Belgian Inventions: Surprising Everyday Ideas & Products

Like many of its neighbors, Belgium has contributed significantly to the world’s development through its incredible inventions. While you certainly know Belgium for its delicious chocolates, waffles, fries and beer, this nation has a fascinating history that extends far beyond its culinary delights.

In this post, I want to show you some of the lesser-known Belgian inventions. Things that have helped to shape our modern world.


Plastic is all around us. But did you know it originated in Belgium?

The invention of plastic, specifically Bakelite, can be credited to Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland. In 1907, Baekeland created this handy material, which was resistant to heat, electricity, and water. Not surprisingly, plastic quickly gained popularity and became the foundation for so many materials and products we know and love today.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Weight Loss - BMI
Weight Loss – BMI

Ever worried about your weight, or been to the gym? You might have heard of the BMI.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a widely used measurement to assess an individual’s body weight relative to their height. The Belgian mathematician and statistician Adolphe Quetelet developed the idea early in the 19th century as part of his studies on social physics. While the BMI has its limitations in terms of accuracy and application, it remains a useful tool even today.


If you have ever wandered the streets of Dinant, you may already be aware of this. The saxophone, a staple of jazz and classical music, was invented by Belgian musical instrument designer Adolphe Sax in 1840. This versatile brass instrument, characterized by its distinctive curved shape, is played by musicians worldwide and is an essential component of various music genres, particularly Jazz.


Who can live without asphalt? You probably walked over some or drove on it today. Multiple times.

Belgian chemist Edmond J. DeSmedt is responsible for the modern asphalt paving technique that revolutionized road construction. In 1870, DeSmedt patented his asphalt manufacturing process and proceeded to pave Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., as a demonstration of its effectiveness. The rest is history!

Internal Combustion Engine

And if you did drive on that road today, chances are you used a petrol engine, also known as an Internal Combustion Engine.

Though the development of the internal combustion engine was a collaborative effort, Belgian engineer Étienne Lenoir played a pivotal role in its creation. In 1858, Lenoir patented the first practical gas-fueled internal combustion engine, laying the groundwork for modern engines and the development of society as we know it.

Contraceptive Pill

The Pill
The Pill

It may seem like a small thing, quite literally, but “the pill” changed the world.

Belgian gynecologist Ferdinand Peeters contributed to the development of the first oral contraceptive pill, a significant milestone in women’s reproductive health. In the early 1950s, Peeters discovered the contraceptive properties of chlormadinone acetate, a synthetic progestin. His research paved the way for the development and approval of the first birth control pill in the United States in 1960.

The Praline

Many manufacturers and countries have taken the concept and run with it, but Belgian confectioner Jean Neuhaus is credited with creating the praline. Yes, that tasty chocolate treat with a soft, flavored filling, was invented way back in Belgium in 1912. This delicious invention quickly became popular worldwide and remains a hallmark of Belgian chocolatiers today.

The Mercator Projection

Mercator Projection
Mercator Projection

Now this one may seem a little boring, but you would not have a flat, readable map such a Google Maps without it.

The Mercator Projection, a cylindrical map projection widely used for navigation, is the brainchild of the famous Belgian cartographer Gerardus Mercator. Developed in 1569, this map projection presents the Earth’s surface on a flat plane, making it easier for navigators to chart their courses accurately.

The JPEG Conversion

Another invisible blessing is the JPEG. Almost every photo on your hard drive, and until recently, most website photos are created with it.

The Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) file format, used extensively for digital image compression, has its roots in Belgium. In the late 1980s, Belgian engineer and computer scientist Professor Joël Mimus led the development of the JPEG algorithm. This groundbreaking image format has revolutionized digital photography and image sharing.

World Wide Web

While not solely a Belgian invention, the World Wide Web owes its existence in part to Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau. Cailliau collaborated with British inventor Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in the early 1990s to develop the World Wide Web’s underlying technology. Cailliau contributed to the creation of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and helped design the first web browser, making the Internet accessible and user-friendly for people worldwide.



Been to a disco lately, or maybe hundreds of times in your youth? Then you have seen many a stroboscope!

The stroboscope, a device used to study or observe rapidly moving objects by producing short, rapid flashes of light, was invented by Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1832. Plateau’s invention has numerous applications, from analyzing mechanical vibrations to creating special effects in the entertainment industry. The stroboscope has also given rise to the modern strobe light, a fixture in nightclubs and concerts.

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