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Da Vinci’s Inventions

Leonardo da Vinci is more widely known as an artist, but he saw himself as an inventor

and engineer first and foremost. Da Vinci was always trying to push himself to new heights,

whether it was in his artwork or inventions. Da Vinci’s notebook shows his ambition and designs

for such things like, weapons of mass destruction, water systems, work tools, and flying

machines. Many of these inventions were far beyond da Vinci’s time and they are still influential

to our lives today.

Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated with aviation. In his notes, he describes a device that

he calls the ornithopter. The ornithopter was a device that was inspired by animals like bats and

birds. This machine had a wingspan over thirty-three feet and the frame was to be made out of

pine that was then to be covered in raw silk. The pilot of this device would lie face down on a

board that was placed in the center of the ornithopter. The pilot would then power the wings by

pedaling a crank that was connected to a rod and pulley system. The pilot would then steer the

device with a headpiece. This machine never took flight because da Vinci realized that a person

would not be able to generate enough power to get off the ground.

Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated with war machines. One of his inventions, the 33-

barreled organ, is regarded as the basis for the modern-day machine gun. The 33-barreled organ

featured 33 small-caliber guns that were connected together. The guns were all connected to one

revolving platform. During battle the first row of guns would be fired, and the platform would be

rotated so that the next row could be aimed and fired. The idea for this invention was that while

one row was being fired, another row could cool off, and then the third row could be loaded.

This is just one of the many examples of da Vinci thinking far beyond his time period. The

machine gun wasn’t commercially sold until the 19th century.

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Leonardo da Vinci designed many bridges for Duke Sforza. One of the many

revolutionary designs that da Vinci made was that of the revolving bridge. Designed for

maximum mobility, the revolving bridge would swing across a stream or moat and then set down

on the other side so that soldiers could cross without trouble. The soldiers would then pick the

bridge back up and carry it along with them for further use. The bridge was to “light yet rugged,”

(Da Vinci’s Inventions) so that armies could have a fast-constructed bridge that would provide

quick and easy passage over multiple rivers and an easy escape from pursuing forces.

Da Vinci’s notebook includes designs for a humanoid automation. There is no full

drawing of the humanoid automation found in da Vinci’s notebooks but there are drawings of

fragments detailing different parts of the robot give clues to what the whole automation looked

like. Da Vinci’s idea was a robotic warrior, dressed in medieval armor, and capable of human-

like movements. The medieval armor was filled with elaborate gears, pulleys, wheels, and cable

systems. Da Vinci was fascinated with human anatomy. He would study and preform autopsies

on corpses to gain a better understanding on the human body. This gave him a better

understanding of how muscles propelled bone. He reasoned that the same principles could be

applied to a machine. Da Vinci apparently built the robotic knight, but it was reportedly used

primarily for entertainment at parties thrown by his wealthy patron Lodovico Sforza. Da Vinci’s

robot has not survived so most historians have to rely on reports discovered over the years that

were written by people who reportedly saw da Vinci’s machine in action. In 2002, a physical

model was built of da Vinci’s “robotic knight.” The robot is able to sit, move its arms, neck, and


In da Vinci’s notebooks he designed and described an instrument that was bowed string

and a keyboard at the same time. This instrument was named the viola organistra. In da Vinci’s
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lifetime he never built the instrument but that didn’t mean that it never would be. In 2012,

Slawomir Zubrzycki built the instrument that da Vinci had designed over 500 years prior.

Da Vinci’s fascination with combat and building new techniques for warfare brought him

to new heights, or better said, depths. Da Vinci had a feasible and practical idea for the first ever

diving suit. In da Vinci’s design, divers would wear facemasks with glass goggles which would

be connected to breathing hoses that were connected to a floating bell full of air. In a different

version of da Vinci’s designs the divers would get air from wine bladders filled with air. Da

Vinci’s idea for warfare was that the divers could cut holes into enemy hulls. It is believed that

these diving suits were constructed but they were never used.

Da Vinci’s self-propelled cart is da Vinci’s debated most innovated design. Da Vinci

designed a cart that could move without being pushed. In da Vinci’s designs the cart was

powered by coiled springs and featured a braking system and a steering wheel. “When the brake

was released, the car would propel forward, and the steering was programmable to go either

straight or at pre-set angles,” (da Vinci Inventions). Scholars weren’t able to understand da

Vinci’s designs for the self-propelled cart until late into 20th century due to his designs be so

ahead of his time. In 2006, the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy

built a working model based on da Vinci’s design.

Da Vinci was the most innovative man of his time. He didn’t allow the technology of the

present to stop him from designing the future. His designs were revolutionary in his lifetime and

they are still revolutionary today. Scholars and everyday people alike have much more to learn

about and from the great inventor, Leonardo da Vinci.

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Work Cited:

Diving Suit - by Leonardo Da Vinci. www.leonardodavinci.net/diving-suit.jsp.

“Flying Machine.” Leonardo Da Vinci's Flying Machine Invention, www.da-vinci-


“Home.” Viola Organista, www.violaorganista.com/en/home/.

Lampton, Christopher. “Top 10 Leonardo Da Vinci Inventions.” Stuff of Genius,

HowStuffWorks, 21 June 2013, www.geniusstuff.com/blogs/10-leonardo-da-vinci-


“Leonardo Da Vinci's Robots.” All On Robots - Robotics History, Types of Robots, Industrial,

Toys and More, www.allonrobots.com/leonardo-da-vinci.html.

“Revolving Bridge.” Leonardo Da Vinci's Flying Machine Invention, www.da-vinci-


“Robotic Knight.” Leonardo Da Vinci's Flying Machine Invention, www.da-vinci-


“Self-Propelled Cart.” Leonardo Da Vinci's Flying Machine Invention, www.da-vinci-


“33-Barreled Organ.” Leonardo Da Vinci's Flying Machine Invention, www.da-vinci-


“9 Incredible Leonardo Da Vinci Inventions.” 10 Stonehenge Facts and Information about Its

History - History Lists, historylists.org/other/9-incredible-leonardo-da-vinci-

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