Leonardo da Vinci Single-handedly Invented So Many Staples of Modern Life

Thu Jan 19 2023

Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci is famous for his paintings, sculptures, architectural drawings, and theories about the arts and sciences during the High Renaissance period. But he was also one of the most creative inventors the world has ever seen, having come up with numerous engineering marvels. But like so many artists, he struggled to find the funds to produce his incredible designs.

Little did he know that those inventions would lay the groundwork for many of the modern-day inventions that people rely upon today. Combining his expertise in engineering, art, and science, da Vinci was able to work on a diverse amount of projects. Take a look at some of the most ingenious contraptions that he created over half a millennium ago.

Multi-barreled Cannon

One particular issue that da Vinci was concerned with was the long time it took to reload barreled cannons. There was a drawn-out time lag between each cannon fire round, and da Vinci knew that he could find a way to make this process more efficient. He developed a mechanism that basically led to the machine guns we use today.

Leonardo came up with a sketch for a multi-barrel cannon, which meant that it could both rotate and fire a line of cannons while simultaneously being reloaded and ready for the next round. Little did da Vinci know at the time that his invention of a multi-barrel cannon would pave the way for the automatic rifles of today.


One of the areas in which da Vinci took a particular interest was that of flight, going so far as to let it become a bit of an obsession of his. It’s just as well, however, as his keen interest led him to the invention of ornithopters – essentially, large wings with a membrane that can flap up and down and keep you in the air. These were the first-ever flying machines.

Invented around 1505 to 1506, da Vinci envisioned a contraption whereby a pilot, or the person in control, would use pedals and levers to get the membraned wings to flap. You needed to be pretty fit to make it work, but nonetheless, it could work. He took inspiration from birds of flight, having studied their anatomy in detail to come up with a suitable design.


Before Leonardo da Vinci came up with his ornithopter invention, he invented the helical air screw. He devised this idea sometime around the 1480s, and it arguably has a lot more in common with the modern-day helicopter than his membraned-wings invention. But rather than allowing for a person to fly up into the air, this screw was meant to give flight to machines.

The way that da Vinci envisioned this happening was for a large screw-shaped blade to drill into the air and to lift the machine vertically. Allegedly, there were a few problems with his design that would need ironing out in order to perform the desired task, but the idea was still there. That being said, no flying machines were in existence at the time so da Vinci was pretty much trail-blazing this venture.


It wasn’t only flight that captured the interest of da Vinci. He also tried to come up with a state-of-the-art solution for descending from a great height, and in doing so, inadvertently invented the modern-day parachute. As his sketches show, he intended for the contraption to be “12 arms wide and 12 tall” and ideally, would allow for a grown person to leap from a great height “without hurting himself.”

British skydiver Adrian Nicholas attempted to recreate the Renaissance polymath’s parachute-like invention and tested it by leaping out of a 10,000-foot high hot air balloon in Mpumalanga, South Africa. In the end, he deferred to his modern-day emergency parachute but claimed that the descent with Leonardo’s realized invention had been unexpectedly smooth.

Portable Rotating Bridge

While da Vinci struggled to get many of his innovative designs off the ground due to money reasons, he also benefitted from the interests and financial backing of certain patrons, including the son of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia, and the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. He would even invent designs specifically for his patrons, one of which was the portable self-supporting bridge.

Of course, bridges had been in existence long before da Vinci, but he specifically designed one ideal for transporting armies from one side of a river to another. It needed to be studied and strong, but it also needed to be versatile and deconstructable. In the end, da Vinci settled on a wooden design with several notches that wouldn’t require screws or any other external tools to put together. Instead, this bridge would utilize the pressure from interlocking beams.

Giant Crossbow

Looking at da Vinci’s drawings, it was clear that he wanted to make things super-sized. One of his extra-large inventions was his giant crossbow design, which showed the infamous military weapon was surprisingly huge. To be fair to da Vinci, he had a very good reason for making his inventions so big. He believed that such enormous proportions would strike fear into the enemies.

This giant crossbow would have been used to propel any manner of projectiles toward the enemy, such as heavy boulders or super-sized artillery. It was after studying the works of military engineer Roberto Valturio that da Vinci devised this military weapon, the sketch of which he completed in around 1490. Perhaps if it had been built at the time, it would have been formidable army armament.

