10 Spanish Inventions That Changed Our World

A guide to Spanish inventions that changed the world

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Since the Golden Age of Al Andalus, the world has benefitted from many Spanish inventions and discoveries that made our world a better place.     

From the humble mop to battery-powered submarines, we’ve pulled together 10 Spanish inventions that changed our world. Among them are engineering marvels and eureka moments that reveal a little about Spanish history and a lot about human ingenuity.

The mop and roller bucker is one of the best selling Spanish inventions of all time

#1 The Mop (1956) – Manuel Jalón Corominas

We kick off this list of wondrous Spanish inventions with…the mop. It’s far from a glamorous intro to Spanish ingenuity, but it was a game-changer. Until the steam mop came along, at least.

A stick with a bundle of absorbent cleaning material had been used even since clean floors were fashionable. The first patent was awarded in 1837 to US inventor Jacob Howe. But it wasn’t until 1956 that we got a bucket with pedal-operated rollers for squeezing the mop dry and warding off backache.

The brainwave was brought to you by Manuel Jalón Corominas, an entrepreneur from Rioja who saw ordinary mops used at US military bases and had a lightbulb moment.

A patent later, Corominas founded the Rodex company that shipped 60 million patented fregona worldwide. The first mop reputedly sold for the equivalent of €300 in Barcelona, making Corominas the Dyson of his day.

After doing his bit to save knee joints and claiming to strike a blow for women’s equality (primarily because men and mops did not mix in the 1950s), Corominas spurned retirement to redesign the disposable hypodermic syringe, proving that age is just a number.

Talking of numbers. Start learning Spanish with Language Atlas to take yourself from A1 beginner to CI proficiency and still have time to mop your floor with our 30-minute flashcard lessons.

#2 The Classical Guitar (1852) – Antonio Torres

The classical guitar is a Spanish invention, perfected by the legendary Antonio de Torres

Forget the mop. A far more exciting entry in the pantheon of great Spanish inventions is the classic guitar. With good reason, it is also known as the Spanish guitar, as the stringed instrument wouldn’t be what it is today without the craftsmanship of Antonio de Torres.

Stringed instruments had been around since the pharaohs of ancient Egypt got funky, and the guitar went through various rapid improvements after Medieval Europe discovered a taste for music, from the Guitarra Latina to the four-stringed vihuela de mano.

Flamenco-loving Spain led the way in all things guitar, which ultimately peaked in the fabled workshop of Antonio de Torres Jurado.   

Like the mop and many other Spanish inventions, Torres merely improved existing designs. However, his handiwork was guitar perfection, and his design has been the blueprint since 1852.

Contemporary and fellow Spaniard Francisco Tárrega, the celebrated composer and “father of modern classical guitar”, was his biggest supporter. Torres’s guitars are collector’s items, with countless imitators and fakes underlining that the guitars he made could not be bettered.

The Telekino is one of those Spanish inventions we take for granted, as it was the precursor to the modern remote control

#3 Telkino, or remote control (1902) – Leonardo Torres Quevedo

Next time you’re relaxing on the sofa surfing TV channels, thank Leonardo Torres Quevedo for his pioneering work with remote controls. 

A prolific engineering giant, Torres had a hand in several notable Spanish inventions and made a sizeable impact in the emerging fields of automation and aeronautics. 

In between designing airships and naval vessels, the energetic Torres built an early calculator (Torres’ Algebraic Machine), cable cars, and the first chess computer known as El Ajedrecista, The Chess Player. 

While relentlessly inflating the number of Spanish inventions, he came up with his ultimate creation, the Telekino. It was designed to remotely control airships and address the problem of test pilots increasingly reluctant to fly hydrogen-filled timebombs.

Nikolai Tesla had built a wireless remote control just a few years earlier. But the Telekino was a sizeable step forward.

Ultimately, the Telekino did not make it to the skies. But it was used to control a small boat, torpedoes, and even a tricycle. The remote control proof of concept was done. Many years later, the couch potato was born. 

the wheelchair made for King Phillip II was one of the earliest Spanish inventions to gain worldwide attention

#4 The Modern Wheelchair (1595) – Unknown Inventor

The modern wheelchair is another of those Spanish inventions that took a simple premise and made it better.

A chair on wheels was hardly groundbreaking. But when gout gripped King Philip II of Spain, a savvy subject knocked together a wheelchair fit for a monarch. Lavishly finished with armrests and footrests, it reimagined the wheelchair as the “Invalid’s chair”, illustrating the value and potential of wheelchairs.  

Nobody knows who gave the king his throne on wheels. But the era’s biggest celebrity, King Phillip, ensured the wheelchair became one of the earliest Spanish inventions to gain international attention.

the Peral Submarine - a groundbreaking Spanish invention

#5 The Electric Submarine (1888) – Isaac Peral

At the Naval Museum of Cartagena, you can see one of the most significant Spanish Inventions of the 19th century, the Peral Submarine.

The eponymous Isaac Peral was a naval officer and engineer and the first battery-powered military submersible was his brainchild. It advanced another of the notable 19th-century Spanish inventions, the combustion-engine-driven submarine by Narcís Monturiol.

This engineering marvel could carry tow torpedoes and chugged along at a comparatively snappy 5.6 km/h (3.5 mph) underwater, ranging 740 km (460 mi), before urgently needing a charging point.

