2.5 Technology

John Milton: 1608-74; Britain, he said, was

'...a nation not slow or dull, but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point that human capacity can soar to.' (Areopagitica, 1644) 

Patents: Britain has the world’s longest continuous tradition of time-limited monopolies for inventions in return for written disclosure; most countries’ systems have been based on Britain's, featuring a first to file rule; the earliest patent on the island, though this isn't the earliest in Europe, is dated 1449; this was for a method of making stained glass - for the windows of Eton College

Rainwear: the recorded tradition of keeping dry outdoors on a moist island starts with the renowned hooded woollen cloak known to the Romans as the birrus Britannicus [see Grass]; modern times saw the development of the raincoat in Britain

'The first raincoat manufactured for sale was Fox’s Aquatic Gambroon Cloak, marketed by G. Fox of 28 King Street, Covent Garden in 1821 and “warranted never to get wet when properly made up.” Gambroon was a type of twill material containing mohair, but nothing is known about the waterproofing process.' [Source: Robertson]

The 1820s also saw the rubberized raincoat of Charles Macintosh; this was the first genuinely waterproof waterproof, 1824, and Macintosh can be regarded as the inventor of waterproof fabric; the typical 'Mackintosh' (sic) made from his thick fabric was unshapely, gave off a dubious odour and was prone to stickiness in hot weather

'The first shower-proof material capable of being styled according to the prevailing mode was patented in 1852 by the London firm Bax & Co. of Regent Street, which dispensed with rubber altogether and produced a chemically treated wool fabric they called by the name of Aquascutum- compounded from two Latin words meaning “water-shield.” The Aquascutum raincoast won a considerable reputation during the winter campaign of 1854-55 in the Crimean War…' [Source: Robertson]

Thomas Burberry’s ‘gabardine’ fabric raincoat appeared in 1910; it was based on yarn waterproofed before weaving; on the Western Front in the First World War it became the ‘trench coat’ style icon; Leslie Cohen’s Pakamak of 1949 was a cross between the trench coat and a plastic bag

'Lightweight tailored rainwear: The classic modern light raincoat is made of proofed poplin, originally produced by the English textile company P. Frankenstein, the subsidiary of which, Paul Blanche of Manchester (reputedly the wettest city in Britain), began making it up into high-fashion rainwear in 1950.' [Source: Robertson]

Peter Storm introduced a foldaway cagoule in 1954; in terms of footwear, it took developments in rubber manufacturing for ‘Wellington’ boots to enter at the double in the 1840s; Samuel Fox invented the steel-ribbed folding umbrella in 1852; the U-section ribs of this were inspired by the U-shaped girders of Thomas Telford’s bridge across Menai Strait to Anglesey
[see Fashion]

Stocking frame: William Lee, 1589; this was the first practical knitting machine

Lace machine: invented in Nottingham by John Leaver in 1805

Mercerized cotton: lustre, thread strength and dye affinity enhanced by chemical treatment: John Mercer, 1850

English Longbow: used by massed archers this was a battle-winning weapon, whose usefulness lasted into the early modern era, when it was supplanted by the musket; in its day the English longbow, made from yew, was a revolution in military affairs, ending the impregnability of mounted French knights in chain mail; the longbow probably arose in the Welsh borderlands around AD 1000 and should therefore more properly be called the ‘Welsh longbow’, though man-sized bows had been around since Neolithic times; the English longbow ultimately accrued 500 years of significance [see Agincourt]; its last use in battle was at Tippermuir, Scotland, during the English Civil War; the English longbow is not to be confused with the ‘English long ball’, a hoof upfield in football and rugby, from deep, gifting possession back to the opposition [see Sport & leisure]

Buck shot, perfectly spherical: William Watts achieved this in 1783, using molten lead falling in air into water, down what was to become known as a ‘shot tower’

Firearms: chemical ignition was first used by Alexander Forsyth in 1805; this was a replacement for the flintlock, which involved a flint striking metal to produce a spark; in chemical ignition sparks arise from chemicals after percussion; this development led in the 1820s to percussion caps plus separate bullet and powder; then came the all-in-one round; the first machine gun was that of James Puckle in 1718 [Source: Robertson]; a tripod-mounted brass barrel was served by a circular multi-cylinder revolving chamber, which was loaded with roundshot and turned with a crank; Puckle's weapon was an advance on muzzle-loaders of the time; the first breech-loading rifle was that of Patrick Ferguson (1744-1780); the first fully automatic machine gun was invented in London in 1884 by the American Hiram Maxim; cordite as a smokeless propellant was invented in 1889 by Frederick Abel and James Dewar (who also invented the vacuum flask in 1892)

Solid-fuel rocket: William Congreve, 1804; the ancients may well have had solid-fuel rockets, so this counts as a reinvention for the modern age

Safety fuse: William Bickford, 1831; less hazardous detonations

Torpedo: Robert Whitehead, 1866; the first aircraft-launched torpedo to sink an enemy ship did so in 1915 and was British; the motor torpedo boat was invented in Britain in the mid-1900s

Tank: invented in Britain during First World War and commissioned by Winston Churchill (1874-1965); first used in battle in 1916; Mother Mk I was the mother of all tanks; caterpillar tracks – i.e. continuous belted tread – had been invented in Britain in 1907, by David Roberts (they had also been thought up by aviation pioneer George Cayley, many decades previously); the Centurion is longest serving main battle tank in history, at 50 years; nautical terminology – hatch, turret, hull, deck – arises from the fact that tank was developed by the British Admiralty rather than the British Army; Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, had wanted ‘land ships’ to withstand the hail of bullets in No Mans Land between the trenches – and that’s what he got, revolutionizing land warfare; the first tank with a revolving turret was the Vickers Medium Mark I [Source: Robertson/Shell]

