Mankind has made so many strides in its short time of existence.
From language to computers, humans have become pioneers of communication and invention. And being on the brink of a new technological renaissance, our best days are still ahead of us.
Here were some of those answers.
Thank The PhoeniciansGiphy
Written word. Being able to transfer information from one generation to the next.
By extension: The printing press
Sure written word is good to get information in the hands of a few literate people who could then explain it to a few other people, but the printing press exponentially spread the information, so much that it would fundamentally shift entire societies and spread literacy to the masses.
I say this is the most important. We used to have to eat our food raw, which was fine, but our digestive systems have to work pretty hard to digest raw food. That's more energy being spent that could go towards development in our bodies. Fire allowed us to cook, making food more nutritious and easier to digest. This allowed our brains to grow and made us smarter. Fire also is necessary for metallurgy. I can't imagine advancing civilization much without metals.
Nom Nom Nom
Taking it one step further, Norman Borlaug's contributions to developing disease resistant strains of wheat have saved over 1 billion people from starvation. He's basically one of the main reasons we've been able to sustain population growth in developing countries since the 50s.
Love In The Time Of Cholera
Boiling water saves millions of lives
Boiling everything you drink is a real drag, and most premodern people didn't do it. You just drank from wells or springs and occasionally got sick. Your odds are actually quite good with well water, especially if it's deep. A lot of rural Americans still drink untreated well water.
The Romans piped in clean water from the countryside. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and NYC do this today.
The only people who regularly boiled water before drinking did so to brew tea. But they obviously didn't boil everything they drank--China and India had terrible cholera epidemics.
Do The Transist
The Transistor. The basis of most modern day electronics.
If humanitie's existence was a video game, inventing the transistor would be what gets you off the starter island.
People might not be aware, but we've made far greater technological progress since the invention of the transistor (~70 years ago), than we had made in the previous 200,000 years.
The needle. With it our ancestors were able to rapidly turn fur blankets into clothing and migrate out of Africa to colder climates.
Underrated comment, I hadn't thought about that. Though I'm sure the Out-of-Africa expansion took place with humans adapting to colder climates via wearing fur pelts and cloaks around themselves like we wear towels, you're right. Rope, cloth and so many manufactured materials and techniques have their origins via the humble needle.
The wheel. In one of my classes we actually talked about the 10 most important inventions in history and this was number one.
Inventing the wheel is actually difficult. The wheel is not any roundish disc; it has to have means to stay on the axis, turn freely around it, and not slide away. Harder than it looks, especially with primitive technology.
The Haber Process. Though farming I would say is more important, the Haber Process allowed the Human population to grow from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.7 billion. The guy which the process is named after also invented mustard gas and was a jerk in general.
Chugga Chugga Chugga
The steam engine, honestly.
There were some pretty nice inventions throughout history, but humanity's level of technological advancement was essentially capped and unable to progress for thousands of years. They'd make tiny little things here or there, even coming up with theoretical concepts for more advanced machines, but they were never practical to make or use.
Until steam power.
They had dinked around with it off and on since the 1st century AD but it never really got off the ground until around the time of the industrial revolution and the improvements made to it and mass production of the concept became a big deal. That period in history is when we went from essentially primitive people to transition into modern humans that use machine and technology for everything.
And even to this day we get lots of our power from steam turbines, they just happen to be in nuclear power plants now, but it's still steam power giving you the electricity to run all your other devices. Mostly anyway. Some places still use a lot of hydroelectric power, but still, steam engine is number 1 for me.
The torricelli vacuum tube. Literally just a pipe filled with mercury, flipped upside down into a bath of mercury. Creates a weak vacuum inside, and also (and completely unexpectedly at the time) allowed people to predict the weather by paying attention to the fluctuating levels.
That single invention created meteorology, radically altered physics and cosmology, upset age old philosophy, and was essential for our industrial revolution.