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Famous inventors

Famous inventors A-Z

Clément AderClément Ader

Clément Ader

Clément Ader (1841–1925) was a French inventor. Ader improved on the telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell, then established the telephone network in Paris in 1880. The following year he invented the "théâtrophone", in which listeners received sounds from the stage of the Paris Opera through a separate channel for each ear: the first stereophonic technology. He then became interested in the problem of mechanical flight and constructed his first flying machine, Éole, in 1886. Bat-like in design, it was powered by a lightweight steam engine. Éole took off, reaching a height of 20 centimetres, (8 inches) and flew for approximately 50 metres (160 feet). The flight was uncontrolled, however.

Mary AndersonMary Anderson

Mary Anderson

The American Mary Anderson (1866–1953) was the inventor of the windscreen wiper blade. In 1903 Anderson noticed that the tram in which she was riding had an open front window—necessary to allow the driver to see the road in the sleeting conditions, but which made it uncomfortably cold for the passengers inside. So she set about designing a wiper consisting of a rubber blade attached to a spring-loaded arm that could move backwards and forwards across the windscreen. She received a patent for her new invention in November 1903.

Nicolas AppertNicolas Appert

Nicolas Appert

Nicolas Appert (1749–1841) was a French confectioner. In 1795, he began experimenting with ways to preserve foodstuffs such as soups, juices, vegetables, jams and jellies using glass jars sealed with cork and wax. The jars were then placed in boiling water. In 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food. Appert eventually won the prize in January 1810. He then patented his invention and established a business. Also in 1810, English inventor Peter Durand patented his own preservation method, but used tin-plated cans instead. Durand sold his patent to Bryan Donkin and John Hall in 1812, who set up a commerical canning factory the following year.

Richard ArkwrightRichard Arkwright

Richard Arkwright

Richard Arkwright (1732–1792) was an English inventor. He invented the spinning frame, patented in 1769. A later version was called the water frame. The new machine was an improvement on the spinning jenny, invented by James Hargreaves five years earlier. Powered by running water, the frame allowed cotton to be spun into yarn (thread). In 1771 Arkwright installed the new machine at Cromford in Derbyshire, and the spinners and weavers came to work there, rather than in their own homes. It was the first modern factory.

Charles BabbageCharles Babbage

Charles Babbage

Sometimes called the "father of the computer", Charles Babbage (1791–1871), an English mathematician, invented the first mechanical computer, on which more complex designs were later based. He directed the building of steam-powered machines, including what was called the Difference Engine in 1823, which could perform mathematical calculations. Another invention, the more complex Analytical Engine, was a device intended to be able to perform calculations using punched cards that would submit instructions, and a memory unit that could store numbers: fundamental components of today's computers. English mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815–52) completed a program for the Analytical Engine in 1843, by writing the world's first algorithm, a step-by-step procedure for calculations.

John Logie Baird

Bust of John Logie BairdBust of John Logie BairdThe first electrically transmitted TV pictures were the work of Scottish inventor John Logie Baird (1888–1946), who built his first TV system in 1925. Baird gave the first public demonstration with an improved scan rate of 12.5 pictures per second, in 1926. He demonstrated the world's first translantic television transmission between London and New York, and the first colour transmission in 1928. Baird's electro-mechanical television system was, however, replaced by the superior electronic television system developed by Vladimir Zworykin in the 1930s. Baird's camera used a spinning disc pierced with holes and an electric "eye". The eye recorded the brightness of different parts of the image—the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy—and transmitted what it scanned on to a screen. The result was a 30-line vertically scanned image, transmitted at a rate of five pictures per second.

Alexander Graham BellAlexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

In March 1876 Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922) made the world’s first telephone call. His assistant, Tom Watson, in the next room, heard the words “Mr Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Bell had invented the first telephone receiver. This device both turned the sound of the user’s voice into an electrical signal, and an incoming signal into sound—which meant that the user could not talk and listen at the same time. In Bell’s telephone, there was a steel strip that vibrated when someone spoke close to it. These vibrations could be sent along a wire with an electric current and make another strip vibrate, reproducing the original sounds. But these were not very clear: users had to shout to make themselves heard.

Cellulose chainsCellulose chains

Ruth Benerito

Ruth Rogan Benerito (1916–2013) was an American chemist and inventor of the process for treating cotton that led to the development of wash-and-wear cotton fabrics. Cotton’s biggest drawback, compared to nylon and polyester, is its tendency to crease (ironing cotton was, before Benerito's innovation, a lengthy process). This is due to the molecular structure of cotton fibres, which are comprised of long cellulose chains, called polymers. The chains are held in place by hydrogen bonds, but since these links are weak and easily broken, washing causes the molecules to shift position, resulting in the wrinkles. Benerito devised a process called cross-linking, in which other chemicals, called epoxides, were inserted between the cellulose chains like rungs in a ladder, making them sturdier. Treating the cotton's surface using Benerito's process led not only to wrinkle-resistant fabrics, but to stain- and flame-resistant ones, too.

