Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is widely considered to be the ultimate Renaissance man. He dabbled in everything from astronomy to art to paleontology. Though only 15 or so of his paintings still exist, he’s called one of the greatest painters of all time. “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa” are arguably the most famous. However, he was also an inventor, though many of his ideas did not come into being during his lifetime. He was truly ahead of his time. Here are five of the most amazing da Vinci inventions:
A diving suit
While working in Venice, da Vinci drew a design of a diving suit that could be used during war. By wearing the suit underwater, soldiers could cut holes into the hulls of enemy ships. The suit would have been made of leather, with a jacket, pants, and mask with glass goggles. The wearer would breathe from air stored in a bulge in the jacket, while there was also a storage unit for urine and pockets for various tools. The suit was never made, however, and it wasn’t until the early 18th-century that inventors developed a pressure-proof diving suit for salvage work.
Many da Vinci inventions focus on flight. The man was determined to figure out how to fly or at least get close. Da Vinci designed the first parachute which consisted of a pyramid-shaped wooden structure with a cloth that would slow a person down as he plummeted to the ground. In 2000, skydiver Adrian Nichols build a prototype from da Vinci’s sketches and actually tested it by jumping from a hot air balloon. Experts said it wouldn’t work, but da Vinci’s design held up. Nichols floated down for almost a mile and a half.
A flying machine
Also known as the “Ornithopter,” da Vinci sketched a machine he hoped would give humans the ability to fly. To get the machine going, the pilot would lay down and pedal a crank attached to a rod-and-pulley. In response, the pair of wings would flap. While designed after the flight of birds and bats, experts believe the machine probably wouldn’t work very well. Da Vinci himself tested a flying machine in January of 1496, but it was unsuccessful.
Armored war tank
Da Vinci designed quite a few inventions meant for war. When employed by the Duke of Milan, da Vinci sketched a war machine with 36 guns. If it had been built, it would have been a terrifying sight on the battlefield. Interestingly enough, the diagram actually shows that the gears would make the front and back wheels move in opposite directions. Many historians believe da Vinici drew this on purpose, so if anyone else got their hands on the design and tried to replicate it, it wouldn’t work. Only da Vinci would know how to make it.
Not all da Vinci inventions were about war or flying. He actually designed a humanoid robot knight powered by gears, wheels, and cables. Based on drawings by da Vinci and an Italian scholar, the robot supposedly could sit, open and close its mouth, and lift its visor. The theory is that a noble family commissioned the robot for a party or exhibit. For five years, engineer and roboticist Mark Rosheim studied the sketches and other resources, recreating the robot in 2002. It was able to wave and walk. Rosheim went on to design robotic tech for NASA and the Department of Defense, often returning to da Vinci for inspiration.
Did you know that da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” hides a musical secret? And that a 1490 painting might include a UFO? Click here to read about hidden meanings in famous artwork.