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Germany’s top ten tech inventions

Ben Knight · 9 Sep 2011, 07:05

Published: 09 Sep 2011 07:05 GMT+02:00

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Everyone’s favourite superpower was discovered by chance in 1895 in Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s laboratory at the University of Würzburg. The new part of the light spectrum was named simply Röntgen for several decades, a name that has stuck in several languages, including German, to this day.

But in his earliest paper on the subject, Röntgen himself gave his discovery the mysterious, spy-filmesque appellation “X” because he did not know what he had found. Röntgen was not slow to see the medical application of the strange shadows showing up on his photographic plates, and the picture he made of his wife’s hand – complete with wedding ring - is believed to be the first ever X-ray. When she saw the picture, Mrs. Röntgen reportedly exclaimed, “I have seen my death!”

Jet engine

This one might not do much for Germany’s environmental credentials, but the next time you go on holiday, you should thank the Germans that you aren’t wobbling through the lower atmosphere in a crate attached to a wheezing propeller. As with many major inventions, the development of the jet stretches over many decades (even centuries) and countries, but Hans van Ohain has one of the best claims.

The German engineer began his own design for a jet engine in 1935. The idea took off – literally – when he met aircraft industrialist Ernst Heinkel, who immediately saw the potential. A series of prototypes reached their climax with a petrol-fuelled engine attached to a simple plane - the He 178, which had its maiden flight in the northeastern coastal town of Rostock in August 1939.


If you don’t count steam-powered contraptions made in the 18th century France, the origin of the car is as German as sausages, sauerkraut and sandals. It was Nikolaus August Otto who first invented an internal combustion engine that could burn petrol in an internal piston chamber and he did it in 1876 in Cologne. The only catch was he meant it to stay in one place.

It took several other German geniuses to put Otto’s four-stroke marvel on wheels. The most notable of these were Karl Benz in Mannheim (1886) and Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart (1889). This has also not proven the most environmentally friendly of inventions. Perhaps the recent nuclear power shutdown was a delayed German guilt effect?


It took a long time for the prosthetic leg to develop beyond the Long John Silver solution, but in 1997 the Lower Saxony-based Otto Bock HealthCare company gave the world’s pirate population the first completely microprocessor-controlled knee joint they had ever seen. Since then the computer-controlled leg has facilitated the lives of countless amputees.

The Otto Bock company says the leg needs around two months to adjust to a user’s unique gait, and it can allow different walking speeds. Sensors process information 50 times per second, adapting control to every situation. It also allows amputees to walk downstairs step over step, rather than one step at a time. C-legs have also been developed for amputations above and below the knee.


While the German influence on pop music itself is limited to a few timeless songs about balloons and satellites, the influence on the music market has now become impossible to calculate. That’s thanks to the development in the late 1980s and early 1990s of the music compression technique that became known as MP3.

An MP3 file reduces the data volume of an audio file to one twelfth of its original size (don’t ask us how), so the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach can now be lost down the back of the sofa along with that pack of gum and your foreign coins. The MP3 was invented by the Fraunhofer research institute, which has become an immense European-wide hive of innovation and application-based inventions.


That’s right, the computer is a German invention. As The Local reported in April last year, the first computer was built in the living room of one Konrad Zuse in 1936. His “Z1” is now acknowledged as the first programme-controlled digital computer. It was the size of a double bed and his wife had a hell of a time cleaning underneath it. Okay, we may have made that last bit up.

Zuse also went on to devise the first ever programming language in the 1940s, and many modern mathematicians regard him as a pioneering genius. Part of the reason you’ve never heard of him is that he failed to find commercial success. Hardly anyone in post-war West Germany recognized the potential of Zuse’s creations, and he failed to get investors to help with the enormous development costs. His company Zuse KG, founded in the state of Hesse, was soon overtaken by giants IBM and Siemens, who bought him out in 1967.


Now that we all spend approximately 60 percent of our lives ruining our eyes staring at them, it’s pleasing to know that liquid crystals were first discovered in cholesterol extracted from carrots. This was done by Austrian chemist Friedrich Richard Reinitzer in 1888, but the father of liquid crystal technology is now universally acknowledged as Otto Lehman from Karlsruhe in western Germany.

The main reason for this is that Lehman apparently had a better microscope than Reinitzer, who actually wrote to the German to get him to check what he thought he had found. Lehman’s microscope was equipped for study crystals at high temperatures, and after years of study, Lehman published his paper “Liquid Crystals” in Leipzig in 1904. Reinitzer went back to studying vegetables.