Karl BenzKarl Benz

Karl Benz

Cars did not become a practical way to travel until petrol engines were invented in the 1880s. In 1885, the German engineer Karl Benz (1848–1929) successfully fitted a single-cylinder petrol engine to a three-wheeled tricycle. The water-cooled engine was fixed under the seat. The rear wheels were connected to it by belts and bicycle chains. It could reach speeds of 15 km/h (9 mph). To begin with, Benz's new car lurched dangerously around the streets of Mannheim, but a smooth ride was soon achieved. In 1888, Benz’s wife, Bertha, took the car on a 100-kilometre (60-mile) drive to visit relatives, and so became the first person to undertake a long journey by car.

Tim Berners-LeeTim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee

English computer scientist, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee (born 1955), invented the world wide web.
In 1980, while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, he first described the concept of a global system, based on "hypertext" (text displayed on a computer screen with references, called hyperlinks, to other text that the reader can immediately access). This allowed researchers anywhere in the world to share information via the internet, a computer network that had existed since the 1960s. He also created the first web browser. Berners-Lee works as a senior research scientist at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, USA.

Henry BessemerHenry Bessemer

Henry Bessemer

Sir Henry Bessemer (1813–1898) was an English inventor, known for a process for the manufacture of steel, called the Bessemer process. Before the 1860s, steel was made only in small quantities and used for swords, tools and cutlery. All large metal structures were made of cast or wrought iron. In the Bessemer process, molten pig iron was converted to steel by blowing oxygen through it after it was removed from the furnace. This burned impurities, chiefly carbon and silicon, out of the pig iron, creating steel. The Bessemer Process was of great importance because it significantly lowered the cost of producing steel. Now steel could be used in the construction of large structures instead of the weaker cast or wrought iron.

Clarence BirdseyeClarence Birdseye

Clarence Birdseye

Clarence Birdseye (1886–1956) was an American inventor and businessman. Working as a naturalist in Labrador, Canada in 1912–15, he learnt from the Inuit that, in temperatures of –40°C, any fish that were caught froze almost instantly—and, when later thawed, they tasted fresh. Food freezing at the time was usually done at higher temperatures, so the freezing occurred more slowly and the food did not taste fresh on thawing. Fast freezing, it was later discovered, produces smaller ice crystals which cause less damage to living tissue. in 1925, Birdseye's company, the General Seafood Corporation, started using his invention, the double belt freezer, in which packaged fish was frozen quickly. The process was quickly extended beyond fish to the rapid freezing of meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables.

Wernher von BraunWernher von Braun

Wernher von Braun

The first long-range rocket was the V-2 missile, designed by German engineer Wernher von Braun (1912–77) during World War II. The 14-metre (45-feet), liquid-fuelled rocket became the first manmade object in space in October 1942. It could reach an altitude of 206 kilometres (128 miles). After the war, von Braun worked in the US, firstly on the design of long-range ballistic missiles and later on its space programme with NASA. He was responsible for the design of the Saturn V launch vehicle, which propelled the Apollo spacecraft and the first men to the Moon in July 1969.

Isambard Kingdom BrunelIsambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806–1859) was an English engineer, famous for building the Great Western Railway, a number of tunnels and bridges, and a series of steamships, including the Great Britain (1843), the world's first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship. Brunel's designs revolutionized transport and engineering. His wooden paddle-steamer, Great Western, launched the first regular transatlantic service, begun in 1837. Larger and larger ships followed including, in 1858, the Great Eastern, then by far the biggest ship in the world. Measuring 211 metres (692 feet) long, it could carry 4000 passengers.

Samuel ColtSamuel Colt

Samuel Colt

Samuel Colt (1814–1862) was an American inventor and industrialist. He perfected the design of the revolver, a handgun that had a single fixed-barrel design with a rotating cylinder. He did not invent it; his design was a more practical adaptation of an earlier one, with the addition of a locking bolt to keep the cylinder in line with the barrel. What made his version special was that the parts of the Colt revolver could be made by machines, and so be mass-produced on an assembly line.

Nicolas Cugnot

Cugnot's fardier (1771)Cugnot's fardier (1771)Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (1725–1804) was a French inventor, famous for building a self-propelled mechanical road vehicle—the world's first car. Early roads were used mainly by armies or traders who travelled on foot or on horseback. Cugnot's steam-powered carriage, buit in 1769, could carry four people, but it moved so slowly it would have been quicker for them to walk. With its large steam boiler attached to the front of the vehicle, it was hard to steer, and had to stop for refuelling every quarter of an hour. Designed to pull heavy artillery guns, the carriage caused the world’s first motor accident when it crashed into a wall at its top speed of 5 km/h (3 mph).

