Engineers during World War Two test a model of a model of a Halifax bomber in a
, an invention that dates back to 1871
The following is a list and timeline of
innovations as well as inventions and discoveries that involved British people or the United Kingdom including predecessor states in the history of the formation of the United Kingdom. This list covers innovation and invention in the mechanical, electronic, and industrial fields, as well as medicine, military devices and theory, artistic and scientific discovery and innovation, and ideas in religion and ethics.
scientific revolution in 17th century Europe stimulated innovation and discovery in Britain. Experimentation was considered central to innovation by groups such as the [1 ] Royal Society. The English patent system evolved from its medieval origins into a system that recognised intellectual property; this encouraged invention and spurred on the Industrial Revolution from the late 18th century. During the 19th century, innovation in Britain led to revolutionary changes in manufacturing, the development of factory systems, and growth of transportation by railway and steam ship that spread around the world. [2 ] In the 20th century, Britain's rate of innovation, measured by patents registered, [3 ] slowed in comparison to other leading economies, although science and technology continued to develop rapidly in absolute terms. [4 ]
17th century [ edit ]
18th century [ edit ]
plough, the first plough to be widely built in factories and commercially successful, is patented by Joseph Foljambe. [12 ]
Invention of hollow-pipe
drainage is credited to Sir Hugh Dalrymple who died in 1753. [14 ]
Adam Smith, often known as 'The father of modern economics', publishes his seminal text [17 ] . The Wealth of Nations [18 ] [19 ] The
Watt steam engine, conceived in 1765, goes into production. It is the first type of steam engine to make use of steam at a pressure just above atmospheric.
19th century [ edit ]
SS Great Britain, the world's first steam-powered, screw propeller-driven passenger liner with an iron hull is launched. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it was at the time the largest ship afloat.
Alexander Wood develops a medical hypodermic syringe with a needle fine enough to pierce the skin. [38 ]
The first commercially successful safety bicycle, called the
Rover, is designed by John Kemp Starley. The following year Dan Albone produces a derivative of this called the Ivel Safety cycle.
20th century [ edit ]
Sorbonne, France, Englishman Edwin Belin demonstrates a mechanical scanning device, an early precursor to modern television.
Anglepoise lamp is patented by George Carwardine, a design consultant specialising in vehicle suspension systems.
The concept of
microprogramming is developed by Maurice Wilkes from the realisation that the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of a computer could be controlled by a miniature, highly specialised computer program in high-speed ROM.
LEO is the first business application (a payroll system) on an electronic computer.
Autocode, regarded as the first compiled programming language, is developed for the Manchester Mark 1 by Alick Glennie.
The first accurate atomic clock, a caesium standard based on a certain transition of the caesium-133 atom, is built by
Louis Essen at the National Physical Laboratory. This clock enabled further development of general relativity, and started a basis for an enhanced SI unit system. [54 ]
SMS message in the world is sent over the UK's GSM network.
21st century [ edit ]
Beagle 2, a British landing spacecraft that forms part of the European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express mission lands on the surface of Mars but fails to communicate. It is located twelve years later in a series of images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that suggest two of Beagle's four solar panels failed to deploy, blocking the spacecraft's communications antenna.
Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer, is launched and quickly becomes popular for education in programming and computer science. [68 ]
European Space Agency's Philae lander leaves the Rosetta spacecraft and makes the first ever landing on a comet. The Philae lander was built with significant British expertise and technology, alongside that of several other countries. [69 ] [70 ]
Clock making [ edit ]
Clothing manufacturing [ edit ]
Communications [ edit ]
Computing [ edit ]
ACE and Pilot ACE - [52 ] Alan Turing
ARM architecture The ARM CPU design is the microprocessor architecture of 98% of mobile phones and every smartphone. [94 ] First
programmer - Ada Lovelace First Programming Language
Analytical Engine ordercode - Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace
Argo system the world's first electrically powered mechanical analogue computer (also called at the Argo Clock) - Arthur Pollen
Sumlock ANITA calculator the world's first all-electronic desktop calculator - Bell Punch Co The world's first 'slimline'
pocket calculator, the Sinclair Executive amongst other electrical/electronic innovations - Sir Clive Sinclair
Osborne 1 The first commercially successful portable computer, the precursor to the Laptop computer - Adam Osborne Heavily involved in the development of the
Linux kernel - Andrew Morton & Alan Cox
Flip-flop circuit, which became the basis of electronic memory ( Random-access memory) in computers - William Eccles and F. W. Jordan
Universal Turing machine - The UTM model is considered to be the origin of the "stored program computer" used by John von Neumann in 1946 for his "Electronic Computing Instrument" that now bears von Neumann's name: the von Neumann architecture, also UTM is considered the first operating system - Alan Turing The development of
