What Does Necessity is the Mother of Invention Mean?

Necessity is the Mother of Invention Meaning

Definition: People respond more effectively to urgency, or necessity, rather than their own motivation.

Origin of Necessity is the Mother of Invention

This expression dates back to around the year 380 B.C. It comes from the work Republic, written by the Greek philosopher, Plato. The idea behind it is that having a problem supplies additional creativity to come up with innovative solutions.

The first use in English was in 1519, but it appeared in a slightly different form than we commonly see it today.

  • Need taught him wit.

The first English use where is approximately what we see today occurs in William Wycherley’s play Love in a Wood (1672).

  • Necessity, the mother of invention!

There are similar expressions in many other languages, including Italian, French, and German.

Examples of Necessity is the Mother of Invention

meaning of necessity is the mother of inventionIn this example, two friends are locked out of the man’s apartment.

Neha: Oh no. Is there a problem with your key?

Tyrese: Yeah, I feel like an idiot. I brought the wrong key. Now we’re locked out of my apartment. I guess I’ll have to call the locksmith. It will probably be awhile before we can get in.

Neha: Before you call, let me try something.

Tyrese: Where are you going?

Neha: I saw you had this thin metal fencing in your garden. I’m just unwinding a piece to try picking your lock. Wait a minute. Tada! It worked!

Tyrese: I can’t believe you just broke into my house with a random thing from my garden!

Neha: Well, they say that necessity is the mother of invention.

define mother of inventionIn this example, two office workers are speculating about early human inventions.

Barry: I wonder what happened to make humans invent fire. Do you think that lightning struck some dry trees, and when they saw it, they thought it was a good idea to try to harness that power?

Rachel: I’m not sure. Certainly it was a very important invention. Fire allowed humans to really advance their technology a lot. Maybe it was just a case of necessity is the mother of invention.

Barry: Perhaps you’re right.

More Examples

This excerpt talks about the practical need for portable food at fairs.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and carnival food companies needed to create items that customers could eat while walking around. The carnival is not a fancy, leisurely, sit-down restaurant. –Houston Chronicle

This excerpt is from an article about the war in Syria and its impact on the residents there.

In Syria, necessity is the mother of invention.

Amid bombs and scarcity, residents of Aleppo learn new ways to cook with whatever is left in their city. They figure out how to light the remnants of their homes without any electricity. And they carry each other to the hospital, because there is no gas or spare parts for ambulances. –USA Today


The expression necessity is the mother of invention means that people are more inspired to create something new when they have to, rather than when they simply desire to.