Louis DaguerreLouis Daguerre

Louis Daguerre 

The quality of photographic images, invented in 1827 by Nicéphore Niépce, was greatly improved by another Frenchman, Louis Daguerre (1787–1851). Daguerre’s photograph of an artist’s studio became the world’s first fully successful photograph in 1837. It was called a daguerreotype, a photograph on a copper plate coated with silver iodide, which is highly sensitive to light, fixed (made insensitive to further exposure to light) with ordinary salt. To begin with, the process of taking a photo required exposure times of several minutes. Although of exceptional quality and sharpness, the daguerreotype was a unique image which could only be duplicated by re-photographing the original subject.

Gottlieb DaimlerGottlieb Daimler

Gottlieb Daimler 

In 1885, a few months before Karl Benz produced his motor-car, another German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler (1834–1900), attached a petrol engine to a wooden-framed bicycle. His engine was based on the four-stroke internal combustion engine invented by his former employer, German inventor Nikolaus Otto (1832–91). Daimler's 17-year-old son Paul rode the world’s first motor vehicle, a motorcycle, about 17 kilometres (11 miles) around the streets of Cannstatt, Germany. It was called the Reitwagen, meaning "riding car". During the trip, the saddle, fitted too close to the top of the engine, burst into flames. In 1886, Daimler built the first four-wheeled petrol car by fixing the petrol engine to a stagecoach.

Rudolf DieselRudolf Diesel

Rudolf Diesel

Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel (1858–1913) was a German inventor and engineer, famous for the invention of the diesel engine. Realising that the steam engine was extremely inefficient, with as much as 90% of the fuel energy wasted, he set about building an engine that had a much higher efficiency. In his internal combustion engine, designed and built in 1893, fuel was ignited by the high temperature resulting from its compression (a petrol engine, by contrast, uses a spark plug to ignite a air-fuel mixture). Diesel tested the first model to run on its own power later that year, and spent the next four years perfecting it.

John DunlopJohn Dunlop

John Dunlop 

John Boyd Dunlop (1840–1921) was a Scottish inventor and one of the founders of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company. In 1897 he developed the first practical pneumatic (inflatable) tyre. The tyre was an inflated tube of sheet rubber. He tested a wheel with his new tyre fitted to it against a metal one from his son's tricycle that had no tyre, by rolling the two of them together across the yard. The metal wheel soon stopped rolling but the rubber one continued on until it hit a gatepost and rebounded. Dunlop's tyres were successfully tested at cycling events held in 1889.

James DysonJames Dyson

James Dyson

Sir James Dyson (born 1947) is a British inventor, best known as the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. Among his earlier inventions was a version of a wheelbarrow with a ball instead of a wheel, and the "Wheelboat", which could travel at speed on both land and water. In the late 1970s, Dyson created a vacuum cleaner that did not lose suction as it picked up dirt. It was based on the principle of cyclonic separation, in which air containing dust particles is sucked into a container and spun rapidly in a vortex (like a whirlpool, hurricane or tornado). The particles in the rotating stream of air strike the outside wall and fall to the bottom where they can be removed later. Dyson has since launched a fast hand-dryer and a cooling fan without blades.

George EastmanGeorge Eastman

George Eastman

In 1888 American inventor George Eastman (1854–1932) introduced the easy-to-use Kodak box camera. It helped to make photography a popular hobby because the films could be sent away for developing. Eastman also produced the first roll films. A photographer no longer needed to carry around expensive plates and a darkroom for developing the image.

Thomas EdisonThomas Edison

Thomas Edison

Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) was an American inventor and businessman. He was the creator of many devices that had an enormous impact on people's lives worldwide, including sound recording, a movie camera and a practical light bulb. Some of his inventions were improvements on those that already existed, but he turned them into versions that could be widely used. His achievements included the phonograph, the earliest sound recording device, a vastly improved telephone, the kinetoscope (an early motion picture camera) and a long-lasting electric light bulb that worked better than anything that had gone before. Edison went on to use Michael Faraday's discovery of how to generate electricity to build a powerful generator.

Michael FaradayMichael Faraday

Michael Faraday

The English scientist, Michael Faraday (1791–1867) pioneered the electric motor and discovered how electricity could be generated. Danish physicist Hans Ørsted (1771–1851). Ørsted had discovered that if an electric current was passed through a wire coil, it created a magnetic field around it. Because like magnetic poles always repel one another, Ørsted found he could make a needle swing around the wire coil in a circle. Drawing on this work, Faraday showed how electricity could be turned into a motive force, or movement, and so created the first electric motor. Faraday went on to show that, just as electricity could be used to create a magnet, so a magnet could be used to create electricity, thus creating the forerunner to the dynamo, a basic electric generator.

