Over the last few hundred years, our world has changed in unimaginable ways. So many technologies exist today that weren’t even a thought back then with British innovations leading from the front. Scientists, inventors and engineers of yesteryear have made many significant breakthroughs and here are some of the greatest British innovations of all time.

Top 13 British Innovations

The UK has been responsible for some of the most amazing inventions we can’t live without today. Some of these British innovations have led to more discoveries and concepts still in use today, albeit in a different shape or form. The mobile phone comes to mind as it all culminated from the humble telegraph and telephone back in the late 1800s.

The Telephone (1876)

You may not know this but like many other important inventions, the inventor of the electric telephone is still disputed. However, the first patent goes to Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell as his innovation would prove to be tremendously successful on a commercial scale. It’s this patent that set the stage for all subsequent patents for electric telephone devices.

The First Commercial Telegraph (1837)

The introduction of the first commercially successful electrical telegraph in 1837 changed the world forever. Once Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke successfully built and tested their five-needle system in 1837, instant communication using electricity became a reality. You can even trace the modern-day mobile phone back to the simple telegraph.

British Innovations In Transport: Steam Engines (1698-1801)

Thomas Savery filed the first practical patent for an atmospheric pressure steam engine as far back as 1698. As with many British innovations, other visionaries would refine the design over the next hundred years or so, including Thomas Newcomen, James Watt and Richard Trevithick. All of their efforts led to the design and production of steam engines small enough to use in locomotives.

A World-First Practical Hovercraft (1953)

The Hovercraft or, air-cushioned vehicle (ACV), was first envisioned by Christopher Cockerell in 1953. In a world-first, Cockerell and his team developed the use of an annular ring to maintain the air cushion successfully. They were also the first to devise the skirt and demonstrate a working example.

Whittle Turbo-jet Engine (1929-1937)

Frank Whittle was a cadet at the RAF College Cranwell who submitted his initial design for a turbo-jet engine to his superiors in 1928. Although credit goes to Maxime Guillaume for submitting the first patent for a similar engine in 1921, it was not technically feasible at the time so he did not get the title.

Frank Whittle was determined to become a pilot for the Royal Air Force and whilst writing his thesis that he first developed the fundamental concepts of the turbojet engine. After making a few tweaks, the first patent went to him in 1932 from where he spent years building a functional engine completing it in 1937.

The First Patented Pneumatic Tyre (1847-1888)

We often don’t think about our tyres but considering their importance in today’s modern world, it’s quite possibly one of the biggest British innovations of all time. Whilst Robert William Thomson filed the first patent for a so-called pneumatic tyre in 1847, it was never produced. That achievement goes to John Boyd Dunlop in 1888 who created the very first practical pneumatic tyre.

British Innovations For Mass-Production: Stainless Steel (1913)

In addition to aluminium, stainless steel has become a widely used material across various sectors. It’s no surprise that it’s been a focus for many engineers and inventors for some time. The year 1821 marks the discovery of corrosion-resistant iron-chromium alloys by the French metallurgist Pierre Berthier. However, the accolade goes to Harry Brearley who discovered a way of mass-producing stainless steel in 1913.

The Toothbrush (1770-1780)

Whether you use a normal or electric toothbrush, it’s one of the chart-topping British innovations for mass production. Everyone uses a toothbrush of some kind with the William Addis inventing the first design between 1770 and 1780.

Whilst in jail for causing a riot, Addis came up with the idea after noting that a cloth with soot and salt was ineffective for cleaning teeth. He decided to develop an easier solution from where he founded the manufacturing company Wisdom that still makes toothbrushes today.

The Joseph Swan Light Bulb (January 1879)

We all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in October 1879 but was he the first? It might surprise you to know that Joseph Swan did the same thing in January 1879 in England. He even hosted a public demonstration in Sunderland 10 months before Edison and patented his idea ten years before. Swan has also won a court case for patent infringement in the UK.

British Innovations For Defence: First Modern Torpedo (1866)

Today, submarines are one of the most feared naval vessels thanks to deadly torpedoes and the stealth factor. Robert Whitehead created the first self-propelled, ‘modern’ torpedo in 1866 by building a tubular device designed to run underwater, powered by compressed air. This project resulted in the Minenschiff (mine ship), a submarine weapon, and the first self-propelled torpedo we know today.

The Battle Tank (1914)

When it comes to ground defence and military vehicles, few things strike more fear into the enemy than a battle tank. It is without a doubt one of the top British innovations of all time. Ernest Swinton came up with the idea of a bulletproof “landship” after seeing crawler tractors pull artillery in action.

These “landships” were developed by the Royal Navy rather than the army which is why it uses terms like “hatch” and “turret”. The word “Tank” was created later to hide the true purpose of the project from enemies.

British tank from WWI

Modern Manufacturing At PRV Engineering

PRV Engineering specialises in several industries including automotive, aerospace, defence, construction and rail, among others. Considering the work we do, many of these great British innovations have set the stage for modern manufacturing.

For more info about our products and service, please visit the website and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #PRVtech. The original article with more inventions can be found here.

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