The magnetic compass was invented by the Chinese around the 4th century B.C., and was originally used as a figurative aid to help manage their daily lives. It was introduced to Europe in the 14th century, where it was improved upon and used as a navigational aid.
Magnetic compasses provided a means of observing direction by fastening a magnetic mineral called lodestone to a bronze plate designed to represent the Earth. Lodestone serves as a permanent magnet with a north-south polarity, and it was typically crafted in the shape of a ladle or spoon that constantly pointed north. Markers on the plate helped determine each major cardinal direction and other navigational information.