Who were Archimedes, Ctesibius and Hero and what did they invent? And are their inventions still being used today, more than 2,000 years later?
Born in Syracuse in 287 B.C. and educated in Alexandria, Archimedes is known as the man who jumped up out of his bathtub one day and ran naked through town shouting "Eureka! Eureka!" In case your knowledge of Greek is as limited as mine, "Eureka" means "I have found it."
Why did Archimedes do this? And what did he find?
While taking a bath, he had solved the dilemma of water displacement; namely, the relationship between the weight and volume of an object in water vs. the weight and volume that was displaced when he got out of the tub.
Other than the term "Eureka," what did Archimedes invent?
º The hydraulic screw, also known as the Archimedes screw, which was used in pumping water from the Nile River.
º The worm gear, which is still used today.
º A system of ropes and pulleys, which he used to move a ship while it was docked on land, effectively creating the world's first winch.
Archimedes is also credited with inventing the world's first catapult, and legend has it that he showed how to use a mirror to focus the sun's rays on an enemy ship, causing it to burn. Known more as a mathematician than an inventor, he also calculated the value of pi.
One of his contemporaries, Ctesibius (pronounced ti-sib-e-us) lived in Alexandria around the same time as Archimedes, but the two geniuses probably never met.
Ctesibius invented the water clock, which was known back then as the Clepsydra. The sundial had already been invented but would only work during daylight hours on sunny days. Ctesibius also created three inventions in conjunction with each other:
º The valve, which led him to create his next great invention …
º The suction-pump, which was used for fighting fires and led to his next great invention …
º The pump that was used as a source of wind for the first organ.
The most accomplished of the Greek inventors was Hero who, like Ctesibius, was from Alexandria. Hero learned a lot from Ctesibius, but since most of the records of their time have been destroyed, it's not known if Hero lived during the same time as Ctesibius or if he came after him and merely learned from his writings.
Like Italy's da Vinci, Hero is regarded by history as a man whose work was hundreds of years ahead of his time. Hero created the following inventions:
º The world's first steam engine, which was called an aeolipile. The principle behind the aeolipile was that every action has an "equal and opposite reaction," which we all learned in school. Sir Isaac Newton discovered this 1,600 years later, and makers of jet engines used this same principle 1,900 years later.
º A machine which would dispense a fixed amount of holy water when a coin was put into it. This was the world's first automatic vending machine.
º The screw-press, which extracted olive oil from olives and juice from grapes.
º The odometer, which measured the distance that taxis traveled. He did this by making a pointer with gears that counted the number of revolutions of the taxi cart's wheel. Hero called his invention the hodometer. Ben Franklin would later invent an odometer to measure the distance that mail carriers would travel for each delivery.
Since no story about the ancient Greeks would be complete without some sort of tragedy, we end this story with the account of Archimedes' death in 212 B.C. When the Romans invaded Syracuse, the Roman ruler ordered that Archimedes be left alone. One of the soldiers didn't recognize him, though, and killed him with his sword.