List of Korean inventions and discoveries

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This is a list of Korean inventions and discoveries.


Early cultivation of the soybean dates back to 4,000 years ago, and originates in Manchuria and the Korean peninsula.[1][2] Early Chinese records mention that soybeans were gifted from the region encompassing Manchuria and Korea. Korean soybeans dating to 3000 BP are the oldest to be discovered.[3] The oldest preserved soybeans resembling modern varieties in size and shape, dating to about 1000 BC, were found in archaeological sites in Korea.[4] Radiocarbon dating of soybean samples recovered through flotation during excavations at the Early Mumun period Okbang site in Korea indicates that soybeans were cultivated as a food crop in around 1000–900 BC.[4]
Greenhouses in which the temperature could be manually manipulated first appeared in 15th century Korea. The 15th century treatise, the Sanga Yorok, contains descriptions of greenhouses designed to regulate the temperature and humidity requirements of plants and crops. One of the earliest records of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty in 1438 confirms growing mandarin orange trees in a traditional Korean greenhouse during the winter and installing an ondol system to provide heat.[5]
The first standardized pluviometer (rain gauge), called the cheugugi, was invented during the reign of Sejong the Great in the Joseon dynasty of Korea.[6][7][8][9][10] The cheugugi was used throughout the country for official purposes. In the 15th century, Korea was the only country to use a quantitative measuring device for the purpose of meteorological observation.[10]
In 1441, the Joseon scientist Jang Yeong-sil invented the world's first water gauge, called the supyo (수표/水標). The supyo was a calibrated stone column placed in the middle of a body of water, connected by a stone bridge,[11] that indicated drought, normal, and flood levels.[7]


In the ondol system, heat and smoke from the kitchen stove circulates under the building, warming the floors, then exits through the chimneys.
Namhan Mountain Fortress
Gyeongcheonsa Pagoda
One of the earliest systems of underfloor heating, dating back 2,500 years, was invented and widely used by Koreans. The Korean ondol heating system was thought to be the oldest of its kind until the recent archaeological discovery of a similar heating system in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. However, the archaeologist who discovered it agrees with Korean researchers that the two systems developed independently, based on the distance of 5,000 kilometers and the absence of ondol in the areas between them.[12][13][14] Inspired by the Korean ondol hydronic radiant floor heating system, the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright developed and introduced the first "radiant heating system" using hot water pipes.[15][16]
The ancient Silla kingdom created an early refrigeration system called seokbinggo, which were subterranean chambers used to store ice and food.[17][18]
Koreans developed a unique and distinct fortress tradition.[19] There are numerous types of Korean fortresses, including sanseong (mountain fortress), eupseong (city fortress), pyeongjiseong, gwanseong, jangseong, chaekseong, and more.[20] Korean fortresses were based on a stone culture and built using stones, and often incorporated natural mountainous terrain, and therefore were conceptually completely different compared to Chinese fortresses, which were based on an earth culture and built using bricks from earth.[21][22] Korean fortresses were invented by Goguryeo and spread to Baekje and Silla,[23] and then inherited and further developed by Goryeo and then Joseon.[22] Goguryeo fortress ruins have been found in about 170 sites to date, including in China;[24] one of the most notable among them is Anshi Fortress, which successfully defended against Tang Taizong during the Goguryeo–Tang War.[25][26] Korea, especially Goguryeo,[20][24][27] has often been called the "country of (mountain) fortresses";[19][22][28][29] almost 2,400 mountain fortress sites have been found in Korea.[19][22] Korean-style fortresses can also be found in Japan, which were constructed and supervised by immigrants of Baekje origin.[22]
Koreans created a unique and distinct pagoda tradition using stone.[30][31][32] Pagodas were created in India using earth, then in China using wood, which spread to the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and then Japan; however, the pagoda tradition of East Asia diverged, with China creating pagodas using bricks, Korea creating pagodas using stone, and Japan continuing to use wood.[33][34][35][36][37] Korean stone pagodas were first created in Baekje during the early 7th century and then inherited by Later Silla; 90% of the pagodas in Later Silla were made of stone.[33] The stone pagoda tradition was propagated by the great abundance of high quality granite in Korea,[38] which also led to other granite creations such as the Seokguram and Cheomseongdae. Goryeo, a devoutly Buddhist state, also inherited the stone pagoda tradition.[39] Examples of Korean stone pagodas are: Mireuksa of Baekje; Dabotap and the Seven-storied stone pagoda in Tappyeong-ri of Later Silla; Gyeongcheonsa Pagoda of Goryeo; and Wongaksa Pagoda of Joseon. Examples of Korean wood pagodas are: Hwangnyongsa and Palsangjeon of Silla.


