Italy is a breath-taking country. It evokes images of jovial families eating copious amounts of spaghetti and bars in piazzas serving espressos to fashionable customers.
Many stereotypes of the nation and its citizens are flattering, but some are less so. For example that gestures are part of every conversation or that the mafia lingers everywhere.
This article, however, shows that Italy and its image go beyond pizza and wine, as a number of important innovations have sprung up on its fertile soil and assisted in technological growth worldwide.
One of the most significant innovations in the last century was the work of one of the brightest minds Italy has ever had. Guglielmo Marconi, a scientist who won the 1909 Nobel Prize in physics along with Karl Ferdinand Braun, devised the radio. The two scientist received the reward for their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy. In 1901, Marconi sent and received the first transatlantic radio signal. Emergency naval communication was the first field of application of the disruptive technology. The RMS Titanic is the most striking example in this sense, when the ship communicated through the radio that was sinking.
Later on, the radio played an integral role in both world wars. During the first, the tool was dedicated mostly to military operations, and during the second, it was used to galvanize public opinion. Over the years, radios became the preferred means of communication for daily news and entertainment.
Nowadays, listening to the radio is obviously a rather antique form of technology, but there was a time before Netflix and Spotify where the radio was your main source for music, sports, game shows, and the like. In other words, your grandparents owe the Italiens one for many hours of good times.
The Vespa is a type of scooter that was first designed and patented by the aeronautic engineer Corradino D’Ascanio in 1946 and manufactured by Piaggio. The vehicle was the perfect product that Italians were seeking to fulfill their need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation. Since the beginning, the Vespa and its innovative design was a success. During the first year Piaggio sold 2,500 Vespas, over 10,000 in 1948, 20,000 in 1949 and over 60,000 in 1950. By the mid-1950s, the production of Vespas began under license in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and Spain, later followed by India, Brazil and Indonesia.
By the 1960s, people were crazy for the Vespa not only because of its utility, but because it symbolized freedom. Over the years, 34 different versions of the Vespa have hit the market. Nowadays, the Vespa is one of the most well-known Italian innovations and is a symbol of Italian design. You know the cliché of Italians driving Vespas everywhere? Yeah, that one is pretty accurate…
Around the year 1700, Bartolomeo Cristofori invented an acoustic, stringed musical instrument that he called “the pianoforte”. Today, the instrument is known simply as “the piano”. The story goes that the instrument did not find immediate success in Italy. Only after several years of struggle did Gottfried Silbermann, an organ builder, replicate the instrument in Germany. After various technical improvements, the instrument started to find a more interested market.
Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the early adopters of the piano, which started to be mass produced in Vienna. It is no coincidence that two of the greatest pianists of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, were both linked to that Austro-Hungarian city. Initially, pianists played only in rich families’ living rooms for acoustic reasons. By the 1840s, after improvements in the instrument’s acoustic power, pianists started to play for large audiences in theaters and concert halls all across the world. Even today, in a world of Auto-Tune, the ability to play the piano is a celebrated art form.
In 1800, Alessandro Volta, a physicist, invented the first electrochemical battery, the voltaic pile. The battery was a pile of zinc and copper plates, separated with brine-soaked cardboard. The first continuous electrical current was a consequence of the chemical reactions between the different elements. Volta unwittingly proved that chemical reactions could generate electricity. Indeed, he wrongly attributed the source of energy to the cells in the first place.
Nowadays, the battery has become a major part of our lives. It is difficult to picture our daily routine without driving a car or using a laptop. Manufacturers keep producing more long-lasting batteries to satisfy our growing needs. Recently, Apple was heavily criticized for intentionally making its iPhone batteries worse over time in order to motivate customers to upgrade to a newer model. Volta forged the way to a more technological world – in which having a dead phone is not an option.
We recently wrote about one neighbor, France and one of the Scandinavian countries leaders in innovations, Iceland. So if enjoyed the article, make sure to check what we have on 4 Inventions We Can Thank France For, and What They Can Teach Us About the Nature of Innovation and Ideas from Iceland that will make you feel a little warmer.
Finally, do not forget to have a look at What is Idea Management and Why is it Important.