Science and invention in Birmingham
Birminghamis the second-largest city in the United Kingdom. It is one of the country's principal industrial centres and has an impressive history of industrial and scientific innovation.
1547: Although no record is kept to indicate when the first clock appears in Birmingham, during this year the 'King's Commissioners report that the guild of the Holy Cross are responsible 'ffor keeping the Clocke and the Chyme," at a cost of four shillings and four pence a year at
St Martin's Church. The next recorded mention of a clock is in 1613, the earliest known clock makers in the town arrived in 1667 from London.Between 1770 and 1870 there exists over 700 clock and watch makers in Birmingham.
1722: Richard Baddeley,
Ironmongerpatents a method for "casting wheel streaks and box irons".
Lewis Pauland John Wyatt, of Birmingham, patented the Roller Spinning machine and the flyer-and-bobbin system, for drawing cottonto a more even thickness, using two sets of rollers that travelled at different speeds. This principle was the basis of Richard Arkwright later water frame.
John Wyatt, mechanic and inventor, designs and constructs a cart-weighing machine, later referred to as a Compound Lever Weighing machine, the design works by way of levers which hold in place a platform, no matter where the weight is placed the load is transferred to a central lever. Weights attached to that lever then help in obtaining a reading of accurate weight. The simplicity, efficiency and accuracy of the weighing machine proved extremely popular across England, subsequently weighing errors were reduced to approximately one pound per ton, this remained a high standard of measurement into the mid 19th century.
1742: Paul and Wyatt opened a mill in Birmingham which used their new rolling machine powered by the humble
Donkey, this was not profitable and soon closed.
John Baskervilletakes out a patent for making metal mouldings, rolling, grinding and japanningmetal plates by use of weights, rollers and pickling which Baskerville used over the more traditional method of employing screws. This is the first patent for making metal mouldings by passing them through rolls of a certain profile.
1743: A factory was opened in
Northampton, fifty spindles turned on five of Paul and Wyatt's machines proving more successful than their first Mill this operated until 1764.
1746: Sulphuric acid factory was set up at Steelhouse Lane to use the
lead chamber processinvented by its co-founder John Roebuck, Roebuck and local businessman Samuel Garbettlater relocate to Prestonpansin Scotland, taking with them several skilled men from the Birmingham factory, it is here in 1762 where Roebuck takes out a patent for making malleable iron.
1748: Lewis Paul invented the hand driven
cardingmachine. A coat of wire slips were placed around a card which was then wrapped around a cylinder. Lewis's invention was later developed and improved by Richard Arkwrightand Samuel Crompton, although this came about under great suspicion after a fire at Daniel Bourn's factory in Leominsterwhich specifically used Paul and Wyatt's spindles. Bourn produced a similar patent in the same year.
1757: Rev John Dyer of Northampton recognises the importance of the Paul and Wyatt cotton spinning machine in poem:
:"A circular machine, of new design:In conic shape: it draws and spins a thread:Without the tedious toil of needless hands.:A wheel invisible, beneath the floor,:To ev'ry member of th' harmonius frame,:Gives necessary motion. One intent:O'erlooks the work; the carded wool, he says,:So smoothly lapped around those cylinders,:Which gently turning, yield it to yon cirue:Of upright spindles, which with rapid whirl:Spin out in long extenet an even twine."
1757: Baskerville serif typeface is designed by
John Baskerville(1706-1775) in Birmingham, England. Baskerville is classified as a transitional typeface, positioned between the old style typefaces of William Caslon, and the modern styles of Giambattista Bodoniand Firmin Didot.
1758: Paul and Wyatt improved their Roller Spinning machine and took out a second patent. Richard Arkwright later used this as the model for his
1759: A patent is granted to Thomas Blockley (
locksmith), for rolling iron into different forms and making (metal) wheel tyres.
Matthew Boultonopened the Soho Foundryengineering works, Handsworth; his partnership with Scottish engineer James Wattmade the steam engineinto the power plant of the Industrial Revolution. The term " horsepower" was coined by Watt.
James Wattattached a screw propellorto a Steam Engine.
1777: Boulton and Watt build '
Old Bess', as described by the London science museums 'an engine that stands at a crossroads in history'.
James Keirtakes out a patent for a compound metal which is capable of being forgedwhen hot or cold more fit for the making of bolts, nails, and sheathing for ships prior to anything before. This metal used the same compounds and similar quantities of metals as the patentof Muntz metalwhich appear at the same time.
