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Famous inventors

Leonardo da Vinci, inventor

A portrait of Leonardo, 1515–17A portrait of Leonardo, 1515–17While Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) is today considered one of the greatest artists of all time, famous for his paintings such as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, he was also a scientist, mathematician, mapmaker, engineer and inventor. During his lifetime, he was employed as an engineer by the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Venice and other states. Many of Leonardo's designs proved too costly or impractical at the time—or were simply intended as toys for amusement. But some of his ideas for inventions later turned out to be the forerunners of devices that were developed by other inventors hundreds of years later. They included: the parachute, the helicopter, an armoured vehicle, a self-propelled cart and even a humanoid robot. For hundreds of years, Leonardo's futuristic designs lay unpublished, before being rediscovered in the late 19th century.

Designs for a giant crossbow, 1488–89Designs for a giant crossbow, 1488–89
Design for a machine to grind convex lensesDesign for a machine to grind convex lenses

Scientific knowledge

Leonardo understood the scientific principles of momentum, centripetal force, friction and the aerofoil, and applied these to his inventions. From this knowledge, he devised various machines using levers, wheels, pulleys, cranks, gears and bearings.

For example, his designs for a lens-grinding machine involved a hand-turned grinding wheel which rotated a shaft via a gear. The shaft turned a dish containing the glass or crystal to be ground.

Designs for various hydraulic machinesDesigns for various hydraulic machines


Leonardo is credited with the invention of the double hull, a ship construction method in which the bottom and sides of the ship have two layers. The outer layer forms the normal hull of the ship, while the inner layer—a short distance inside—forms a barrier to sea water in case the outer hull is damaged.

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