Armoured Fighting Car

The sketches of da Vinci show that he was way before his time. Another mode of transport that da Vinci thought up was the armored fighting car, which in many ways has some resemblance to the modern-day military tanks that we have today. His sketch of this invention was completed in 1487, having been discovered in his collection of notes called the Codex Arundel.

Interestingly, he envisioned this military car being a symmetrical cone shape, with cannons placed along the entire edge, allowing it to fire ammunition around a full 360 degrees. The soldiers would be safe inside the body, and the vehicle itself would have been with wood that was reinforced with metal plates as its outer shell. However, this da Vinci invention surprises experts today, as they claim that it would have been impossible to move.

Giant Equestrian Sculpture

One of da Vinci’s more bizarre inventions came in the form of a horse – a giant horse. The inventor had the idea of building a huge equine sculptor as a monument to his patron and the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza’s, late father. He imagined the sculpture to be about 24 feet high and made out of bronze, but without compromising on the details of horse anatomy.

But da Vinci didn’t just expect the enormous size of this monument to just appear before him. He also came up with a complicated casting design for shaping the bronze material, which would have required da Vinci-designed machines. This sculpture would have been made a reality if it wasn’t for the outbreak of the Italian Wars during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, during which bronze was in high demand. Allegedly, da Vinci’s huge clay model prototype was used as target practice by soldiers instead.

Diving Suits

Considering the turbulent times in which da Vinci was living, it’s hardly surprising that he spent a lot of his time thinking up inventions concerned with helping military causes. The inventor was forced to flee from Milan following an invasion, after which he spent some time in Venice, which was also under threat from the Ottoman Empire.

While staying in Venice, da Vinci spent much of his time trying to devise new inventions to help give the Italian army an advantage. He came up with the idea of military diving suits to allow the soldiers of Venice to attack from where the enemy would least expect it – in the water. Famously, Venice is made up of several canals, and da Vinci believed that they could use this to their advantage. He imagined these suits to be predominantly leather, with glass for the goggles.


Despite his numerous military inventions, da Vinci also spent some time imagining leisurely creations. It was around 1495 when da Vinci created the first ever robot, a mechanical knight in armor, which would be able to move from standing to sitting, would move its head up, down, left, and right, and be able to lift a sword in its hand. This invention was light years ahead of its time.

After all, da Vinci had studied human anatomy in great detail for his masterpiece paintings, so he had a good grasp of the mechanics at work inside the living human body. He imagined a system of pulleys and gears being leveraged for the mechanical knight to actually move, but it wasn’t until 2002 that his prototype robot was actually realized. Mechanical engineer and robot enthusiast Mark Rosheim actually successfully created da Vinci’s knight using only his sketches and notes.

Mechanical Lion

Right up until da Vinci’s final years, he was still imagining new innovative creations. He was employed by the brother of Pope Leo X, Giuliano de Medici, to design a special present for the King Francis I of France, and it just so happened to be another giant animal. He was commissioned to build a mechanical lion, making it essentially, a life-size lion robot.

Reports from da Vinci’s lifetime claim that this mechanical lion was in fact made and working, just as da Vinci has described. Apparently, this robotic lion was able to move its head and walk, and it had the ability to open its chest to reveal a fleurs-de-lys symbol – i.e., an emblem of a lily that was used as the French coat-of-arms.


While da Vinci didn’t invent the world’s first clock, he did add to the already-existing invention. He created a way to make timepieces more accurate than it was in his day, as clocks were known for not always being that reliable. Pendulum’s already existed and they helped the issue, but da Vinci thought up something that would make it even more accurate.

The polymath decided that the mechanism for documenting the hour and the mechanism for documenting the minutes had to be separate. He sketched various gears, pulleys, harnesses, springs, and weights that needed to all come together perfectly in order to create a clock that was all the more accurate. His use of springs in the timepieces is something that is still practiced with clocks to this day.

The Anemometer

The anemometer was a device that measured wind speed and direction and was invented by Italian Renaissance writer and philosopher Leon Batista. Considering da Vinci’s lifelong fascination with flight, he took a keen interest in Batista’s existing invention and even came up with a way to make it even more accurate at measuring the weather.

It’s da Vinci’s additions to the already existing invention that allows it to still be used today. A few years after Batista’s death in 1472, da Vinci sketched a series of alterations that would need to be made to the anemometer to make it more accurate. But not only were the device’s measurements more precise, but da Vinci’s changes also made it a lot simpler and more straightforward.

