Science and inventions

He made designs for mills, fulling machines and engines that could be driven by water-power… In addition he used to make models and plans showing how to excavate and tunnel through mountains without difficulty, so as to pass from one level to another; and he demonstrated how to lift and draw great weights by means of levers, hoists and winches, and ways of cleansing harbours and using pumps to suck up water from great depths.

Practical inventions and projects


A machine for grinding convex lenses

Leonardo was a master of mechanical principles. He utilized leverage and cantilevering, pulleys, cranks, gears, including angle gears and rack and pinion gears; parallel linkage, lubrication systems and bearings. He understood the principles governing momentum, centripetal force, frictionand the aerofoil and applied these to his inventions. His scientific studies remained unpublished with, for example, his manuscripts describing the processes governing friction predating the introduction of Amontons’ Laws of Friction by 150 years.

It is impossible to say with any certainty how many or even which of his inventions passed into general and practical use, and thereby had impact over the lives of many people. Among those inventions that are credited with passing into general practical use are the strut bridge, the automatedbobbin winder, the rolling mill, the machine for testing the tensile strength of wire and the lens-grinding machine pictured at right. In the lens-grinding machine, the hand rotation of the grinding wheel operates an angle-gear, which rotates a shaft, turning a geared dish in which sits the glass or crystal to be ground. A single action rotates both surfaces at a fixed speed ratio determined by the gear.

As an inventor, Leonardo was not prepared to tell all that he knew:

How by means of a certain machine many people may stay some time under water. How and why I do not describe my method of remaining under water, or how long I can stay without eating; and I do not publish nor divulge these by reason of the evil nature of men who would use them as means of destruction at the bottom of the sea, by sending ships to the bottom, and sinking them together with the men in them. And although I will impart others, there is no danger in them; because the mouth of the tube, by which you breathe, is above the water supported on bags of corks.

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