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12 Things that Are Surprisingly Older than You Think

Surprisingly Older things
Surprisingly Older things

Our Earth is around 4.543 billion years old. Over these years, slowly but steadily, species came into being and went extinct, pieces of land separated and merged with new continents, the Sun got closer and humans evolved. With these changes, the old got lost, and new, more advanced ideas and life forms emerged. However, a few things have survived and seem so modern but their age will surprise you. Here are 12 things that are surprisingly older than you think.

1. Escalators

Escalators have been around since the 19th century. In 1859, the first blueprint for the escalator called “revolving stairs” was patented by Nathan Ames, while the first working model was built by Jesse Wilford Reno 125 years ago, in 1896.

(Left) Illustration from U.S. Patent #25,076 – Revolving Stairs. Issued to Nathan Ames, 9 August 1859. Image Credit: Nathan Ames/United States Patent and Trademark Office,

The idea to transport people to vertical heights with ease and minimal effort was put on paperback in 1859 by Nathan Ames. He patented his design for “revolving stairs,” a machine that would enable people to move up and down between floors without physical exertion.

Nathan’s proposed invention remained on paper and a working model was never built.

In 1892, Jesse Wilford Reno patented his design of an escalator. Four years later, he succeeded in producing a prototype of his machine and installed it as a ride next to the Old Iron Pier at Coney Island. The transportation machine was an inclined platform that moved people upwards at the speed of 3,000 people per hour. (1, 2, 3)

2. Central Heating

The system of central heating is as primeval as the ancient Greek civilization, more than 2,300 years old.  Even the Romans developed a central heating system called a “hypocaust” that conducted heat from a furnace through spaces under the floor.

Central Heating
(Left) Hypocaust under the floor in a Roman Villa. Image Credit:,

The development of the modern concept of central heating is attributed to William Strutt in 1793 where the air was heated by a large stove and distributed throughout the building by central ducts.

However, the concept of a single source of heat providing warmth to multiple rooms or the whole interior of a house or a building is much older than William Strutt’s design.

The ancient Greeks first used it around 350 BCE in the Temple of Artemis located at Ephesus. The heat generated by fire was circulated throughout the temple through flues dug under the ground.

Later, the Romans developed an underfloor heating system known as the “hypocaust.” Air heated through a furnace was circulated through empty spaces under the floor and entered rooms through caliducts or pipes. It was constructed in baths and foundations of private villas and houses of the northern provinces. (1, 2, 3)


3. Lighters.

The first lighter, known as “Döbereiner’s lamp,” was developed 197 years ago. As the self-igniting lamp was bulky, complicated, and dangerous, it never became popular among the masses.

(Left) Döbereiner’s lamp also called a Tinderbox. Image Credit: Hamburg Museum/,

Though lighters were first produced on a mass scale in 1910 by the company Ronson, the technology was already in use since 1823.

Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, a German chemist, invented the first lighter called “Döbereiner’s lamp,” wherein a reaction between zinc and sulfuric acid created hydrogen. Hydrogen being flammable, a flame ignited when it came in contact with the sparks at the opening of the huge lamp.

As the lamp was huge and not portable, and also dangerous to use, it wasn’t very popular and so was manufactured in limited quantities until portable lighters took over in the 19th century. (source)

4. Sharks

The oldest shark fossils excavated are as old as 455 to 425 million years. This makes the species 200 million years older than the dinosaurs. The world’s oldest intact shark fossil is of a specimen called Doliodus problematicus.

The Doliodus problematicus fossil specimen. Image credits:

Though debated, most scientists believe that the few shark-like scales found from the Ordovician Period some 450 million years ago are in fact shark fossils. These shark ancestors most likely were toothless.

The fossils dating back to 410 million years ago from the early Devonian Period had teeth and are generally accepted as fossils of actual shark species.

The event that made these predators continue to evolve and rule the ocean is the mass extinction of 75% of Earth’s species 359 million years ago. This gave them the opportunity to dominate and evolve into a variety of forms. (1, 2, 3)


5. Carbonated Drinks

Carbonated drinks pre-dates Coca-cola and were being sold for about 240 years with Manchester apothecary Thomas Henry being the first to sell carbonated water in the late 1770s.

Coca Cola
Image Credit:

The benefits of natural spring water prompted chemists and scientists from as late as the 17th century to produce carbonated water that would mimic its qualities.

In 1772, Joseph Priestley designed the first apparatus that could pump gas or fixed air into water. Based on his design, Thomas Henry undertook the production of carbonated water followed by Swiss Chemist Jacob Schweppe who began selling his drink in 1794.

What made carbonated beverages so popular was not only their taste but also the medicinal benefits attributed to them in the beginning. They usually contained stimulants like coffee, cola leaves, and nuts to temporarily provide relief from fatigue. (1, 2, 3)

6. National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is 132 years old. It was founded by 33 men from diverse fields of knowledge. Within a few years of its inception, and after a change in the editor, the circulation of the National Geographic Magazine reached two million.

National Geographic Society
Image Credit : National Geographic Society / , AgnosticPreachersKid /

Currently included in the lists of some of the largest non-profit organizations in the field of science and education, the National Geographic Society was founded on 27 January 1888.

The society was originally an elite club of wealthy explorers and travelers. It was later organized as a society for “the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”

Initially, its magazine did not gain readership. However, in 1899, Gilbert H. Grosvenor became the editor and changed the format of the articles, and accompanied them with photographs. Within a few years, the magazine’s readership grew exponentially. The revenue from the sales was used to further research and fund exploration projects. (1, 2)


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