100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Gunpowder
Year of Invention: 1261

What Is It? An explosive mixture of three powdered ingredients: saltpeter,
charcoal, and sulfur.

Who Invented It? Roger Bacon (in Paris, France)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Gunpowder revolutionized warfare and military thinking. Canons, muskets, rockets, and bombs powered by black gunpowder swept away all weapons and forces that existed before them.

But gunpowder was more than just a weapon. Gunpowder was a tremendous boon to civil engineering. Quarrying, cathedral foundations, and roadways were developed easier and faster. Gunpowder fundamentally changed the way engineers thought about major earth-moving construction.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Before gunpowder, warfare relied on four weapons: sword, shield, lance, and bow. Before gunpowder, construction projects relied on brute physical force and labor. Large civil engineering works (roads, mines, dams, etc.) required the dedicated use of hundreds—if not thousands—of workers (usually slaves).


How Was Gunpowder Invented?

Gunpowder was first invented and used by the Chinese sometime between A.D. 850 and 1000. Nothing is recorded about who first created it or about the process of development used. In 1261, English-born scientist Roger Bacon developed and tested the formula on his own. And we do know how Bacon invented this explosive cocktail of chemicals.

In 1237, and at the tender age of only 17, Roger Bacon was appointed regent master at a Paris monastery, teaching arts and sciences. A brilliant thinker of his era, Bacon predicted and described with amazing accuracy steamships, automobiles, and airplanes 500 to 700 years before their existence and 300 years before Galileo described them. He invented the magnifying glass and conducted advanced optic studies. By 1260, he was often called “Doctor Mirabilis” (Doctor Wonderful).

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