William Fox TalbotWilliam Fox Talbot

William Fox Talbot

English inventor William Fox Talbot (1800–77) was unaware of the work of the French pioneers in photography, Nicéphore Niépce or Louis Daguerre. His 1835 photograph of a window at Lacock Abbey was the first made by the calotype process, in which the image is recorded as a negative in the camera, and is used to print positive photographs. This process allowed many copies of a photograph to be made. Paper coated with silver iodide was used in the process. But the grain of the paper (its texture) could be easily seen in the prints, making them lesser quality than daguerreotypes.

Benjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

American politician and scientist Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was a tireless inventor. Among his many creations were bifocal glasses, a metal-lined fireplace called the Franklin Stove, the musical instrument known as the glass harmonica (for which Handel, Mozart and Beethoven wrote works) and, most famously, the lighning rod. In June 1752 it is said Franklin attached a metal key to one end of a kite string and flew the kite in a stormy sky. Franklin took steps to ensure he was insulated, so that the electricity would not flow throw his body and electrocute him. By showing that sparks jumped from the key to his hand, he proved that lightning was a form of electricity. His experiments lead to his invention of the lightning rod.

Art Fry and Spencer Silver

Post-it notes in a Hong Kong police stationPost-it notes in a Hong Kong police stationAmerican chemical engineers Art Fry (born 1931) and Spencer Silver (born 1941) are the inventors of Post-it notes. They came up with their invention working at the US company 3M. In 1968, Silver developed a "low-tack" adhesive that was strong enough to stick to surfaces, yet left behind no sticky residue after removal. Most usefully, the adhesive could be used again and again. A few years later, Fry applied some of this adhesive along the edge of a piece of paper to create a "bookmark". Fry soon realised that these slips of paper had other potential applications when colleagues used them to leave notes on work files. 3M Corporation coined the name Post-It Note and began production in the late 1970s for commercial use.

Henri GiffardHenri Giffard

Henri Giffard

Henri Giffard (1825–82) was a French engineer. Balloons—in the mid-19th century the only form of aircraft—used hydrogen instead of hot air, but all types lacked any means of steering. In his design for a dirigible, a balloon that could be steered, Giffard changed the gas-bag to a cigar-shape design, fitted a rudder and added a small steam engine. On 24th September 1852, he took off in his steam-powered airship. The envelope was filled with lighter-than-air hydrogen gas. It travelled 28 kilometres (17 miles) at a speed no faster than a brisk walking-pace.

Robert H. Goddard Robert H. Goddard

Robert Goddard

The first liquid-fuel rocket was built by American scientist and inventor Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882–1945) in 1926. Using gasoline and liquid oxygen for fuel, the 1-metre (3-feet) tall rocket, nicknamed "Nell", reached a height of 12.5 metres (41 feet). His later rockets reached heights of up to 2.16 kilometres (1.6 miles) at speeds of up to 885 km/h (550 mph). Besides the liquid-fuel rocket, he also invented the multi-stage rocket (both originally designed in 1914); both these inventions were to prove vital steps in the history of space flight.

Johannes GutenbergJohannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg 

Two of the most important inventions in printing were movable metal type (which allowed words and paragraphs to be built up from individual metal blocks with letters on them) and the printing press. In Europe, these were both developed in the 1430s by the German goldsmith and inventor Johannes Gutenberg (1395–1468). They allowed books to be printed in large quantities, whereas before each book had to be hand-copied. Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type printing, previously invented in China around 1050 AD. Combining this process with the wooden printing press in around 1439 allowed the mass production of printed books for the first time. It was one of the key inventions in history.

James HargreavesJames Hargreaves

James Hargreaves

James Hargreaves (1720–1778) was a weaver, carpenter and inventor in Lancashire. He invented the spinning jenny, a multi-spindle spinning frame, in 1764. Enabling a worker to work eight or more spools at once, the spinning jenny greatly reduced the amount of work needed to produce yarn (thread). His invention was an important breakthrough in the manufacture of textiles, and helped trigger the start of the Industrial Revolution.

John HarrisonJohn Harrison

John Harrison

John Harrison (1693–1776) was an English clockmaker. He had decided to enter a competition for the Longitude Prize, announced by the British Government in 1714. The prize would be given to whoever found a method of accurately plotting the East-West position, or longitude, of a ship at sea. Harrison's first attempts were precision clocks whose moving parts were controlled by springs instead of a pendulum, which could not have worked on board a ship that rocked from side to side. However, his clocks failed to achieve the accuracy specified by the competition's judges. In 1755 Harrison discovered that a simple pocket watch could, with a few improvements, be an excellent timekeeper. The result, called H4, lost only 5 seconds on a two-month voyage in 1761. H4, and its even more accurate successor H5, eventually—after some reluctance by the judges—won him the prize. As a consequence of Harrison's invention, known as the marine chronometer, long-distance travel by sea became much safer, enabling Britain to become the world's dominant naval power. 

