British 'Firsts'


The British have a long history of inventiveness and exploration and often strive to become the 'first' to achieve something. Many of the World's islands were first discovered and are indeed named after British Explorers. Many of the World's Mountains were first climbed by the British. Sports were invented and natural phenomena were discovered throughout British history and as the world becomes a smaller place in the age of the Internet, there becomes fewer and fewer goals to achieve. However it is still the British who in many cases - become the first to achieve them. At the end of the 20th Century, Andy Green became the first to break the sound barrier in a car and into the 21st Century Jim Shekhdar became the first person to row across the pacific ocean. There is some evidence to suggest that the first European to discover the American mainland was the Welsh Prince Madoc and later the Vikings. Proper documentation did not really appear until the 14th - 15th centuries and so the first person recognised as discovering America is John Cabot. Although he was actually Italian, he was funded by the British King and sailed aboard the 'Matthew' from Bristol in Somerset.

Below is a list of just some of the 'firsts' that the British have achieved.

13th Century 1250 Roger Bacon invents the Magnifying Glass

15th Century

1495 The world's first dry dock was constructed in Portsmouth, Hampshire.  

16th Century

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1516 Henry VIII appointed Sir Brian Tuke as Master of the Posts, to maintain a regular service on the main roads from London therefore creating the first postal service. Postmasters (usually innkeepers) passed the mail to the next post, and supplied horses for the royal couriers.

1592 John Davis, English navigator and explorer. He sailed in search of the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean 1585, and in 1587 sailed to Baffin Bay through the straits named after him. He was the first European to see the Falkland Islands in 1592.

17th Century

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1600 William Gilbert, English scientist who studied magnetism and static electricity, deducing that the Earth's magnetic field behaves as if a bar magnet joined the North and South poles. He first explained the Earth's magnetism and his book on magnets, was the first printed scientific book based wholly on experimentation and observation. 

1609 Thomas Harriot  English astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer and translator created the first ever drawings of the celestial moon after peering through a telescope in July 1609, before Galileo did. He also studied optics and refraction and discovered Snell's law 20 years before Snellius did.

1614 John Napier, (8th Laird of Merchiston) Scottish mathematician who invented logarithms in 1614 and `Napier's bones┤, an early mechanical calculating device for multiplication and division. It was Napier who first used and then popularized the decimal point to separate the whole number part from the fractional part of a number.

1617 Henry Briggs, English mathematician, with John Napier one of the founders of calculation by logarithms. Briggs's tables remain the basis of those used to this day.

1666 Richard Lower, English physician and physiologist who performed the first direct transfusion of blood in 1666 and was the first to link the process of respiration with the blood.

1668 Sir Isaac Newton invents the Reflecting telescope.

1682 John Ray, English naturalist who devised a classification system accounting for some 18,000 plant species. It was the first system to divide flowering plants into monocotyledons and dicotyledons, with additional divisions made on the basis of leaf and flower characters and fruit types.

1691 The first magazine printed was the Compleat Library.

1680 George Dalgarno, Scottish schoolteacher and the inventor of the first sign-language alphabet.

1696 Thomas Savery, British engineer who invented the steam-driven water pump. It was the world's first working steam engine, though the boiler was heated by an open fire.

18th Century

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1701 Jethro Tull, English agriculturist, demonstrated the advantage of thorough soil cultivation, and, with the invention of the first practical mechanized seed drill, initiated the practice of drilling rather than broadcasting seed.

1704 The first alphabetical encyclopedia was the Lexicon Technicum/Technical Lexicon. Compiled by John Harris.

1705 Edmond Halley, English astronomer. He not only identified the comet that was later to be known by his name, but also compiled a star catalogue, detected the proper motion of stars, using historical records, and began a line of research that, after his death, resulted in a reasonably accurate calculation of the astronomical unit. He made many other notable contributions to astronomy, including the discovery of the proper motions of Aldebaran, Arcturus, and Sirius, and working out a method of obtaining the solar parallax by observations made during a transit of Venus.

1709 Copyright - An author's copyright was first recognized in Britain by Act of Parliament.

1712 The first successful steam engine was built by English inventor Thomas Newcomen at Dudley, West Midlands.

1714 The earliest known typewriter design was patented by Henry Mills in England.

1715 Doggett's Coat and Badge - begun for Thames watermen, the first rowing race, still survives. Rowing as a sport began with the English Leander Club 1817.

1733 John Kay, English inventor who developed the flying shuttle, a machine to speed up the work of hand-loom weaving. He patented his invention in 1733.

1737 Thomas Simpson, English mathematician and writer who devised Simpson's rule, which simplifies the calculation of areas under graphic curves. He also worked out a formula that can be used to find the volume of any solid bounded by a ruled surface and two parallel planes.

1743 Jack Broughton drew up the first set of boxing rules.

1744 Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers - First golf club in the world. It was formed in 1744 as the Gentleman Golfers of Edinburgh and played over the Leith links. It drew up the first set of golf rules, which were later accepted by the ruling body of the Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews. The name of the club was changed in 1759 and moved to Musselburgh in 1836. In 1891 it moved club to its present home in Muirfield.

