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A magnetic compass is a navigation device that is used to display directions by relying on the Earth’s magnetic poles. The compass was such a significant invention because it allowed explorers to be able to discover unknown lands, which later led to massive human migrations and deeper understanding of the planet.

Invention of the Compass

The compass was invented during the Han Dynasty between the years 300 and 200 B.C.E. The Chinese discovered a material known as lodestone which includes a naturally occurring ore called magnetite. When freely suspended, magnetite is attracted to the Earth’s magnetic North Pole. Soon enough, this realization quickly resulted in the creation of the compass.

The compass is a device that allows the user to know precisely which direction they are facing without the need of stars and other physical landmarks. The compass became an essential device throughout the Age of Exploration where numerous European and Asian explorers traveled by ship throughout the Western Hemisphere. The discoveries of new lands paved the way towards globalization and the interconnected world in which we live today. Without the invention of the compass, explorers would not have been able to traverse through the world’s open seas and follow the precise routes established by others. Although the modern day GPS systems make the compass seem obsolete, that is far from being true. A GPS system specifies the location of a person, but not the precise direction in degrees they are facing, thus making the compass a tried and trusted navigational device, even in modern day. The compass has, and continues to be, one of the most significant inventions throughout world history.

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Famous Individuals Who Used the Compass

Prince Henry the NavigatorPortuguese prince that sponsored numerous voyages throughout Africa, the Americas, and Europe
Christopher ColumbusItalian explorer who helped to open up the Americas for future Europeans
John CabotEnglish explorer who discovered the coast of North America
Ferdinand MagellanLed the first successful voyage that circumnavigated the globe
Hernando CortezSpanish conquistador who defeated the Aztec Empire and founded Mexico for Spain
Vasco Da GamaPortuguese explorer who became the first European to reach India by sea
Hernando De SotoSpanish conquistador that became the first European to document and explore the Mississippi River
Learn more about inventions and discoveries that have changed the world in our Picture Encyclopedia of Innovations!
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