The Dutch are an industrious bunch, and although there’s no possible way we could cover everything that the world’s tallest people have been up to over the past 400 years, we can give you the best-of list, right here. Bookmark it for pocket reference the next time you’re trying to impress your lovely Dutch date. Here’s everything the world needs to thank the Dutch for.
1. Most of the audio & video formats you grew up with
Dutch gadget giant Philips invented the cassette format (well, they called it the “compact cassette”) in 1962. Thanks to the invention of Sony’s Walkman, a decade later, it became incredibly popular for a long, long time. Eventually the cassette was replaced by the CD — and yeah, Philips invented that too… with Sony, in 1979.
Philips and Sony were working on the video side, too. In 1969 they released a new state-of-the-art format for at-home movie watching: the LaserDisc. Though the LaserDisc lost the marketing battle to the JVC-invented VHS format, the Dutch weren’t done. Sony and a couple more of JVC’s fellow-Japanese competitors helped Philips refine this tech into the DVD format by 1995. Later they came up with their own replacement: the Blu-ray disc, in 2006. Unfortunately, this format was born at the end of the physical-media age of entertainment.
Oh yeah, the CD-ROM? They did that too.
2. WiFi & Bluetooth
The Dutch are decidedly into IT, so it’s no surprise that there were Dutch scientists behind the world’s two most ubiquitous wireless local data-transfer technologies, invented in the ‘90s. However, they definitely weren’t alone. They couldn’t have done it without the Australians and the Swedish.
3. M.C. Escher
Did you know the artist of the impossible staircases was Dutch? There’s a museum dedicated to him in The Hague, and it’s as mind-bendingly trippy as you would expect.
Well, the word for it anyway. (And the existence of gin.) The word “booze” comes from Olde Dutch slang for “to drink heavily.” Other Dutch contributions to the English lexicon include hemp (duh), landscape, boss, yankee, spooky, cookie, coffee, cruise, quack, skate, and Santa Claus (to name a handful).
5. Marriage equality
The world’s first legal same-sex marriage ceremony took place between four couples in Amsterdam at midnight on April 1st, 2001 and was presided over by the (very enthusiastic) Mayor Job Cohen himself.
6. The Enlightenment
By the 17th century, the Netherlands (particularly Amsterdam) was already a cultural melting pot. They also had a particular distaste for being told what to do and decided they were going to print whatever damn books they felt like. Together, this not only spawned local free thinkers (most notably Baruch Spinoza), but also attracted top thinkers from neighboring countries, like France (René Descartes) and England (John Locke).
7. Orange carrots
Before the 17th century, carrots were purple or white or yellow. Around that time, though, everyone started eating orange. There is some debate around who was actually behind the switch, but most people agree that it had to do with honoring the Dutch royal family: the House of Orange, who were popular with the revolutionary and the Protestant crowd (see the orange stripe in the Irish flag). At the very least, orange carrots appeared first in the Netherlands.
8. Gouda cheese
In case you didn’t know that Gouda was a cheese-trading town in the Netherlands. Fun fact: though Gouda is called Gouda because of the way it’s made and tastes, in the Dutch cheese industry, the name actually refers to the big, round shape the cheese is usually sold in.
9. Melisandre (from Game of Thrones)
Actress Carice van Houten is as well known for getting naked in front of the camera in her native Netherlands as she is to Game of Thrones fans the world over. She comes from a culture that’s quite comfortable with nudity. You’re welcome.
10. Daario Naharis
Ladies, we got you covered too. Michiel Huisman (or Cal from Orphan Black or Liam from Nashville, if you prefer) is also Dutch.
11. The telescope and microscope
Galileo Galilei made the telescope famous… a year after it was invented in the Netherlands (in 1608). It’s still up for debate whether the actual inventor was Zacharias Janssen or Hans Lipperhey — but either way, he was Dutch. The Dutch were also casting their eye on the small scale with the invention of the microscope (and even the century of invention). And although this is also under dispute — whether it was Zacharias again, or Hans Jansen in 1595, or Antonie van Leeuwenhoek a few decades later — it was still a Dutchie. The original versions of both devices were pretty crappy and a pain in the ass to use, but hey, you gotta start somewhere.