1749 Henry Fielding, English novelist. His greatest work, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling in 1749 realized for the first time in English the novel's potential for memorable characterization, coherent plotting, and perceptive analysis. He organized the first Informal police force - the Bow Street Runners.

1750 John Montagu Sandwich, 4th Earl of Sandwich, British politician. The Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) were named after him, as are sandwiches, which he invented so that he could eat without leaving the gaming table.

1750 Hambledon - Village in southeast Hampshire, southern England, 16 km/10 miles north of Portsmouth. The first cricket club was founded here in 1750.

1760 John Harrison, English horologist and instrumentmaker. He made the first chronometers that were accurate enough to allow the precise determination of longitude at sea, and so permit reliable (and safe) navigation over long distances.

1764 Spinning Jenny - Machine invented in Britain by James Hargreaves which allowed several threads to be spun simultaneously. At first the machine, patented in 1770, could operate 16 spindles at the same time, and, less than 15 years later, 80 spindles could be used. It was named after his wife.

1768 Richard Arkwright, English inventor and manufacturing pioneer who developed a machine for spinning cotton (he called it a `water frame┤) in 1768. He opened the world's first water-powered cotton spinning mill on the banks of the River Derwent at Cromford, near Matlock, Derbyshire in 1771 and installed steam power in a Nottingham factory in 1790. He was Knighted in 1786.

1769 Matthew Boulton, English factory owner who helped to finance James Watt's development of the steam engine. They established the steam engine by erecting pumps in machines to drain the Cornish tin mines.

1777-79 Iron Bridge designed by Abraham Darby III. The bridge was the world's first iron bridge, and is one of the first and most striking products of the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

1785 Andrew Meikle, Scottish millwright who designed and built the first practical threshing machine for separating cereal grains from the husks.

1785 Edmund Cartwright, British inventor. He patented the power loom in 1785, built a weaving mill in 1787, and patented a wool-combing machine in 1789.

1789 Alexander Mackenzie, British explorer and fur trader. He was the first European to see the river, now part of N Canada, named after him. In 1792-93 he crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast of what is now British Columbia, making the first known crossing north of Mexico. He was knighted in 1807.

1790 William Murdock, Scottish inventor and technician. Employed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton to build steam engines, he was the first to develop gas lighting on a commercial scale, holding the gas in gasometers.

1799 George Cayley invented the concept of the fixed wing aircraft.  

19th Century

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1800 James Parkinson, British neurologist, first described Parkinson's disease.

1801 Richard Trevithick, English engineer, constructor of the first steam road locomotive in 1801, the first to carry passengers, and the first steam engine to run on rails at the Pen-y-darren ironworks, South Wales in 1804.

1801 Thomas Young, British physicist, physician, and Egyptologist who revived the wave theory of light and identified the phenomenon of interference in 1801. He also established many important concepts in mechanics.

1802 William Symington, Scottish engineer who built the first successful steamboat. He invented the steam road locomotive in 1787 and a steamboat engine in 1788. His steamboat Charlotte Dundas was completed in 1802.

1804 George Cayley builds and flies the world's first successful model glider.

1804 Samuel Courtauld, British industrialist who developed the production of viscose rayon and other synthetic fibres from 1804. He founded the firm of Courtauld's 1816 in Bocking, Essex, and at first specialized in silk and crepe manufacture.

1805 John Dalton, English chemist who proposed the theory of atoms, which he considered to be the smallest parts of matter. He produced the first list of relative atomic masses in `Absorption of Gases┤ and put forward the law of partial pressures of gases (Dalton's law).

1806 The first carbon paper was patented by its English inventor, Ralph Wedgwood.

1807 John Heathcoat, English inventor of lacemaking machinery in 1807. Throughout his life, he took out patents for further inventions in textile manufacture. In 1832 he patented a steam plough to assist with agricultural improvements in Ireland.

1811 Charles Bell, Scottish anatomist and surgeon who carried out pioneering research on the human nervous system. He gave his name to Bell's palsy, an extracranial paralysis of the facial nerve, and to the long thoracic nerve of Bell, which supplies a muscle in the chest wall. He was Knighted in 1829.

1815 Wellington boot - A waterproof boot, usually made of rubber, coming up to the mid-calf or knee. Named after the first Duke of Wellington.

1815 William Smith, English geologist. He produced the first geological maps of England and Wales, setting the pattern for geological cartography. Often called the founder of stratigraphical geology.

1816 Robert Stirling, Scottish inventor of the first practicable hot-air engine. The Stirling engine has a high thermal efficiency and a large number of inherent advantages, such as flexibility in the choice of fuel that could make it as important as the internal-combustion engine.

1817 Comparative Advantage - Law of international trade first elaborated by English economist David Ricardo showing that trade becomes worthwhile if the cost of production of particular items differs between one country and another.

1821 Michael Faraday, English chemist and physicist began experimenting with electromagnetism, discovered the induction of electric currents and made the first dynamo, the first electric motor, and the first transformer.

1823 Mackintosh - Waterproof coat created in the 19th century, made from a waterproof woollen fabric, patented in 1823 by Charles Macintosh.