Tape recorder

Fritz Pfleumer (born in Salzburg, but of a German mother) not only created the first audio recording tape, he created the first mix-tape - in Dresden in 1927. In one of the earliest demonstrations of this odd band of very thin paper covered with iron oxide powder, Pfleumer demonstrated that the tape could be cut and re-aligned, so every teenager could finally release his or her inner DJ.

He built the first actual tape recorder a year later, though the hardware was a little unwieldy – you needed 900 metres of tape for one hour of sound. Frankfurt-based electrical corporation AEG bought the rights from Pfleumer in 1932, and quickly developed the first practical tape recorder.

Story continues below…

Some German inventions have not quite had the same game-changing effect, however:

Aqua Scooter

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, but in some cases it’s the mother, father and most of the ancestry. In 1967, 27-year-old Bernd Böttger had had enough of communist East Germany, and decided he was going to escape, via the Baltic Sea. So he invented the Aqua Scooter – essentially a motorized swimming aid that pulls you through the water. An acquaintance betrayed him to the state security forces, however, and Böttger arrived at the beach on his planned escape night to find Stasi officers waiting for him.

After eight months in prison, he built the Aqua Scooter mark two, an upgraded, quieter model, which succeeded in getting him out of the country. His invention was then developed together with the ILO company and became a worldwide trademark. Böttger sadly died in mysterious circumstances while diving in 1972. The Aqua Scooter lives on, though - its two horsepower engine reaches speeds of five miles per hour, and is used by divers and very lazy swimmers everywhere.

Spray-on condom

Sick of the bother of accidentally buying the wrong size, or having to fiddle around trying to find the right side of that old-fashioned condom? Then simply insert the penis into a special chamber, and allow special nozzles to apply a special fast-drying latex liquid. The process only takes about a minute – only €15 - €25 for the start-up kit. Sounds like a great idea, right?

No, we don’t think so either, and nor did most German consumers, which is why this brilliant 2006 invention by Jan Vinzenz Krause of the Institute for Condom Consultancy never quite rose to the occasion. Market tests found that men were unwilling to insert their penises into the chamber, and were put off by the high-pitched hissing noises that the nozzles made. Strange that.

Ben Knight (ben.knight@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:10 September 9, 2011 by E-Penguin
Charles Babbage invented the computer in 1835 (although didn't manage to build it), and Lady Ada Lovelace wrote the first programs for it.
10:17 September 9, 2011 by storymann
The first computer was by Zuse? That is debatable to say the least.

It was the English Man Charles Babbage when I went to school.I did find this .

Konrad Zuse, in Germany, quite independently designed mechanical and electromechanical calculators, before and during the war. He didn't use electronics. He still had a program on a paper tape: his machines were still developments of Babbage-like ideas. But he did see the importance of programming and can be credited with a kind of programming language, Plankalkül. It is not difficult to believe that with greater support, he would have gone far ahead with the theory and practice of computing.
11:01 September 9, 2011 by freechoice
MP3 is one my favourite German inventions!! God Bless Germany!
11:09 September 9, 2011 by raandy
Yes, Mp3 was a great invention,sure beats carrying all those media products around not to mention the ease of downloading,,,Thanks Germany
11:39 September 9, 2011 by jg.
Jet engine - patented by Frank Whittle in January 1930.
12:12 September 9, 2011 by ChrisRea
Yes, Whittle and van Ohain had similar ideas. The main difference is that von Ohain actually put them in practice, with the help of Ernst Heinkel.

However, the first jet was build by the Romanian Henri Coanda and was shown at the Second International Aeronautical Exhibition in Paris in October 1910.
12:43 September 9, 2011 by Celeon
Some of the claims are indeed debatble.

These would have been better choices :

First real helicopter

Focke Achgelis Fw61, shown to the public in Berlin in 1935 (Flown by a woman !)


Gottlieb Daimler not just participated in the invention of the very first combustion engine car, he also built the first petroleum engine powered motorcycle.

Diesel engine

Invented by Rudolf Diesel in 1893


It revolutionized modern medicine. First isolated in 1804 by Friedrich Sertürner

Mass book printing

Johannes Gutenberg around 1440

Protestantism. It changed christianity forever

Founded by Martin Luther in the 16th century. (An important american human rights activist was named after him)

Quantum Mechanics

Werner Heisenberg, 1925

And few inventions which certainly have not made the world better but whichs impact was big enough to mentioned.

Modern flamethrower

Invented and patented by Richard Fiedler in 1901, (He was a firefighter !)

Submachine gun

Invented by Theodor Bergmann und Hugo Schmeisser for trench warfare in 1917

Nerve gas

Accidently discovered by Gerhard Schrader in 1939 while searching for a more potent insecticide.