The earliest known constellation patterns in Korea can be found on dolmens dating back to 3000 BC.[40] The Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido is a planisphere inscribed on black marble that was completed in 1395 during the reign of King Taejo; according to its inscription, it is based on a star chart from ancient Goguryeo that was lost during wartime. It is known as the world’s second oldest star chart engraved in stone, after the Chinese Suzhou Star Chart of 1247. However, the Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido's stellar positions indicate an epoch dating back to the first century AD, thus making it the oldest actual representation of the stars in the world.[41]
The Cheomseongdae is the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia,[42][43][44] and possibly the world.[45][46][47] It was constructed in Seorabeol, the capital of Silla, during the reign of Queen Seondeok in the 7th century. Modeled on Baekje's Jeomseongdae, which now exists only in historical records, the Cheomseongdae influenced the construction of a Japanese observatory in 675, and Duke Zhou's observatory in China in 723.[48]


Hangul is the world's first featural writing system, wherein the shapes of the letters are not arbitrary, but encode phonological features of the phonemes they represent.[49] The Korean alphabet is unique among the world's writing systems, in that it combines aspects of featural, phonemic, and syllabic representation.[50]
Predating the creation of Hangul by hundreds of years, Koreans created various phonetic writing systems that were used in conjunction with Hanja, including: idu, hyangchal, gugyeol, and gakpil.[51][52][53][54] Some of them may have influenced the development of kana in Japan.[53][55][56]


Movable metal type was invented in Korea in the early thirteenth century,[57][58][59][60][61] predating Gutenberg’s invention in Europe by two centuries.[62] The first book to be printed with movable metal type is the Prescribed Ritual Texts of the Past and Present in 1234 during the Goryeo period.[63] The earliest surviving book to be printed with movable metal type is the Jikji, dated to 1377.[63][64] The first lead type in the world is the Byeongjinja created in 1436.[65] Metal types were called juja (cast characters), and the Joseon government operated the jujaso bureau, a continuation of Goryeo's seojeogwon, to print books and documents to be distributed to the central and local administrations, village schools, scholars, and officials.[66]


Jeongganbo is a unique traditional musical notation system created during the time of Sejong the Great that was the first East Asian system to represent rhythm, pitch, and time.[67][68]
First depicted in Goguryeo murals,[69] the janggu is the most widely used drum in traditional Korean music.
The most representative traditional instrument of Korea,[66] the gayageum was created in Gaya during the 6th century, and based on the Chinese guzheng.[70]
North Korea has developed many modernized instruments based on traditional instruments. The sohaegeum, junghaegeum, daehaegeum, and jeohaegeum are four-stringed fiddles of varying sizes, based on the traditional haegeum. The eoeungeum is a pear-shaped lute with 5 strings that is similar to the hyangbipa. The cheolhyeongeum and ongnyugeum are modernized zithers, and the jangsaenap is a modernized taepyeongso.[71]


In 1433, the scientist Jang Yeong-sil invented an automatic time-annunciating clepsydra called the Striking Palace Clepsydra under an order from Sejong the Great; the uniqueness of the clock was its capability to announce dual-times automatically with both visual and audible signals.[72] Jang developed a signal conversion technique that made it possible to measure analog time and announce digital time simultaneously as well as to separate the water mechanisms from the ball-operated striking mechanisms.[73] The conversion device was called pangmok, and was placed above the inflow vessel that measured the time, the first device of its kind in the world.[74] Hence, the Striking Palace Clepsydra is the first hydro-mechanically engineered dual-time clock in the history of horology.[75][76]


Inlaid celadon, 12th century
Korean celadon reached its pinnacle with the invention of the sanggam inlay technique in the early 12th century.[77][78][79]

Traditional medicine[edit]