Mills bomb: used in the First World War, this was the first segmented grenade; the Tommies nicknamed them ‘pineapples’

Armed robots used in warfare: the first were British company QinetiQ's Talan Sword robots, armed with machine guns, deployed by the US Army in Iraq in 2007

Fog horn: demonstrated in 1844 by J N Taylor, London; it had a range of 6 miles [Source: Robertson/Shell]

Pencil: this was invented in Britain in the early 1500s, based on graphite mined in Borrowdale [see Graphite]; the pencil rubber (eraser) was invented by Joseph Priestley, around 1770 [Source: Robertson]

Stereotype (printing): William Ged, 1725; uneconomic to keep metal type set for second printing, so Ged took a plaster mould and then cast the whole page in metal

Pen first made of steel: Samuel Harrison, 1780

Typewriter: the world's first patent for a typewriter was that of Henry Mill (c1683-1771) in 1714, which described a 'Machine for Transcribing Letters'; the inventor seems to have built an actual machine and it seems to have worked - yet the world had to wait another century and half for a commercially available typewriter, from Denmark

Stapler: this was patented by CH Gould of Birmingham in 1868 [Source: Robertson/Shell]

Microphone: invented by Charles Wheatstone in 1827; the radio microphone was invented by Reg Moores in 1949 [see Radio microphone]; Charles Wheatstone (1802-75) had many other achievements to his credit, including the first understanding of stereo (two eyed) vision, that enables humans to judge distance; he invented a boxed mirror device that swapped round what the eyes saw, giving an effect like an impressionist painting; he is also famous for the Wheatstone bridge, for the measurement of electrical resistance, and he was a pioneer in the development of the telegraph [See Telegraph]

Tape recorder: the first, the Blattnerphone, was demonstrated in London in 1929 [Source: Robertson]; although based on foreign-held patents it was designed and made by a Briton, Louis Blattner; 'Spool, Britannia!'

Refrigeration: Jacob Perkins, an American in Britain, filed the first patent for vapour-compression refrigeration in 1834

Elastic band: patented in London by Stephen Parry, 1845

Bicycle: the early 1800s forerunner from the Continent was a push bike; the first known attempt to link the rider’s legs to a drive wheel was that of Kirkpatrick MacMillan, 1839, via treadles; a key development was the tensioned spoke wheel; this had been invented by aviation pioneer George Cayley (1773-1857), who had developed it in the early 1800s to replace the compession spoke wheel; Cayley had reinvented the wheel to allow an aircraft to land with rolling undercarriage, but the tensioned spoke wheel found its first major use in the bicycle; William Stanley developed the steel-wired spider wheel in 1849; the wire spoke wheel was first used by James Starley, ‘Father of the Bicycle Industry’; James Starley’s Ordinary of 1870 was the iconic and perilous penny farthing; the modern bicycle was born in 1885, however, with the Rover Safety Bicycle, designed by John Starley, James’s nephew; this was a low-mount equal-wheeled diamond-framed bicycle, with pedals and a chain drive attached to the rear wheel, freeing up the font one for steering, plus sprung saddle; tensioned spoke wheels were used; a solid rubber tyre was replaced by the air-inflated rubber (pneumatic) tyre of John Boyd Dunlop, 1888 – a reinvention, as Robert William Thomson had got their first in 1845; the wire-reinforced tyres of Charles Welch followed in 1890; cycling changed dress, notably for women, and made society more freewheeling; cyclists it was who rediscovered the open road in late 1800s, not the later motorists, after the railways had largely eliminated the need for long-distance horse-drawn passenger coaches; note, though, that horse transport overall did not peak in the 1800s but in the first decade of 1900s, with economic development calling for ever more urban horse-buses, horse-trams and horse-carriages, prior to the ascendancy of motor vehicles and electric trams after the First World War; the bicycle has had another great age with the arrival of the poor megacity in the last quarter of the 1900s, with around 100m bicycles being produced worldwide annually, compared with 40m cars; these bicycles are made to essentially the same design as that culminated in Britain in the late 1800s; the first solar-powered bicycle appeared in 1983; it was an electrically assisted machine, with a top speed of 23mph; it was the brain child of Alan Freeman of Rugby [Source: Robertson/Shell]


McLaren supercar: the MP4-12C supercar is for road use; it is based on F1 motor racing technology and is built at a factory in Woking, Surrey; it was first demonstrated in 2011; this was exactly three centuries after Britain produced the world's first motor car, as described in the next notice; British car production currrently stands at around 1.5m vehicles per year