Christiaan HuygensChristiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens (1629–95) was a Dutch mathematician and scientist. He is known for his studies of the rings of Saturn and the discovery of its moon Titan. He invented the pendulum clock in 1656, increasing the accuracy of clocks enormously, from minutes to seconds per day. A pendulum, a weight hung on a long arm, swung to and fro at regular intervals. It was connected to an escapement mechanism which turned a gear wheel, releasing it and stopping it, tooth by tooth. The gear wheel was itself connected by other cogs to a heavy weight on a string: this fell gradually, second by second, driving the clock. Heavy weather made the pendulum clock useless at sea, however, and it was left to John Harrison to devise the marine chronometer, which solved the problem of keeping accurate time aboard ship.

Stephanie KwolekStephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek (1923–2014) was an American chemist. She invented Kevlar, an exceptionally strong yet lightweight synthetic fibre—eight times stronger than the equivalent weight of steel. Kevlar used to create life-saving bullet-proof vests for law enforcement officers and soldiers. Before discovering a love of chemistry, Kwolek had wanted to be a fashion designer. In 1959, she devised the Nylon Rope Trick, which demonstrated a simple way of producing nylon in a beaker at room temperature. Invented in 1964, with an improved version appearing in 1971, Kevlar has many other uses, including tennis rackets, boats, aeroplanes, cables, tyres, skis and mobile telephone bodyshells.

Hedy LamarrHedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr

Austrian-born actress Hedy Lamarr (1913–2000) was the co-inventor of a communications system that she and American composer George Antheil (1900–1959) devised in 1941, during World War II. Its aim was to stop the enemy from jamming radio-controlled torpedoes by rapidly changing the launch signal from one frequency to another at irregular intervals. Using this system, classified messages could be transmitted without fear of the enemy intercepting any information. The principle was the basis for the modern technologies of Wi-fi and Bluetooth. Lamarr was a popular movie star in her day, the Golden Age of Hollywood of the 1940s. Her best-known films included "Ziegfield Girl," "Tortilla Flat" and "Samson and Delilah".

Antonie van LeeuwenhoekAntonie van Leeuwenhoek

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) was a Dutch draper and scientist . He is best known for his improvements to the newly-invented microscope and for his pioneering work in microbiology. While working in his draper's shop, van Leeuwenhoek became interested in glassmaking. Heating glass rods over a hot flame, he created long threads of glass, from which he fashioned tiny glass spheres. These spheres became lenses for simple microscopes; the smallest spheres provided the highest magnifications, capable of magnifying between 275 and 500 times. Using his hand-made microscopes, van Leeuwenhoek was the first to observe and describe single-celled organisms (which he called "animalcules"), now known as micro-organisms. He was also the first to observe blood flow in capillaries (tiny blood vessels).

Auguste and Louis LumièreAuguste and Louis Lumière

Auguste and Louis Lumière

The two brothers, Auguste (1862–1954) and Louis (1864–1948) Lumière were the world's first film-makers. In 1895, they gave their first public cinema show in a café in Paris. The films showed scenes of everyday life in the city, such as people leaving their work at a factory, and a train pulling into a station. Their groundbreaking invention, the Cinématographe, could record pictures on to film, and then project them on to a screen for viewing. Their invention made use of film perforations, holes punched in the film stock, as a means of advancing the film through the camera and projector. A multi-billion-dollar industry, as well as a dynamic new art form, grew up from their invention.

Theodore Maiman 

Theodore Maiman's laser apparatusTheodore Maiman's laser apparatusTheodore Harold "Ted" Maiman (1927–2007) was an American engineer and physicist. He invented the first working laser. In 1956 Maiman started work with the Atomic Physics Department of the Hughes Aircraft Company. In 1960, at his laboratory in Malibu, California, his solid-state pink ruby laser emitted coherent light: all the light rays had the same wavelength (they consisted of light from one colour of the spectrum) and were fully in phase (their crests and troughs all lined up with each other).

Guglielmo Marconi Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi 

The existence of radio waves was confirmed in 1888 by the German physicist Heinrich Hertz (1857–1894), but it was the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) who, in 1896, was the first to make long-distance radio transmissions. In 1901, the first transatlantic radio signal, the three dots of S in Morse code, from the Poldhu Wireless Station, Cornwall, England, was received extremely faintly at Signal Hill, Newfoundland in Canada, 3520 kilometres (2200 miles) away. Using an antenna carried by a kite, the signal was received by Marconi himself, but his claims were not verified. Marconi carried out further tests over the next two years to prove his success.

