25 Great British Inventions

There are so many British inventions it could take up pages!! But below we have listed 25 of the best British inventions, which have benefitted and changed the world we live in for the better!!

So read through and be proud of your British heritage.


Invented: 1989
Inventor: Tim Berners-Lee

Not to be confused with the internet, which is a system of linked computer networks, the worldwide web was invented by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee (left). He created the first server in late 1990 and, on 6 August 1991, the web went live, with the first page explaining how to search and how to set up a site. Berners-Lee gave his invention to the world for free.


Invented: 1925
Inventor: John Logie Baird

It’s hard to credit just one person with the invention of television, but it’s indisputable that John Logie Baird was the first to transmit moving pictures in October 1925. But his mechanical system ultimately failed – with a rival being developed at the same time able to produce a visibly superior picture. Baird, it was said at the time, was “doomed to be the man who sows the seed but does not reap the harvest”.


Invented: 1892
Inventor: Sir James Dewar


This humble invention was the brainchild of Sir James Dewar, an eminent professor of chemistry at Cambridge and leading light of the Royal Institution. Dewar didn’t invent it to keep tea hot on picnics (that was a happy by-product), but to help his experiments on cooling gases, like air and oxygen, to such low temperatures that they would liquefy.


Invented: 1827
Inventor: Edwin Beard Budding

What could be more quintessentially British than a perfectly mown lawn in summer? Until Budding developed his first 19in mower in 1827 this was the preserve of the very rich. As the lawnmower’s popularity spread and made lawns more affordable, sports that were played on grass, such as cricket, rugby and football, were given an important boost.


Invented: 1959
Inventor: Alastair Pilkington

When we think of inventions, it’s machines and gadgets that usually come to mind. But what about the processes needed to create the materials our modern world is made of? Almost all the glass we use today is made using Pilkington’s “float” process, which made it far easier and cheaper to make high-quality glass.


Invented: 1837
Inventors: Charles Wheatstone and William Cooke

The electric telegraph was a world-shrinking technology like no other. The first fully operational telegraph ran from 1839 between Paddington and West Drayton railway stations, but at first it was slow to catch on. That is, until New Year’s Day 1845 when the telegraph system helped catch murderer John Tawell. It was a sensation and telegraph cables were soon everywhere.


Invented: 1887
Inventor: John Boyd Dunlop

In 1845, railway engineer Robert William Thomson patented the world’s first pneumatic tyres but there was no real market for them. Forty years later, Dunlop came up with pneumatic tyres to stop his son getting headaches from riding his bumpy tricycle. This time around, the invention handily coincided with the new bicycle craze.


Invented: 1818
Inventor: George William Manby

The first modern extinguisher, the Extincteur, was invented after Manby saw firemen struggling to put out a blaze on the top floors of a house fire in Edinburgh. His solution was a portable copper cask containing three to four gallons of potassium carbonate, which dispersed by compressed air via a stopcock.


Invented: 1933
Inventor: Percy Shaw

Percy Shaw was a Yorkshire road contractor who devised the Catseye in 1933. He liked to claim that inspiration struck when he was driving home from the pub on a foggy night and saw the reflection of his headlights in the eyes of a cat, sitting by the road. Shaw’s Catseye was voted the greatest invention of the 20th century.


Invented: 1801
Inventor: Richard Trevithick

Trevithick’s invention would become the father of the steam train and the father of portable steam power. On Christmas Eve 1801 he tested a steam car, known as the Puffing Devil, which successfully climbed the Camborne Hill in Cornwall. Trevithick became the first person to power a piston using high-pressure steam – and in doing so he transformed the world.


Invented: 1884
Inventor: Charles Parsons

After the invention of the electrical motor – which transforms rotation into electrical power – the next step was to find a device to drive it. Piston engines vibrated too violently, so the steam turbine was the answer. Three quarters of the world’s power stations still use steam – and whether steam-powered or not, every station uses the theory behind Parsons’ innovation.


Invented: 1853
Inventor: Alexander Wood

While the syringe itself has been known since ancient times, Wood’s innovation was to design a syringe that would allow drugs to be administered intravenously without the patients skin having to be cut first. It is said he found inspiration in the sting of a honeybee. The hypodermic syringe was a breakthrough in anesthetics.


