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originally posted by: Krakatoa
After the wheel as #1, I would vote for the alternating current induction motor, by Tesla. It made everything we have now even possible (including the thing we are using right now).
Tesla's AC Induction Motor is one of the 10 greatest discoveries of all time
Ferraris devised a motor using electromagnets at right angles and powered by alternating currents that were 90° out of phase, thus producing a revolving magnetic field. The direction of the motor could be reversed by reversing the polarity of one of the currents.
The principle made possible the development of the asynchronous, self-starting induction motor that is widely used today. Believing that the scientific and intellectual values of new developments far outstripped material values, Ferraris deliberately did not patent his invention.
He demonstrated it freely in his own laboratory to all comers. Meanwhile, others came independently to the same principle—among them Nikola Tesla, who applied and patented it. Ferraris was also an early advocate of alternating-current distribution systems for electrical power.