100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

The Screw
Year of Invention: 235 B.C.

What Is It? Any inclined surface wrapped around a central post or pillar. A
screw is commonly thought of as a spiral and threaded pin or a dowel used
in construction.

Who Invented It? Archimedes (in Syracuse, Sicily)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The screw is one of the six basic mechanical devices on which virtually all machines and construction depend. Archimedes’s screw is the basis for modern screws, drills, bolts, worm gears, augers, water lifts, and ship propellers. Screws lock and secure construction projects.

Screws multiply mechanical force just like moving the fulcrum on a lever. That mechanical advantage makes them powerful and versatile workhorses. Giant augers with blades eight feet in diameter drill their way down mine shafts. Some—so small they cannot be clearly seen with the unaided eye—are key to the operation of fine Swiss watches. Such tiny augers cost far more than their weight in gold.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Before screws, people fastened things with nails, ropes, hammered pegs and pins, and cement. Before Archimedes’s screw, people lifted water in buckets.


How Was the Screw Invented?

By the age of 42 (around 235 B.C.), Archimedes was the most famous inventor and mathematician in Sicily and a revered treasure of his hometown, Syracuse. He had already deduced a number of mathematical concepts that became famous, including the principles of a lever, the value of π, and the concepts of specific gravity and buoyancy. He also invented several lethal weapons based on these mathematical principles that had been successfully used to defend Syracuse against Roman naval assaults.

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