packet switching co-invented by British engineer Donald Davies and American Paul Baran - National Physical Laboratory, London England The first person to conceptualise the
Integrated Circuit - Geoffrey W.A. Dummer The first modern computer
Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine - (SSEM), nicknamed Baby. Was the world's first stored-program computer. Developed by Frederic Calland Williams & Tom Kilburn [95 ]
Williams tube - a cathode ray tube used to electronically store binary data (Can store roughly 500 to 1,000 bits of data) - Freddie Williams & Tom Kilburn
Ferranti Mark 1 - Also known as the Manchester Electronic Computer was the first computer to use the principles of early CPU design (Central processing unit) - Freddie Williams and Tom Kilburn - Also the world's first successful commercially available general-purpose electronic computer. The oldest known recordings of
computer generated music were played by the Ferranti Mark 1 computer - Christopher Strachey
EDSAC was the first complete, fully functional computer to use the von Neumann architecture, the basis of every modern computer - Maurice Wilkes
EDSAC 2 the successor to the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator or EDSAC. It was the first computer to have a microprogrammed ( Microcode) control unit and a bit slice hardware architecture - Team headed by Maurice Wilkes The first graphical computer game
OXO on the EDSAC at Cambridge University - A.S. Douglas
Atlas Computer, it was arguably the world's first supercomputer and was the fastest computer in the world until the release of the American CDC 6600 Also This machine introduced many modern architectural concepts: spooling, interrupts, pipelining, interleaved memory, virtual memory and paging - Team headed by Tom Kilburn
Digital audio player (MP3 Player) - Kane Kramer Co-Inventor of the world's first
trackball device - developed by Tom Cranston, Fred Longstaff and Kenyon Taylor The world's first handheld computer (
Psion Organiser) - Psion PLC The first
rugged computer - Husky (computer) First PC-compatible
palmtop computer ( Atari Portfolio) - Ian Cullimore
Denotational semantics - Christopher Strachey pioneer in programming language design
Wolfram's 2-state 3-symbol Turing machine - Stephen Wolfram
Engineering [ edit ]
Household appliances [ edit ]
Ideas, Religion and Ethics [ edit ]
Industrial processes [ edit ]
Medicine [ edit ]
Military [ edit ]
Musical instruments [ edit ]
Photography [ edit ]
Publishing firsts [ edit ]
Science [ edit ]
atomic theory - Considered the father of modern chemistry, John Dalton's experiments with gases led to the development of what is called the modern atomic theory. [9 ] [172 ]
Equals sign Robert Recorde, Welshman
Cell biology - Credit for the discovery of the first cells is given to Robert Hooke who described the microscopic compartments of cork cells in 1665 [172 ] Compound
microscope with 30x magnification - Robert Hooke
Universal joint - Robert Hooke
Coggeshall slide rule - Henry Coggeshall The
Iris diaphragm - Robert Hooke Correct theory of
combustion - Robert Hooke Partition
chromatography - Richard Laurence Millington Synge and Archer J.P. Martin [173 ]
Arnold Frederic Wilkins - pioneer in the development of Radar
Atwood machine used for illustrating the law of uniformly accelerated motion - George Atwood Marine
Barometer - Robert Hooke [72 ]
Hooke's Law (equation describing elasticity) - Robert Hooke [72 ]
Electrical generator (dynamo) - Michael Faraday [98 ]
Faraday cage - Michael Faraday [98 ]
Magneto-optical effect - Michael Faraday [98 ]
Calculus - Sir Isaac Newton
Infrared radiation - discovery commonly attributed to William Herschel.
Holography - First developed by Dennis Gabor in Rugby, England. Improved by Nicholas J. Phillips who made it possible to record multi-colour reflection holograms Discovery of the
pion (pi- meson) - Cecil Frank Powell
Wheatstone bridge - Samuel Hunter Christie Triple
achromatic lens - Peter Dollond
Newtonian telescope - Sir Isaac Newton
Hawking radiation - Stephen Hawking Demonstrated that
electric circuits obey the law of the conservation of energy and that electricity is a form of energy First Law of Thermodynamics. Also the unit of energy, the Joule is named after him - James Prescott Joule
Micrometer - William Gascoigne
the first bench micrometer that was capable of measuring to one ten thousandth of an inch -
Sinclair Executive, the world's first small electronic pocket calculator - Sir Clive Sinclair Discovered the element
argon - John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh with Scotsman William Ramsay
Standard deviation - Francis Galton
Slide rule - William Oughtred [174 ] Synthesis of
coumarin, one of the first synthetic perfumes, and cinnamic acid via the Perkin reaction- William Henry Perkin The Law of Gravity - Sir
Newton's laws of motion - Sir Isaac Newton
Pre-empting elements of General Relativity theory - William Kingdon Clifford
Geological Timescale - Arthur Holmes [175 ]
Electromagnet - William Sturgeon in 1823. [172 ]
Helium - Norman Lockyer
Weather map - [176 ] Sir Francis Galton Introduced the symbol for "is less than" and "is greater than" -
Thomas Harriot 1630 Introduced the "×" symbol for
multiplication as well as the abbreviations "sin" and "cos" for the sine and cosine functions - William Oughtred Dew Point Hygrometer -
John Frederic Daniell
Periodic Table - John Alexander Reina Newlands
Splitting the atom - John Cockcroft and Irish physicist Ernest Walton First full-scale commercial Nuclear Reactor at Calder Hall, opened in 1956.