First controlled and observed nuclear fission

Performed by Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann in Berlin 1934
13:09 September 9, 2011 by jbaker
And I thought these inventions were created thousands of years ago by Aliens? Just can not remember if the Aliens were the other country type or outerspace type?
14:55 September 9, 2011 by michael4096
All kids are taught their country's inventions - and they're all the same things. It's just a often just question of how you define the thing invented. Take the computer...

- programmable, mechanical - Babbage

- programmable, electro-mechanical - Zuse

- programmable, electronic - Flowers (Colossus, Bletchley Park)

- general purpose, programmable, electronic - Manchester Uni & Turing

- general purpose, programmable, electronic with program stored in memory (ENIAC, UPenn.)

Now, guess how the US defines a 'computer'...
19:18 September 9, 2011 by finanzdoktor
Think I'll just stick to sausage and sauerkraut. Just kidding.
19:21 September 9, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
The Brits here will have a hard time swallowing that the Jet Engine was invented by a German. Some might claim that a Brit was the first. But, facts are facts. The Germans were the first in all stages of planning - it was invented, engineered, built, and operational before any others. Von Ohain's engine was hydrogen fueled - Whittle's was liquid-fueled and had many complications - chiefly, that the engine would not shut off until all the fuel had burned! Both the British and the Germans developed it the same year, but the von Ohain succeeded where Whittle failed - an operational jet engine. If you can't make an invention work, why should you be credited with it's creation? Edison is given credit for inventing electricity, and Bell is known as inventing the telephone - but many others were attempting to create it around the same time - but failed.
19:55 September 9, 2011 by reallybigdog
Don't forget the US space program is a direct result of the Germans as well.
20:22 September 9, 2011 by Alofat
Don't forget the undebatable greatest invention of all time, the coffee filter, thank you Melitta Bentz.
22:00 September 9, 2011 by catjones
germans also invented the inferiority complex.
22:27 September 9, 2011 by Ebolter
Let us not forget to add Meth to the list, another great German product...
00:31 September 10, 2011 by Logic Guy
Well, the Germans are certainly some of the world's most talented people. Be it art, sports or technology, Germans have clearly been given many gifts, and therefore they should be grateful and thank God.

The only thing that is missing is Spiritual Intelligence.

Sure, a person can accomplish wonderful things with natural intelligence. However, in order to reach the zenith, we must expose ourselves to the infinite qualities of the Universe.
02:25 September 10, 2011 by reallybigdog
@logic guy

Such an unintelligent schmuck!
06:04 September 10, 2011 by hardly
Especially in the last 100 years, It is generally ignorant to identify discovery as if by some lone 'genius' inventor in an isolated laboratory. It is also problematic to associate innovation and discovery by an 'exceptional' nation. Science, technology, culture operate in processes of exchange and dialogue shared, altered, and corrected upon. To develop an accurate genealogy of discovery and innovation, we should relinquish the myth of one 'author' credited with inventions or technological advances.

Above it was mentioned that US space program could be credited to Germans. Von Braun offered exceptional responsibility to Jack Parsons at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California for the U.S. Space Program, but it is clear that the JPL developed upon the success and failures of others (Germans, Hungarians, Americans, etc.). Parsons and his colleagues failed many times before developing adequate jet fuels.

In response to the statement of Jack Kerouac

"If you can't make an invention work, why should you be credited with it's creation? ", your notion goes against fundamentals of scientific inquiry as well as any other intellectual pursuit. This notion betrays the fabulous sketches and designs from Leonardo Da Vinci among others. If the technology is not present in one's era, but the intellect and imagination can conceive of innovation then it ought to be credited. Otherwise only technicians and engineer receive credit, not the preceding imaginative developers and intellectuals.

I do appreciate the inclusions of the Diesel Engine and the Gutenberg Press. Far more interesting and important than the Spray on Condom and the Aqua Scooter.

Not to be too critical of the tape recorder nor MP3, both seem less significant compared to Celeon' s list.
06:54 September 10, 2011 by Anumakonda
Excellent post. Yes. Germany is known for great inventions.

Here are some famous inventions from Germany:

Here are some famous inventions from Germany:


X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen (1845-1923). Roentgen was a German physicist who described this new form of radiation that allowed him to photograph objects that were hidden behind opaque shields. He even photographed part of his own skeleton.


