We Bet You Didn’t Know: 10 Innovations Used Worldwide that Originated in Israel
Israel has long been considered an innovation hub. Yet many aren’t aware of the number of products widely used today that derive from Israeli inventions. Scroll to learn more about Israeli innovations through the years.
10. Commercial Hybrid Cucumbers
In the 1950s, Weizmann Institute Professor Esra Galun focused his research on hybrid seed production in cucumbers and melons. The professor was intent on breeding disease-resistant vegetables suitable for mechanical harvesting. Galun and his research partners found a method of producing hybrid cucumber seeds that did not require hand pollination.
Galun’s project resulted in the production of the first commercial hybrid cucumbers. The vegetables quickly cornered the market, and most cucumber varieties cultivated today are derived from the Weizmann technique. Galun went on to develop early-blooming melons and disease-resistant potatoes.
9. Uzi Machine Gun
Ya’akov Dori, the first Chief of the General Staff, was in the market for a new submachine gun to replace the existing weapons issued to IDF soldiers. The Uzi machine gun, named after its developer Uziel Gal, went head-to-head with the three most commonly used guns of the day: Germany’s Schmeisser, Britain’s Sten, and Italy’s Beretta. The Uzi beat them all, thanks to it being lightweight, cost-efficient and easy to assemble.
The Uzi was first introduced to the IDF on the seventh anniversary of Israel’s Independence Day in 1955. It quickly became the gold standard of IDF guns, and played a significant role in the Sinai Campaign and Six-Day War. It sold to over 90 countries before falling into disuse. However, variations of the gun are still used today, primarily by elite commando units or security personnel.
8. Drip Irrigation Systems
Though primitive drip irrigation has been used since ancient times, modern techniques are rooted in Israeli innovation. Germany began developing drip irrigation systems in 1860 by experimenting with subsurface clay pipes. In the 1920s, those pipes became perforated, allowing water to drip out. Distribution of water was later developed in Australia by Hannis Thill.
But it was Israel that solved the problem of tiny drip irrigation holes getting clogged by particles in the water. Israeli Simcha Blass and his son Yeshayahu invented a plastic emitter that releases water through larger passageways by using velocity to slow the flow of water. Blass established the first experimental system of this type in 1959, and then partnered with Kibbutz Hatzerim to create an irrigation company called Netafim, which continues to thrive today.
Romanian Jew Ephraim Hertzano immigrated to pre-state Israel with his family in the early 1930s. Hertzano developed Rummikub, a game combining elements of rummy, dominoes, mahjong and chess, and made the first tile sets by hand in the backyard of his home.
Hertzano sold the first Rummikub sets door-to-door, or on a consignment basis at local shops. As the game’s popularity gained, the Hertzano family licensed it to other countries, making it Israel’s number one exported game. By 1977, Rummikub was the bestselling game in the United States.
6. Babylon Computer Dictionary
In 1995, Israeli entrepreneur Amnon Ovadia began working on an online English-Hebrew dictionary that wouldn’t interrupt the source text. This work resulted in the founding of Babylon Ltd. in 1997, and the first edition of the Babylon computer dictionary launching that year.
Just one year later, Babylon boasted 2.5 million users from around the world. Within three years, the system had nearly doubled that number. Babylon was ultimately integrated into most Microsoft programs, allowing users to translate content with just the click of a mouse.
5. Google’s Search Algorithm
In 2006, Google acquired an advanced text search algorithm invented by Israeli student Ori Alon in collaboration with faculty at University of New South Wales in Australia. Yahoo and Microsoft were allegedly also negotiating with the school for rights to the software.
Alon’s Orion software offers only the most relevant textual results alongside a list of topics directly related to the original search. “For example, if you search information on the War of Independence, you’ll receive a list of related words, like Etzel, Palmach, Ben-Gurion,” Alon explained to Haaretz. If you’re not sure exactly what that means, feel free to Google it.
4. Instant Messaging
ICQ, the first of the so-called “instant messager” programs, was released in November 1996. Developed by Israeli company Mirabilis, ICQ was a response to the multitude of users who were not familiar with established chat technologies like Internet Relay Chat.
Mirabilis’ free ICQ technology was so successful that AOL acquired the company in 1998 for $407 million, at the time the largest Israeli technology buy ever made. By 2001, ICQ had over 100 million accounts registered.
3. USB Flash Drive
Amir Ban, Dov Moran and Oron Ogdan, employees of Israeli company M-Systems, invented the now-ubiquitous USB flash drive. IBM partnered with M-Systems to bring the “DiskOnKey” to market on December 15, 2000.
The first generation flash drive had a storage capacity of 8MB, a figure five times greater than the storage available on floppy disks. Smaller, faster, and more reliable than floppy disks or CD-ROMs, flash drives quickly replaced those storage technologies worldwide.
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