Self Propelled Cart

While da Vinci didn’t invent the modern-day motors that we use today, he was the one who invented the idea of them. He imagined a self-propelled cart, AKA a prototype car, that would allow people to get from point A to point B without being pushed by anyone. Considering how da Vinci was so interested in aviation, it’s hardly surprising that he wanted to make advancements in the field of ground-level transportation.

It was with the use of springs that da Vinci designed a prototype self-propelled car, as advancements in engineering were still limited at the time. His design was so ahead of its time that most of his contemporaries couldn’t wrap their head around it. Only in 2006 did an Italian museum finally build the self-propelled cart exactly as da Vinci designed it, and to their surprise, it did exactly what he said it would.

Water-lifting Device

One of the inventions that da Vinci gave the most detail on was his invention of a water-lifting device. Using his expertise in both science and maths, da Vinci came up with the ingenious idea of effectively transporting water. Considering the huge amount of detail he included in this design, it’s clear to see that this device became one of his biggest obsessions.

Many of those who have studied da Vinci’s sketches have found themselves frustrated oftentimes at the lack of detail, but that’s where the water-lifting device is completely different. It became one of the subjects that da Vinci studied most deeply, which tells us that clearly this device wasn’t as straightforward as it sounded.

Grinding Convex Lenses Machine

While it’s not clear whether or not this invention was meant for telescope manufacturers or for da Vinci himself, the polymath created a unique machine meant for grinding convex lenses. Using a series of interlocking cogs and a heavy wheel, he imagined this machine would accurately grind glass lenses to an exact degree. to grind delicate glass lenses with the utmost precision.

After all, da Vinci took a keen interest in astronomy, so it’s highly likely that he wanted to create this machine to better aid him in his studies of outer space. And considering how the act of hand-grinding lenses was a long and laborious task, da Vinci wanted there to be a streamlined and efficient way to get better and more exact results.

Siege Defense

For many years, da Vinci sketched out ideas for a strong seige defense to be used by the military. He had been coming up with ideas around this since 1481, but none of them were ever actually produced. We can see in his sketches that he imagined using screws to reinforce the strength of these siege defenses, and he included many close-ups sketches of his designs.

His close-ups make his siege defense invention markedly different from his other inventions, as he rarely went into such detail in his drawings. Nonetheless, it’s clear that aiding the military was of the utmost interest to the polymath and an area in which he felt he had a lot to give. As we can see from his sketch, he wasn’t averse to thinking outside of the box.

Parabolic Compass

Da Vinci’s inventions weren’t only super-sized – sometimes, he ventured into smaller items, too Around 1500, da Vinci came up with a design for a parabolic compass, AKA a mathematical instrument to help draw specific curved shapes. But it’s likely the da Vinci didn’t just invent this little tool for his own use, but for the use of others as well.

During this period of the Renaissance, excavations were being carried in many places as people attempted to uncover ancient ruins and uncover secrets of the past. Many of the buildings discovered appeared to have a harmonious geometry, and the use of a parabolic compass could have aided in understanding the complex building structures of ancient times.

Viola Organista

Aside from da Vinci’s numerous military inventions, he dabbled in creating brand-new musical instruments. He invented the viola organista, which shared some similarities with how a violin creates sound, and that would have had a series of strings attached to an organ-like keyboard. Like other string instruments, it would make a sound through the use of vibrating strings.

For over 400, da Vinci’s design has been admired by instrument makers. It lent itself to similar instruments, but the viola organista as da Vinci envisioned it had never been created during the polymath’s lifetime. Documented in da Vinci’s notebooks between the years of notebooks of 1488 to 1489, it is unknown whether da Vinci ever meant for it to be anything more than a thought experiment.


Since da Vinci had a keen interest in maps for military purposes as well as for canal construction, he found himself inventing an odometer for the purposes of accurately measuring distances. He actually invented several different versions of the distance-measuring device, building on the existing devices that existed at the time.

These days, odometers are a part of most modern transport vehicles. But with da Vinci’s design, it was through the use of various gears on a wheel, as well as a bunch of falling pebbles that were caught and counted, that distance could be quite accurately measured. The earliest form of the odometer had been found in ancient Greece, but da Vinci improved upon the instrument.