Matthew Wasbroughdesigns and builds the Pickard Engine(first crank engine) for James Pickardof Snow Hill, this is defined as 'the first atmospheric engine in the world to directly achieve rotary motion by the use of a crankand flywheel.' [http://www.btinternet.com/~historical.engines/pickard.htm]
1780: James Watt patents a
copying pressor 'letter copying machine'; he also invents an inkto work with it.
1781 James Watt markets his
rotary-motion steam engine. The earlier steam engine's vertical movement was ideal for operating water pumps but the new enginecould be adapted to drive all sorts of machinery. Richard Arkwrightpioneered its use in his cotton mills and within 15 years there were 500+ Boulton & Watt steam engines in British factories and mines. Boulton also arranged, in 1775, an Act of Parliamentextending the term of Watt's 1769 patent to 1799.
James Watt, referred to a two-speed transmissionin patent No.1432, which related to steam carriages: The concept of changing speed (or a variable velocity) in gearingwhich could arguably be the seed of thought for all subsequent gearing systems.
"Motion [from a steam engine] is communicated to the axle-tree of one or more wheels of the carriage by means of the "circulating rotative to machinery" formerly patented by the inventor. Two or more loose wheels of different diameters are placed to be locked on the axle and impart extra power for bad roads or steep ascents."
1785: James Watt and
William Murdochinvent the oscillating cylinderand double action engine. Around this time James Watt creates a governor and throttle valvefor automatically regulating the supply of steamto an enginealthough no patents were taken out by Watt.
1788: Boulton and Watt build the
rotative steam engine, it was an improved steam engine which could be used in any place, for any purpose, at any time.
1790: W. Richardson publishes "The Chemical Principles of the Metallic Arts: designed chiefly for the use of Manufacturers" which is used to help with diseases associated with the metal working industry.
Ralph Heatonpatents a steam powered machine for mass producing buttonshanks. This is one of the earliest forms of mechanical mass production and steam powered machine tool operation.
Around this time William Futrell (a well known Birmingham
pugilist) becomes publisher of the first boxingpaper.
Matthew Boultonerects at Soho a complete coiningplant with which he strikes coins for the Sierra Leoneand East Indiacompanies and for Russia, and produces a new copper coinagefor Britain. Also in 1797, he takes out a British patent in connection with raising water on the principle of the hydraulic ramalthough one of a similar nature appears in Franceat around the same time.
1799: The first
Bell-crank enginewas by patented by William Murdockwhile working for Boulton and Watt. It was the first compact, self contained engine.
At some time around the late 18th or early 19th century possibly the first stand alone cooking range or stove was invented by John Heard (joiner), capable of roasting, boiling, baking and of course heating a room. The products of combustion are carried off by means of a flue leading to the chimney, the inventor mentions it is particulalrly suitable for use on board ships.
During the early 19th century many advances in lead and copper rolled pipes and tubing take place by many metal workers and inventors in Birmingham.
1802: the exterior of the
Soho Foundryis lit with gas lightingby William Murdoch. Murdoch, its developer, worked for Matthew Boultonand James Wattat Soho. This becomes the basis for Birmingham's immense Gas Industry which incorporates many products and trades that rely on Gas to work.
Henry Jamestakes out a patent for propelling vessels by steam, via a paddle wheelfixed in the middle of the stern and steered by two fins to alleviate leggers from the arduous duty of pushing boats through canal tunnels.
1814: Thomas Dobbs (actor) invents a
reaping machinewhich consists of a circular saw or sickle, the grain is drawn or fed up to the saw by means of a pair of rollers, this predates William Bell's straw cuttingmachine.
1821: Emanuel Heaton,
gun finisher, takes out a patent for a water tight pan for gun locks.
Francis Deakinimproves a method of stringing the Pianoby employing the screw and nut as opposed to the previously used wooden peg, thus allowing a greater tension and strength of wire.
Josiah Masonimproved a cheap, efficient slip-in nibwhich could be added to a fountain pen.
1830: With the invention of a new machine, William Joseph Gillott,
William Mitchelland James Stephen Perrydevised a way to mass manufacture robust, cheap steel pen nibs.
Muntz metalis patented, an alpha-beta brasswith about 40% zinc and 60% copper. Its original use was as a replacement for the copperlining placed on the bottom of boats as it maintained the anti-fouling abilities of the pure form. As it cost around a two-thirds that of pure copper and had identical properties for this application it became the material of choice and Muntz made his fortune.
1832: A form of German Silver is invented by
Charles Askins, this was used to make spoons and cutleryspecifically in the Birmingham area.
1837: Custard powder was invented by
pharmacist Alfred Bird.
