Friday Five… Ancient Origins of Everyday Things

Sports Bra

Now, we all know who invented the light bulb, the telephone and the flushing toilet (or we think we do anyway…) But there are some seriously important everyday inventions whose creators remain unknown to most.

Here are five whose ancient origins we think deserve a lot more appreciation…

1. Sports Bra

An apodesmos was a band of cloth which was bound tightly around the chest by ancient Greek women when practising sport. What’s more it was versatile. Simply tie underneath the bust to transform into a push up Wonderbra. Now that’s what we call an invention!

2. Royal Mail

The first postal service in the world was created in Ancient Assyria, probably sometime in the 9th century BC. Greek historian Xenophon wrote about mail in the days of Cyrus the Great when mules were used to carry letters back and forth by couriers. Some letters were even accompanied by voice messengers to make sure the tone of the letter was properly understood (so that’s where J.K. Rowling got the idea of Howlers from!)

3. Breath Mints

Frankincense, cinnamon and various other ingredients were mixed together, boiled in honey then shaped by the Ancient Egyptians to create breath freshening sweets.  Ok, so it’s true they’re not really mints given the significant lack of mint, and the combination of so many ingredients possibly smelt as bad as the breath itself, but it’s a start.

4. Door Lock

We also have the Ancient Egyptians to thank for this one. The earliest lock dates from at least 2000 BC and the pin tumbler style is still the most common in use today. The main difference was that the Egyptians keys were nearly a foot long… well at least it would be harder to lose on a night out.

5. Vending Machine

Ahh vending machines… Satisfying our daily cravings for all the things we know we really shouldn’t be eating. But you’d be pretty disappointed if you tried the machine invented by Hero of Alexandria. You pay your five-drachma coin and out comes… holy sacrificial water! Apparently people were taking more holy water than they had paid for. Hence the invention of the first vendor, a box with a slot on the top to drop a coin into. The coin hits a metal lever, which moves the plug away from the holy water dispenser. Once the coin falls, the stream is cut off. Ingenious!

And closer to home… Check out Five Victorian Inventions we just can’t live without…

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Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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