Discoveries inventions & advances of the 1700s

Updated April 17, 2017

There were numerous developments and changes across the world as the Renaissance ended and the 1700s began. The Scientific Revolution, for example, saw scientific thinking replace religion as the most credible explanation for phenomena in everyday life. The onset of the Industrial Revolution then brought immense changes to methods of production, particularly in agriculture. Consequently, the 1700s mark an exciting time in the history of discoveries, advances and inventions.


Daniel Fahrenheit, a German physicist, invented the first practical thermometers and had a temperature scale named after him. Fahrenheit first developed the alcohol thermometer in 1709 and then the mercury thermometer in 1714. With the mercury thermometer, Fahrenheit was able to use the boiling point of water instead of human temperature for the highest temperature reading. The invention of the thermometer was a major advance in the field of medicine as it enabled physicians to monitor the temperature of their patients.

Flush Toilet

A central feature of every modern bathroom, the flush toilet was developed by an English watchmaker, Alexander Cummings, in 1775. Cummings patented a valve that could be used to release water from a tank to carry off waste. Three years later, Joseph Bramah, a prolific British inventor, improved on Cummings' design with the development of the hydraulic press. With his addition of a hinged and levered arrangement, the tank could be operated with a pull chain that would be held down until the tank had emptied.

Cotton Gin

In 1793, Eli Whitney, an America inventor, introduced the cotton gin, a device which cleaned harvested cotton, making it ready to be spun and threaded. The cotton gin revolutionised the production of cotton in the United States, allowing a single worker to produce the same amount of seed-free cotton once produced by 50 workers. Aside from greatly increasing agricultural production, the cotton gin brought great wealth to southern states but also caused an expansion in the salve trade, as the demand for workers grew.

First Smallpox Vaccination

In 1796, British physician Edward Jenner developed a vaccine for smallpox, a potentially deadly disease that had plagued the world for centuries. Jenner became interested in reports that milkmaids who had been exposed to cowpox, a similar disease, appeared to be immune to smallpox. In May 1796, Jenner put this theory to the test and injected fluid from an open cowpox on the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid, and used it to inoculate a young boy, James Phipps. The experiment was a success and, by 1800, more than 100,000 people worldwide had been vaccinated. His pioneering work in smallpox led to his nickname as the father of immunology.

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About the Author

Kaye Jones has been a freelance writer since 2009, specializing in history, education and mental health. Her undergraduate dissertation was published by the Internet Journal of Criminology. Jones has a first-class honors Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Manchester.