1825 George Stephenson in England built the first public railway to carry steam trains - the Stockton and Darlington line - using his engine Locomotion.

1825 Menai Bridge - completed in 1825 to a design by Thomas Telford. The bridge was the world's first example of a large iron suspension bridge.

1827 William Prout, British physician and chemist. In 1815 Prout published his hypothesis that the relative atomic mass of every atom is an exact and integral multiple of the mass of the hydrogen atom. In 1827, Prout became the first scientist to classify the components of food into the three major divisions of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

1828 The first diving suit, with a large metal helmet supplied with air through a hose, was invented in the UK by the brothers John and Charles Deane.

1829 George Stephenson, English engineer built the first successful steam locomotive - The Rocket.

1830 Charles Lyell, Scottish geologist. In his Principles of Geology 1830-33, he opposed the French anatomist Georges Cuvier's theory that the features of the Earth were formed by a series of catastrophes. Lyell suggested that the Earth was as much as 240 million years old (in contrast to the 6,000 years of prevalent contemporary theory). He was Knighted in 1848.

1830 George Stephenson completed the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first steam passenger line.

1831 Michael Faraday successfully demonstrated the first electrical transformer at the Royal Institute, London.

1832 Thomas Hodgkin, English physician who first recognized Hodgkin's disease. He pioneered the use of the stethoscope in the UK. He was also the first person to stress the importance of post mortem examinations.

1835 The first mechanical computer was conceived by Charles Babbage.

1836 William Sturgeon, English physicist and inventor who made the first electromagnets. He also invented a galvanometer.

1836 Charles Robert Darwin, English naturalist who developed the modern theory of evolution and proposed, with Alfred Russel Wallace, the principle of natural selection. He was the first to propose a link between coral reefs and volcanic islands.

1836 John Frederic Daniell, British chemist and meteorologist who invented a primary electrical cell in 1836. The Daniell cell was the first reliable source of direct-current electricity.

1837 The earliest practicable telegraph instrument was invented by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone which was used by railway companies.

1837 Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His shipbuilding designs include the Great Western 1837, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic regularly; the Great Britain 1843, the first large iron ship to have a screw propeller; and the Great Eastern 1858, which laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable. Brunel's last ship, the Great Eastern, was to remain the largest ship in service until the end of the 19th century. With over ten times the tonnage of his first ship, it was the first ship to be built with a double iron hull.

1839 The marine screw propeller was developed and first used by Francis Pettit Smith in the UK.

1839 The first treadle-propelled cycle was designed by the Scottish blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan. - The first true Bicycle

1840 First horse-drawn caravans were in use by travelling show troupes in England.

1841 William Henry Fox Talbot, English pioneer of photography. He invented the paper-based calotype process, the first negative/positive method.

1843 James Prescott Joule, English physicist. His work on the relations between electrical, mechanical, and chemical effects led to the discovery of the first law of thermodynamics. He determined the mechanical equivalent of heat (Joule's equivalent) in 1843, and the SI unit of energy, the joule, is named after him. He also discovered Joule's law, which defines the relation between heat and electricity.

1845 William McNaught, Scottish mechanical engineer who invented the compound steam engine. This type of engine extracts the maximum energy from the hot steam by effectively using it twice - once in a high-pressure cylinder (or cylinders) and then, when exhausted from this, in a second, low-pressure cylinder.

1846 Henry Doulton, English ceramicist. He developed special wares for the chemical, electrical, and building industries, and established the world's first stoneware-drainpipe factory in 1846.

1847 James Young Simpson, Scottish physician, the first to use ether as an anaesthetic in childbirth and the discoverer, later the same year, of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform, which he tested by experiments on himself.

1848 The box girder, forming a closed tube, was first used in the tubular Conwy bridge in 1848 and then in the Britannia tubular bridge over the Menai Straits 1850, which established the superiority of wrought iron over cast iron.

1849 Elizabeth Blackwell, English physician, became the first woman to qualify in medicine in the USA and the first woman to be recognized as a qualified physician in the UK in 1869.

1850 Alexander William Williamson, English organic chemist who made significant discoveries concerning alcohols and ethers, catalysis, and reversible reactions. He was the first to explain the action of a catalyst in terms of the formation of an intermediate compound.

1850 Thomas Henry Huxley, English scientist and humanist. Huxley found the system of classification introduced by French anatomist Georges Cuvier to be inadequate for the sea creatures he studied on his voyage. He reclassified the animal kingdom into Annuloida, Annulosa, Infusoria, Coelenterata, Mollusca, Molluscoida, Protozoa, and Vertebrata, and started a fundamental revision of the Mollusca. He also produced a new system of classification of birds, based mainly on the palate and other bony structures, which is the foundation of the modern system.

1852 George Gabriel Stokes, Irish physicist who studied the viscosity (resistance to relative motion) of fluids. This culminated in Stokes' law. In 1852 Stokes gave the first explanation of the phenomenon of fluorescence, a term he coined. He noticed that ultraviolet light was being absorbed and then re-emitted as visible light.