Pierre Michaux 

Velocipede MichauxVelocipede MichauxIn 1861 in Paris, French blacksmith Pierre Michaux (1813–1883) built a bicycle made of iron and wood in which the pedals turned the front wheels. His velocipede, as it was known, was the first popular bicycle. He founded a company to produce a velocipede made solely from iron, but these machines may have used the design of Pierre's son, Ernest, or another French inventor, Pierre Lallement. A later type of velocipede had a steel, hollow-tube frame, wire-spoked wheels and solid rubber tyres. This was called an "ordinary bicycle", but popularly became known as the Penny-farthing because its wheels were of vastly different sizes.

The Montgolfiers experiment with balloon flight.The Montgolfiers experiment with balloon flight.

Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier

The first aircraft to carry humans free of the Earth’s surface was a balloon. In 1783 the French brothers Joseph (1740–1810) and Étienne (1745–99) Montgolfier discovered that an airtight bag filled with hot air would rise. They made a much larger bag, attached a wicker basket, and sent a sheep, a cockerel and a duck on a short flight before the astonished gaze of King Louis XIV. Later that year, on 21st November, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes became the first aviators in history when their paper-lined linen balloon lifted off to a height of 85 metres (279 feet). Powered by the rising hot air from a fire of burning straw, the Montgolfière drifted over Paris for 25 minutes before landing 8.5 kilometres (5.3 miles) away.

Samuel MorseSamuel Morse

Samuel Morse 

Early telegraph systems, means of sending messages along wires as pulses of electricity, needed several connecting wires, but the system that eventually became standard, developed in the USA by American portrait painter Samuel Morse (1791–1872) in 1837, needed just one wire. Along with his assistant Alfred Vail, Morse devised a code, called Morse Code, to send messages along it. The first electric telegraph line was officially opened between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in 1844 when Morse sent the words, "What hath God wrought".  A network of telegraph lines, including undersea cables across the Atlantic, was quickly established around the world.

Newcomen's engineNewcomen's engine

Thomas Newcomen 

The first working steam engine was built in 1712 by the English engineer Thomas Newcomen (1664–1729). It was designed to pump water out of mines, a major problem in Newcomen's day. Steam from the engine boiler travelled along pipes to a cylinder, where its pressure pushed a piston upwards. Then cold water was sprayed into the cylinder, which made the steam condense. This reduced the pressure inside the cylinder, and the pressure of the air outside pushed the piston back down. The movement of the piston was transferred by a rocking beam to a pump, which pumped water out of the mine. Newcomen’s engine is often called an atmospheric engine.

Nicéphore NiépceNicéphore Niépce

Nicéphore Niépce

The earliest surviving photograph was a view taken in 1827 by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) from the window of his home at Chalon-sur-Saône, near Beaune, France. Simple cameras, in which rays of light reflected from an object passed through a pinhole in a dark box to make an upside-down image on a screen inside, had been invented centuries earlier. The problem was how to make the image permanent. Niépce solved it by fitting his camera with a metal plate coated with a thin layer of bitumen (the substance used to surface roads) and oil. Niépce also invented, along with his brother, Claude, what was probably the world's first internal combustion engine, the Pyrélophore, in 1807. He also designed and built an early bicycle, a forerunner of the velocipede, in 1818.

Alfred NobelAlfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel (1833–96) was a Swedish chemist and the inventor of dynamite. He also established the Nobel Prize. Nobel was interested in the safe manufacture and use of nitro-glycerine, a highly unstable explosive. He found that mixing it with silica (silicon dioxide) made it safer and easier to manipulate. This he patented in 1867 under the name of dynamite. It was soon used in blasting tunnels and making cuttings for canals, railways and roads all over the world. In the 1870s and 1880s, Nobel set up factories to manufacture explosives. Having made a fortune from his businesses, he set aside most of it to establish annual prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace. An Economics Prize was added later.

The first electron microscopeThe first electron microscope

Ernst Ruska

Ernst Ruska (1906–88) was a German physicist and the inventor of the electron microscope. Electron microscopes allow scientists to study objects as tiny as viruses and protein molecules, and enabled the manufacture of computer microchips in computers. For his work, Ruska was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics. From his studies, he worked out that microscopes using electrons, which had wavelengths 1000 times shorter than those of light, could provide much more detailed pictures of objects than conventional microscopes using light. In 1931, he demonstrated that a magnetic coil could act as an electron lens, and proceeded to build the world's first electron microscope in 1933.

