The next big thing

Around the year 1750, a French gunsmith, Honoré Blanc, thought about how it would be nice if guns had interchangeable parts.

Until that time, manufacturing standards didn’t exist. If you had to make a screw and a trigger for a gun, you machined it specifically to fit that gun. If a machine’s screw broke, you had to craft a new screw that was specific to that machine. Standard spares didn’t exist. One French gunsmith’s insight led to interchangeable machine parts that are so ubiquitous today.

People often claim new inventions to be ‘The greatest thing since sliced bread’. Since when did we start slicing bread? the 1500’s? The 1600’s perhaps? Sliced bread was first marketed in 1928. It was touted to be ‘the greatest step forward in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.’ As late as 1928? I was surprised too!

It’s staggering to think of how simpler inventions such as interchangeable machine parts and sliced bread came centuries after calculus. Both Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz independently conceived of calculus and its intricate mathematics in the latter half of the 17th century.

Innovation isn’t boring today because it has all been done before. Innovation will always be interesting because people have no idea what they want next.

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