Belgian waffles, delicious chocolate and Jean Claude Van Damme may be the first things that come to mind when hearing about the Kingdom of Belgium, but there’s more to this European Nation than meets the eye. The country’s culture has been influenced by both Germanic and Latin European countries due to its location, while its people are divided into the Dutch speaking region of Flanders and the French speaking Wallonia region. This diversity is probably one reason why Belgium has been able to produce many innovative people and ideas throughout history.
Georges Remi or Herge, the creator of the fictional character Tin Tin (Kuifje) is Belgian, while detective Hercule Poirot and Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil are other famous fictional celebrities. But the following widely known inventions are 100% real – they have Belgian origins, and we probably don’t know it.
The Big Bang Theory
To start the list of Belgian ideas, it makes sense to start at the beginning – the beginning of the world, that is. One of the most important theories about the origin of our world today was formulated by a Belgian Jesuit priest. Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was the first to propose the origin of the universe due to an expansion and named it the “hypothesis of the primeval atom” back in the 1930s. Lemaître also worked as an astronomer and physics professor.
If you like to drive on smooth asphalt roads, then credit should be given to Edward de Smedt, who invented the modern asphalt road in 1870. The Belgian immigrant developed the method of using man-made asphalt rock for roadwork back in the late 19th century while he was at the Columbia University in New York. Incidentally, the world asphalt is derived from “asphaltos” which is Greek for “secure”.
Internal combustion engine
With good roads came better vehicles. One of the most significant inventions in automotive history is by Belgian Engineer Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir. He moved to France in the 1850s where his interest in electroplating sparked. In 1859, his interest allowed him to come up with the world’s first internal combustion engine, a single cylinder two-stroke engine that used air and coal gas to create combustion. Early applications of his invention of the Lenoir engine were used for water pump and printing presses. Of course, the early version of the internal combustion engine was noisy, fuel inefficient and often overheated, but it was from his designs that other automotive engineers (such as Nikolaus Otto) were able to come up with sleek, efficient and powerful automotive engines that we use today.
Body Mass Index
Trying to lose weight or keep track of your figure? Then you probably keep track of your Body Mass Index, or BMI. The inventor of this is Belgian mathematician Lambery Adolphe Quetelet, which is why it is also called the Quetelet index. This index takes into accurate account a person’s height and weight in determining healthy body shape. This formula was derived by Quetelet back in the 19th century although it wasn’t until 1972 when the term Body Mass Index became widely used.
We have a Belgian to thank for the extensive use of plastics in modern times, making things lighter and allowing for a number of colorful and interesting designs. The Age of Plastics was ushered in by the invention of this type of plastic by Leo Hendrik Baekeland in 1907. Unlike other materials, this early plastic product could withstand high temperatures and still maintain its shape. At the same time, Bakelite worked as a good insulator, which is why it was used for telephones, radios and electrical insulation. Today, it is used in brake pads and other car parts, as well as in whistles, cameras, solid body electric guitars, phone handsets, chess pieces, radios, poker chips, billiard balls and even buttons and lightweight plastic jewelry pieces.
Who would have thought that this jazz instrument staple is of Belgian origin? Named after its inventor Adolphe Sax who is from Wallonia, Belgium, the saxophone was made by this instrument designer back in the mid 19th century. Sax also happened to play the clarinet, as well as the flute.
If you like to go inline skating, then you have John Joseph Merlin to thank. He is the first credited inventor of what would eventually become roller skates back in 1760. Though the first versions came out with small wheels, his ideas eventually paved the way for sleeker and more modern designs, still enjoyed by people even when there’s no snow to go skating. Merlin also worked with fellow inventor James Cox to develop the Cox’s timepiece clock.
Like to go clubbing? Then you’re probably familiar with the idea of the stroboscope, a device wherein pulses of light projected on a rotating device seem to make objects appear to be motionless or slow moving. Brussels-born Joseph Plateau is a Belgian physicist who came up with the early version of the stroboscope in 1836. It eventually led to the evolution of movie making. The invention also allowed scientists to conduct motion studies. Today, strobe lights are used for stage light effects.
Belgians may officially speak French and Flemish, but a Belgian diplomat devised a language called Neo. Created by Arturo Alfandari in 1961, the language is considered as one of many international auxiliary languages. Though the number of users is officially unknown, the language combines the features of other languages such as Novial, Ido, Voilapuk and Esperanto (the most widely used constructed international auxiliary language). It is characterized by its similarity to the English language. Alfandari devised the language with the intention of developing something that could be used as a second language but was easy to learn.