The traditional Korean sauna, called the hanjeungmak, is a domed structure constructed of stone that was first mentioned in the Sejong Sillok of the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty in the 15th century.[80][81] Supported by Sejong the Great, the hanjeungmak was touted for its health benefits and used to treat illnesses.[80] In the early 15th century, Buddhist monks maintained hanjeungmak clinics, called hanjeungso, to treat sick poor people; these clinics maintained separate facilities for men and women due to high demand.[82] Korean sauna culture and kiln saunas are still popular today, and Korean saunas are ubiquitous.[83]
Koryo hand acupuncture[84] is a modern system of acupuncture, created by Yu Tae-u in the 1970s,[85] in which the hand represents the entire body and is needled or stimulated during treatment.[86] Hand acupuncture is popular among the general population as a form of self-medication in Korea, and has adherents in Japan and North America;[85] it is also popular among overseas Koreans.[87] Korean hand acupuncture is different from American hand reflexology, another form of alternative medicine.[88]



18th century depiction of the geobukseon
The hwacha is a mobile multiple rocket launcher that uses gunpowder to fire up to 200 singijeon rockets at one time. The hwacha was invented in 1409, but saw its greatest use during the Imjin War, most famously in the Battle of Haengju, in which 30,000 Japanese were repelled by 3,400 Koreans with the help of 40 hwachas.[89] Hwachas were used against both land and sea targets.[90]
The world's earliest naval gunships armed with mounted cannons were used to great success in 1380 at the Battle of Jinpo, in which Goryeo ships decimated Wokou pirates using newly developed gunpowder and cannons by Choe Museon.[91][92][93]
The turtle ship, also known as the geobukseon, was the first armored warship in the world.[94][95][96] Turtle ships were built during the Joseon dynasty beginning in the early 15th century up until the 19th century,[94] but are most often associated with Admiral Yi Sun-sin, who used them in battle against the Japanese in the Imjin War (1592–1598).
The myeonje baegab was a soft bulletproof vest invented in 1867 in the Joseon dynasty.[97][98]
The cheonbochong (천보총/千步銃), or the "thousand paces gun", was a type of jochong matchlock musket invented in Joseon during the reign of King Sukjong (1674–1720). Compared to other jochongs of the time that had a range of 120m, the cheonbochong was recorded to have a range of 1200m.[99]
The pigyok chinchollae (비격진천뢰/飛擊震天雷), also called the Flying Thunderbolt,[100] was a time bomb with an adjustable fuse mechanism that was invented by Yi Jangson and first used in the Imjin War at the Battle of Gyeongju in 1592. It was projected into enemy camps and formations using the wangu mortar, and also used at sea.[101][102]


Samsung SGR-A1
In 2006, Samsung Techwin released the Samsung SGR-A1, a sentry guard robot designed to replace human counterparts at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. It is the first of its kind to have surveillance, tracking, firing, and voice-recognition systems built into a single unit.[103] In 2010, the South Korean firm DoDAAM unveiled the Super aEgis II, an automated turret-based weapon platform that uses thermal imaging to lock onto vehicles or humans up to 3 km away. It is able to function during nighttime and regardless of weather conditions. The system gives a verbal warning before firing, and though it is capable of firing automatically, the company reports that all of its customers have configured it to require human confirmation. It is used at various facilities in the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar, among other places, and has been tested in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.


The hexagonal tortoise problem was invented by Joseon mathematician Choi Seokjeong (1646–1715).[104] It is a mathematical problem that involves a hexagonal lattice like the hexagonal pattern on a tortoise shell, and is similar to a geometric magic square.
The first literature on the Latin square dates back to the monograph Gusuryak by Choi Seokjeong,[105] predating Leonhard Euler by at least 67 years.[106][107]
The Korean mathematician Rimhak Ree discovered and constructed the Ree group in the mathematical field of group theory.
Chisanbop is an abacus-like calculation system using fingers that was invented in Korea in the 1940s and brought to the West in the 1970s.[108]

Modern science[edit]

Natural science[edit]

Simulation result for formation of inversion channel (electron density) and attainment of threshold voltage (IV) in a nanowire MOSFET

Biomedical science[edit]

Structural diagram of gemifloxacin

Social science[edit]

  • Blue Ocean Strategy denote all the industries not in existence today—the unknown market space, untainted by competition. The term was coined by W. Chan Kim. However, the book was published in English, by a U.S. publisher and researched and written at INSEAD, a non-Korean college.
  • Ubiquitous City or U-City, is a 21st-century futurist city which enables urban functions and services such administration, traffic, crime prevention, fire prevention and home-networking of residential places, fusing high-tech infrastructure and ubiquitous information available into the urban area.[158][159]




