British inventions and inventors have truly revolutionized the world for the better. Great inventions from great British minds throughout the centuries have helped solve the problems we face then and some until now. Let me share with you the list of the British inventions that transformed our lives.
Victorian time was the height of exploration and discovery. Industrialization in Britain leads to the birth of countless British inventions and technologies that changed the world.
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Here are the famous British inventions and inventors that changed the world.
1. World Wide Web
Inventor: Tim Berners – Lee
Currently, knowledge is at the tip of our fingertips. With one click, with one glance, we can easily access information that was not easily accessible before. Thanks to one British inventor and his useful invention, the world we’re living in is now more connected.
Sir Tim Berners – Lee came from a family with an extensive background in computer technology. Naturally, while growing up, he developed a liking for the same field. As a young person, he would devise gadgets to control his toys and make new use of old machines.
Berners – Lee graduated from Oxford University. Shortly after, he was employed as a software engineer at CERN, a physics laboratory in Switzerland. While he was there, he saw the great need for scientists to share information smoothly, effectively and instantly.
He found out that this can be made possible with the hypertext technology that was already present at that time, but its full potential has yet to be maximized. In 1989, he made a proposal outlining his ideas and labelled it “Information Management.” His work was rejected at first, but he was given time to work on it some more.
By 1990, the first-ever web page was made live. In order to ensure that his main idea of having an efficient venue for sharing information was kept intact as his invention grows, Berners – Lee and CERN agree to a royalty-free policy in 1993. Until today, access to the world wide web is free and open to anybody.
Extra, extra: Are the internet and the world wide web just the same?
The answer is no. The internet is a network of computers connected together. On the other hand, the world wide web is a group of pages found inside the network of computers (that is, the internet.)
Inventor: Alexander Graham Bell
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary British inventions in the world is the telephone.
With this great piece of a gadget, we can talk to people from all across the globe with the feeling as if they were in the same room as ours. We can also relay information effectively and on time. Although nothing beats face-to-face communication, the telephone bridges the gap between people separated by distance.
The invention of the telephone is officially credited to a Scottish inventor named Alexander Graham Bell. Born to a deaf mother and an imaginative father, Bell became highly influenced by his parents to come up with such a device. Although deaf, his mother lived as a musician and a painter. His father, on the other hand, invented the Visible Speech for deaf people.
Bell married Mabel Hubbard, a deaf student of his at Boston University. This was the time too, that he established the Bell Telephone Company. He was joined by Thomas Watson.
Watson was the person responsible for building models for Bell’s inventions. As they were working together, Bell heard a plucking sound coming from the wire. Turned out Watson was working on some metal in the next room. A few more experimentations after, the first statement was fully heard on the other end: “Mr Watson, come here. I want you!”
Not long after, Bell applied for a patent for his invention. It was common knowledge that other people have been trying to invent similar devices as his, and stories claim that one inventor by the name of Elisha Gray was only one hour late from filing a patent for her own voice transmitter. A dispute followed in the next years, but Bell and his patent proved to be superior.
Extra, extra: When a lot of telecommunications companies refused to buy into Bell’s offer of a dealership, he went to Queen Victoria and gave her a demonstration of the telephone. She liked it so much that she requested to buy the sample unit.
Inventor: John Logie Baird
It is quite safe to assume that majority of households nowadays have at least one television set in their homes. It is probably one of the most loved British inventions of our generation.
The TV as we call it has been a staple fix in modern living rooms, at times even treated as the focal point in our receiving areas. However, not everyone knows that the television is actually a British invention.
John Logie Baird was born in Dunbartonshire, Scotland. He was studying engineering until the First World War broke out. He never got to finish his degree. Unfit for military work, Baird ended up working for the Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company.
The invention of the television was a combined effort of many inventors seeking to produce images from reflective light. Baird was highly credited for being the first to make a moving image on television in grayscale.
Baird worked with the breakthroughs of fellow inventors such as Arthur Korn and Paul Gottleb Nipkow in order to produce the world’s first-ever working television set. Years after, Baird demonstrated the first colour transmission to the public.
Extra, extra: While looking for publicity for his invention, Baird paid the Daily Express newspaper a visit. Terrified of his concept, the news editor was reported to have called Baird “a lunatic” that “may have a razor on him.”
4. Cat’s Eye
Inventor: Percy Shaw
It’s dangerous to drive in the dark – let alone on a cold, foggy night. This awareness has led one British inventor to be creative in coming up with a road safety sign we call the cat’s eye.
Percy Shaw was in a path and driveway business with his father. The area where they lived was prone to fog, therefore the UK driving there was particularly difficult. At times like these, he relied heavily on the reflection of his car’s headlights on the tramlines so he could safely navigate.
It was said that one night, as Shaw was driving in total darkness the tramlines that were supposed to guide him were under repair. Then, his headlights caught the eyes of a cat on the road. The eyes effectively reflected the lights, which gave him the idea to come up with something similar to make roads safer.
Shaw’s cat’s eye became today’s reflecting road studs that are used worldwide.
Inventor: Henry Fox Talbot
Photography has been around since the 1830s. Little did we know, it is actually the brainchild of someone so frustrated that he was not creative enough.
A lot may contest to calling Henry Fox Talbot the inventor of photography. He is more often regarded as one of the pioneers of photography, as he studied the field alongside other scientists and inventors – albeit with some courtroom drama.