Igor SikorskyIgor Sikorsky

Igor Sikorsky

Igor Sikorsky (1889–1972) was a Russian-American inventor, who produced pioneering designs of both aeroplanes and helicopters. He designed the first multi-engine, fixed-wing aircraft, the Russky Vityaz, in 1913, and the world's first airliner, Ilya Muromets, in 1914. In the 1930s, following his move from Russia to the USA, he built flying boats capable of making ocean crossings in the 1930s. In 1939, Sikorsky developed the single-rotor helicopter. The main rotor provided lift and propulsion while the tail rotor prevented the fuselage (the body of the aircraft) from twisting. The German aircraft designer Heinrich Focke (1890–1979) had built a helicopter that used two rotors, one on each wing in 1936. But Sikorsky's design, in which the helicopter could be safely flown forwards and backwards, up and down, was the one followed by helicopter designers from then on.

George StephensonGeorge Stephenson

George Stephenson 

George Stephenson (1781–1848) was an English engineer. In 1815, he invented a safety lamp for use in mines that would burn without causing an explosion. The first steam locomotive had been invented by Richard Trevithick in 1804, and Stephenson designed his first locomotive in 1814. Along with his son, Robert (1803–1859), also an engineer, Stephenson supervised the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. The locomotive they designed to run on it, Locomotion, pulled the first passenger car to run on a steam locomotive railway. The track itself was built to a gauge of 4 feet 8 1⁄2 inches (1435 mm), which remains the standard gauge for railways the world over today. In 1829, while the new Liverpool and Manchester Railway was being built in northern England, a competition was held to find the best locomotive to run along it. The £500 prize was won easily by the Rocket, entered by George and his son Robert Stephenson (1803–1859), also an engineer. It reached the then breathtaking speed of 46.7 km/h (29 mph)—a world record—and its design was used to make all later steam locomotives.

Richard TrevithickRichard Trevithick

Richard Trevithick 

The first steam locomotive to run on rails was built by Richard Trevithick (1771–1833) an inventor and mining engineer from Cornwall, England. He developed the first high-pressure steam engine in 1799. After experimenting with steam road vehicles, Trevithick designed a four-wheel locomotive to run on rails. It made a demonstration run in 1804, reaching 8 km/h (5 mph, a brisk walking-pace) when loaded. It showed that, even with a gentle gradient, it was possible to haul heavy carriages along a track using the weight of the heavy steam locomotive alone to provide the necessary grip. Unfortunately, the weight of the train eventually broke the rails. By 1812, stronger tracks had been built between Middleton Colliery and Leeds, England. They carried the first successful steam locomotives.

Alan Turing

Sculpture of Alan TuringSculpture of Alan TuringAlan Mathison Turing (1912–1954) was an English mathematician and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computers. His Turing machine, which he invented in 1936, demonstrated how computers could work, and is now considered the model on which modern computers are based. During World War II (1939–45), Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park—Britain's code-breaking centre. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German codes, working with, and improving on, electro-mechanical machines called bombes to decipher intercepted secret messages that had been encoded by the Enigma machines used by the Germans. This enabled the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany in several crucial battles. After the war, Turing made the first designs for stored-program computers.


Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, scientist, anatomist, geologist, mapmaker, botanist and writer. Leonardo has been described as a Renaissance Man, a person who is brilliant at many different things. Leonardo drew a number of possible inventions, including plans for a hang glider, helicopter, tank, hydraulic pump, calculator, solar power, new musical instruments and a steam-powered cannon. Few of these ideas were constructed during his lifetime, but some have later proved to be practical. His designs for a simple helicopter, made in about 1500, had a corkscrew-shaped rotor, but no engine capable of powering it was known at the time.

Alessandro VoltaAlessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta

Alessandro Volta (1745–1827) was an Italian scientist, best known for inventing the battery. In 1771 another Italian scientist Luigi Galvani (1737–98) began a series of experiments in which he caused muscular contractions in a frog's legs by touching its nerves with different metals. He concluded that animal tissue itself must contain a vital force which he termed "animal electricity". He believed it to be a new form of electricity, one that flowed through the body as an "electrical fluid". Volta doubted that the electricity came from animal tissue, so, in order to disprove Galvani's theory, he invented a device known as the voltaic pile in around 1800. Constructed from alternating discs of zinc and copper, each separated by pieces of cardboard soaked in brine, the pile produced a steady electric current. It showed that "animal electricity" could be produced using non-living materials. The voltaic pile was the world's first battery.

James WattJames Watt

James Watt

Steam engine design was greatly improved in the 1770s by Scottish engineer and inventor James Watt (1735–1819). He realized that Thomas Newcomen’s engine was very inefficient because the cylinder was heated and cooled on every cycle. James Watt’s steam engine included many improvements over Newcomen’s. It had a separate cylinder where the steam was condensed, allowing the main cylinder to remain hot all the time. Watt also used steam pressure to force the piston down, rather than relying on atmospheric pressure. This increased the power of the engine. An automatic governor controlled the flow of steam to the cylinder, and so regulated its speed. Sun-and-planet gears converted the up-and-down movement of the cylinder into a turning movement. Wheels and belts linked the engine to spinning and weaving machines. In partnership with the manufacturer Matthew Boulton (1728–1809), Watts invention made possible the mechanization of factories and mills—fundamental to the Industrial Revolution.