First motor cars: the first mechanically propelled vehicle was demonstrated in 1711 by Christopher Holtum (d1749); an advertisement appeared in The Tatler of 11 January 1711 describing a 'Chariot, in which a Man may travel without Horses'; the longest ad appeared in the British Mercury on 19 February 1711, with no less than seven ads published in The Daily Courant, Britain's first daily newspapers and one of the world's earliest, in the period 13 January - 7 March 1711; the vehicle was reported as being driven around London's Covent Garden at 5 or 6 miles an hour; it could reverse and it had a distance-measuring device (i.e. odometer); a later advertisement in The Daily Courant said that the Chariot could be used as an invalid carriage in a ‘Park or Garden’, perhaps indicating that the demonstration model was a small affair; it was claimed that a 'Person of Quality' had purchased a machine 'which is to go on 4 Wheels, and swing in the Nature of a large Coach'; this implies that the demonstration machine was a three wheeler, a configuration which simplifies steering as in (i) the steam vehicle of the Frenchman Cugnot of 1769 (see later), (ii) the world’s first electric car of Briton David Salomen’s in 1874 and the world’s first practical electric car of another Briton, Magnus Volk, 1887 [Source: Robertson/Shell; see Electric power] and (iii) the petrol-engined motorised tricycle of Karl Benz of Germany, of 1885, that is usually regarded as the first modern car; Holtum's machine could be used with horses, the advertisement continued, to turn a pair into the equivalent of six, making it a four horse power affair; Holtum filed no patents and there is no record of him in the transactions of the Royal Society, yet his technical prowess is indicated by the initial newspaper announcement, which claimed that he was the 'first Author of Alarum for a Pocket-Watch' [see Timekeeping]; Holtum's name is on a longcase clock from the time of William III (reigned 1689-1702) as 'Christopher Holtum, Church Lawford' [Source: The Estates Gazette, Volume 222(2), 1514, 1972] and there are other examples of clocks with his name and this workplace on them; Church Lawford is a village in Warwickshire; there is a record of his marrying Ann Garfield of Church Lawford in 1710; the picture is thus of an out-of-town clockmaker, in his first year of married life and indeed shortly after the birth of his first child, producing a pioneering road vehicle which he demonstrates in the capital over a couple of months, advertising the fact repeatedly, with an evolving positive message [see More 17]; what might have made Holtum’s contraption tick?; clockwork propulsion is suitable only for toys, so a steam engine seems indicated, yet the use of such a device with horses would be problematic and in any case early examples were cumbersome low pressure affairs; this is true of the bulbous monstrosity that powered what is usually described as the first mechanically propelled road vehicle, of 1769, that of Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot, a big-wheeled tricycle; one small steam engine is recorded, however, that of pioneering engineer Edward Somerset (1601-67), 2nd Marquess of Worcester, who lived in the neighbouring county to Holtum in the previous generation [see Steam engine]; yet that was a pumping engine, like those of the later Savery, with moving valves but no pistons and wheels; Newcomen provided a piston driven steam engine in 1712; the fact that Holtum, the putative first motorist, does not figure at all in the history of the steam engine in itself perhaps suggests that his chariot was not steam powered; in 1803 Richard Trevithick & Andrew Vivian produced the London Steam Carriage, which really was driven by a steam engine; it was designed and built in Cornwall and fitted with a high-riding carriage body in London; the London Steam Carriage could travel at 10 mph; the world's first gas-turbine car was demonstrated in 1950; it was the Rover Jet I, built in Coventry; the world's first supersonic car was the jet-propelled Thrust SSC, built by Richard Noble at Farnborough, Hants, and piloted by Andy Green in 1997; the car travelled at 763 mph, yielding just 0.04 mpg

Acknowledgement: Keith Sinfield, the author of More 17 on the First Car, is thanked for sharing his research on Christopher Holtum

First car powered by internal combustion engine: Samuel Brown, 1826; Brown produced a horseless carriage with a 4 horse power gas vacuum engine; this was a true three-stroke internal combustion piston engine fuelled by coal gas; on test in 1826, his vehicle climbed Shooters Hill in Blackheath, London; Brown thus invented the ‘motor car powered by internal combustion engine’ decades before other automobile pioneers; the world’s first rudimentary example of an internal combustion engine had been Samuel Morland’s use of gunpowder to drive water pumps in the 1600s; Britain was also first with a working compression ignition engine [see Diesel engine]

First motor bus: in 1801 Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) built a motorised passenger-carrying vehicle, powered by a steam engine; the Camborne Road Locomotive or Puffing Devil could carry 8 passengers; in 1824 a steam coach was built by Timothy Burstall & John Hill; it featured four-wheel drive, weighed over 7 tons and had a top speed of 4 mph; the world's first true buses plied their trade in Cheltenham from February to June in 1831; these were three steam-propelled passenger vehicles made by Goldsworthy Gurney (who also invented concrete foundations and theatrical limelight); a more enduring regular service of horseless carriage was that of Walter Hancock, 1833; The Enterprise was steam powered and had 14 seats for passengers; Hancock’s London buses travelled 4,200 miles in total carrying 12,761 passengers at up to 20 mph; Hancock had demonstrated a 10-seater steam-driven bus in London in 1831, Infant, but it had not been licensed to carry passengers; the first double-decker bus appeared in Victorian London in 1847 [Source: Robertson/Shell]; the first inter-city bus service was inaugurated between London and Clacton in Essex in 1898 [Source: Robertson]

Hancock's steam-powered bus, London 1833

First lorry: 'The first motor truck in the sense of a practical self-propelled goods wagon capable of carrying (as opposed to drawing) freight was built by John Yule in 1870 for transporting large marine boilers from his works at Rutherglen, Loan, Glasgow, Scotland, to the Glasgow docks, a distance of 2 miles.' [Source: Robertson]; it was powered by a steam engine

Universal joint for power transmission: Robert Hooke, 1676

Pneumatic tyre: John Boyd Dunlop's air-inflated rubber tyre of 1888 was a (welcome) reinvention, with Robert William Thomson having got their first in 1845; the wire-reinforced tyres of Charles Welch followed in 1890; tyre development was spurred by the need of cyclists for a better ride, yet the pneumatic tyre was to facilitate the later private motoring revolution too

Safety glass: this was pioneered by John Crewe Wood, who fitted it to his own car in 1905 [see Glass]

Windscreen wiper: Gladstone Adams filed a patent in 1911, though the inventorship of this indispensable piece of automotive technology is subject to debate, with earlier examples of similarly manual contrivances available [Source: Robertson]; Adams is also said to have invented the trafficator, the forerunner of the indicator, and reinvented the sliding rowing seat [see Rowing]

'The first windshield wiper manufactured for sale, the pivoted "Gabriel" operated by pulling a string, was advertised in the 1912 catalog of London auto-parts dealer Brown Bros. at 15s ($3.60).' [Source: Robertson]

Fog lamp

Electrically heated windscreen

Electric self-starter: customer H J Dowsing fitted one to the Arnold Sociable he bought in 1896; this make was the first petrol-driven motor car to go into series production in Britain, from 1896 onwards