1853 George Cayley, English aviation pioneer, inventor of the first piloted glider and the caterpillar tractor.

1855 Victoria Falls - The existence of the falls was first made known to the outside world by David Livingstone in 1855.

1855 Philip Henry Gosse, English naturalist who built the first aquarium ever used to house marine animals long-term and wrote many books on marine zoology.

1856 William Henry Perkin, English chemist. In 1856 he discovered mauve, the dye that originated the aniline-dye industry and the British synthetic-dyestuffs industry generally. He was Knighted in 1906.

1858 John Hanning Speke, British explorer. He joined British traveller Richard Burton on an African expedition in which they reached Lake Tanganyika. Speke became the first European to see Lake Victoria.

1859 Richard Christopher Carrington, English astronomer. By studying sunspots, he established the Sun's axis and rotation. He was the first to record the observation of a solar flare.

1860 Warren de la Rue, British astronomer and instrument maker. He was a pioneer in the field of celestial photography; besides inventing the first photoheliographic telescope, he took the first photograph of a solar eclipse in 1860 and used it to prove that the prominences observed during an eclipse are of solar rather than lunar origin. He was one of the first printers to adopt electrotyping and in 1851 invented the first envelope-making machine. He also invented the silver chloride battery.

1861 James Clerk Maxwell, Scottish physicist. His main achievement was in the understanding of electromagnetic waves: Maxwell's equations bring together electricity, magnetism, and light in one set of relations. He studied gases, optics, and the sensation of colour, and his theoretical work in magnetism prepared the way for wireless telegraphy and telephony. In 1861 he produced the first colour photograph to use a three-colour process.

1863 John Alexander Reina Newlands, English chemist who worked as an industrial chemist; he prepared in 1863 the first periodic table of the elements arranged in order of relative atomic masses, and pointed out in 1865 the `law of octaves┤ whereby every eighth element has similar properties.

1863 Francis Galton, English scientist, inventor and explorer who studied the inheritance of physical and mental attributes with the aim of improving the human species. He was the first to use twins to try to assess the influence of environment on development, and is considered the founder of eugenics (a term he coined). He invented the `silent' dog whistle, the weather map, a teletype printer, and forensic fingerprinting, and discovered the existence of anticyclones. He was Knighted in 1909.

1863 London opened the world's first underground railway, powered by steam.

1863 Thomas Cook, Pioneer British travel agent and founder of Thomas Cook & Son. He organized his first tour, to Switzerland, in 1863. He introduced traveller's cheques (then called `circular notes┤) in the early 1870s.

1869 (Joseph) Norman Lockyer, English scientist. He studied the spectra of solar prominences and sunspots. Through his pioneering work in spectroscopy, he discovered the existence of helium.

1871 Edwin Ray Lankester, English zoologist who made clear morphological distinctions between the different orders of invertebrates. He distinguished between the haemocoel (blood-containing cavity) in Mollusca and Arthropoda and the coelom (fluid-filled cavity) in worms and vertebrates for the first time, showing that whilst functionally similar they have different origins.

1872 James Dewar, Scottish chemist and physicist who invented the vacuum flask (Thermos) during his research into the properties of matter at extremely low temperatures. Working on the liquefaction of gases, Dewar found, in 1891, that both liquid oxygen and ozone are magnetic. In 1895 he became the first to produce liquid hydrogen, and in 1899 succeeded in solidifying hydrogen. He also invented the explosive cordite 1889.

1873 William Edward Ayrton, English physicist and electrical engineer. Ayrton invented many of the prototypes of modern electrical measuring instruments, including the ammeter. He also created the world's first laboratory for teaching applied electricity, in Tokyo, Japan in 1873. In 1881 Ayrton and his colleague John Perry (1850-1920) invented the surface-contact system for electric railways, and they brought out the first electric tricycle 1882.

1875 Percy Carlyle Gilchrist, British metallurgist. He devised a method of producing low-phosphorus steel from high-phosphorus ores, such as those commonly occurring in the UK. This meant that steel became cheaply available to British industry.

1876 Plimsoll line - Loading mark painted on the hull of merchant ships, first suggested by English politician Samuel Plimsoll. It shows the depth to which a vessel may be safely (and legally) loaded.

1876 Alexander Graham Bell, Scottish scientist and inventor. He was the first person ever to transmit speech from one point to another by electrical means. Bell also invented a photophone, which used selenium crystals to apply the telephone principle to transmitting words in a beam of light.

1877 William Froude, English engineer and hydrodynamicist. He first formulated reliable laws for the resistance that water offers to ships and for predicting their stability. He also invented the hydraulic dynameter for measuring the output of high-power engines. These achievements were fundamental to marine development.

1878 William Crookes in England invented the Crookes tube, which produced cathode rays.

1878 Incandescent filament lamp - the light bulb, first demonstrated by Joseph Swan in the UK.

1884 Charles Algernon Parsons, English engineer who invented the Parsons steam turbine in 1884, a landmark in marine engineering and later universally used in electricity generation to drive an alternator.

1884 Horatio Phillips of England designed the first wing with a curved airfoil shape.

1886 Charles Cruft, British dog expert. He organized his first dog show in 1886 and from that year annual shows bearing his name were held in Islington, London.

