I think I needlessly mixed up two concepts in my previous entry: Fame, and being important to others. Sometimes they go together, sometimes not. For instance, no one talks about the one who invented the modern horse harness, which allows horses to pull great weight while still breathing freely. Supposedly this happened in China in the 5th century. Perhaps someone there knows. It seems like such a small thing, but it revolutionized agriculture and land transportation, and thereby trade. It came to Europe around the year 800, and without it the Dark Ages might have lasted much longer, if at all moving on toward the Middle Ages (not the same thing!) and eventually to modernity.
The Roman empire did not have the full use of horses in agriculture, although they did use horses in war. Instead, they relied on slave labor. While slavery has happened later as well, we cannot really imagine how important it was to early civilizations. The Christian message of freedom for the slaves, even if weaseled out of at certain times, was greatly helped by our hairy friend the horse, harnessed by a simple invention born out of empathy. Anyone who saw a horse struggle in the old type of harness should have been aware that it had trouble breathing when working hard, but it was probably just one man – or possibly even a woman or child – who thought of how to change it. By giving the horse greater freedom, they also brought freedom to hundreds of thousands of workers through the ages to come.
From “small” things like this, our history became possible. There are many turns where history could have slipped and fallen (and sometimes, it seems, it really did). But here and there, now and then, once in a thousand years, someone came up with an idea that changed everything. Sometimes it was someone great and famous, like Archimedes or Edison, mass inventors both. But sometimes it was just some guy, forgotten by those whose lives he saved.