Four wheel brakes: the first production car with braking on four wheels was provided by Scottish manufacturer Argyll in 1910; the front brakes were operated by a pedal, the rear ones by a lever

Disc brakes: used in England in the 1890s; also Frederick William Lanchester, 1902

ABS brakes: a British invention first used in aircraft

Synchromesh gears:the first all synchromesh gearbox was provided on an Alvis of 1933

Toll roads: invented in Britain in 1260

One-way system: ancient Pompei had an example, but the first one-way system in the modern era was established in Britain:

'The first one-way streets were introduced in London by an act of Commons Council passed in August 1617...The traffic order embraced seventeen narrow and congested lanes into Thames Street, including Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London began in 1667. It remained in force for the following two centuries.' [Source: Robertson]

London saw another one-way scheme, in 1800, when traffic on Albemarle Street was only allowed to travel in a single direction because of the overwhelming popularity there of scientific lectures at the Royal Institution

Traffic lights: J P Knight, 1868

Traffic islands: the first is said to have been built in London in 1864; it was paid for by one Colonel Pierpoint who was afraid of being knocked down on his way to and from his Pall Mall club; when it was finished, the good fellow dashed across the road to admire his creation – and was killed by a cab; the first roundabout – defined as a one-way gyratory built for road management not to circumvent a monument – was introduced in Letchworth Garden City in 1909; the inventor of the mini-roundabout was Frank Blackmore, with the first appearing in Peterborough in 1969; Blackmore developed the concept further with the painted traffic island, first used at Benfleet, Essex, in 1970; this was ‘over-runnable’ by traffic, making it easier for larger vehicles to manoeuvre the junction; 'Magic Roundabouts' - large roundabouts surrounded by mini satellites - are to be found in Swindon and Hemel Hempstead; safer than crossroads, according to research, the British roundabout now exists worldwide in many tens of thousands

Car insurance:

'The first automobile insurance was introduced by General Accident Co. of London on 2 November 1896...' [Source: Robertson; see Insurance]

Catseyes for road safety: Percy Shaw, 1933

Sub-surface-draining asphalt

Car tracker anti-theft device: Automobile Association, 1993 [Source: Robertson/Shell]

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost: reckoned the best car in the world; hand built from 1906; every part had been designed by Henry Royce, who along with longitude genius John Harrison and mechanical engineer Henry Maudsley, is among British engineering’s inspirational perfectionists; Royce built his first car in 1904; in 1906, together with C S Rolls, he formed Rolls-Royce Limited, which became renowned not only for cars but also for aeroengines

Mini: the Morris Mini-Minor of 1959 was designed by Alex Issigonis, who had previously designed the Morris Minor, itself launched in 1948 and in production until 1971; the iconic Mini was a small car with a transverse engine, front wheel drive and a monocoque chassis; it became the bestselling British car ever and in redesigned form it was still rolling out of its Cowley factory in Oxford in the 21st century

Other famous vehicles: Land Rover, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Bentley, Morgan, Lotus etc

Driving on the left: said to be so that riders on London Bridge could draw their swords with the right hand; Britain is not alone, with 57 other countries doing likewise

Private garage: the world's first was probably the 'motor stables' built by David Salomons at his house in Tunbridge Wells in Kent in 1895 or thereafter [see next entry]; another early builder of a purpose-built lodging for his cars was W W Barrett of Southport in Lancashire, in 1898/9; Barrett is also credited with inventing the first practical jack for lifting cars [Source: Robertson]

Motor show: David Salomons, of private garage and first electric car fame [see First motor cars], also laid on the world's first motor show, 1895; five vehicles were demonstrated

Motor museum: the world's first was opened in 1912 in Oxford Street, London, by Edmund Dangerfield; a couple of the original exhibits can be found to this day at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, Hampshire, which traces its origins to the 1950s

[see Land & water speed records, Motorsport]



'The first helicopter capable of lifting a man off the ground in vertical flight was designed by E.R. Mumford to a specification titled ‘The Solution to Aerial Flight’ dated 6 January 1905, and built by William Denny & Bros, shipbuilders of Dumbarton, Scotland. The machine had six 25ft-diameter propellors and was originally powered by a 25hp Buchet engine, replaced in 1909 by a 25hp N.E.C. and in 1911 by a more powerful 40hp N.E.C.. Construction was originally of bamboo, but when this became waterlogged in a storm, it was replaced with metal. Denny’s official history records that during trials ‘the combined efforts of a squad of men were necessary to prevent its disappearing with an intrepid member of staff as pilot’. By 1912 it had achieved tethered flights of up to 10ft from the ground.' [Source: Robertson/Shell]

Sopwith Camel: fighter legend of the First World War  (1914-18) which together with the equally superlative SE5 turned the air war above the trenches of the Western Front in favour of the Allies; yet the accolade of the top fighter aircraft might have to be bestowed on another British machine, one only introduced in 1917:

'The Bristol F.2 Fighter was perhaps the best overall aircraft of World War One... Surprisingly for a relatively large, two-seat aircraft, it proved to be an excellent fighter and in the right hands could be thrown around the skies with vigour while remaining a superb and well-armed gun platform.' (FlyPast magazine, January 2012)

Ultimately, in the air war above the trenches, against a formidable adversary, Britain out-designed and vastly out-produced the enemy, with airfield logistics second to none (e.g. replacement of aircraft), securing air superiority

Spitfire: Second World War single-seater fighter aircraft with elliptical wings, developed from the racing seaplanes of aerodynamicist genius R J Mitchell, which had won the Schneider trophy outright in the 1930s; the Supermarine Spitfire made a legendary contribution to victory in the Battle of Britain, along with the Hawker Hurricane; it was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine; Mitchell had wanted to call his new aircraft the Shrew; mercifully, the chairman of Vickers, Robert McLean, with whom Mitchell had been working closely, won that battle and it was called the Spitfire, the nickname McLean had given his feisty daughter Annie - who, as far as is known, did not become a shrew