1889 Lake Edward, Lake in Uganda one of the Nile's western reservoirs. The explorer Henry Morton Stanley was the first European to see the lake in 1889, when he succeeded in tracing the Semliki River, the only outlet of the lake, to its source.

1890 The first electric underground railway opened in London.

1894 William Bateson, English geneticist. Bateson was one of the founders of the science of genetics (a term he introduced), and a leading proponent of Austrian biologist Gregor Mendel's work on heredity. Bateson also made contributions to embryology and to the theory of evolution.

1894 Morris William Travers, English chemist who, with Scottish chemist William Ramsay, between 1894 and 1908 first identified what were called the inert or noble gases: krypton, xenon, and radon. Travers continued his researches in cryogenics and made the first accurate temperature measurements of liquid gases.

1894 Oliver Joseph Lodge, British physicist. He developed a system of wireless communication in 1894, and his work was instrumental in the development of radio receivers. He also proved that the ether does not exist, a discovery fundamental to the theory of relativity. He was Knighted in 1902.

1897 Motorcycle Racing - The first motorcycle race was in Richmond, Surrey in 1897. The Isle of Man TT races were inaugurated in 1907 and are held over the island's roads.

1897 J(oseph) J(ohn) Thomson, English physicist. He discovered the electron in 1897. His work inaugurated the electrical theory of the atom, and his elucidation of positive rays and their application to an analysis of neon led to the discovery of isotopes. He won the Nobel prize in 1906 and was Knighted in 1908.

1898 John Sealy Edward Townsend, Irish mathematical physicist who studied the kinetics of electrons and ions in gases. He was the first to obtain a value for the charge on the electron, in and to explain how electric discharges pass through gases. He was Knighted in 1941.

1899 Frederic Stanley Kipping, English chemist who pioneered the study of the organic compounds of silicon; he invented the term `silicone┤, which is now applied to the entire class of oxygen-containing polymers. He prepared condensation products - the first organosilicon polymers - which he called silicones.

20th Century

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1900 William Boog Leishman, Scottish army physician who discovered the protozoan parasite that causes the group of diseases now known as leishmaniasis. He was Knighted in 1909. Leishman discovered the protozoan parasite that causes kala-azar in 1900, using a technique now called Leishman's stain, to examine cells from the spleen of a soldier who had died of kala-azar.

1900 Jarrow Town in Tyne and Wear, northeast England, on the south bank of the River Tyne. The shipbuilding industry was established by the Palmer brothers, and iron works were founded alongside the shipyards. The world's first oil tanker was produced here and some 900 ships were launched from Jarrow prior to 1933.

1901 Hubert Cecil Booth, English inventor of the vacuum cleaner. A mechanic and engineer by trade, he patented an electric machine in 1901 that went into production the following year.

1902 William Maddock Bayliss, English physiologist who discovered the digestive hormone secretin, the first hormone to be found, with Ernest Starling. During World War I, Bayliss introduced the use of saline (salt water) injections to help the injured recover from shock. He was Knighted in 1922.

1904 (John) Ambrose Fleming, English electrical physicist and engineer who invented the thermionic valve in 1904 and devised Fleming's rules. He was Knighted in 1929.

1904 Frederick Frost Blackman, English botanist after whom the Blackman reactions of photosynthesis are named.

1905 Ernest Henry Starling, English physiologist who, with William Bayliss, discovered secretin and in 1905 coined the word `hormone┤. He formulated Starling's law, which states that the force of the heart's contraction is a function of the length of the muscle fibres. He is considered one of the founders of endocrinology.

1908 James Mackenzie, Scottish physician and cardiologist who was a pioneer of modern cardiac medicine. He was first to identify a large number of irregularities in the heart's beat and establish which were caused by serious disease and which were of no consequence.

1909 Arthur Lapworth, British chemist, one of the founders of modern physical-organic chemistry. He formulated the electronic theory of organic reactions (independently of English chemist Robert Robinson).

1910 Francis William Aston, English physicist who developed the mass spectrometer, which separates isotopes by projecting their ions (charged atoms) through a magnetic field. For his contribution to analytic chemistry and the study of atomic theory he was awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

1913 The first purpose-designed aircraft carrier was the British HMS Hermes.

1913 Stainless Steel - alloy of iron, chromium, and nickel that resists rusting. Used for cutlery, kitchen fittings and in surgical instruments, Stainless steel was first produced in the UK in 1913.

1913. The first crossword was devised by Arthur Wynne of Liverpool, England.

1913 William Henry Bragg, English physicist. In 1915 he shared with his son Lawrence Bragg the Nobel Prize for Physics for their research work on X-rays and crystals. He constructed the first X-ray spectrometer 1913.

1913 Arthur Holmes, English geologist who helped develop interest in the theory of continental drift. He also pioneered the use of radioactive decay methods for rock dating, giving the first reliable estimate of the age of the Earth.

1914 Short - British aircraft manufacturers. The Type 184 seaplane was the first aircraft to carry a torpedo and, during the World War I Gallipoli campaign, was the first aircraft to sink an enemy ship with a torpedo.

