“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock“. This famous quote by Orson Welles about Italian inventions, despite being more than a little unfair to the Swiss, paints a picture of Italian ingenuity that most of us still find flattering while at the same time finding it slightly irksome for reasons we can never quite put our finger on. They have probably something to do that we dislike the idea of needing terror and bloodshed to come up with great ideas. To be fair, Italian inventions that changed the world as we know it did emerge as a result of good old research and dedication and not just as desperate measures to cope with desperate times. In fact, <strongthere are several items that you might have come across in your life or that you use daily without realising that they are in fact Italian inventions. Spoiler: yes, the telephone too.
5 inventions you did not realise were Italian
1. The Pianoforte
The Italian contribution to music is overwhelmingly evident in many aspects. The language of music itself mostly employs Italian words that are accepted as universal. However, outside the circle of professional musicians – particularly classical ones – non many are aware that one of the inventions that changed the history of music and composition is actually Italian. We are referring of course to the Pianoforte, which is an evolution of an instrument invented in Florence by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the late XVII Century and originally called gravicembalo and successively rechristened fortepiano, before it was given its current name. Up until Cristofori perfected his invention, the harpsichord was the keyboard instrument on which the great composers of Europe had written and performed the immortal compositions for which they are still famed.
2. The Battery
Whenever you need to recharge your battery, whether literally or figuratively, you should spare a thought for Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the Voltaic Pile or, as you might know it, the battery. The voltaic pile was the first ever static electric generator and it was the foregoer of every little piece of equipment that currently keeps your phone, computer, remote, mp3 player and camera going. Nobel Prizes were not around in Volta’s time, but he was awarded a medal by Napoleon Bonaparte, which was not that different in terms of subsequent fame, although arguably less rewarding in monetary terms.
3. The Telephone
Yes, Antonio Meucci did invent that one. In 1849 the Florentine inventor first managed to transmit the sound of the human voice using electrical wires and he called his invention “the talking telegraph”, which he then changed to “telettrofono“. The posthumous dispute between him and Alexander Graham Bell on the paternity of the original invention went on for decades and it was finally settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2002, when Antonio Meucci was finally and officially credited with having registered the first ever patent for it. In 1871 he had registered a temporary patent, but had subsequently not been able to pay for its renewal, which allowed Bell to swipe in and claim the invention as his own. What Bell can still be credited with is the quote “I truly believe that one day there will be a telephone in every town in America“, which turned out to be one of the most hilarious understatements in the history of technology
4. The Radio
Guglielmo Marconi first managed to establish e long-distance connection between a transmitter and a receiver using radio waves in 1894. To be fair, his first transmission was not particularly impressive content-wise: its accomplishment consisted in the ringing of a bell. This was, however, the first – and by the standards of that time mind-bogglingly impressive – step towards one of the most relevant Italian inventions of modern times: the radio transmitter. In its earlier years, Marconi’s new technology was used primarily as a basis for the wireless telegraph, which was the pinnacle of communication technology at the time. It took Marconi a few more years to perfect his invention and establish proper radio communication between distant points, and his efforts won him a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909.
5. The Microchip
Although computers and programming itself is duly attributed to a variety of inventors (often underestimated in their own way, like Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing), not many are aware that it was an Italian scientist, Federico Faggin, who was responsible in 1970 for the invention of the modern microchip. Faggin moved to his native Vicenza to the USA, and in 1971 he was hired by Intel and put in charge of project Intel 4004, who gave the world the first working microprocessor. His invention was crucial to the progress of modern computer science, in that it led the way for the exponential reduction in the size of processors, which has allowed computers to evolve from towering machines that required entire rooms to themselves to pocket-sized or even thumb-sized devices that take seconds to perform tasks that would have required early computers weeks to carry out.