Mosquito: first-ever precision bomber, Second World War; the de Haviland Mosquito had a lightweight wooden frame and because of this and the industrial background of some of its human fabricators was known as the 'Wooden Wonder' and ‘the finest piece of furniture ever made’; being based on wood, it had low visibility to enemy radar, making it the first stealth aircraft; powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the RAF's Mosquito was the fastest plane in the sky for most of the Second World War, at over 400 mph at high altitude; it was the first Allied aircraft to bomb Hitler’s Berlin in daylight, in 1943; the Mosquito sustained the lowest loss rate of any allied bomber; its payload was comparable to that of the US Flying Fortress, with a far smaller crew; other notable aircraft produced by de Haviland included the Tiger Moth, the Comet (which was the world's first passenger jet, 1949) and the Trident; the de Haviland company ultimately became part of present-day BAe Systems; besides the Mosquito, other aircraft from the Second World War powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine included the Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster and the P-51 Mustang; in the twenty-first century Britain has the second largest aerospace industry in the world, employing 250,000 people; the largest commercial airline wings in history are provided by Airbus UK for the super jumbo Airbus A380, while Rolls-Royce engines are manufactured for its rival, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Lancaster: Second World War bomber that could carry twice the payload of any other allied bomber; 'Ten thousand rivets flying in close formation'; the ‘Lanc’ was a legendary aircraft in the RAF's nightime bombing of Nazi Germany; the RAF learnt how to flatten cities from the Luftwaffe's raid on Coventry in 1940; the key was concentrating aircraft in large numbers

'The Lancaster had a phenomenal capacity for carrying bombs. The permissible overload had been raised several times since Lancasters began operations in 1942. After the bombers took off I went inside for a cup of tea.' (Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, 1979, writing of his visit to a Bomber Command airfield in January 1944)

The Lancaster was designed by A V Roe & Company, which was to go on to produce the mighty Vulcan, another iconic bomber, which saw service with the RAF 1956-84; the Vulcan, a huge jet-powered delta-wing aircraft of surprising grace, was the key element of Britain’s airborne nuclear deterrent during the Cold War that followed the Second World War; carrying conventional bombs, the high flying, ultra long distance Vulcan contributed to Britain’s defeat of Argentina in the Falklands War of 1982 [see Falklands War]

Ejector seat: James Martin, 1940; by 2010 the ejector seat is reckoned to have saved around 10,000 lives

Fairey Doughty: first aircraft to 1000 mph; the French copied it as the Mirage jet

English Electric Lightning: Cold War Mach 2 supersonic fighter aircraft; ultra-high performance, even by today’s standards, with a phenomenal and classified ceiling of maybe 80,000 feet; a classic aircraft

Bloodhound anti-aircraft missile: of the 1950s, this was based on the scramjet, a supersonic version of the ramjet

Blue streak ballistic missile: 1964

Comet: first commercial jet airliner, 1949

Hovercraft: Christopher Cockerell, 1959; the first full-size hovercraft was SR-N1, which in the year it was launched became the first hovercraft to cross the channel, which it did an average of 9 inches above the surface of the sea; Cockerell was also the pioneer of wave power; he was a prolific inventor, in fact, eventually having over 100 patents to his name

Concorde: first supersonic airliner, 1969; the total number of passengers carried in just under fifty thousand flights was 2.5 million [Source: Robertson]

Harrier Jump Jet: first vertical take off and landing fighter, 1960s; designed by Gordon Lewis & Ralph Harper

Microlight aircraft with parachute wing: Peter Flynn, 1988 [Source: Robertson, personal communication]

[For George Cayley’s gliders, John Stringfellow’s first powered flight and other aerial pioneering see Aviation; see also Islanders Aloft]

Charles Babbage: 1791-1871; grandfather of the computer; Difference Engine, 1820s into early 30s, unfinished mechanical calculator; his superior Analytical Engine, theorised as an equation-solving general-purpose computing machine, 1834, featured punch-card programming, memory and central processor; it was never built; but Babbage did invent the opthalmoscope before Helmholtz and the speedometer, as well as being a pioneer in actuarial calculations; he suggested skeleton keys, ‘black box’ accident recorders (for trains) and submarine warfare; in 1873 Lord Kelvin fully realised Babbage’s vision of machine calculations with a mechanical tide-predictor; the world’s first mechanical computer was for gun targeting on British warships during First World War; the first programmable electronic digital computer, Colussus, was built by a team led by Tommy Flowers during the Second World War, in 1943; a Manchester team led by Freddie Williams and advised by Alan Turing built in 1948 the first stored-program computer to operate; EDSAC in Cambridge, 1949, was more advanced and is regarded by some as the first serious stored-program computer; the Ferranti Mark 1 of 1951 was the world’s first commercial computer, based on Manchester’s machine; LEO was the world’s first business computer, from J Lyons & Co, tea shops, 1951 [see Computer]

Ada, Countess of Lovelace: 1815-52; Lord Byron’s neglected daughter devised programs for Charles Babbage and thus was the world’s first computer programmer and theoretical computer scientist; Ada Lovelace was tutored in mathematics by Mary Somerville (1780-1872), after whom the Oxford college is named

Hearing aid: the first practical ‘portable’ electrical hearing aid was commercialised by the Marconi Company in 1923, but it weighed in at over 15 pounds; 'The first electronic model designed to be worn on the person was the Amplivox, which weighed 2½ pounds and was marketed by A. Edwin Stevens of London in October 1935.' [Source: Robertson]

Stereophonic sound reproduction: Alan Blumlein, 1930s

Radar: rendered practical by Robert Watson-Watt, 1935, a descendant of James ‘steam engine’ Watt; the word radar derives from radio detection and ranging; radar works by recording radio waves that have been reflected from the object under observation; the first full exploitation in air defence was during the Second World War in the Battle of Britain of 1940; it helped the RAF to prevail over the enemy; radar development was aided by the invention of the cavity magnetron.