Talbot experimented with the idea of developing images through mechanical and chemical processes. He did so with what he called calotype. Derived from the Greek word “kalos” which means beautiful, he sought to produce accurate images by producing a negative through a “latent.”
When this negative was exposed and made contact with the sensitized paper, a positive image developed. This process became vital in the evolution of photography.
Extra, extra: Talbot was elected to the Royal Society, the oldest national scientific institution in the world for his contribution to the field of integral calculus.
6. Steam Train
Inventor: Richard Trevithick
Richard Trevithick, having worked in mining during his time, invented a high-pressure steam engine which later on became a full-scale model for hoisting ore. In 1804, his “Penydarren tram road engine” carried not only minerals but passengers, too.
His idea, though, was not treated with high importance during his time. Fast forward to 40 years after his invention was developed by others. Now, Trevithick’s steam train concept is highly regarded as one of Britain’s best contributions to the world.
Extra, extra: In 2004, the Royal Mint (with the approval of Queen Elizabeth II) launched the £2 coin with Trevithick’s name and his invention on it to publicly honour his contribution to society.
7. Waterproof Fabric
Inventor: Charles Macintosh
Charles Macintosh had always been involved in chemistry. During one of his experiments, he found out that naphtha, a by-product of tar, can dissolve rubber. This resulted in a paste that was able to resist water.
With his idea of waterproof fabric, Macintosh tried squeezing the paste in between two fabrics and then pressing them together. The result proved to be effective, although not efficient. It was found to be too sticky under the sun and too stiff in the cold weather.
Because nobody would want to work on and with his invention, Macintosh decided to put up his own company. It was later merged with the company of Thomas Hancock, the pioneer in using vulcanized rubber. Macintosh’s invention benefited a lot from this breakthrough.
Extra, extra: Before Macintosh invented the waterproof fabric, people oil their clothes in order to repel water. It proved to be too heavy and foul-smelling to use.
Inventor: Alexander Fleming
Alexander Fleming, born in Ayrshire, Scotland, was in his London laboratory when he found out the existence of a naturally growing substance that could attack certain bacteria. This would, later on, prove to be the discovery of the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin.
“Antibiotics” means “against life” – with the term life pertaining to harmful bacteria. Fleming’s discovery spearheaded many experiments on the subject, and with penicillin out of the laboratory, tests have begun to be conducted on animals and then humans. Because of his great contribution to the world of medicine, Fleming won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.
Today, we have numerous antibiotics that aid in saving lives. Thanks to Fleming’s “accidental” discovery, these and other medications are available for our consumption.
9. Chocolate Bar
Inventor: Joseph Fry
Before Joseph Fry invented the chocolate bar, people only consumed chocolate as a drink. Then, in Fry’s factory in Gloucestershire, an experiment was made using a Watts steam engine. Fry wanted to grind the cocoa beans in the finest they can get, and he succeeded. Thus, the birth of Fry’s Chocolate Cream. It is considered the oldest chocolate bar and is still offered in the market until now.
Fry’s invention paved the way for another form of chocolate to be enjoyed – smoother, tastier and consistently delicious.
Extra, extra: Apart from the chocolate bar, Fry invented the Chocolate Easter Egg, too!
10. Flushing Toilet
Inventor: John Harington
History tells us that, in ancient times, people tried beautifying human defecation by constructing dedicated boxes, throwing in herbs and scents, or even covering the boxes with velvet and lace. It was not until the 16th century that Europe discovered an answer to society’s sanitation problem.
Sir John Harrington, a godson of Elizabeth I, developed the first flushing toilet, a water closet which had a container and a small pipe wherein water went down and flushed the waste. The first owners of his invention were, of course, him and his grandmother. This genius British invention is one of the valuable inventions that we still enjoy today.
Though the idea served its purpose, the stench was still uneliminated. Hundreds of years after, Alexander Cummings developed what will complete Harrington’s design: an S-shaped pipe under the toilet basin.
Extra, extra: Nowadays, flushing the toilet now ranges from manual handles to sensor-activated flushes! Also, Sir Harington is the ancestor of the famous actor Kit Harington of Game of Thrones.
11. Cashpoint / Cash Machine / Automated Teller Machine (ATM)
Inventor: John Shepherd Baron
John Shepherd Baron was born in India to Scottish parents. He was dubbed as the man who invented the cash machine, although some may disagree. Although Baron released the “cashpoint” to the public at an earlier date, the patent belonged to James Goodfellow, and his device is what we widely use today.
Baron was motivated to invent the machine that would be the answer to the banks’ restricted hours.
His vision: a machine that would withdraw money without the need for bank cashiers.
However, cards were inexistent back then. People still had to request vouchers from the bank in order to withdraw from the cashpoint. These vouchers came in £10 value.
Extra, extra: It was said that Baron’s eureka moment came from the thought of a candy machine dispensing chocolate, although, in his vision, money was being dispensed.
Do you know any other British inventions and inventors that weren’t mentioned here?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Everything ZanyTravel Blog
Everything Zany Travel Blog exploring the UK and beyond. Sharing travel guides, tips, history and culture. Our travel media brand is founded by travel and hotel industry expert – Ryazan Tristram, a Dual Citizen (British – Filipina) based in Birmingham, UK. Everything Zany is a reputable and award-winning travel blog. Our work and contributions have been featured in Huffington Post, CNBC, Discovery Channel, GMA, Readers Digest, and Lonely Planet. Our missions are to build a great travel community and resource of travel tips, visas and travel guides for travellers. Join us as we travel around the UK and beyond with a mission to share the best of the world.