The 13th most important tool

Via 37 Signals I see that Forbes has an interesting article called The 20 Most Important Tools Ever. In terms of human cultural development, cruise their list and see if you agree with the tools listed. I’d think a shovel would beat out the chisel and we never would have had metal working (for the rifle #7 et al) without the bellows used in the blacksmith’s forge. The hammer is also not on the list. Friends will be happy to note that the needle is 13th.

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7 comments

  1. Leave it to the “Manage By The Numbers” folks at Forbes and three academic geeks to rank the abacus as the second most important tool of all time. Obviously none of them think much about actually making stuff. Counting what the real people made is more important to them.

  2. Alison Cummins says:

    I was getting all hot under the collar about the neglect of the button – how far would our ancestors have gotten if they had to forage while carrying a child on one hip and clutching a skin garment over their shoulders with the other? – but before starting my rant I thought I would investigate further. The Forbes ranking actually collects “similar” tools under one representative tool. For instance, forks are collected under spoons. The button is mentioned, but it is subsumed under the needle along with the “other textile-related tools” the safety pin and the zipper. This makes sense in that in order to apply a button you need something needle-like to begin with. But never mind that a hide isn’t a textile, I would want to see these items up at the top, right after knife. Because without hands we can’t use these other tools and without clothes we can’t migrate out of very small pockets of favourable climate. At least, not any more quickly than evolution would let us develop physical adaptations to the other climates, which is not how humans work.

  3. Alison Cummins says:

    Um, that should be “carrying a child on the hip with one hand and clutching a skin garment over their shoulders with the other.” I personally don’t do much clutching with my hip-bones.

  4. Eric H says:

    They left out “the contract”. It certainly belongs in there before telescope, and it’s doubtful whether the rifle would have come into widespread use without it.

    The watch, or more particularly, the chronograph, is one of the most important devices ever invented. It allowed accurate and safe navigation of the seas, and allows us to coordinate complex activities (like rail travel). Nobody relaxed on ships or railroads before timekeeping was made accurate and standardized.

    I agree with Kathleen about the shovel, though.

  5. Marie-Christine says:

    Oh, don’t be silly – buttons basically came in force in the 18th century. OK, so we know the Greeks and Romans spent a fair amount of time naked, but give us a break, people had ways to hold their stuff on before. Belts, ties, metal pins, knotting, drawstrings.. Your imagination is the only limit.

  6. Buttons did not come into force in the 18th century. We know the Vikings used them at the necklines of tunics. 14th century fitted gowns and cotehardies fastened with multiple small round buttons, and the doublets of the 16th century were almost always fastened with them. It’s likely that they were used by prehistoric peoples in the form of toggles and loops, but since they would have been made of bone or wood, none have survived.

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