In 2000, LG Electronics introduced the world's first digital refrigerator called the Internet Digital DIOS.[196]
In 2012, Dongbu Daewoo Electronics introduced the world’s first wall-mounted drum type washing machine called the "Mini".[197][198]
In 2015, LG Electronics unveiled the world's first washing machine that allows for two separate loads to be washed simultaneously using the "TWIN Wash System".[199][200]
The kimchi refrigerator is designed to meet the storage requirements of kimchi. The first commercial kimchi refrigerator was created by Winia Mando in 1995.[201]
Invented by Romi Haan in 2001, the steam mop is a type of electric mop that uses hot steam to disinfect floors.[202][203]

Information technology[edit]

  • Contactless smart transport card: Seoul has the world's longest experience of using contactless transport cards.[204] The Korean system integrator Intec and Seoul Bus Union first launched a test of their system in a trial from October to December 1995.[205] The first contactless e-Ticketing systems went live in 1996 in Seoul and 1997 in Hongkong.[206]
  • Coloring Ring back tone: A South Korean wireless services provider, invented this type of ringback tones for cellphone networks.[207] CRBT (Coloring Ring back tones) are pieces of music and audio clips that callers hear instead of normal ringing tone when they dial a specific number. The original service first premiered by South Korean operator SK Telecom in April 2002.[207][208][209]
  • WiBro: An abbreviation of wireless broadband, refers to the Mobile WiMAX system developed and deployed in Korea.[210]
  • Digital Multimedia Broadcasting: The technology was developed in South Korea.[211]
  • Digital Mobile TV: By developing Digital Multimedia Broadcasting, Korea became the first nation in the world to introduce mobile television.[212] In 1999, Samsung introduced the SCH-M220, the world's first TV phone.[213]
  • Virtual Store: A Korean supermarket chain, Home Plus has developed a "virtual" store by Homeplus CEO Lee Seung-han, who originally had the idea in 2008. It allows consumers to do their shopping with smartphones from the subway station with the Homeplus App and get the items delivered to their doorsteps. It opened at Seolleung subway station in Seoul, Korea.[214]
  • LTE service: The world's first commercial LTE device, developed by Samsung, was provided for the world's first LTE service in Stockholm.[215] The South Korean company is providing the LTE infrastructure on the MetroPCS, North America’s first operator offering 4G LTE services.[178]


Entertainment technology[edit]

  • ScreenX: the world’s first multi-projection system that allows theater-goers to go beyond the frame of the movie screen by extending the images onto the theater walls, created by South Korean conglomerate and multiplex cinema chain CJ CGV in 2012.[225] The technique provides a panoramic experience, but demands that film-makers take the two new 'screens' into account when shooting their movies.[226]
  • 4DX: the world's first and leading 4D Technology-based movie theatres, developed by South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX, a part of the CJ Group in 2009. 4DX allows a motion picture presentation to be augmented with environmental effects such as seat motion, wind, rain, fog, lights, and scents along with the standard video and audio.[227]


  • Electronic café: An archaic form of cybercafé called Electronic Café opened in front of Hongik University in March 1988 by Ahn Sang-Su and Keum Nuri in Seoul, South Korea. It had two 16bit computers connected to Online service networks through telephone lines. Online service users’ offline meetings were held in the Electronic Café, which served as a place that connected online and offline activities.[228]
  • LAN gaming center: PC Bang, otherwise called local area network-based gaming center, is a place where people can get access to high-speed Internet.[229] PC bangs rose to popularity following the release of the PC game StarCraft in 1998.[230] In 1997, there were only around 100 PC bangs in South Korea but by 2002 this number has increased rapidly to around 25,000.[231]
  • Question-and-answer site: Naver the number-one search portal in South Korea, pioneered a community-driven question-and-answer site called Knowledge Search in 2002.[232] The program allows users to ask about any questions, such as requests for recipes for kimchi or how to subscribe to international magazines through the internet.[233] Later in 2005, Yahoo! Answers launched a question-and-answer service, which was modeled from the Korean Naver's Knowledge Search.[234]
  • National intranet: North Korea's Kwangmyong (Bright Light) is generally considered the first national intranet, developed in 2000 as another alternative to state-controlled Internet services.
  • eSports: eSports in the field of online gaming started its first league in 1997 when Starcraft became popular in South Korea. In December 1997, PC Bang chains opened the first national online gaming league, known as Korea Pro-Gamers League. The term, " eSports" was first coined by Park Ji-won, minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism in February 2000 when he first inaugurated the Korean e-Sports Association.[235]

