Inventing things is a domain where Jews are not generally recognized as having played a particularly significant role. Again, we would be surprised.

One source for identifying history's most significant inventions is the Encyclopedia Britannica. In its Almanac 2003, it lists 321 "Great Inventions" dating as far back as 13,000 BC.

Who would have guessed the boomerang was the first "great invention" - followed in 6000 BC by beer and in 4000 BC, by wine. The most recent "great" invention, in 1997 is, of all things, Viagra.

While others could also provide excellent lists of great inventions, this one has the benefit of being from a credible source (Encyclopedia Britannica) who presumably used experts with no particular axe to grind.

Of the 321 inventions, a good many are so old that no individual inventor can be identified (beer, wine and the boomerang for example). In other cases, the inventor is an organization (such as General Electric Corporation, inventor of artificial diamonds). When all of the organizations and unidentifiable inventors are removed, there remain 267 great inventions, credited to one or more individuals.

Predicting how many of those should have been credited to Jews, gives rise to a question about the appropriate frame of reference. One could argue that since these are the world's greatest inventions, the proper reference frame should be the world's population. Another approach would draw only on the population of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, all of Russia, Western Asia and Northern Africa. This approach involves the observation that nearly all of the great inventions have come from this, more limited, geography. And while the world population is probably the best standard, in this circumstance we provide both. Thus, if one projects the number of Jews that should be included on the list based on the world population, that number is .58 (less than one inventor). If instead, we use the more constrained geography, the number is 1.83. In fact, there are 13.7....

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