Eli Whitney Eli Whitney

Eli Whitney

Eli Whitney (1765–1825) was an American inventor, best known for the invention of the cotton gin, enabling the mass production of cotton. Before his invention, separating the cottonseed from the raw cotton fibres, or lint, was a long and laborious process. By 1793, Whitney had designed his machine. The cotton gin (the word "gin" is a shortening of "engine") had a wooden drum embedded with hooks. These dragged the cotton fibres through a mesh while the seeds, which would not fit through the fine mesh, fell outside. Brushes continuously removed the loose cotton fibres to prevent jams. Smaller gins could be cranked by hand; larger ones could be powered by horses and, later, by steam engines. The success of the gin meant that the slavery system, which had been declining in the southern states of the USA, was revitalized now that cotton farming became profitable again.

Frank Whittle

Sir Frank WhittleSir Frank WhittleSir Frank Whittle (1907–96) was an English air officer and engineer, best known for inventing the jet engine. Whittle's engines were developed some years earlier than those of the German engineer Hans von Ohain (1911–98) who was the designer of the first jet engine to go into operation. Whittle realised that, in order for planes to achieve long ranges and high speeds they would need to fly at high altitudes, where air resistance was much lower. By 1929 Whittle proposed using a fan enclosed inside the plane's fuselage to generate the fast flow of air needed to propel a plane at high altitude. A piston engine would use too much fuel, so Whittle chose a gas turbine engine instead. In this kind of engine, air flows through a compressor before being ignited, creating a high-temperature flow that both powers the turbine (driving the compressor) and blasts out the rear of the engine producing forward thrust. The first test flight was made on 15th May 1941. An American plane using the new jet engine was in operation in 1942.

Steve WozniakSteve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak

Stephen "Woz" Wozniak (born 1950) is an American inventor and electronics engineer. He co-founded Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) with Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne. In 1976 Wozniak designed the hardware, circuit board and operating system for the Apple I computer. He then designed the Apple II, the first personal computer (PC) that had the ability to display colour graphics. The Apple II was one of the first successful mass-produced PCs.

Orville and Wilbur Wright

Orville and Wilbur WrightOrville and Wilbur WrightOrville (1871–1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867–1912) were American inventors, who built and flew the world's first successful aeroplane. The Wright brothers started out as bicycle manufactures before their interest turned to aircraft. From 1899 they made thousands of test flights in gliders, gradually perfecting their controls, including incorporating a mechanism which enabled the pilot to twist or "warp" the wings, and thus roll the aircraft to the left or right. In 1903 they finally built an aeroplane, called Flyer 1, with a petrol engine. On 17th December 1903, on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with Orville at the controls, Flyer 1 flew for 12 seconds before grounding 36.6 metres (120 feet) away: it was the first ever powered, controlled aeroplane flight. The brothers made three more flights in Flyer that day. The final flight lasted for 59 seconds and covered an impressive distance of 260 metres (850 feet). This proved beyond doubt that the Age of Aviation had truly arrived.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Count Ferdinand von ZeppelinCount Ferdinand von ZeppelinCount Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838–1917) was a German general and the inventor of the rigid airship, or dirigible balloon. He first came up with his ideas in 1874 and developed them in detail in 1893. The airship was to have a rigid aluminium framework covered in fabric, separate internal gas cells containing hydrogen and be powered by several engines mounted in gondolas, or engine cars. The first of these airships, called zeppelins, was completed and made its maiden flight in 1900. The first commercial air service for passengers was launched in 1910. By the time of his death in 1917, a fleet of zeppelins had been built, some of which were used to bomb London during World War I. Large and slow, they were, however, vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, and about 40 were shot down over London. Zeppelins continued to be built after World War I for both military and passenger purposes. The age of zeppelins came an end with the explosion that destroyed the Hindenburg in 1937.

Vladimir Zworykin with his iconoscopeVladimir Zworykin with his iconoscope

Vladimir Zworykin

Vladimir Zworykin (1888–1982) was a Russian-American inventor and engineer, best known for inventing a television transmitting and receiving system using cathode ray tubes. Having emigrated to the United States in 1919, he joined the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh the following year. Zworykin presented his project for an electronic television system to his employers in 1923, and worked on it through the 20s and 30s. In 1929 he invented the kinescope, or television receiver, and, in 1933, he perfected the iconoscope, or video camera tube. These two inventions formed the first completely electronic television system. A German company successfully used the iconoscope to broadcast the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Consultant: Dave Hawksett

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