1915 Frederick Handley Page, English aeronautical engineer who designed the first large bomber. His company produced a series of military aircraft, including the Halifax bomber in World War II. In 1930, Handley Page produced the first 40-seat airliner, the Hercules, a four-engined plane. He was Knighted in 1942.

1916 The 'Tank' - The first effective tracked and armoured fighting vehicle, invented by the British soldier and scholar Ernest Swinton, and first used in the Battle of the Somme 1916.

1919 The first nonstop transatlantic round trip flight was completed by a rigid airship, the British R34.

1919 John William Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight, from Newfoundland to Ireland aboard a Vickers Vimy.

1919 The first car-towed caravan was made by Eccles Motor Transport.

1921 John James Rickard Macleod, Scottish physiologist who shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Frederick Banting in 1923 for their part in the discovery of insulin, the hormone in the pancreas that reduces blood glucose (sugar) levels. Since its discovery, insulin has been used extensively as the main treatment for diabetes.

1924 Frank Watson Dyson, English astronomer. He was especially interested in stellar motion and time determination. He was one of a number of astronomers who confirmed the observations of Jacobus Kapteyn on the proper motions of stars, which indicated that the stars in our Galaxy seemed to be moving in two great streams. These results were later realized to be the first evidence for the rotation of our Galaxy. He initiated the public broadcasting of time signals by the British Broadcasting Corporation over the radio in 1924.

1924 Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, (Baron Blackett) British physicist. He was awarded a Nobel prize 1948 for work in cosmic radiation and his perfection of the cloud chamber, an apparatus for tracking ionized particles, with which he confirmed the existence of positrons. In 1924, working under physicist Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge, Blackett made the first photograph of an atomic transmutation, which was of nitrogen into an oxygen isotope. He continued to develop the cloud chamber and 1932 designed one where photographs of cosmic rays were taken automatically. Later he discovered particles with a lifespan of 10-10 sec, which became known as strange particles.

1925 John Logie Baird, Scottish electrical engineer who pioneered television. In 1925 he gave the first public demonstration of television, transmitting an image of a recognizable human face. The following year, he gave the world's first demonstration of true television before an audience of about 50 scientists at the Royal Institution, London. In 1929 The BBC began broadcasting experimental TV programmes, using Baird's system.

1926 Edward Victor Appleton, British physicist. He worked at Cambridge under Ernest Rutherford from 1920. He proved the existence of the Kennelly-Heaviside layer (now called the E layer) in the atmosphere, and the Appleton layer beyond it, which Appleton measured at about 230 km/145 miles above the Earth's surface (the first distance measurement made by means of radio). He was involved in the initial work on the atom bomb and won the Nobel Prize in 1947.

1927 Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, British archaeologist. He introduced aerial survey as a means of finding and interpreting remains, an idea conceived during World War I. A leading field archaeologist, he was the first archaeology officer of the Ordnance Survey 1920-46.

1928 John Logie Baird demonstrated colour TV.

1928 Alexander Fleming, Scottish bacteriologist who discovered the first antibiotic drug, penicillin, in 1928. In 1922 he had discovered lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme present in saliva, nasal secretions, and tears. While studying this, he found an unusual mould growing on a neglected culture dish, which he isolated and grew into a pure culture; this led to his discovery of penicillin.

1930 Frank Whittle, British engineer. He patented the basic design for the turbojet engine in 1930. He had the idea for a jet engine 1928 but could not persuade the Air Ministry of its potential until 1935. He was knighted in 1948.

1932 John Douglas Cockcroft, British physicist. He and Irish physicist Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton succeeded in splitting the nucleus of an atom for the first time. For this they were jointly awarded a Nobel prize 1951. Walton and Cockcroft built the first successful particle accelerator.

1933 (Walter) Norman Haworth, English organic chemist who was the first to synthesize a vitamin (ascorbic acid, vitamin C) in 1933, for which he shared a Nobel prize 1937. He made significant advances in determining the structures of many carbohydrates, particularly sugars. He was Knighted in 1947.

1935 Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, Scottish physicist who developed a forerunner of radar. He proposed in 1935 a method of radiolocation of aircraft - a key factor in the Allied victory over German aircraft in World War II. He was Knighted in 1942.

1936 Alan Mathison Turing, English mathematician and logician. In 1936 he described a `universal computing machine┤ that could theoretically be programmed to solve any problem capable of solution by a specially designed machine. This concept, now called the Turing machine, foreshadowed the digital computer. Turing was the first to suggest the possibility of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

1936 The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) debuts the world's first television service from Alexandra Palace with three hours of programming a day.

1938 Lionel Sharples Penrose, English physician and geneticist who carried out pioneering work on mental retardation and Down's syndrome. He was the first to demonstrate the significance of the mother's age.

1938 The British steam locomotive Mallard set a steam-rail speed record of 203 kph/126 mph.

1942 James Stanley Hey, English physicist whose work in radar led to pioneering research in radioastronomy. He discovered that large sunspots were powerful ultra-shortwave radio transmitters, and pinpointed a radio source in the Milky Way.

