50 AD in Ancient Greece. That’s right – 2000 years old.

The invention came about when famed inventor and mathematician man named Hero of Alexandria came to the rescue of his city’s temples.

What was the problem in the temples? People were apparently far too hungry for blessings and had been taking more holy water than they had paid for. Something had to be done immediately.

Hero was a well known luminary who is also credited with creating the first robot and steam engine design among various other innovations. With Hero’s mastery of physics, mechanics and mathematics, he created a coin operated automated holy water dispenser – a true vending machine almost 2000 years ahead of its time.

A coin was inserted at the top of the machine which resembled a sealed vase, the coin would then fall onto a balanced lever mechanism inside, the weight of which would allow a measured quantity of holy water to be released.

Flushing toilets

A self flushing toilet and plumbing system in 1800 BC!? Yep, the Minoans had that in the bag 1000 years before Homer wrote his Odyssey.

The Minoans were an advanced civilization which flourished around 4000 years ago on the island of Crete and preceded the civilisation we know as ‘ancient Greece’. A culturally rich people who prized innovation, the Minoans were found to have advanced plumbing knowledge which allowed them to have self flushing bathroom facilities thousands of years before ‘modern’ civilisation.

The Minoans had an advanced drainage and early aqueduct system which brought fresh water from streams in to the city and allowed storm water and sewage to be drained into gardens outside the city. Ground level latrines with overhead water reservoirs to be tipped in to perform the flush abounded in the savvy city.

Fun fact: the Greek myth of the Minotaur in the labyrinth is thought to be based on the Greeks discovering the ruins of these plumbing systems (which they took as a labyrinth) as well as abundant frescos depicting bulls (the Minotaur) which pervaded Minoan art.

Electric vehicles

Tesla, you have been very slow to catch up. Which is surprising… The world has actually been playing around with electric cars for almost 200 years – since the 1820’s in fact.

Although small models were created beforehand, the first real electric locomotive (not car yet) was built in 1837, in Scotland by chemist Robert Davidson. Powered by galvanic battery cells, the invention was later surpassed by a larger 7 ton model capable of towing it’s own weight. Disgruntled rail workers fearing for their industry and jobs were so threatened by it they actually destroyed the infernal machine. Take that progress!

Not long after in 1857 the real deal came along when rechargeable lead batteries became a thing. After several iterative steps, the first commercially available true-blue rechargeable electric car was brought into the world by Thomas Parker. Launched in London, Parker had just finished realising and building the first electric trams and was keen to explore an untethered automobile.

It might surprise you that this ‘contemporary’ electric car technology was in fact not only in existence almost 2 centuries ago, but was actually behind all land speed records until 1900. For example, the first person in the world to travel past 100km per hour, Camille Jenatzy, did so in 1899 in an electric car.

Not feeling so cutting edge now huh?