The compass is a Chinese invention dating back to at least AD 1040. Zheng He is recorded as the first person to have used a compass as a navigational device. He traveled across the ocean at least seven times between 1405 and 1433.
At first, the compass served as spiritual device. It was used to create a feng shui environment and to construct fortune telling boards. Later it was discovered that a compass could be used for navigation. Initially, compasses were made with lodestone, which is a magnetic mineral that always points north and south. Lodestones were eventually replaced with magnetized needles.