Cavity magnetron: source of high-power high-frequency short-wave radio waves for radar (John Randall and Harry Boot, 1940); also basis of the microwave oven

Printed circuit board: invented in Britain by Austrian Paul Eisler, c. 1936

Pulse-code modulation for improved electronic voice transmission: Alex Reeves, 1937

Colossus: this was the first programmable electronic digital computer; it was developed at Dollis Hill, London, 1943, by a team led by Tommy Flowers; Colossus was then dismantled and moved to Bletchley Park in the same year, where it successfully broke the Nazi codes

Alan Turing: 1912-54; his 1936 concept of a universal Turing machine is the basis of the computer; the academic study of computing dates from his work in this period; Turing helped to crack the German Enigma and Lorenz codes in Second World War at Bletchley Park – the greatest intelligence triumph of all time – and then helped Freddie Williams build the first stored-program computer to operate, in Manchester, 1948; this was capable of key task of conditional branching, in which operations are carried out only if some condition is met; a now-legendary paper of Turing’s appeared in 1950 on the creation of a ‘machine that thinks’; that same year saw the building of the Pilot Ace (Automatic Computing Engine), a small-scale programmable computer, based on Turing’s ideas; being compact and flexible, and for a time the fastest computer in the world, it was the precursor of the modern personal computer (PC); Alan Turing is regarded as the father of the computer and of artificial intelligence [see Computer]

EDSAC: this computer was developed in Cambridge in 1949 and overtopped the earlier Manchester machine in capability, leading some to see it as the first serious stored-program computer

Ferranti Mark 1: world’s first commercial computer, 1951, based on Manchester’s machine

LEO: world’s first business computer, J Lyons & Co, tea shops, 1951

Flexible manufacturing systems: whole process under computer control, Molins Machine Company, London, 1964; ‘quality circles’ were also developed first in Britain

Holography: apparent 3D image making in 2D media was achieved first by Dennis Gabon in 1947

Radio microphone: ‘wireless mike’ for actors, ‘bug’ for spying; Reg Moores, 1949, for Aladdin on Ice, Brighton; the microphone itself had been invented by Charles Wheatstone in 1827

Josephson Junctions: Brian David Josephson, 1962

Pocket calculator & pocket television: the first commercial products were those of Clive Sinclair, 1972 & 1977

Transputer: parallel processing microchip, INMOS, Bristol, 1980s

Personal Digital Assistant: Amstrad PenPad, 1993; beat overseas competition by a day

Sewing machine: 'The first sewing machine was patented by Thomas Saint, cabinetmaker...of London, on 17 July 1790. The specification...was remarkable for its anticipation of so many features that later became basic in commercially developed machines. These included the perpendicular action, patented later by Isaac Singer; the eye-pierced needle and the pressing surfaces designed to hold the cloth taut...and the overhanging arm that constitutes a basic characteristic of modern sewing machines.' [Source: Robertson]

Kaleidoscope: David Brewster, 1817; also stereoscope; he is regarded as having invented science journalism [Source: Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder, 2008]

Mousetrap, perpetual: Colin Pullinger, 1860

Circular saw: Samuel Miller, 1777; these only widely adopted when sawmills became steam-powered

Steam-driven road roller: Thomas Aveling, 1866

Gas water heater: Waddy Maughan, 1868

Powered wheelchair: 'The first was the electric Britannia Bath Chair manufactured in 1896 by John Ward of London.' [Source: Robertson]

Rawlplug: John J Rawlings, 1911; fibre plug pushed into drill hole in masonry to receive screw; Rawlplug Ltd went on to produce Rawlbolt, 1934, a bolt with metal sheath which deforms outwards for grip as bolt tightens

Jubilee clip: Lumley Robinson, 1921; for fastening hoses to pipes, this is a clip tightened by a screwdriver via a worm drive; 2 billion were made in the twentieth century, with production continuing in the twenty-first

Anglepoise lamp: George Cawardine, 1933

Washing up gloves: J Allen Rubber Company, 1950; ‘Marigold’ latex rubber gloves were the world’s first for domestic use

Lava lamp: Craven Walker, 1963

Jigsaw puzzle: invented in London as a geography teaching aid in the mid-1700s; '...the first invention by a woman in general use today. The unresolved question is which woman.' [Source: Robertson]; Lady Charlotte Finch is one candidate

Plasticine: 1897; this modelling clay is used, celebratedly, in the animation films of Wallace & Gromit; what is believed to be the largest plasticine model ever produced was a show garden at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show; the garden, created by BBC television presenter James May and about 2000 other people using nearly 3 tons of plasticine in 24 colours, was given an honorary gold award made from plasticine and was voted the 'peoples choice' for best small garden; the centrepiece of the garden was a bust in plasticine by Jane McAdam Freud of plasticine’s inventor, William Harbutt (1844-1921)

Meccano: 1901; model construction system, still in production in the 21st century)

Roller skates: the first recorded use was on the London stage in 1743; John Joseph Merlin demonstrated an in-line skate with metal wheels in 1760

Nissen hut: 1916

Baby buggy: Owen Maclaren, 1965; inspired by aircraft landing gear

Workmate, 1968: Ron Hickman’s world-famous portable bench-vice-sawhorse


Lawn mower: this was invented by Edwin Budding in 1830, who also invented the adjustable spanner (i.e. adjustable with a screw); 'The growth of the new industry was slow, only two firms exhibiting at the Great Exhibition in 1851, but the advent of croquet in the 1860s and lawn tennis in the 1870s brought a big influx of light side-wheel models into suburban back-gardens all over games-loving Victorian England.' [Source: Robertson]; the world's first commercial motorised lawn mower was a ride-on affair (driver's seat, 42-inch in width, petrol driven 6-hp engine) from Ransome’s of Ipswich in 1902

