Amazing 15th-Century Inventions

Timeline of 15th century inventions

ThoughtCo / Jo Zixuan Xiuan

Most people know that Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type presses during the 15th century—in 1440 to be exact. That invention, which was possibly history's greatest, made the inexpensive printing of books possible. But many other important inventions were introduced during this century. Below are those that top the list.

Early 1400s: Golf, Music, and Painting

Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus would never have walked the links without the invention of the little white ball that they smacked incredible distances. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could never have composed his classic concertos without a piano. And, imagine the Renaissance without oil painting. Yet, these world changing inventions were created in the early 1400s. 

  • 1400: Golf is thought to have originated in a game played in Scotland as early as 1400. The balls were made of wood and didn't travel very far, but at least they represented a start. Indeed, golf was so entrenched in Scotland by midcentury that in 1457, King James II of Scotland issued a ban against playing the game.
    The earliest version of the piano, called a clavichord, came into existence this year, according to the website, Piano Play It. In 1420, the clavichord gave way to the harpsichord and leter the spinet, which looks more like the pianos used today.
  • 1411: Technically called the matchlock, the trigger—the basic firing mechanism for a rifle or gun—first appeared this year.
  • 1410: Oil paint, itself, was actually invented in Asia sometime before the fifth century, but oil painting techniques—like those used by such great artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo—were introduced this year by Jan van Eyck.
  • 1421: In Florence, Italy, hoisting gear was invented.
  • 1439/1440: Gutenberg invents the printing press.

Midcentury: Printing Press, and Glasses

You would not be reading this website if it were not for Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, upon which all modern typed material is based—including printed material on the web. And, many of you would not be able to read this page without glasses. The rifle also—sadly—advanced during this period.

  • 1450: Nicholas of Cusa created spectacles of polished lenses for nearsighted people.
  • 1455: Gutenberg introduced the printing press with metal movable type, marking a turning point in world history.
  • 1465: In Germany, drypoint engravings came into existence.
  • 1475: Muzzle-loaded rifles were invented in Italy and Germany.

Late 1400s: The Parachute, Flying Machines, and Whiskey

Many of the ideas and devices common in modern times came into existence in this time period. Some, like the parachute or flying machines, were merely drawings inked on a page by Da Vinci. Others, such as the globe, helped humans navigate the world, and whiskey became a popular drink in the U.S. and worldwide.

  • 1486: In Venice, the first known copyright was granted.
  • 1485: Da Vinci designed the first parachute.
  • 1487: Bell chimes were invented.
  • 1492: Da Vinci was the first to seriously theorize about flying machines.
    Martin Behaim invented the first map globe.
  • 1494: Whiskey was invented in Scotland.

Resources and Further Reading

Early Piano History.” Edited by Ashwati Franklin, Piano Play It, 2017.

Highfield, Roger. “Oil Painting 'Invented in Asia, Not Europe'.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 22 Apr. 2008.

The Matchlock.” The Encyclopedia of Weapons, 22 June 2011.

Oil Paint History.” Cyberlipid, Les Sites De GERLI.