1943 Barnes Neville Wallis, British aeronautical engineer who designed the airship R-100, and during World War II invented the `bouncing bombs┤ used by the Royal Air Force Dambusters Squadron to destroy the German M÷hne and Eder dams in 1943. He also assisted in the development of the Concorde supersonic airliner and developed the swing wing aircraft. He was Knighted in 1968.

1945 Andrew Fielding Huxley, English physiologist, awarded the Nobel prize in 1963 with Alan Hodgkin for work on nerve impulses, discovering how ionic mechanisms are used in nerves to transmit impulses. He was Knighted in 1974. Alan Lloyd Hodgkin, British physiologist, He devised techniques for measuring electric currents flowing across a cell membrane. Hodgkin and Huxley managed for the first time to record electrical changes across the cell membrane.

1945 J(ohn) Z(achary) Young, English zoologist who discovered and studied the giant nerve fibres in squids, contributing greatly to knowledge of nerve structure and function. He also did research on the central nervous system of octopuses, demonstrating that memory stores are located in the brain.

1948 Frederic Calland Williams, English electrical and electronics engineer who developed cathode-ray-tube storage devices used in many early computers. He took part in building the first stored-program computer 1948. He was Knighted in 1976

1948 Stanley Matthews, English footballer who played for Stoke City, Blackpool, and England. He played nearly 700 Football League games, and won 54 international caps. He was the first Footballer of the Year in 1948 (again in 1963), the first European Footballer of the Year in 1956, and the first footballer to be knighted for services to the game in 1965.

1949 Geoffrey De Havilland, British aircraft designer who designed and whose company produced the Moth biplane, the Mosquito fighter-bomber of World War II, and in 1949 the Comet, the world's first jet-driven airliner to enter commercial service. Knighted in 1944.

1950 (William) Richard Shaboe Doll, British physician who, working with Bradford Hill, provided the first statistical proof of the link between smoking and lung cancer in 1950. - Austin Bradford Hill, English epidemiologist and statistician. He pioneered rigorous statistical study of patterns of disease. He was Knighted in 1961.

1952 John (Rhodes) Cobb, British racing driver. He broke the world land-speed record 1938, 1939, and 1947, setting a personal best time of 634.37 km/h (394.19 mph). He attempted to break the world water-speed record on Loch Ness in Scotland 1952. On his first run he became the first person to break the 200 mph barrier on water, averaging 332.95 km/h (206.89 mph).

1954 Roger Gilbert Bannister, British Athlete, becomes the first to run the Mile in under 4 minutes.

1957 Alick Isaacs, Scottish virologist who, in 1957 discovered interferon, a naturally occurring antiviral substance produced by cells infected with viruses. The full implications of this discovery are still being investigated.

1958 Frederick Sanger, English biochemist. He was the first person to win a Nobel Prize for Chemistry twice: the first 1958 for determining the structure of insulin, and the second 1980 for work on the chemical structure of genes.

1958 Christopher Sydney Cockerell, English engineer who invented the hovercraft in the 1950s. He made a major contribution to aircraft radio navigation and communications. During this period he filed 36 patents.

1958 Vanwall, British motor-racing team and manufacturer - the first winners of the Formula 1 Constructors' World Championship.

1958 Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Irish adventurer, explorer, and writer who made the first land crossing of South America at its widest point in 1958.

1959 Martin Ryle, English radio astronomer. At the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge, he developed the technique of sky-mapping using `aperture synthesis┤, combining smaller dish aerials to give the characteristics of one large one. His work on the distribution of radio sources in the universe brought confirmation of the Big Bang theory. He was knighted in 1966, and won, with his co-worker Antony Hewish, the Nobel Prize for Physics 1974.

1960 Chris (-tian John Storey) Bonington, British mountaineer. He took part in the first ascent of Annapurna II in 1960, Nuptse in 1961, and the first British ascent of the north face of the Eiger in 1962, climbed the central Tower of Paine in Patagonia in 1963, and was the leader of an Everest expedition in 1975 and again in 1985, reaching the summit.

1962 Dounreay, Site of the world's first fast-breeder nuclear reactor on the north coast of Scotland.

1962 Neil Bartlett, British chemist. He prepared the first compound of one of the inert gases, which were previously thought to be incapable of reacting with anything.

1964 (Michael) Anthony Epstein, English microbiologist who, in collaboration with his assistant Barr, discovered in 1964 the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that causes glandular fever in humans and has been linked to some forms of human cancer.

1964 Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, English biochemist who analysed the structure of penicillin, insulin, and vitamin B12. Hodgkin was the first to use a computer to analyse the molecular structure of complex chemicals, and this enabled her to produce three-dimensional models. She won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964.

1964 Fred Trueman, English cricketer. A right-arm fast bowler of great hostility, he played for Yorkshire 1949-68, and in 67 tests for England 1952-65. Through much of his test career he formed a fine opening bowling partnership with Brian Statham of Lancashire. In 1964 at the Oval, London, he gained special fame by becoming the first bowler to take 300 wickets in test cricket.