Invented: 1668
Inventor: Isaac Newton

As a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, Sir Isaac Newton took the idea of a reflecting telescope and turned it into reality. This huge leap forward in telescope technology made astronomical observation much more accurate.


Patented: 1876
Inventor: Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell (right) patented his telephone model just hours before a rival inventor. The telephone came about thanks to a discovery that a thin metal sheet vibrating in an electromagnetic field produces an electrical waveform that corresponds to the vibration. The invention was first publically demonstrated in 1876 at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.


Invented: 1761
Inventor: John Harrison

Accurate navigation at sea has always been critically important but, until the invention of the marine chronometer, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible. In 1714 the British government announced a £20,000 prize – worth almost £3m today – for anyone who could solve the problem. John Harrison devoted his life to the task and finally got his reward in 1773. 


Invented: c. 1770
Inventor: William Addis

William Addis was a rag trader who was sent to prison in 1770. While there, he decided that the way people were brushing their teeth (rubbing soot and salt over them with a rag), could be improved. He saved a small animal bone from a meal, made a hole and tied some bristles through it. After his release, Addis set up a business to mass-produce toothbrushes. His company, Wisdom Toothbrushes, still exists.


Invented: 1955
Inventor: Peter Hobbs

The automatic kettle – one that switches itself off when the water reaches boiling point – was the brainchild of Peter Hobbs, one of the two founders of appliance company Russell Hobbs. At its heart was a simple piece of technology: the bimetallic strip which bent as the water boiled, breaking a circuit and switching off the kettle.


Invented: 1804
Inventor: George Cayley

One of the greatest inventors in the field of aviation was Yorkshireman George Cayley. He was the first man to move away from the idea that a man-made flying machine must have wings that flapped like a bird’s, and the first-ever sustained manned glider flight was made in a craft of his design at Brompton Dale in 1853.


Invented: 1937
Inventor: Frank Whittle

24-year-old RAF fighter pilot Frank Whittle first patented a new kind of aircraft – the turbojet – in 1930, but his new design was so radical that the military wouldn’t fund it, nor would any manufacturers, until in 1937 he found a few private backers and in 1941 a 17-minute test flight took place at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire.


Invented: 1991
Inventor: Trevor Baylis

In 1991, Trevor Baylis saw a television programme about Aids in Africa that said one way to stop its spread was for people to hear educational information on the radio. So Baylis desined one that needed no batteries, running off an internal generator powered by a mainspring wound by a hand crank. He was able to demonstrate it to Nelson Mandela and since then it’s been distributed all over Africa.


Invented: 1902
Inventor: Frederick William Lanchester

Disc brakes employ brake pads that squeeze each side of the rotor turning a wheel. They were quicker to cool down and to dry out than the drum brakes used in most cars at the time. Sadly, they didn’t catch on until the 1950s, after Lanchester’s death – but nowadays almost all cars use his invention.


Invented: 1901
Inventor: Hubert Cecil Booth

Hubert Cecil Booth was watching a railway carriage being cleaned by a machine that blew the dust away when he had the idea for a machine that sucked the dust up instead. To test his theory, he placed a handkerchief on a chair and sucked through it, finding that dust collected on either side. He set up a cleaning service using hoses from vans on the street going through the windows of buildings. 

ATM   - cash machine

Invented: 1967
Inventor: John Shepherd-Barron

John Shepherd-Barron first hit on the idea of a cash dispenser in the bath and secured a meeting with Barclays who signed up, installing the first ATM outside their Enfield branch in 1967. It gave out a maximum of £10 after customers inserted special cheques that the machine could recognise alongside a four-digit PIN number that’s still in use today.


Invented: 2008
Inventor: Ian Helmore

Plumber Ian Helmore sterilized water tanks to prevent lagionella breeding in them. Bacteria can live in the last two inches of pipework so he decided that putting a UV lamp into a tap or showerhead would deal with the problem. It’s now out there in NHS hospitals, hopefully saving lives.


Invented: 1865
Inventor: Joseph Bazalgette

The creator of the London sewers, Joseph Bazalgette, may be remembered as more of an engineer than an inventor, but developing the largest sewage system the world had ever seen in London changed life in the city completely. The previous system – an open sewer – tipped waste into the Thames but this new invention pumped it eastwards out to sea. Bazalgette estimated the population increase of the next 100 years so the system is still in use today.