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Leonardo da Vinci is most famous for his paintings including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, and he also he embodied the idea of the Renaissance Man through his forward thinking, curiosity, and imagination. As well as being a painter, da Vinci was an inventor, sculptor, mathematician, musician, geologist, botanist, and writer. Here are some of Leonardo da Vinci’s most well-known and impressive inventions:
What he called the aerial screw or helical air screw translates into today’s helicopter. He never actually built and tested it, but his drawing and notes state exactly how to build and use it. The helicopter was made from reed, linen, and wire. It was to be powered by four men standing on a central platform turning cranks to rotate the shaft. His notes next to its drawing say, “If this instrument made with a screw be well made – that is to say, made of linen of which the pores are stopped up with starch and be turned swiftly, the said screw will make its spiral in the air and it will rise high.”
The anemometer is a device to measure the speed of wind. It was invented by Leon Batista in 1450, and da Vinci made variations in Batista’s design somewhere between 1483 and 1486 to make it easier to use. He hoped that with easier knowledge of the direction and speed of wind, flight could be more likely.
Leonardo da Vinci thought of the parachute a few hundred years prior to the parachute’s credited inventor, Sebastien Lenormand. His sketch of the parachute had the following description: “If a man have a tent made of linen of which the apertures (openings) have all been stopped up, and it be twelve breccia (about 23 feet) across and twelve in-depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury.” In 2000, a prototype was constructed of da Vinci’s design and tested by Adrian Nichols. The design worked as intended, and Nichols noted that it had a smoother ride than the modern parachute.
Da Vinci believed the problem with cannons of the 15th century was that they took too long to load. His solution was to build multi-barreled guns. His 33-barreled organ was 33 small-caliber guns connected together and divided into rows of 11 guns each. The idea was that the first row of 11 would be fired during battle, then the platform would be rotated to aim the next row of cannons. So while one set was being fired, another would be cooling while a third was being loaded.
The modern day tank was preceded by Leonardo da Vinci’s armored car. It was capable of moving in any direction and had multiple cannons arranged on a platform with wheels. The platform was then covered by a large protective cover and reinforced with metal plates. The machine was powered by eight men who constantly turned cranks by move the car forward. There was a major flaw in its design, however: the cranks went in opposite directions, making forward motion impossible. Some scholars say that da Vinci included this flaw purposefully to uphold his pacifist views and discourage war.
Da Vinci drew up prototypes for a giant crossbow, mainly meant for intimidation purposes. It was 27 yards across, had six wheels for mobility, and was made out of thin wood. Instead of firing arrows, it was designed to fire large stones or flaming bombs. His illustrations make it clear that the idea behind the crossbow was to terrify enemies into fleeing rather than fighting.
Triple barrel cannon.
Similar to the 33-barreled organ, the triple barrel cannon was designed to enable soldiers to load three shots at once to fire more frequently before reloading. It had a lighter weight than traditional cannons, and large wheels allowed it to be moved to different areas during battle.
A more accurate clock.
While clocks were becoming more and more accurate by the 15th century, it wasn’t until the invention of the pendulum in the 17th century that accuracy became standard. 200 years prior to that invention, da Vinci designed his era’s most accurate clock. He used springs instead of weights to operate his clock and had separate mechanisms for minutes and hours. The clock even had a dial for tracking moon phases.
Leonardo da Vinci designed a self-propelled cart capable of moving without being pushed long before motorized vehicles existed. It was powered by coiled springs, and also featured steering and brake capabilities. In 2006, Italy’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science built a working model based on da Vinci’s design. The cart worked, and some noted that it looked similar to the Mars Land Rover.
While working in Venice, or the “water city,” in 1500, da Vinci designed underwater gear for sneak attacks on enemy ships. It consisted of a leather diving suit with a bag-like mask that went over the diver’s head. Two cane tubes attached to the mask that led up to a cork diving bell floating on the surface.
His revolving bridge was designed to be quickly packed up and transported so armies on the move could pass over bodies of water. It would simply swing across a stream or moat and set down on the other side so soldiers could cross.