Many of Da Vinci’s Inventions Went Unrealized In His Day
By Synthia Durrant
In 1452, the year of Leonardo da Vinci’s birth, there were no flush toilettes, no thermometers, no combustion or even steam engines, the sextant had not yet been invented, there were no iron bridges, and Isaac Newton had not yet formulated his theory of gravity (1).
But, the world had da Vinci.
Galileo had not yet perfected his formula for measuring time, but da Vinci produced mechanical engineering inventions that were marvels of their day. He designed tanks, catapults and submarines. He invented screw-cranes for lifting heavy objects and hydraulic lifts to raise water from one floor up to another. Many of da Vinci’s ideas were so advanced that they outpaced even the most advanced technology available in his day (2). In the case of da Vinci’s Double Hulled Boat, he literally invented the technology of his day. It was as if he had his own personal muse.
At the time of his death in 1519, da Vinci left over 6000 pages of journal entries, sketches, and notes to his friends and students. Most of his work, however, was kept hidden during his own lifetime for a variety of reasons (3). At that time, accusations of heresy were always a worry especially regarding human biology and physics (4)(5). The punishment for religious heresy could be imprisonment or even death. Also, there was no patent law, and da Vinci feared his work would be stolen or plagiarized. Others were part of a design a patron had requested, but had never funded.
An unintended consequence of this air of secrecy was that during his own era, many of da Vinci’s ideas never saw the light of day. Considering the impact da Vinci did make to fine art, science, and engineering that is really saying something.
Various concept drawings of da Vinci’s inventions laid untouched through the centuries only to be “reinvented” by other people hundreds of years later. Other sketches were, unfortunately, lost; destroyed by the ravages of time. There is no telling how many of his ideas might have impacted the modern age if he had been able to release them to the public while he still lived.
One of da Vinci’s “hidden” ideas that was reinvented by other people hundreds of years later is the underwater diving suit. Even in 1508, da Vinci’s underwater diving suit came complete with pressurized air. How, might you ask? He also created a manual pump that could be work from the surface to send air to the person below the water…in 1508.
Leonardo da Vinci designed his “Underwater Breathing Apparatus” in 1508 to allow people to work underwater, ostensibly to sabotage enemy boats! A way to allow people to breath underwater had to be “reinvented” in the 1800’s because da Vinci never actually built the apparatus. It is believed this is because the patron who had inquired about the need to have men breath and work underwater eventually decided he didn’t need it anymore, so the job was cancelled (6).
The Underwater Breathing Apparatus included a continual supply of pressurized air to allow a person to work under water. Imagine how far ahead scuba diving might have become if da Vinci had actually built the apparatus in 1508!
Charles and John Deane of England “reinvented” the first patented “Diving Helmet” in 1828 in England. What is really fascinating is that Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches and drawings are extraordinarily similar to the diving helmet and suit invented by the Deane siblings over 300 years later (7)(8).
While many of da Vinci’s sketches were developed and put into use during his lifetime, others lay quietly moldering away in his personal collection. These ideas would eventually have their day as other inventors, through the zeitgeist of their time, invented them again. But, da Vinci’s ideas superseded the technology of his day with what seems divine inspiration.
This otherworldly nature is the fact and the mystery of Leonardo da Vinci. You will enjoy marveling at the genius of the Master when you view Da Vinci Machines & Robotics Exhibition, available at Las Vegas Natural History Museum through September 10, 2022.
Photos not cited were taken by the author.