'One notable customer was King Edward VII, who ordered a Ransomes mower for Buckingham Palace in 1906 after he had staged a contest between a lumbering, snorting, steam-driven behemoth and the nimbler, smooth-running gas [i.e. petrol] -engined interloper.' [Source: Robertson]

Match: John Walker, 1826; mankind’s first reliable access to fire; sulphur-tipped matches had been developed in Britain around 1570; Robert Boyle (1627-91) had experimented with phosphorus and sulphur matches in the 1680s without developing a commercial product

'The first match (friction) was invented in England in 1826 by John Walker, a pharmacist of 59 High Street, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham. The discovery was accidental, as Walker's original intention was to produce a readily combustible material for fowling-pieces. His first match was a stick that he had been using to stir a mixture of potash and antimony; it burst into flame when he scraped it against the stone floor to remove the blob at the end.'
[Source: Robertson]

Gas lighting: superseded candles; gas and tar from coal, John Clayton, 1684; coal gas first burnt for illumination, William Murdock, 1792; first street to be lit by gas lamps was Pall Mall, London, 1807

Light bulb: in 1802 Humphry Davy demonstrated the first incandescent light, using platinum strip; he was thus the inventor of incandescent lighting though not of the incandescent light bulb as such; the accolade for that probably belongs to James Bowman Lindsay, who in 1835 demonstrated the first practical electric lamp [Source: Robertson/Shell]; around 1807 Davy made the first carbon arc lamp, by passing a current between two carbon rods, producing a blinding light; an arc lamp was first used commercially in the South Foreland lighthouse in 1858; the world’s first electric street lights were deployed along Holborn Viaduct in 1878, based on experimental arc lamps

'Hotel lit with electricity: The first was the Langham in London's Portland Place, which installed arc lamps in the entrance and courtyard in 1879.' [Source: Robertson]

Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914) made an incandescent bulb using a carbon filament in 1878, creating a vacuum to prevent combustion; he demonstrated it in January 1879, perfecting it through the year; the great American inventor Thomas Alva Edison was aware of Swan’s work; he started developing an incandescent bulb in late 1878 and produced a moderately reliable bulb a year later; his own public demonstration was in December 1879; Edison commenced manufacture at his laboratory in October 1880; Swan established the world's first light bulb factory in Newcastle and began manufacturing in early 1881; Edison's first installation of light bulbs was on board a ship in 1880, with Swann achieving shipboard installation a few weeks later

'Swann, however, preceded Edison with the first building lit with incandescent lightbulbs, armaments manufacturer W.G. Armstrong's mansion Cragside at Rothbury, Northumberland, in December 1880...' [Source: Robertson]

Note that Armstrong's house was the first in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity; Edison achieved further installations yet

'Swann stole a march on his competitor [Edison], though, with a number of world firsts for incandescent lamps during 1881, including street lighting (Newcastle upon Tyne, 11 April) and installations in a hotel (Lamb's Temperance Hotel, Dundee, Scotland, in June); coal mine  (Earnock Colliery, Hamilton, Scotland, in August); railroad station (Queen Street, Glasgow, in August); railroad car (London-Brighton, 14 October); store (Stephen Tanner, dry goods, Godalming, Surrey, in December); and theater (Savoy, London, 28 December)...Smaller houses and shops were able to acquire electric lighting from a central source with the opening of the first electric power plants. Distribution of current for incandescent lamps began on a small scale at Godalming in Surrey, England, in September 1881 (Swann Lamps) and on a larger scale in London and New York (Edison Lamps) in 1882.' [Source: Robertson]

Note that Godalming’s electricity was derived from the world’s first hydroelectric power station; to summarise, in the historic battle of the incandescent light bulb, Swann shades Edison, by the thickness of a filament, yet inventive precedence should be given to neither man, since both were probably preceded by James Bowman Lindsay, over four decades earlier


Water filtration: William Woolcot, 1675

Lift: a private passenger lift, hauled up by servants, was installed for the French king in 1743; the first passenger lift for public use was in a panorama building called the Coloseum erected in Regent's Park, London and opened in 1829; the Ascending Room was raised by 'secret machinery'; '...it seems probable it was hydraulic. Harder to account for is why the successful invention of the powered lift attracted so little attention, despite the fact that the Ascending Room at the Coloseum appears to have continued in service until the show closed down in 1864.' [Source: Robertson]; the Man Engine of Michael Loam in 1842 enabled a 1000 foot descent by miners into Tresavean copper mine near Redruth, Cornwall; for power it used a waterwheel then a steam engine

Tea-maker: first working automatic one was that of Frank Clarke, 1902

Toothbrush: first mass-produced item, William Addis, 1780

Razor, double-bladed: emerged from a British laboratory in the late 1900s

Flush toilet: John Harison, a godson of Elizabeth I, invented this godsend in 1597, and the queen was delighted with it; London watchmaker Alexander Cumming invented the ‘S’ bend to retain residual water and prevent back-venting of sewer gases, filing the first patent for the modern flush toilet in 1775; an improved design was produced by Joseph Bramah in 1778; the modern flush toilet was finally developed around 1820 by Albert Giblin; George Jennings designed and installed the world’s first modern public convenience for the Great Exhibition of 1851; he charged one penny; this is the probable origin of the British phrase ‘to spend a penny’; a Vacant/Engaged bolt for toilet doors was first manufactured in 1883 by C Cross & Co. of Herne Hill, under A Ashwell's patent [Source: Robertson/Shell]; Thomas Twyford introduced a one-piece ceramic toilet in 1885, the Unites

