7 Remarkable Inventions from Archimedes That Shaped History

Archimedes was one of the most prolific inventors of all time and he played a hand in the invention of many modern machines.
Trevor English

Archimedes is one of history's great thinkers. He was astute in philosophy as well as in the arts, active in mathematics and physics, and was recognized as one of the greatest engineers of his time. His legacy lives on in the modern era through historical accounts of his countless inventions and discoveries from 2000 years ago.

Let's take a look at 7 inventions that Archimedes was responsible for.

Archimedes’ screw

One primary concern of farmers in pre-industrial society was the need to irrigate their land, a considerable issue in the time before sophisticated pumping systems. Different cultures had different ways of dealing with this. One solution, whose introduction into ancient Greece has been credited to Archimedes, was the water screw or screw pump, more commonly known today as the Archimedes Screw.


7 Remarkable Inventions from Archimedes That Shaped History
Source: Wikimedia/Carlito

This screw-shaped device was rotated by a windmill or through manual labor. Water was lifted inside the spiral tube to a higher elevation as the entire unit rotated. 

The design of this device was so helpful that it has even carried over into other industries, where it has been used to move light materials like grain in and out of farming silos. 

Archimedes' principle

Archimedes is credited as the person who discovered the principle of buoyancy, which is also known as Archimedes' Principle. This states that a body wholly or partially submerged in a fluid at rest is acted upon by an upward, or buoyant, force and that the magnitude of this force is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the body.

The story goes that Archimedes discovered this principle after being tasked by the king to figure out whether a crown made for him was pure gold or whether it contained other metals. Archimedes realized that if he took a lump of gold weighing the same as the gold crown, the two objects should displace the same amount of water, regardless of shape. 

If the goldsmith who made the crown replaced anygold with a cheaper metal, then the crown would displace more water.

According to the story, Archimedes used this idea to prove that the goldsmith had cheated the king out of a rightful amount of gold in the crown.

Stories differ on how Archimedes was actually able to discover that the crown wasn't pure gold.

The Iron Claw

Archimedes is particularly famous for designing war machines for his home state of Syracuse during the Punic Wars. One famous device was the Iron Claw, also known as the Claw of Archimedes.

7 Remarkable Inventions from Archimedes That Shaped History
Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia

This machine was thought to have been installed on the seaward-facing walls of the city of Syracuse to protect the city against amphibious assault. The device is only known about only through snippets of historical accounts, but it was believed to have been some type of crane, with a grappling hook on one end, which was able to lift attacking ships partly out of the water, and then either cause the ship to capsize or suddenly drop it. It may also have been dropped onto enemy ships to cause them to swing around and destroy themselves..

The odometer

Archimedes has also been credited with the first idea for an odometer, or at least a mechanical method of keeping track of distance traveled.

The Roman engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (80/70 BC-15 BC) wrote an account of this idea, which he credited to Archimedes. The odometer operated on the idea that every time a wheel goes around, it travels its circumference. The odometer may have used a large wheel of a known circumference and a series of gears. 

The theory is that a gear on the drive shaft had only one tooth, and a gear holding a box of pebbles had additional teeth. The pebble gear moves one notch whenever the chariot wheel goes completely around. After the wheel had gone enough revolutions to equal one mile, the pebble gear would have moved so that a hole leading from the pebble box lined up with a hole underneath the gear, and a pebble dropped into a bucket. Counting the pebbles could tell you how many miles had been travelled. Each dropped marble represents one mile traveled.

The pulley system

Archimedes didn't invent the pulley, but he did develop different systems of compound pulleys, improving on the existing technology that was around at his time. He clearly demonstrated that a wheel supported by a rope could be used as a method of transferring energy, providing the operator with a mechanical advantage in the process. 

7 Remarkable Inventions from Archimedes That Shaped History
Source: Eric Gaba/Wikimedia

Archimedes developed an efficient block and tackle system, allowing sailors to use leverage to lift heavy objects. 

The law of the lever

Archimedes is also credited with finding new uses for the lever. The great inventor supposedlysaid, "Give me a place to stand on, and a lever long enough, and I will move the earth." To which he was challenged to prove it.

In one story, he was tasked with launching Syracuse's largest ship. Archimedes is said to have accepted the task and utilized a massive lever mechanism along with a series of pulleys to launch the newly-constructed ship. 

Although Archimedes was not the first to conceive of a lever mechanism, he accurately described the underlying physics and explained the ratios of force, load, and how the fulcrum point interacted with a lever's capability. 

Geometry of shapes

The Roman historian Plutarch wrote that Archimedes did not hold his mechanical inventions in high regard. Instead, he was much prouder of his proofs and theories in physics and mathematics. The great engineer is credited with proving that the area of a circle is equal to π multiplied by the square of the circle's radius. He also proved that the area enclosed by a parabola and a straight line is 4/3 times the area of a corresponding inscribed triangle.

As you can probably tell from this brief list, though, the inventor had a significant hand in elucidating early physics, mathematics, mechanical design, and even art. He was arguably the most extraordinary polymath ever to live and rightfully deserves his place in the history books. 

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