The 20 most important tools ever

Here is the Forbes list.  Only hand-wielded tools count, so the knife is number one and the abacus is number two.  Number twenty is the chisel, leave further suggestions in the comments.  It is not politically correct to wonder about "the whip," but how would it fare on a pure utilitarian calculus, realizing of course it gets animals to do the work?  Maybe "the stone" is not sufficiently handmade, but how else did they cut umbilical cords?

Thanks to Eric and Kathleen for the pointers.


Hmm. I would have included some fire-making tool, such as a flint shard or "bow and arrow" friction burner.

I wonder why money wasn't on the list. After some point, the blacksmith has enough beef. Or bread. Or whatever. A contract is helpful, too.

If they used a rock to sever the umbilical cord, then that rock was just a kinfe of very low quality.

How about the zipper? Would that count? I've always thought it was an underrated invention.

Pot is number one, not 16. How do you cook anything or drink anything without a pot? Give me a choice between a pot and an abacus or a rifle and I'm going for a pot.

How about a sling for carrying your baby while keeping your hands free. That's got to be one of the all-time great inventions, in the sense that a large fraction of the adult population suddenly has hands again, and can gather food, swat bugs, gesture, pick through thorns, etc.

A "tarp" is useful.


Pottery/ Potter's Wheel. They list the pot, which is used in cooking, but pottery for storage enabled a lot of early agriculture and trade.

Bow and Arrow, as previously mentioned.

The Plow.

The Loom.

The Hammer.

on chisels:

13] Lewis continues his discussion, reasoning that "we're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect."

Assorted weapons, but not the stirrup? Made the horse an effective weapons platform. How much of world history changes if there was no cavalry?

Wrench/nut? Screwdriver/screw?

I recall the old Connections TV show with James Burke made a excellent case for the plow.

Outside Japan, agriculture ALWAYS preceded pottery. Top twenty, yes. Top? No. Note that you don't need a pottery wheel to make pottery. It is just a whole lot easier. Probably top twenty.

That makes the hoe-stick, and the morter & pestle (sp) the physical foundations of civilization--and both are still in use.

No mention of a quill or scribe?

The telescope was far, far, more important to everyday use in commerce and war before radio and GPS. I would probably still prefer the uscope, though.

@ Nathan Zook:

We also grouped together similar tools to reduce the size of the list--the pencil is a stand in for pens, quills, and brushes.

One decent Swiss army knife or Leatherman covers most of these 20!

How about a magnifying glass? could start a fire, be used for a microscope
or a telescope.

Mirror? or maybe that's not considered a tool.

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