Seismograph - John Milne Discovery of
oxygen gas (O2) - Joseph Priestley Discovery of the
Atom(nuclear model of) - Ernest Rutherford Discovery of the
Proton - Ernest Rutherford Discovery of the
Electron, isotopes and the inventor of the Mass spectrometer - J. J. Thomson Discovery of the
Neutron - James Chadwick
Nuclear transfer - Is a form of cloning first put into practice by Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell to clone Dolly the Sheep Theory of Evolution -
Astronomy [ edit ]
Discovery of the "White Spot" on Saturn - Will Hay
Proxima Centauri, the closest known star to the Sun, by Robert Innes (1861–1933) [178 ] Discovery of the planet
Uranus and the moons [179 ] Titania, Oberon, Enceladus, Mimas by Sir [180 ] William Herschel (German born astronom, later in life British) Discovery of
Triton and the moons [181 ] Hyperion, Ariel and Umbriel - William Lassell [182 ]
Planetarium - John Theophilus Desaguliers Predicts the existence and location of
Neptune from irregularities in the orbit of Uranus - John Couch Adams [183 ] Important contributions to the development of
radio astronomy - Bernard Lovell [184 ]
Newtonian telescope - Sir Isaac Newton [185 ]
Achromatic doublet lens - John Dollond [186 ] Coining the phrase '
Big Bang' - Fred Hoyle [187 ] First theorised existence of
black holes, binary stars; invented torsion balance - John Michell [188 ]
Stephen Hawking - World-renowned theoretical physicist made many important contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes
Spiral galaxies - William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse [189 ] Discovery of
Halley's Comet - Edmond Halley [190 ] Discovery of
pulsars - Antony Hewish [191 ] Discovery of
Sunspots and was the first person to make a drawing of the Moon through a telescope - Thomas Harriot [192 ] The
Eddington limit, the natural limit to the luminosity of stars, or the radiation generated by accretion onto a compact object - Arthur Stanley Eddington [193 ]
Aperture synthesis, used for accurate location and imaging of weak radio sources in the field of Radio astronomy - Martin Ryle and Antony Hewish [194 ]
Chemistry [ edit ]
Dalton's law and Law of multiple proportions - John Dalton [195 ] The structure of
DNA and pioneering the field of molecular biology - co-developed by Francis Crick and the American [196 ] James Watson
DNA sequencing by chain termination - Frederick Sanger [197 ] Discovery of
introns in eukaryotic DNA and the mechanism of gene-splicing - Richard J. Roberts [198 ] Discovey of
Buckminsterfullerene - Sir Harry Kroto [199 ] Discovery of
thallium - William Crookes [9 ] Discovered the structure of
ferrocene - Geoffrey Wilkinson & others [200 ] Discovers
hydrogen as a colorless, odourless gas that burns and can form an explosive mixture with air - Henry Cavendish [201 ] Proposes the law of octaves, a precursor to the
Periodic Law - John Newlands [202 ]
Bragg's law and establish the field of X-ray crystallography, an important tool for elucidating the crystal structure of substances - William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg [203 ] Introduces concept of
atomic number to fix inadequacies of Mendeleev's periodic table, which had been based on atomic weight - Henry Moseley [204 ] First isolation of
sodium - Humphry Davy [205 ] First isolation of
potassium - Humphry Davy [9 ] First isolation of
boron - Humphry Davy [9 ] First isolation of
benzene, the first known aromatic hydrocarbon - Michael Faraday [206 ] Publishes Opus Maius, which among other things, proposes an early form of the
scientific method, and contains results of his experiments with gunpowder - Roger Bacon [207 ] Publishes several Aristotelian commentaries, an early framework for the
scientific method - Robert Grosseteste [208 ]
Baconian method, an early forerunner of the scientific method - Sir Francis Bacon [209 ] The first discovery of
aluminium - Sir Humphry Davy Pioneer in early Solar Power -
Weston cell - Edward Weston (chemist) Proposes the concept of
isotopes, elements with the same chemical properties may have differing atomic weights - Frederick Soddy [9 ] The synthesising of
xenon hexafluoroplatinate the first time to show that noble gases can form chemical compounds - Neil Bartlett
Callendar effect the theory that linked rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to global temperature ( Global warming) - Guy Stewart Callendar Pioneer of the
fuel cell - Francis Thomas Bacon [210 ] Pioneer of
meteorology by developing a nomenclature system for clouds in 1802 - Luke Howard [211 ]
Rayleigh scattering explains why the sky is blue, and predicted the existence of the surface waves - John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh [212 ]
Transport [ edit ]
Aviation [ edit ]
Railways [ edit ]
Locomotives [ edit ]
Other railway developments [ edit ]
Scientific innovations [ edit ]
Miscellaneous [ edit ]
See also [ edit ]
References [ edit ]
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Further reading [ edit ]