List of British innovations and discoveries

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Engineers during World War Two test a model of a model of a Halifax bomber in a wind tunnel, 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.

The scientific revolution in 17th century Europe stimulated innovation and discovery in Britain.[1] Experimentation was considered central to innovation by groups such as the Royal Society, which was founded in 1660. 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.[2] 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.[3] In the 20th century, Britain's rate of innovation, measured by patents registered,[4] slowed in comparison to other leading economies. Nonetheless, science and technology in Britain continued to develop rapidly in absolute terms.

17th century[edit]

The 1698 Savery Engine
1605
1614
  • John Napier publishes his work Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio introducing the concept of logarithms which simplifies mathematical calculations.[6][7]
1620
1625
1657
1667
1698

18th century[edit]

The Watt steam engine was conceived in 1765. James Watt transformed the steam engine from a reciprocating motion that was used for pumping to a rotating motion suited to industrial applications. Watt and others significantly improved the efficiency of the steam engine.
1701
  • An improved seed drill is designed by Jethro Tull.[12] It is used to spread seeds around a field with a rotating handle which makes seed planting a lot easier.
1712
1730
  • The Rotherham plough, the first plough to be widely built in factories and commercially successful, is patented by Joseph Foljambe.[14]
1740
1744
  • The earliest known reference to baseball is made in a publication, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, by John Newbery. It contains a rhymed description of "base-ball" and a woodcut that shows a field set-up somewhat similar to the modern game—though in a triangular rather than diamond configuration, and with posts instead of ground-level bases.[16]
1753
  • Invention of hollow-pipe drainage is credited to Sir Hugh Dalrymple who died in 1753.[17]
1765
1767
1776
  • Scottish economist Adam Smith, often known as 'The father of modern economics',[20] publishes his seminal text The Wealth of Nations.[21][22]
  • 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.
1781
1783
1786
1798

19th century[edit]

A trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, first described by Charles Babbage in 1837[26]
1802
1804
1807
1822
1823
1825
1828
1831
1835
1836
1837
1839
1840
1841
1842
1843
1846
  • A design for a chemical telegraph is patented by Alexander Bain. Bain's telegraph is installed on the wires of the Electric Telegraph Company on one line. Later, in 1850, it was used in America by Henry O'Reilly.[43]
1847
1851
1852
1853
  • English physician Alexander Wood develops a medical hypodermic syringe with a needle fine enough to pierce the skin.[47]
1854
1868
1869
1873
1876
1878
1883
1884
1885
  • 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.
1886
1892
1897

20th century[edit]

A Colossus computer, developed by British codebreakers in 1943-1945
1902
1907
1908
  • American Samuel Franklin Cody makes the first official flight of a piloted heavier than air machine in Britain.
1910
1922
  • In Sorbonne, France, Englishman Edwin Belin demonstrates a mechanical scanning device, an early precursor to modern television.
1926
1926
  • The first traffic lights in Britain were deployed in Piccadilly Circus (over a decade after their first use in America).[61][63]
1930
1932
  • The Anglepoise lamp is patented by George Carwardine, a design consultant specialising in vehicle suspension systems.
1933
1936
1937
1939
1943
1949
1951
  • 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.
1952
  • Autocode, regarded as the first compiled programming language, is developed for the Manchester Mark 1 by Alick Glennie.
1953
  • Englishman Francis Crick and American James Watson of Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, analyise X-ray crystallography data taken by Rosalind Franklin of King's College, to decipher the double helical structure of DNA. They share the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work.[68]
1955
  • 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.[69]
1959
1963
1964
1965
1966
1969
1970
1973
1979
1984
1989
1991
1992
  • The first SMS message in the world is sent over the UK's GSM network.
1995
1997
  • Scottish scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, produce the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.[82]
  • The ThrustSSC jet-propelled car, designed and built in England, sets the land speed record.

21st century[edit]

2003
  • 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.
2004
2005
  • The design for a machine to lay rail track, the "Trac Rail Transposer", is patented and goes on to be used by Network Rail in the United Kingdom and the New York Subway in the United States.[84][85][86]
2012
  • Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer, is launched and quickly becomes popular for education in programming and computer science.[87]
2014
  • The 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.[88][89]

Ceramics[edit]

Clock making[edit]

Clothing manufacturing[edit]

Communications[edit]

Computing[edit]

Engineering[edit]

Household appliances[edit]

Ideas, Religion and Ethics[edit]

Industrial processes[edit]

Medicine[edit]

Military[edit]

Mining[edit]

Musical instruments[edit]

Photography[edit]

Publishing firsts[edit]

Science[edit]

Astronomy[edit]

Chemistry[edit]

Sport[edit]

Transport[edit]

Aviation[edit]

Railways[edit]

Locomotives[edit]

Other railway developments[edit]

Roads[edit]

Sea[edit]

Scientific innovations[edit]

Miscellaneous[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]