12. The stock market
Is “thank” the right word here? Anyways, the stock market, including futures trading and short selling and all the other money-pumping practices that go with it, were invented by the Dutch starting in 1602 as a scheme to fund and spread the risk of the long, trade-based sea voyages of the East India Company. And yep, they helped a lot of people, from small businessmen to housemaids get rich.
13. Fair trade
Once colonialism went too far, the Dutch (like everyone else) just kept going. But then in 1859 a man named Eduard Douwes Dekker grew a conscience and, under the dramatic pen name Multatuli (“I have suffered greatly”), wrote a satire about the brutal coffee trade on the island of Java. It got really popular. And the Dutch had to kind of cut out the cruelty a bit… if not the whole colonialism thing. Then, more than a century later (in 1988), some other Dutch guys set up the first official fair-trade label and named it after that book: Max Havelaar.
14. Speed cameras (the original “Gatso” type)
Sorry. It was originally intended for race tracks.
15. Your garden
The Dutch are known for the tulip, which is actually an adaptation of the Turkish variety, and happens to sell a huge amount in the flower market. But the Dutch are growing a lot more than that… and shipping it to your local flower shop. A whole 24% of the horticultural trade is driven by the Dutch, and that number jumps up to 50% when you’re talking about flowers only. That’s a lot more than tulips. It’s food too — the Dutch are also the world’s leading onion growers.
16. Modern fire-fighting
Jan van der Heyden was a Golden Age Dutch painter… and really got into fire-quenching technology. Not only did he develop the modern roll-up fire hose with his brother, Nicolaes, in 1673, but he also developed an advanced pumping system, tinkered with the fire-engine model, published history’s most famous firefighting book, and set up and led the first Amsterdam volunteer fire department. The story goes that he witnessed the destruction of Amsterdam’s original town hall, conveniently located next to his house, and he got super motivated to prevent that from happening again. He also set up the city’s — and one of the world’s — first street-lighting systems, because, you know, he was bored, probably. Or maybe he wanted to keep his fire brigade on their toes.
17. Levees (dykes) and man-made islands
The Dutch have been fighting back floods, draining land, and building islands since they started populating their wet corner of Europe. In addition to boasting a number of impressive projects — locks, seemingly endless levees, and at least half of Amsterdam — they’re the go-to experts abroad, helping countries like Japan and the US build water defenses and the city of Dubai new islands of entertainment.
18. The Voice
OK, American Idol started the whole voting-on-vocal-dreams concept, but we all know the kinder, more chair-spinning version is better. At least the US Emmys do. And it all started in Holland first (The Voice of Holland, to be precise) thanks to John de Mol, co-founder of the Endemol production company, now a global powerhouse in reality TV. Unfortunately, de Mol was also the force behind Big Brother and Fear Factor.
If you work in virtual 3D, you know Blender as the world’s biggest open-source 3D software. If you don’t, you might be more familiar with their animation-studio side, with free-to-use classics like Sintel and Big Buck Bunny being favorites to play on loop wherever entertainment devices or platforms are being demo-ed.
By the way, contributors to open-source software do a lot of coding in Python — another Dutch invention (thanks, Guido van Rossum).
20. Everything to do with maps (from atlases to Sat Nav)
With all the sailing and trade travel they’ve done throughout history, it’s no wonder the Dutch know their way around the world. What you might not realize, though, is that it’s thanks to a bunch of Dutch dudes. Their navigation-based innovations, dating from the 16th century on, include triangulation, the Mercator projection (aka the reason Greenland looks ginormous on flat maps), the first modern atlases, and the Dijkstra algorithm to find the shortest path between any two points, without which there would be no Sat Nav. (Oh yeah, TomTom is a Dutch company, as well.). The algorithm is named after Edsger Dijkstra, one of the main forces behind the acceptance of computer programming as a scientific discipline (and a whole lot more — Edsger Dijkstra was badass).
21. The metronome
It was invented by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel in Amsterdam in 1812. It uses mechanics similar to the pendulum clock, also by the Dutch.
22. Brussels sprouts
Well, they can’t all be winners.
Photo credit: Amsterdam Today