Leonardo de Vinci was a genius born before his time. He had a way of seeing everything connected rather than as different fields of science that enabled him to conceive of miraculous and wonderful inventions. Most of his ideas were written down and collected by him in notebooks. With over thirteen thousand pages in his lifetime, there are still notes and diagrams that we have yet to study. Here are but a few of the wondrous imaginings come true, all of which can be found in detail scattered throughout his notes. In this list we take a look at some of his most recognized inventions and developments.
Leonardo's Viola Organista was an experimental instrument of unique design. It embraces the concepts of both the organ and the violin. Just as one would strike a key in a piano or organ causing a string to be struck, vibrating a sound or musical note, or draw a bow over a violin's string to scratch out a tone, so combined the viola organista these two concepts. You would strike a key causing the string to be pushed against a moving bow. Leonardo never actually built the instrument so the world had to wait for nearly a century to hear it in principal. The German instrument inventor Hans Haiden made a similar device in 1575. Composer/Conductor Roger Kamien put together an appreciation CD using the instrument, called a Geigenwerk, using Mozart's Symphony # 40.
Maps and the art of map making have been around as early as the 7th Millennium BCE (Before Common Era) if you can loosely apply the word to wall paintings. The oldest surviving maps are the Babylonian World Maps of the 9th century BCE. However, while maps had been around before Leonardo da Vinci, they were so rare that when he presented a map to Cesare Borgia, of his stronghold, it made a tremendous impression. So much so that Borgia hired him on the spot as his chief military engineer architect. The fact that Leonardo was able to create a map with such detail was amazing. He would literally walk the area off personally using his sharp mind to retain and transfer the terrain to canvas. He advanced the art of map-making more in two years than it has ever advanced before or since.
The next time you see a fire engine come roaring down your street, think of Leonardo de Vinci. His design of the wall-scaling ladder was adapted for the ladders that firefighters use to save lives today. His version was built to enable invading armies scale the outside walls of castle strongholds easier and quicker. It allowed for adjustable heights and transported easily. Like much of de Vinci's work, it was not built until many years after his death.
Can you imagine how Leonardo de Vinci would have reacted if he were to come back for one day? What would he think about today's world and the many wonderful advances we have made? What would he think about the helicopter? It was he who designed the first one, after all. He took the idea from a Chinese toy that used a screw and spiral to achieve lift. His design also incorporated his observations of the spiral in nature, such as the seeds that fall from the sycamore tree. His design was used in the first helicopter invented by the Frenchman, Gustave de Ponton d' Amecourt. It was powered by steam. It’s also said that Igor Sikorsky was shown Leonardo's work and this inspired him to further study the field of the helicopter, the same field in which he became a world leader.
De Vinci knew that his genius at advanced warfare would put his designs at risk so he designed the gears in his blueprint notes backwards just in case they were stolen. This would prevent them from being used should they fall into the wrong hands. His tank was an ingenious design that could be used to break the enemy's lines. Four men inside a turtle like shell could attack ground forces relatively safely by turning cranks inside to propel them into battle. The world's first armored assault vehicle, or tank, is conceived.
With his love and fancies of flying, it is not surprising that his genius should produce the first ever plane design capable of actual flight. Had he actually built the glider and then made it work, there would have been flying machines a lot sooner in history than the Wright brother's success at Kitty Hawk. Much sooner, in fact, than perhaps humanity could have handled. It would certainly have changed events in battles and wars that could have led to a much different world than today. Like many of his most precious designs, he left out and even altered certain aspects so that no one could take his notes and produce the results without being intelligent enough to make the necessary modifications and additions. Perhaps we were lucky that his notes disappeared for so long a period after his death.
Leonardo de Vinci designed the automobile. With it, he created what could be considered the first mechanical computer, designed to plot the automobile's course. The automobile was designed to work like a modern toy car, in which it needs to be pushed back to coil the springs. Once released the vehicle would follow a preset direction determined by the arrangement of its springs and gears. He envisioned with such amazing clarity the future of travel and his drawings were so clearly detailed that in modern times his work was recreated and it worked exactly as planned. That is quite an amazing feat for someone born in the 14th century.
Long before Franz Reichelt plummeted to his gory death in 1912 testing the first parachute, (See the Top 10 Historical Bizarre Deaths) Leonardo De Vinci developed on paper the first parachute. While there is evidence of other designs prior to de Vinci's, his was tested in 2000 and was found to be more effective than modern day parachutes that have a hole in the center, which is believed to aide in maneuverability. Leonardo knew more about the workings of things in theory than are incorporated in many practical applications that exist today. Of course, to Leonardo de Vinci, the parachute was more of a means to flying than to stop one from falling.
Hiram Maxim invented the machine gun in 1914. Before him, Mr. Gatling in 1862 produced a rapid-fire gun aptly named the Gatling gun. While these two gentlemen bask in the glory, the very first machine gun was designed by Leonardo de Vinci 400 years earlier. Its design was simple and yet unique to its time. Back then, you almost had to have a reload time in order for the barrel of a gun to cool off enough to be used again. De Vinci stacked three tiers of eleven barrels in a row, on top of each other. You would load all 33 barrels and fire them one row at a time. When you fired the second tier, you would load the first. Then you would fire the third row and load the second. In this way, you always had one row ready to fire, one row ready to load, and one row cooling. It is important to note here that while Leonardo was a genius at advanced warfare, he was not necessarily ruthless or bloodthirsty. He looked upon it as patriotism and job security.
In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci created an actual robot man, which was named Codex Huygens in 1950. This surprising construct could stand and sit, walk, open and close its mouth, move its head from side to side and raise its arms. Leonardo built it using the German Italian armor style of the times. What makes this invention so incredible today is the detail of the wrist structure in Leonardo's notes. NASA's robotics team had hit a wall when developing a robot that could man a Mars station when humans could not. Without the full range of wrist movements of a human, the robot would not be able to perform many of the functions required and NASA could not come up with a design that actually worked until they found and followed his notes, which were strewn throughout his work in no particular order and mixed in with other inventions.
By all accounts, Leonardo de Vinci was a man who was born well before his time. His notes have either inspired the making of many wonderful creations or foretold the future. Either way, the world will not likely see the likes of him again.