Washing machine: the first was the steam-driven affair of William Strutt in 1796

Vacuum cleaner: invented by Hubert Booth in 1901; the bagless vacuum cleaner was invented by James Dyson in 1992; the first robot vacuum cleaner for domestic use was the bagless Dyson DC06

Gas cooker: 'The first gas cooker commercially practicable, was designed by James Sharp, assistant manager of the Northampton Gas Co., and installed in the kitchen of his home in Northampton, England, in 1826. The first commercially produced models were acquired by the Bath Hotel, Leaminster, and the Angel Inn, Northampton, in 1834.' [Source: Robertson]

Timekeeping: history’s most famous candle clock, though probably not the first, was that of Alfred the Great, dating from c878; this consisted of 6 identical 12 inch candles, divided into 12 sections each of one inch; each candle burnt away completely in four hours, making each division equal to 20 minutes; the candles were placed in cases made of wooden frames, with sides of translucent horn; in regard to the much later mechanical clocks, the early basic style was a lantern with hour bell on top; a mechanical clock was recorded in the AD 700s in China

'The earliest recorded mechanical clock in Europe was made by the Austin Canons and set up against the roodscreen of Dunstable Priory, Bedfordshire, England, in 1283. This probably had a verge and foliot escapement [driven by a falling weight] of the kind common to most medieval clocks... The earliest record of a clock with a dial in Europe is contained in the Sacrist's Rolls of Norwich Cathedral for 1325. This was an astronomical dial and was set up inside the cathedral. The first clock dial known to have been fixed to the outside of a building was erected on the newly built tower of Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1505. The first illuminated clock dial was that of St. Brides Church, Fleet Street, London, in 1826. It was lit by twelve gas burners.
     The oldest surviving mechanical clock in working order in the world is the Salisbury Cathedral clock of 1386.' [Source: Robertson; information in brackets added by The National CV Group]

The falling weight method of driving clocks continues to this day in cuckoo clocks; portable clocks became possible with the invention of the spring and fusee drive in the 1400s, with reliable portable timekeepers appearing in the 1500s; the fusee, a conical, spirally grooved pulley, provides an even pulling power to the clock escapement as the spring runs down; clocks with pendulums were made from the mid-1500s, but the pendulum clock only became a reliable timekeeper with an English invention, the anchor escapement (Robert Hooke or William Clement, c1657); Robert Hooke developed a clock regulated by a balance spring in 1658; William Clement reinvented the minute hand for clock faces in 1670, the earliest example of a clock with a minute hand having been made for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in 1577 [Source: Robertson]; Clement engendered the modern analogue clockface we know today; by 1700 England was pre-eminent in watch- and clock-making; Thomas Tompion (1639-1713) is recognised as ‘the father of English clockmaking’ and is the first person known to use serial numbers to identified manufactured items, in this case clocks of peerless craftsmanship; the City of London guild called The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers was founded in 1631; it is still in existence and is the world's oldest surviving horological society; an especially intriguing clockmaker was Christopher Holtum, who in 1711 appears to have demonstrated the first motor car [see First motor cars]; in 1710 he advertised in London in the Tatler ‘A New Invented Alarum, to be discharged at any Hour, by any Watch’; so this wasn’t a pocket watch with an alarm, which technology had been available for a century, but an external alarm system into which a watch could be inserted; presumably the movement of the hands triggered the alarm; George Graham invented the dead beat escapement in 1715, which was the most accurate practical timekeeping device from that time until the early 1900s; his successor Thomas Mudge invented the lever escapement in 1754, which was the greatest single improvement to pocket watches and has since been a feature of all mechanical watches; the accuracy of pendulum clocks was further improved by the bimetallic compensated pendulum rod (John Arnold & Thomas Earnshaw, 1780s & 1790s, based on earlier temperature accommodation work by longitude genius John Harrison, of marine chronometer fame); the forerunner of the electric clock was invented by Francis Ronalds in 1814; the true electric clock was invented and patented in 1840 by Alexander Bain, who also went on in 1843 to invent the fax machine; the time switch is another British invention; during the industrial revolution the watchmakers of southern Lancashire proved an unequalled source of high-quality, low-cost gears; the most accurate mechanical clock ever was William Hamilton Shortt’s ‘free pendulum’ clock of 1925; this was accurate to about a second a year; the world’s first working atomic clock was built in 1955 at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex, by a team led by Louis Essen (1908-97); accurate to one second in 300 years, the clock was based on the vibration of caesium atoms; it was called Caesium I; accuracy was subsequently achieved of about one second in 15 million years; the greatest watchmaker of the modern era was George Daniels (1926-2011)

'Now he [George Daniels] had to improve on the lever escapement, which had been invented in 1754 by the English horologist Thomas Mudge and used in most watches since. It worked by friction, as the teeth of the gears slid over the pallet; but this arrangement needed lubrication, and as the oil degraded the watch lost time. Mr Daniels became obsessed with the tick, tock of clocks...and how to get an impulse on both the tick and the tock that would not be affected by humidity, temperature, oil sludge or agitation. His solution, invented in 1976, was the co-axial escapement, an arrangement in which two wheels, placed one above the other, transmitted to the pallet a radial impulse that needed no lubrication and so (if wound) would never stop...[it was] the most ingenious invention in watchmaking for 250 years...' (Obituary, The Economist, 26 November 2011)

Fine watches are made in modern Britain by Robert Loomes & Co; reliable timekeeping is one of most important-ever developments in human affairs; many of the most important advances have occurred in Britain

Acknowledgement: Richard Brown is thanked for his assistance with the Timekeeping notice

[see For those in peril on the sea, Rescued from the flames & Domesticity]

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All Rights Reserved



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