Inventions are all in the news at the moment. And hardly surprising as the debate about the economy, jobs, training, schools and universities and technology goes on. And on. Without resolution.
In a recent Radio Times poll a list of the 50 greatest British inventions was compiled. Perhaps surprisingly two decades from the Victorian era came out as producing the most productive selection of inventions that readers identified with.
In the 1820s British invention produced cement, the electric motor, the lawnmower, waterproof fabric and the steam engine railway. The 1880s created the pneumatic tyre and the steam turbine. In the 1960s we had the benefit of carbon fibre, hip replacements, the cash machine and the collapsible buggy.
So many British inventions changed the world
Of course, any decade will throw up a selection of products which will revolutionise the way society does things. Wars and conflicts do the same, with, for instance, the troubles in Northern Ireland over the decades giving rise to some far-reaching medical treatments. The US space program similarly threw up many alternative applications for inventions, though not British ones.
Bagless vacuum inventor Sir James Dyson is also rated highly as an influential inventor, his product ranking in the same chart as the wind-up radio and the internet itself.
But there are also the Thermos flask, float glass, chocolate bar, electric telegraph, modern fire extinguisher, catseyes, light bulb, soda water, hypodermic syringe, reflecting telescope, telephone, marine chronometer, television, synthetic dye, military tank, toothbrush, linoleum, automatic kettle, modern torpedo, glider, jet engine, safety bicycle, tension-spoked wheel, seed drill, stainless steel, spinning frame, Bessemer process, photography, hydraulic press, sewage system, electronic programmable computer, hovercraft, the tin can, disc brakes… we could pick freely.
Dyson went further in his Radio Times interview and criticised the Government’s ‘obsession with Silicon roundabout’. He said ministers should focus on engineering instead, and the above list of inventions adds some weight to his argument.
The design engineer wanted focus and investment in ‘tangible technology instead of internet and video games projects’. He dismissed the ‘glamour of web fads and video gaming’ and demanded real technology ‘that we can export’.
Sir Time Berners Lee, who developed the internet itself, of course, gave it to the world. The huge majority of entrepreneurs and inventors don’t do that. Look at the profits new entrants into fields, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and the Google boys made from their innovations.
There may be a case for looking at school curricula and saying should some of our talented and gifted youngsters be encouraged to go into engineering and design?
Equally more of them should be developing maths and science skills as well as almost all who would benefit from education in personal financial matters!
What do you reckon? Let us know!
The Radio Times, What is the greatest British invention? 8 January 2013
Also informative and provocative:
London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ Provides a Carnival of Good News, 19 November 2012
Today’s 5 Most Pressing Business Concerns About Technology, 16 October 2012
Unblocking the Superhighway, Our Economic Artery, 1 August 2012
Could Computer Over-Reliance Be the Death of Us All? 30 July 2012
Innovation Is the Latest Innovation, 16 January 2012