Sounds impressive on paper. In the end, Peral’s superiors were unconvinced. The submarine was withdrawn before it saw service and stranded on dry land, where it became a poignant monument to thwarted genius. 

Disappointed, Peral quit the navy and unleashed his inventiveness by designing an electric machine gun and blueprints for power stations. But it is the submarine bearing Perla is remembered for, not least because it is one of the most visionary Spanish inventions in the modern era.

Surprisingly, the beret was a Spanish invention that the French adopted from Basque shepherds

#6 The Beret – Basque Shepherds

That’s right. The beret, that iconic French fashion item, came from Spain. Known as una boina in its homeland, it’s one of the most surprising Spanish inventions.

We don’t know much about the beret’s origins. But we do know that Navarrian and Aragonese shepherds sported the stylish look in the Basque Country of Northern Spain.

In later years, the French adopted the beret as their own, later adding a striped top and baguette to the ensemble to complete the gallic stereotype.  En route to fashion stardom, the beret served as a symbol of revolution and an emblem of military regiments.

There are world-changing Spanish inventions on this list, but few that are so recognisable. Even if everyone assumes it was a French invention

foosball table 189846 1920 Pixabay Royalty Free

#7 Table Football (1937) – Alejandro Finisterre

The story behind the creation of table football, aka foosball, is one of the most fascinating origin stories on this list of Spanish inventions. 

Futbolín, table football in Spanish, was conceived by Alejandro Finisterre after being injured during a bombing raid in Barcelona at the height of the Spanish Civil War. Heartbroken that he and his fellow badly injured patients might not be able to kick a football again, he built a table with lifelike figures, creating the game we see today. 

Finisterre fled Spain after the Civil War and lived a life less ordinary, from table football sessions with Che Guevara to being kidnapped by Francoist agents and subsequently released after claiming to have a bomb on board the commercial airliner transporting him. He also published hundreds of obscure writings by Latin American poets and exiled Spanish writers. 

As with other Spanish inventions we’ve looked at, Finisterre did not build the first prototype. However, Finisterre’s game became the model for the ITSF World Table Football Championships.

Sadly, he was not alive to see Spain win the world title in 2019. But he did live long enough to see Franco deposed, returning home with several lifetimes of stories.

aircraft 1432241 1920 Pixabay Royalty Free

#8 Autogyro (1920) – Juan de la Cierva

Rotary-winged aircraft were testing the brightest of minds in the early 20th century until Juan de la Cierva rewrote what was possible when he built the autogiro, a stepping stone towards modern helicopters.

The civil engineer was a self-taught aeronautical engineer who designed planes and gliders. After a near-disaster with a plane he built, he looked for a more stable aircraft that could fly slowly at low altitudes. Having found a unique way to hinge the rotor blades, his gyrocopter literally took off.

Cierva flew his contraption across the English Channel and into the record books, as recorded in this Pathé newsreel. His autogiro then enjoyed a brief moment in the sun as the first rotary-winged aircraft used in combat and the first to land on a ship.

In a morbidly ironic twist, Cierva died in a commercial (fixed-wing) plane crash. Yet, having built one of the most significant Spanish inventions of the 20th century, his legacy lives on in the skies.

Encyclopedia Mecanica Zmrozik CC BY SA 4.0 https creativecommons.org licenses by sa 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Zmrozik, CC BY-SA 4.0 – Wikimedia Commons

#9 La Enciclopedia Mecánica (1949) – Ángela Ruiz Robles

La Enciclopedia Mecánica is widely credited with being the first e-book. Pretty impressive, considering Ángela Robles’s device was entirely mechanical and used compressed air to spool words and images. 

A Galician teacher by day, Robles wanted to reduce the volume of schoolbooks that pupils carried around. It was clunky and needed preloading with reading material, so her prototype never went into production.

Instead, it went to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Coruña. Yet, while La Enciclopedia Mecánica is an example of ambitious Spanish inventions that did not quite deliver, it was a technical marvel ahead of its time. In short, the Kindle of the mechanical age! 

Hot chocolate is another of those Spanish inventions that made the world a brighter place

#10 Hot Chocolate (1500s)

Could anything be more quintessentially Spanish than churros and hot chocolate?

Yet when Spaniards first shipped cocoa back from the Americas, they were underwhelmed. 

Cocoa was a cold, bitter drink known as xocōlātl in the Americas. Mayans and Aztecs venerated it, sometimes using the valuable beans as currency. It was an acquired taste for sweet-toothed colonisers, but they still sent the beans home with anything else they could lay their hands on.

Back in Spain, a culinary bright spark added sugar, heated it up, and created chocolate caliente, hot chocolate. It was an instant hit with anyone who could afford the pricy beans. 

The Spanish kept the treat to themselves for decades before word of this moreish delicacy reached other European royal courts and quickly became an indulgence loved by peasants and kings.

We can’t credit any individual with the first hot chocolate. But there’s no doubt that somebody in Spain was first to savour the drink and let out a satisfied “deliciosa”. And somebody was even luckier to dip their churros in, creating chocolate con churros and one of the most iconic Spanish foodie delights.

With that final mouthwatering entry, we wrap up this guide to Spanish inventions with a muchas gracias to the genius minds that helped reshape our world. This hot chocolate fan salutes you!  

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