Charles Greenpatents an original and unique method of producing solid, seamless brassand coppertubes, around this time much development takes place in Birmingham and Manchesterwith regards to copper tubing and printing plates.
1839: Sir Edward Thomason improves the gun lock by making the cock detachable by the thumb and finger as well as making improvements to prevent misfires.
George Elkingtonand Henry Elkington founded the English electroplatingindustry in the early 1800s. In 1840, they aided John Wright, who discovered that potassium cyanidewas a suitable electrolytefor gold and silver electroplating. Carl Wilhelm Siemenshad several meetings with George Elkington, and made speeches on 'Science and Industry,' to the Birmingham and Midland Institute, he later set up a works in Birmingham and carried out experiments on metals and telegraphy. Richard Bissell Prosserwrote 58 lives for the Dictionary of National Biography, and supplied much material for the New English Dictionary. Prosser also wrote Birmingham Inventors and Inventions, 1881 and was a pioneer of the study of technical history, his published biographies and manuscript records are an incomparable source for present-day researchers. He was heavily involved with the introduction of the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852, and his 700-volume library, combined with that of Bennet Woodcroftformed the basis of the Patent Office Library.
glassworks were among the early mass-producers of uranium glass. Manufacturers included Bacchus, Green & Green (later George Bacchus & Sons), Union Glassworks, in the 1840s, and Lloyd & Summerfield in the 1850s who were the first to use uranium in glass commercially.
William Trantertakes out the first of many patents for his improvements in manufacture of the firearm.
John Nettlefold, screwmanufacturer, attends the Paris exhibition. He later buys exclusive rights to use Thomas Sloan’s machine for making screws which is in the show. With adaptation of the machine for their Birmingham premises and inspiration of Birmingham mass production methods, Nettlefold & Chamberlain become Britain’s leading screw-making firm.
1859: The first ever game of lawn
tennisis played in Edgbaston, international tennis is still played at Edgbaston's Priory Club.
celluloidas a bulk material for forming objects was made in 1856 by Alexander Parkes. Many years later, and with the recognition of celluloid as a format for making photographic film, an American court declared Parkes as the true inventor of celluloid.
thermoplastic Parkesinewas showcased at the Great International Exhibition in London. Invented by Alexander Parkes, this celluloid is credited by the London Science Museumto be "generally accepted as the first plastic". (This presumably refers to synthetic plastic formed into objects: it is predated by the 1848 collodion, a nitrocellulose-based solution that dried to a celluloid-like film but was useless for industrial purposes, as well as several natural plastics).
James Moore Clementsof Livery Street who had already invented an improved machine for making buttonholes was granted a patent for a new arrangement of 'stitching the hole'.
Birmingham had a great history of wire and cable manufacture, the industry later set various international standards for
wire gauge. 1865: The steel wire, some 16,000 miles long, for sheathing the first successful Transatlantic telegraph cablewas made by Webster and Horsfall, Birmingham. [http://www.websterandhorsfall.co.uk/history.htm] [http://www.atlantic-cable.com/Article/WireRope/wirerope.htm]
Joseph Hinkssets up James Hinks & Son, of 91-96 Great Hampton Street and 66 Hockley Street. He patented improvements to oil lamps, marketing the resultant Duplex Lampwhich was later used across the world and became popular for railway workers.
C.H. Gouldpatents a British stapleralthough it remains unclear as to how unique this was from U.S. patents of the same age.
William Westley Richardsgunmakers takes out its first of many patents relating to the firearm, for which gold medals and royal warrants, were awarded.
William Bownpatented a design for the wheels of roller skates which embodied his effort to keep the two bearingsurfaces of an axle, fixed and moving, apart. Bown worked closely with Joseph Henry Hugheswho drew up the patent for a ball or roller bearingrace for bicycleand carriagewheels which includes all the elements of an adjustable system in 1877.
Joseph Hudson (inventor)makes the first whistleever to be used by a football referee. It is used for the first time at a game held at Nottingham Forest, prior to this referees used handkerchiefs to attract players attention.
Gamgee Tissueis invented by Joseph Sampson Gamgee, a surgical dressing which has a thick layer of absorbent cotton wool between two layers of absorbent gauze. It represents the first use of cotton wool in a medical context, and was a major advancement in the prevention of infection of surgical wounds. It is still the basis for many modern surgical dressings.
surgeonand gynaecologist, Lawson Tait(pioneer of several surgical procedures), carried out the world's first successful operation on a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.
Joseph Hudson (inventor)invents and manufactures the first police whistlefor the Metropolitan police force, prior to this police had to use hand rattles, whistles were only used as musical instruments or toys. His whistle is still used by the force and many others today.