Traditional games[edit]

  • Yut is a traditional board game played in Korea, especially during Korean New Year. The game is also called cheok-sa or sa-hee. The suffix nori means "game".[236]
  • Polyhedral dice or Juryeonggu 주령구(酒令具) was first invented in Unified Silla period in the 7th century, it is a 14-sided wooden dice and was a popular drinking game among the nobility.[237]
  • Tujeon, a traditional card game played with long rectangular numbered cards decorated with animal motifs and characters on one side.[238]
  • Seunggyeongdo Nori, or "Government Career Ladder Climbing Game" (승경도놀이, 陞卿圖) or also known as Jongjeongdo (종정도, 從政圖), is a traditional board game that is played on a board with a list of all the bureaucratic posts ordered from lowest to highest rank. The objective is to reach the highest rank by the end of the game. It is attributed to Ha Ryun (1347-1416), a literati bureaucrat at the end of the Goryeo dynasty, who first created the game.[239] It is very similar to another traditional popular board game called Seongbuldo (성불도, 成佛圖), or literally "a drawing of becoming Buddha" that was played during Goryeo dynasty. The game itself became popular abroad in China during Ming and Qing dynasties.
  • Jangchigi, or "bat striking" (장치기놀이) is a traditional folk sport that is similar to field hockey, it was popular sport in Joseon dynasty and Goryeo dynasty among the general populace. It is similar to Gyeokgu, a traditional Korean polo sport, but without using horses.[240]

Martial arts[edit]

Main article: Korean martial arts
  • Taekgyeon is believed that it originated with warriors from the Silla Dynasty (57 BCE–668 CE) who learned subak from the neighboring Goguryeo armies when they appealed for their help against invading Japanese pirates. Practicing subak became part of the training for Silla's hwarang, and this contributed to the spread of subak on the Korean peninsula. But again, it is not known exactly which techniques the hwarang practiced. Buddhist monks, who added more spiritual aspects to the art, often instructed the hwarang. Their greatest contribution to the development of Korean martial arts is probably adding a spiritual dimension to the training practices, something that Korean martial arts lacked before. Empty-handed combat appears to have played a small role; most of the emphasis was on armed combat. It has only been recently that empty-handed combat has gained more popularity than armed combat.[241]
  • Ssireum is a form of folk wrestling native to Korea. In the modern form each contestant wears a belt that wraps around the waist and the thigh. The competition employs a series of techniques, which inflict little harm or injury to the opponent: opponents lock on to each other's belt, and one achieves victory by bringing any part of the opponent's body above the knee to the ground.[242]
  • Gukgung, also known as gungsul, is traditional Korean archery that makes use of the gakgung, the traditional Korean composite bow made of horn.[243]


Inspired by the Southeast Asian sport sepak takraw,[244] jokgu is a modern sport invented in 1960 by members of the Republic of Korea Air Force's 11th Fighter Wing that combines aspects of football and volleyball.[245]


The ubiquitous instant coffee 'sticks' filled with instant coffee, cream, and sugar were developed by the Dongsuh Food Company in 1976.[246]
The Korean exfoliating mitt[247] is a mass-produced bath product used to scrub and peel the outermost layer of skin; it was invented in Busan by Kim Pil-gon in 1962. Since then, the Italy Towel has become a household item in Korean homes and a staple item in Korean saunas. The Korean exfoliating mitt was named the Italy Towel because the viscose fabric used to make it was imported from Italy at the time.[248][249]
The dol bed, or stone bed, is a manufactured bed that has the same heating effect as ondol and is purported to have health benefits.[250] The dol bed industry is estimated to be worth 100 billion Korean won, comprising 30 to 40 percent of the entire bed industry in South Korea; dol beds are most popular with middle-aged people in their 40s and 50s.[251][252]


The earliest depictions of whaling have been discovered in Korea at the Neolithic Bangudae site, which may date back to 6000 BC.[253] Bangudae is the earliest evidence for whaling.[254]
Thundersticks, known as makdae pungseon in Korea, are inflatable plastic promotional noisemakers that are most often used at sporting events, political rallies, and concerts. Makdae pungseon were created by BalloonStix Korea and first used in 1994 at an LG Twins baseball game.[255][256][257]

See also[edit]


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