― George Santayana
"I've got news for Mr. Santayana: we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive."
― Kurt Vonnegut
-- I have no idea who originally said this, and DuckDuckGo doesn't seem to be especially helpful in enlightening me on the origin of this particular corollary to Santayana's quote
What the original saying is about is pretty clear from the words "condemned" or "doomed" to repeat it (depending on the version). 
The saying is not about "reinventing the wheel" as in "refining/reinventing something already positive". It's trying to steer people away from major mistakes. Like ones that lead to great human tragedies and loss. Of course, everything can scale, it can affect an individual or the whole world.