1884: Joseph Hudson invents the world's most successful whistle to date, the 'Acme Thunderer' (the first ever pea whistle). The whistle has been used as an alarm or attention instrument by all manor of industries, sports and revellers. It continues to sell in great quantities throughout the world.
1885: The world's first professional
football leagueis founded at a meeting in Astonunder the auspices of William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa. Sir Francis Galton, who formulated (and later coined the term for) eugenicsas well as questionnaires and many important tools in statistics, was born in Birmingham. Galton avidly supported the theories of his cousin Charles Darwin, and also furthered the most important advances in fingerprinting.
Charles Pinkneyof Tangyesperfects a gas engine, this comes about through is experimentationwith a Hydrocarbon GasProducer and a Bituminous Coal gas Generator. The engine is proved to be more economical that an earlier ‘Four-stroke cycle Otto’ engine.
Dunlop Rubber Companyco-founded by John Boyd Dunlopestablished its Birmingham factory Fort Dunlop, later to become the focus of Dunlop as one of the largest multinational manufacturers of automotive and aeronautical tyres.
1894: Richard Norris, a doctor of medicine and professor of physiology at Queen's College, Birmingham, brings out a new patent of
dry plateused in photographyand is generally credited with the first development of collodion dry plate in the 1860s.
Frederick William Lanchesterand his brother built the first petrol driven four-wheeled car in Britain. Lanchester also experimented with the wick carburetor, fuel injection, turbochargersand invented the accelerator pedaland first used the Pendulum Governorfor controlling the speed of a car engine. In 1893 he designed and built his first engine (a vertical single cylinder) which was fitted to the first British motorboat.
1896: The first public trial in Birmingham of a "horseless carriage" or motor car took place at
Cannon Hill Park.
University of Birminghamis founded, later to provide much scientific research.
Bournville Village Trustis founded by George Cadbury, this was to set many improvements and high standards of living and leisure pastimes for factory workers the world over.
By 1900 Birmingham has the largest number of cycle makers and component manufacturers in Britain, several small advances in the development of the bicycle take place in various companies, one of the longer established and high quality manufacturers being 'Quadrants' of Sheepcote Street which later manufactures motor bikes, other notable firms are New Hudson, B.S.A., C.W.S. Dawes, Grundle, James and Hercules.
1902: On 7 April the
Teasmadewas patented by gunsmithFrank Clarke. He called it "An Apparatus Whereby a Cup of Tea or Coffee is Automatically Made" and it was later marketed as "A Clock That Makes Tea!", however, the original machine and all rights to it were purchased from Albert E Richardson, a clockmakerfrom Ashton-under-Lyne. Clarke later abandoned Tea making machines and made several important patents to the Air pistol.
Frederick William Lanchesterpatented disc brakes.
George Andrew Darbypatented his electrical Heat detectorand Smoke detector.
King Edward VII& Queen Alexandraopen the Elan Valley water supply which was used to provide clean drinking waterfor Birmingham.
Herbert Austinbegan making cars at Longbridge, many improvements in car manufacture and production later came about from the works.
Francis William Astonwon a scholarshipto the University of Birminghamand it was in his studies of electronic discharge tubes there that he discovered the phenomenonnow known as the Aston Dark Space. He later moved to the Cavendish Laboratoryin Cambridgewhere he used a method of electromagnetic focusing to invent the mass spectrograph, which rapidly allowed him to identify no fewer than 212 of the 287 naturally occurring isotopes. His work on isotopes also led to his formulation of the Whole Number Rulewhich was later used extensively in the development of nuclear energy. In 1922 he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistryfor the invention of the mass spectrometer.
1905: a manually-powered domestic
vacuum cleanerwas invented by manufacturer Walter Griffiths of 72, Conybere Street, Highgate. It was originally patented as 'Griffiths' Improved Vacuum Apparatus for Removing Dust from Carpets'. Although an electric cleaner had been patented in 1901 by H. Cecil Booth, Griffiths' design was more similar to modern portable cleaners than Booth's cart-mounted device.
Birmingham's ingenuity and expertise in metal working aids the early production of lightweight tubing used in the construction of successful airplanes. Engineering firms pioneer advances in aircraft engines also such as Austin who designs and build early aircraft for the British Air force during the early 20th century,
Wolseley Motor Companyhelp to set Vickerson their path to motor and engine development for aircraft at Adderly Park, with a new engine ready for production by 1909. Several other small engineering firms design and build early aircraft engines such as Maxfield & Co who test a plane in 1909 at Castle Bromwich, the Butterfield Brothers also making an experimental aircraft engine in 1911. Birmingham engineering works later diversify with all manner of industries relating to the development and manufacture of aircraft components including assembly of whole planes during war years.