The earliest motorcycle was a coal-powered, two-cylinder, steam-driven motorcycle that was developed in 1867 by the American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper. A gas-powered motorcycle was invented by the German inventor Gottlieb Daimler in 1885. Refracting Telescope

Hans Lippershey (1570-1619) was a German-born Dutch lens maker who demonstrated the first refracting telescope in 1608, made from two lenses; he applied for a patent for this optical refracting telescope (using 2 lenses) in 1608, intending it for use as a military device. A refracting telescope uses two lenses to magnify what is viewed; the large primary lens does most of the magnification.

Printing Press with movable type

Johannes Gutenberg (the 1300's-1468) was a German craftsman, inventor, and printer who invented the first printing press with movable type in 1450. This invention revolutionized printing, making it simpler and more affordable.


Martin Behaim (1459-1537) was a German mapmaker, navigator, and merchant who made the earliest globe, called the "Nürnberg Terrestrial Globe". It was made during the years 1490-1492; the painter Georg Glockendon helped in the project.


The Geiger counter (sometimes called the Geiger-Muller counter) is a device that detects ionizing radioactivity (including gamma rays and X-rays) - it counts the radioactive particle that pass through the device. The German nuclear physicist Hans Wilhelm Geiger (Sept. 30, 1882- Sept. 24, 1945) developed the device from 1908-12.

Kinder Garden

Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (also written Fröbel) (1782-1852) was a German educator and educational reformer who invented the kindergarten (which means "garden of children"). He opened the first kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg (near Keilhau) in 1837. Froebel founded a kindergarten training school at Liebenstein, Germany in 1849.


Contact lenses were invented and made in 1887 by the German physiologist Adolf Eugen Fick (1829-1901). He first fitted animals with the lenses, and later made them for people. These lenses were made from heavy brown glass and were 18-21mm in diameter. The lenses were improved by August Muller in 1889; he made lenses that corrected myopia (nearsightedness).


In 1816, Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, of Germany, invented a model with a steering bar attached to the front wheel, which he called a Draisienne.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nelloree(AP),India

E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com
07:24 September 10, 2011 by Eric Best
Wasn't aspirin invented by a German?
08:18 September 10, 2011 by Shirazz
With all the headache-ble debates here, I would think so, Eric Best... :-/
12:49 September 11, 2011 by Englishted
@Eric Best

Yes cause and effect, at work.
09:52 September 14, 2011 by IYWMTS
@ catjones:

Better an "inferiority complex" and actually being superior than an "superiority complex" and actually being inferior... ;-)
18:53 September 16, 2011 by bbarryb
What about the linotype? It was invented by Stuttgart-born American Ottmar

Merganthaler in 1872. Thomas Edison called it the "8th Wonder of the World."
16:21 September 18, 2011 by dashark
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
23:04 September 18, 2011 by zingaro_mom
I always found this an amusing saying about Germans:

"Give them a shovel and they will dig a ditch. Give them a gun and they will start a war."

Didn't they invent the Gas Chamber as well? I did not see that one listed.
18:29 September 23, 2011 by Whipmanager
Comment: I wonder, this article was great and yet soem found a way to turn info into evil rant...superiority? Inferiority? Give credit where it is due. I didn't like the spray on Condom, the chamber was too small and after I made it bigger, I ran out of Latex to spray on.....
05:19 December 21, 2012 by jessieluv
Look\ at the jealous people making negative comments.

Like it or not, Between Germany, France, & Britain (Mostly Scotland, the English like to take credit for Scottish inventions a lot, but the Scottish WERE the real inventive Brits while the English just milked them, the British empire also had a lot to do with the Scots, the best engineers in the industrial revolution were infact Scottish and not English) but as i was saying. Like it or not Germany, France, & Britain drawf the contributions from any other nation in the world. Its in the book of Human acomplishment. from the 1400s to the present over 90% of inventions came from Germany, France, & Britain get over it.

Today Germany is still the number 1 nation in Europe with the highest scientific output. Also for people listing Charles babbage for the computer uhm.

Maybe you should actually READ what Konrad Zuse Z3 Machine did.

"The Z3 was an electromechanical computer designed by Konrad Zuse. It was the world's first working programmable, fully automatic computing machine. It was Turing-complete, at least in theory (see below), and by modern standards the Z3 was one of the first machines that could be considered a complete computing machine."

The Germans made the FIRST computer that would be consider a fully functional computer. Babbage didn't even design a computer. What babbage did was make the first mechanical computer NOT the electronic one.

Gah, leave it to Anglos to try and take every spotlight off of anyone else when its not showing on them. You guys do love claiming, and stealing everything huh? It also makes me lol how you guys take so much pride in your so called "Anglo Saxon" heritage. You do know Angles & Saxons were not native to your land right? They were Germans.
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