Bartolommeo Cristofori was, for most of his life, just an average harpsichord builder from Florence, Italy. But in 1709 that all changed when he became an average piano builder, quite a feat considering he was the only one at the time. You see, Bartolommeo Cristofori is the man who invented what is now regarded as the first piano. He came up with the idea of replacing a harpsichord's plucking mechanism with a new hammer action that allowed keys to respond to varying degrees of pressure, resulting in a sound that could range from soft to loud. He further refined the instrument in 1726, installing knobs at both ends of the keyboard. These have now been replaced in modern pianos with the soft pedal.
Sadly for Cristofori his work elicited little response in his home country, where opera dominated the music scene. Bartolommeo Cristofori died without fanfare at the age of 76 in 1731 at his home in Florence.