9 World-Changing Inventions from Spanish Inventors

Spain is famous for its wine, climate and rich cultural history, but it also has its fair share of important inventions.
Christopher McFadden
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Spain, land of sun, fine wine, paella, bull-fighting, and midday naps is one of Europe's most ancient and fascinating countries. It has seen some of the greatest empires rise and fall, and built one of its own for a time.

The land of Spain has given the world some of the greatest artists of all time and is a favorite holiday destination for many around the world. But, it has also produced some of the most important inventions in history

In the following article, we'll pay homage to the history of Spain and highlight some of its greatest inventions.


What has Spain invented?

Spain, like many other nations around the world, has its own lineage of great inventions and inventions. Some, in antiquity, would help the Roman Empire become the all-conquering force it was fated to become.

From weapons, like the Roman Legion's famous sword, to philosophy, Spain in antiquity was a center of great thinkers and inventors. After the fall of Rome, Spain was partially insulated from the full impact of the Dark Ages but did succumb to foreign invasion from the Umayyad's of North Africa in the 8th Century AD.

Throughout the period of Islamic occupation after the fall of Rome, some other important work was carried out in the field of medicine and botany. This occupation would last for several hundred years and Spanish architecture, language, food, and some town names would take on their unique attributes today.

After Islamic forces were soundly defeated during the Reconquista, Spain would continue to develop intellectually and culturally. A process that would ultimately culminate in their conquest of South America to forge one of the greatest empires in history

This would, however, prove to be very detrimental for the native people of their conquered lands. The institutions and systems imposed on them would dog many of the nations to the present day.

As the Renaissance and enlightenment spread throughout Europe, Spain would contribute some significant advancements in human understanding.

Modern urology, for example, was founded by Francisco Díaz de Alcalá in the 16th Century and other important work on anatomy was conducted throughout this period. 

In the modern age, Spanish inventors and scientists have given the world some very important things. From the NASA Spacesuit to the precursor to the modern helicopter (the Autogyro), Spain has its own fair share of inventive plaudits.

Did Spain invent the stapler?

Ever since the invention of paper, people have been experimenting with methods to bind paper together to form documents. Many solutions from glue to ribbon have been used in the past with varying success.

But the very first stapler appeared in the 18th Century thanks to the work of Charles Henry Gould, a Spaniard. The story goes that he was commissioned by the French King, Louis XV to make it for him to help make the process of binding documents a lot easier.

According to the story, the staplers replaced his wax seal and were made from gold. They also bore the royal emblem and may have had precious stones on them too.

But the first functional stapler, as we'd understand it today, didn't exist until 1866. George McGill patented his design for a bendable paper fastener. The next year he received another patent for a machine that could press this fastener through the paper.

This was closer to what we think of as a stapler today, but was still very labor intensive and required constant reloading between uses. 

The first 'modern' stapler was devised in 1895 and was developed by the EH Hotchkiss Company. It used a long strip of bendable staples that were wired together. It was such a popular invention, in fact, that people referred to a stapler as a Hotchkiss.

Which products is Spain best known for?

Spain's rich history, climate, and culture have led to the development of some of the most important products in the world. It has created some of the greatest works of art, architecture, literature, and music the world has ever seen. 

But, some of its most important, and best known, products include the following: 

- Olive oil. Whilst the whole of the Mediterranean coast is known for olive oil, by far one of the best quality comes from Spain. 

Embutidos. Whilst this term may or may not be familiar to you, what it refers to will certainly make your mouth water. Embutidos is the word given to the different kinds of Iberian sausages including chorizo.

- Queso. This is the Spanish term for cheese. Spain has many unique and excellent kinds of cheese that are exported all around the world.

- Vino. Yes, Spanish wine is some of the best wine in the world. Whilst there are many great wines that come from Spain, by far the best is from the La Rioja and Duero River Regions of the country.

spanish inventions wine
Rioja is one of the finest wines in the world. Source: Agne27/Wikimedia Commons

- Paella. Paella is a rice dish that can be prepared with either meat or seafood. This dish is probably the signature dish of Spain. 

Spain also has a very rich culture that attracts millions of tourists from around the world every year.

But, what about some of its most important inventions? 

1. The Spacesuit was a Spanish invention

spanish inventions space suit
The inner airtight garment of Herrara's spacesuit prototype, circa 1935. Source: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons

The first fully-pressurized astronaut suit was first invented by a Spaniard in the mid-1930s. His name was Colonel Emilio Herrera Linares and his invention was called the Escafandra Estratonáutica.

The suit featured an inner airtight garment that was clad in a pleated and jointed metallic frame. The shoulders, hips. elbows, knees and even fingers were all jointed allowing limited but free movement of the suit.

This suit was planned to be tested during an open-basket balloon stratospheric flight in 1935 but the Spanish Civil war called the whole thing off. Herrera chose the Republican side, and the rubberized silk suit was cannibalized to make rain ponchos for Republican troops. In 1939 he fled to France, where he died in exile in 1967.

His designs were later used as the prototype during the space race in the wake of the Cold War. Soviet scientists used Emilio's designs for their suits and American scientists later adopted a similar design for their own space program.

2. The Gregorian Calendar was a Spanish thing

The first major reform to the calendar since the reforms of Julies Caesar was undertaken by a Spaniard. Called the Gregorian calendar, today is the most used one in the world. 

Although it takes its name from Pope Gregory XIII, it was actually developed by a Spaniard called Pedro Chacón in the 16th century. His reforms included the inclusion of leap years to make the average year 365.2425 days long.