1965 Michael Penston, British astronomer at the Royal Greenwich observatory between 1965-90. From observations made with the Ultraviolet Explorer Satellite of hot gas circulating around the core of the galaxy NGC 4151, he concluded that a black hole of immense mass lay at the galaxy's centre.

1966 Harrier - The only truly successful vertical takeoff and landing fixed-wing aircraft, often called the jump jet. It was built in Britain and made its first flight in 1966. It has a single jet engine and a set of swivelling nozzles. These deflect the jet exhaust vertically downwards for takeoff and landing, and to the rear for normal flight. Designed to fly from confined spaces with minimal ground support, it refuels in midair.

1967 (Susan) Jocelyn Bell Burnell, British astronomer. She discovered the first pulsar (rapidly flashing star) with Antony Hewish and colleagues at Cambridge University, England.

1968 John Blashford-Snell, British explorer and soldier. His expeditions have included the first descent and exploration of the Blue Nile 1968; the journey N to S from Alaska to Cape Horn, crossing the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia for the first time 1971-72; and the first complete navigation of the Congo-Za´re River, Africa 1974-75.

1969 Wally (Walter William) Herbert, British surveyor and explorer. His first surface crossing by dog sledge of the Arctic Ocean 1968-69, from Alaska to Spitsbergen via the North Pole, was the longest sustained sledging journey (6,000 km/3,800 mi) in polar exploration.

1969 Concorde - The first and only supersonic airliner, which cruises at Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound, about 2,170 kph/1,350 mph. Concorde, the result of Anglo-French cooperation, made its first flight in 1969 and entered commercial service seven years later. It is 62 m/202 ft long and has a wing span of nearly 26 m/84 ft.

1972 Graham Hill, English motor-racing driver. He won the Dutch Grand Prix in 1962, progressing to the world driver's title in 1962 and 1968. In 1972 he became the first Formula One World Champion to win the Le Mans Grand Prix d'Endurance (Le Mans 24-Hour Race). He was also the only driver to win the Formula One World Championship, Le Mans 24-Hour Race, and the Indianapolis 500 Race in his career as a driver. His son Damon won his first Grand Prix in 1993, making them the first father and son to both win a Grand Prix and then the first father and son to both become World Champion.

1973 The BBC and Independent Television in the UK introduced the world's first teletext systems, Ceefax and Oracle, respectively.

1975 Queen - British glam-rock group 1971-91 credited with making the first successful pop video, for their hit `Bohemian Rhapsody'.

1978 Patrick Christopher Steptoe, English obstetrician who pioneered in vitro fertilization. Steptoe, together with biologist Robert Edwards, was the first to succeed in implanting in the womb an egg fertilized outside the body. The first `test-tube baby┤ - Louise Joy Brown, born at Oldham General Hospital, Lancashire. Robert Geoffrey Edwards, British physiologist. In the 1950s Edwards successfully replanted mouse embryos into the uterus of a mouse and he wondered if the same process could be applied to humans.

1982 Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham Fiennes, British explorer who made the first surface journey around the world's polar circumference between 1979 and 1982.

1984 David Hempleman-Adams, The first man in history to reach the Geographic and Magnetic North and South Poles as well as climb the highest peaks in all seven continents.

1986 John Lowe, English darts player. In 1986 he achieved the first televised nine-dart finish at the MFI Championship at Reading.

1991 Tim Berners-Lee, British physicist. Inventor of the Internet - development of the graphical browser Mosaic was the key development that turned the Internet into a mass medium.

1993 Nigel Mansell, English motor-racing driver.  First man to simultaneously win the Formula 1 and Indy championships.

1995 Genetic fingerprinting was developed in the UK by Professor Alec Jeffreys, and is now allowed as a means of legal identification. It is used in paternity testing, forensic medicine and inbreeding studies. The world's first national DNA database began operating in the UK April 1995 in accordance with the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

1997 Thrust SSC (`SuperSonic Car┤) goes supersonic. The Land Speed record has been broken many times, Richard Noble's 1993 record of 1,013 kph/633 mph was beaten by Thrust 2, driven by RAF pilot Andy Green at 1,142 kph/714 mph. But on Wednesday 15 October, Thrust SSC became the first 'car' to break the Sound Barrier setting the new record at 1,220.354 kph/762.721 mph.

21st Century

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2000 Jim Shekdar, English Engineer, becomes the first man to row across the Pacific Ocean.

2001 Ellen MacArthur becomes the first woman to sail around the world solo in under 100 days.

2006 Dee Caffari On the 21st May 2006, Dee Caffari becomes the first woman to sail single-handed, non-stop, west about the globe, against the prevailing winds and currents.

2009 Fiona Waller, Elin Davies, Jo Jackson and Sarah Duff become the first all-female crew to row across the Indian Ocean, spending 79 days at sea.
They finished the Woodvale Indian Ocean Race onboard their 29ft (8.8m) rowing boat, Pura Vida, after leaving Western Australia on the 3,720 mile journey in April. The race was won by a male British team on 26 June 2009. 
Dubbed the toughest rowing race in the world, of the 10 boats that began the race, only five made it past halfway and before 2009 only two men had ever completed it.

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