The British have a long history of inventing dating back to the very early days of mechanisation right through to the 21st century with the Industrial Revolution probably being the busiest time for British inventors. Many of these inventions listed below are also covered on the page of British 'Firsts'.
British mathematician and inventor, who designed and built mechanical computing machines on principles that anticipated the modern electronic computer. Babbage was born in Teignmouth, Devonshire, and was educated at the University of Cambridge. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1816 and was active in the founding of the Analytical, the Royal Astronomical, and the Statistical societies.
In the 1820s Babbage began developing his Difference Engine, a mechanical device that can perform simple mathematical calculations. Babbage started to build his Difference Engine, but was unable to complete it because of a lack of funding. However, in 1991 British scientists, following Babbage's detailed drawings and specifications, constructed the Difference Engine. The machine works flawlessly, calculating up to a precision of 31 digits, proving that Babbage's design was sound. In the 1830s Babbage began developing his Analytical Engine, which was designed to carry out more complicated calculations, but this device was never built. Babbage's book Economy of Machines and Manufactures (1832) initiated the field of study known today as operational research.
John Logie Baird
John Logie Baird is remembered as the inventor of mechanical television, radar and fiber optics. Born in 1888 in Helensburgh, Scotland, Baird learned a Calvinist work ethic from his father, a Presbyterian minister. He successfully tested in a laboratory in late 1925 and unveiled with much fanfare in London in early 1926, mechanical television technology was quickly usurped by electronic television, the basis of modern video technology. Nonetheless, Baird's achievements, including making the first trans-Atlantic television transmission, were singular and critical scientific accomplishments. Baird created a host of television technologies. Among them, phonovision, a forerunner of the video recorder, noctovision, an infra-red spotting system for "seeing" in the dark; open-air television, a theater-projection system; stereoscopic color TV; and the first high definition color TV.
Trevor Baylis O.B.E.
In 1993, he watched a program about the spread of AIDS in Africa, which observed that in many regions radio was the only available media, but the need for batteries or electricity made them too expensive or too difficult to access. There was a need for an educational tool that did not rely on electricity. By 1996 Trevor Baylis was receiving numerous awards for his 'Clockwork Radio' which was powered by the occasional turn of a handle.
Sir Christopher Sydney Cockerell
Christopher Sydney Cockerell was born in 1910 at Cherry Hinton near
Cambridge, the son of Sir Sydney Carlyle Cockerell, sometime private secretary to Sir
William Morris and from 1908 to 1937 Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The
Cockerells were a talented family. The sons of Sydney John Cockerell, a London coal
merchant, and Alice nee Bennett, the daughter of a City Watchmaker, Sir Sydneys
elder brother, Theodore, was a biologist, his younger brother, Douglas, and eminent
bookbinder; while Douglass son Sydney Maurice, two years Christophers senior
and also a bookbinder, was a celebrated and innovative designer of marbled papers.
Sir Humphry Davy
Renowned British chemist, best known for his experiments in electrochemistry and for his invention of a miner's safety lamp.
Davy was born on December 17, 1778, in Penzance, Cornwall, England. In 1798 he began experiments on the medicinal properties of gases, during which he discovered the anesthetic effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Davy was appointed assistant lecturer in chemistry at the newly founded Royal Institution in London in 1801 and the following year became professor of chemistry there.
During his early years at the Royal Institution, Davy started his investigations of the effects of electricity on chemical compounds. In 1807 he received the Napoleon Prize from the Institut de France for the theoretical and practical work begun the year before. He then constructed the largest battery ever built, with over 250 cells, and passed a strong electric current through solutions of various compounds suspected of containing undiscovered elements. Davy quickly isolated the elements, potassium and sodium by this electrolytic method. He also prepared calcium by the same method. In later, unrelated experiments, he discovered boron and proved that the diamond is composed of carbon. Davy also showed that the so-called rare earths are oxides of metals rather than elements. His experiments with acids indicated that hydrogen, not oxygen, causes the characteristics of acids. Davy also made notable discoveries in heat.
In the field of applied science, Davy invented a safety lamp for miners in 1815. For this and for related research, he received the gold and the silver Rumford medals from the Royal Society. In 1823 he suggested a method of preventing the corrosion of the copper bottoms of ships by means of zinc and iron sheathing. He was knighted in 1812 and raised to a baronetcy in 1818. In 1820 he became president of the Royal Society. Davy died on May 29, 1829, in Geneva.
Among his writings are Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812) and Elements of Agricultural Chemistry (1813).
Harrison 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.
Sir James Martin CBE
James Martin was born on 11th September 1893 in Crossgar, County Down,
Ireland. He grew up on a farm among people of sturdy independence. He was a man of strong
personality, upright principles, with deep religious convictions, though he was not a
church-goer. From a very early age, James Martin displayed exceptional powers of
inventiveness and, while still in his teens, had designed, made and sold a wide variety of
machines. He had a great desire to invent and make things with his own hands, and,
scorning conventional education, by dint of hard work and continuous study, he was an
accomplished engineer long before the age of 21. His farmer father had died whilst Sir
James was still an infant and his mother, wishing him to have a university education, took
him to see a professor of engineering at Belfast University.
Sir Frank Whittle
Inventor of the Jet Engine
British aeronautical engineer, aviator, and inventor of the jet engine.
Whittle was born in Earlsdon, Coventry, England, at a time when powered flight was still
in it's infancy. He was educated at Leamington College and the University of Cambridge. In
1926 he entered the Royal Air Force College in Cranwell as a flight cadet. While attending
the college, Whittle became interested in jet propulsion for aircraft; by 1930 he had
developed the concept of a turbojet engine and filed his first patent. In 1936 he
organized a privately financed company, Power Jets, Ltd., for the development of his