The rule for leap years is as follow: 

"Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400."

The existing Julian Calendar of the time had a 0.0075-day drift from reality, which at the time had accumulated to calenders being around 10 days short. The reforms were widely adopted by Catholic nations around Europe and in overseas territories. 

Protestant and Eastern Orthodox nations followed suit a few centuries later.

3. Guerrilla warfare was developed in Spain

Guerilla warfare was first documented during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in the 19the Century. This is a kind of irregular combat where a small group of combatants uses a mixture of tactics, from ambushes to hit-and-run attacks, to resist a larger invading force.

Guerrilla fighters tend to be paramilitary forces, armed civilians and other irregulars who band together to provide semi-organized resistance campaign. In this regard, Guerrilla groups are a type of violent non-state actor.

Contrary to what some may believe, the term has nothing whatsoever do with the large great ape. Rather it is derived from the Spanish word "guerrilla" which in turn is the diminutive form of the word "Guerra" which simply means war

Technically speaking, the correct term of a guerrilla fighting unit is a "guerrillero" for male fighters and "guerrillera" for females.

The term became popular during the Peninsular War when the Spanish and Portuguese people rose against the Napoleonic troops and fought against a highly superior army using the guerrilla strategy.

4. You can thank the Spanish for mops

spanish inventions mop
Source: Husond/Wikimedia Commons

The very first mop, as we know it today, was developed by the Spanish. It was invented in the mid-1950s by one  Manuel Jalón Corominas.

Whilst 'mops' have existed for a long time prior to Corominas, his improvements on the design made mopping the floor a much less labor-intensive process. The 'classic' mop and bucket system, as we recognize it today, was the product of his work.

The story goes that on a trip to the US in the 1950s, he observed how the Americans washed the floor: with a flat mop that you wrang-out through rollers in a bucket. He and his friend Emilio Bellvis (a mechanic from the Zaragoza air base) refined the design and founded their own company, Rodex, to begin mass producing them.

5. The first operational electric military submarine was Spanish

spanish inventions submarine
The Peral. Source: Murcianboy/Wikimedia Commons

The Peral was the world's first all-electric battery-powered submarine in the world. It was designed and built by the Spanish inventor Isaac Peral and was adopted by the Spanish Navy shortly afterward.

She first set sail on the 8th September 1888 and came equipped with a single torpedo tube and two torpedoes. The Peral also came equipped with a fully-operational air regeneration system.

The submarine had a total length of around 22 meters and was powered by 2 electric motors that produced around 22 kW each. Her top speed was around 7.8 knots at the surface and 3 knots when submerged.

At the time she was the fastest submarine yet built whose performance matched those of later U-boats during the first world war. The Peral had a very limited range and couldn't be recharged at sea. 

She was later withdrawn from service in around 1890 and is now preserved at the Cartagena Naval Museum.

6. Modern Toxicology is Spanish too

Spanish inventions toxicology
Mathieu Orfila. Source: Magnus Manske/Wikimedia Commons

Toxicology is the scientific discipline that is concerned with the study of the adverse effects of chemical substances on living organisms. By its very nature, it has a lot of overlap between biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine.

A Spaniard, Mathieu Orfila, is widely considered to be the father of modern toxicology. In 1813, he produced the first formal treatise on the subject in his work his Traité des poisons, also called Toxicologie générale.

But toxicology does have an older history. Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the court of the Roman emperor Nero, was probably the first person in history to attempt to classify plants according to their toxic and therapeutic effect.

Islamic scholars built on his work during their so-called "Golden Age". For example, Ibn Wahshiyya wrote the Book on Poisons in the 9th or 10th century.

This was followed up in 1360 by Khagendra Mani Darpana.

7. The Gladius Hispaniensis helped Rome rule the world

spanish inventions gladius
Source: Rama /Wikimedia Commons

The Gladius Hispaniensis (antennae swords) were widely adopted by the Roman legions after the conclusion of the Second Punic War with Carthage. The sword was widely considered to be superior to their existing equipment at the time.

This type of weapon was widely used by Spanish tribes on the Iberian Peninsula and became the standard kit for Roman legionnaires from the 2nd century BC. The weapon is relatively short and has a characteristic double-edged blade.

The sword was designed to be used for stabbing and cutting and was ideal for use in the close hand-to-hand combat of the time. It provided legionnaires with a great advantage over opponents with larger and more unwieldy, longer-bladed weapons, especially when in close quarters. 

It was also the ideal weapon for Roman formations and battleline tactics and helped them dominate the known-world for centuries after. 

8. Spain gave the world Chupa Chups 

spanish inventions lollipops
Source: Mstroeck/Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that Chupa Chups was a Spanish thing? The brand is now world famous and is sold in over 150 countries around the world.

It was founded in 1958, by Enric Bernat, and is currently owned by the Italian-Dutch multinational Perfetti Van Melle.

The name is derived from the Spanish verb chupar, which means, appropriately, "to suck"

9. The Autogyro is the forerunner to the helicopter

spanish inventors autogyro
Modern Autogyro. Source: Airwolfhound/Wikimedia Commons

The Autogyro was developed by a Spanish inventor  Juan de la Cierva in the 1920s. It was a type of rotorcraft that used an unpowered rotor blade, in free rotation, to generate lift.

The craft was developed to provide a means of safe transport at low speeds. It first flew in January of 1923 and was later developed by the  Pitcairn & Kellett companies throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

The Autogyro is widely considered as one of the forerunners to the modern helicopter

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