OK, so maybe you don’t know his name, but you’ve probably heard someone shout “Eureka!” (which is Greek for ‘I have found it’) and that is attributed to Archimedes – an inventor, physician, physicist, astronomer, engineer and mathematician born on the island of Syracuse about 287 B.C. While many say that Archimedes invented the lever, he did not. However, he did write the first work on the principals of how a lever works. Here are five inventions that he did create that we can thank him for.
The Block and Tackle Pulley System
Archimedes was an inventor in the city of Syracuse in Sicily. Syracuse has a large harbor and sailors were always moving heavy crates on and off the ships. With this invention – still in use today – sailors were able to implement the principals of leverage to lift objects that were too heavy for any man to move. The same principal was used to increase the distance that catapults were able to shoot, giving Syracuse a distinct advantage over the invading Roman navy trying to break through the Sicilian harbor.
It is hard to image that this twentieth century device has been around for nearly 2400 years, but Archimedes had a very useable model working during his time. The device, which is used to measure mileage in a car or other mode of transportation comes from the Greek words for “Measure Path”. Archimedes invented the odometer during the First Punic War. It seems to have been used till the time of Emperor Commodus (192A.D.) and then was lost in Europe till the middle of the fifteenth century. Simultaneously, the Chinese were also using a similar device when Europe had lost the knowledge. Archimedes odometer consisted of a cart with a gear mechanism that dropped a ball after each mile. Today we’ve advanced to GPS systems, but the knowledge came from Classical times.
The Archimedes Screw
This ingenius device was commissioned by the ruler of Syracuse, King Hieron II. Like Leonardo da Vinci, centuries later, Archimedes was often commissioned to come up with a solution to a problem. This is how the Archimedes Screw was invented. King Hieron had constructed a huge ship, but it was so large that water leaked through the bottom and had no way of being expelled. The invention was a screw-like device within a cylinder that was lowered into the water and hand cranked to remove the bilge water. Later, it was used for irrigation methods. The Archimedes Screw is still used today for pumping liquids and solids, such as coal and grain.
The Claw or Ship Shaker
During times of war, the need for new advances becomes very important. This was how the Claw or Ship Shaker came into being. Archimedes designed this crane-like device to defend the harbor of Syracuse from the Romans during the Second Punic War. According to historians, the Claw was mounted on the sea wall and hung over into the harbor. When an enemy ship came into reach of the Claw, a grappling hook device was lowered onto the ship and pulled it out of the water, shaking it violently before throwing it back into the sea. The attack was repelled and reported by Roman historians. No plans or illustrations were ever found, probably being destroyed with the destruction of the Library at Alexandria. However, in 2005, the Discovery Channel ran a show testing this device on a show called “Superweapons of the Ancients” and concluded that the invention can work and probably did destroy many Roman ships.
The Archimedes Death Ray
Possibly the most dangerous weapon ever made, the Death Ray was supposed to capture sunlight and redirect it so that it burned ships and sank them out at sea. What we know about this weapon of destruction is recorded by the Roman historian Lucian who accounted for this in the second century A.D. – 300 years after Archimedes’ death. Supposedly, highly polished mirrors captured the rays of the sun and shot them back at enemy warships, catching them on fire. An ongoing debate has been waging since the Renaissance with people trying to make their own death rays. In the 1970s, a Greek scientist supposedly caught a ship on fire using 70 shield-like, copper coated mirrors. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT) tried it again in 2oo5 and concluded that it could only be done under ideal conditions and if the ship was stationary. They tried this again on the television show, Mythbusters and the result was the same. Mythbusters concluded that it would be easier to set a ship on fire with a flaming arrow or catapult. Since the plans were lost, the world may never know if this was an actual weapon or not.
Archimedes was killed by the Romans during the attack of Syracuse in spite of the fact that they were ordered to capture him. According to Plutarch, his last words were, “Do not disturb my circles“, which was in reference to some mathematical drawings that he was working on. The Roman soldier paid him no heed and Archimedes went the way of the Dodo.
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