Oliver Lucas's company designs and makes an electric carhorn.
Oliver Lucas's company designs and makes an electric motorcycle horn.
Oliver Lucasand Charles Breedencarry out pioneering work on the design of the Dynamoand electric equipment for motorcycles and by 1914 they are already manufacturing these items.
1914 Birmingham, by now, is supplying the world with 28 million
pen nibs per week.
William Mills (inventor)develops the first "safe grenade" meaning it was safe for the soldier throwing it rather than his opponent. It was named the Mills bomb, and was adopted by the British Armyas its standard hand grenade in 1915, 75,000,000 grenades were supplies during The Great War.
1918: Much work is carried out by
Oliver Lucas's company on the design and improvement of the military search light, he also designed a signalling lampafter experiences at the Sommeand the design was later used by the British Army.
1921: A British patent for
windscreen wipers was registered by Mills Munitions.
Arthur L. Large, invented the immersed heating resistor, a major advancement in the electric kettle (A safety valvewas introduced by kettle maker Walter H. Bullpitt, also from Birmingham, in 1931.
Brylcreem(made famous by the Teddy Boy) was invented in the city and later gave rise to other hair styling products.
Foam rubberwas invented by EA Murphy at the Dunlop Latex Development Laboratories, Fort Dunlop.
Leonard Parsonswas the first to use synthetic vitamin Cas treatment for scurvyin children. [http://fn.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/86/1/F65]
1935: Birmingham has a long history of
Toyand trinket manufacture and in 1935 the biggest toy makers in England, Chad Valley, are appointed Toy Makers to the Queen of England. During their existence Chad Valley carry out several improvements and practices in manufacturing of Toys during their production between the late 19th and mid 20th centuries, constantly striving to develop new board games, jigsaws and toys.
Norman Haworthwas awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistryfor his pioneering work on carbohydratesand synthetic vitamin C.
Mary Evansand Dr Wilfred Gaisfordbegan trials of the world's first antibioticM&B ( sulfapyridine) as treatment for lobar pneumonia.
Birmingham was the major British manufacturer of the
magnetron, the core component in the development of radar, and the first microwavepower oscillators were developed at the University of Birminghamduring World War II(the microwave ovenowes its existence to these developments).
Frisch-Peierls memorandumwas finalised by Otto Frischand Rudolf Peierlswhile both working at Birmingham University- the first document to set out a process by which an atomic explosion could be generated.
Maurice Wilkins, New Zealandborn British physicist and Nobel Laureatefor his work on DNAstructure, was educated at King Edward's School. He received his PhDfor the study of phosphors at the University of BirminghamPhysics Department, where he worked on radardisplay screens and uranium isotopeseparation before moving to the Manhattan Project.
Between 1947 and 1951 Professor
Peter Medawarpioneered research on skin graftrejection at Birmingham University, this led to the discovery of a substance which aids nervesto reunite and the discovery of acquired immunologicaltolerance, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicinein 1960 for his work during this time.
1950: in February, the first operation in
Englandfor 'hole-in-the-heart' (congenital atrial septal defect) was performed at Birmingham Children's Hospital.
Charlotte Anderson(Leonard Parsons Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health) was one of the team who proved that the glutens in wheatcaused coeliac disease, from this gluten-free diets were introduced.
1950-1959: essential research and development on
heart pacemakers and plastic heart valves was carried out by Leon Abramsat Birmingham University.
During the later half of the 20th century the first trials of the
combined oral contraceptive pilloutside the USA took place at Birmingham University and extensive research into advanced allergy vaccines and the synthesization of artificial bloodtook place.
John Robert Vane, winner of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicinein 1982 for his work on aspirin, was educated at King Edward's School and studied Chemistryat the University of Birmingham.
The city has become an internationally important centre for
Since the establishment of its Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory, the
University of Birminghamhas become one of the significant UK research centres for nanotechnology.
* Edwardian Inventions, Rodney Dale & Joan Gray, Star Books, 1979, ISBN 0-352-30345-X
* Victorian and Edwardian Birmingham, B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1973, ISBN 0-7134-0128-1
* Workshop Of The World, Ray Shill, Sutton Publishing LTD, 2006, ISBN 0-7509-3503-0
* Birmingham's Industrial Heritage 1900 - 2000, Ray Shill, Sutton Publishing LTD, ISBN 0-7509-2593-0
* Birmingham Inventors And Inventions, Richard B. Prosser, H.M. Patent Office (originally 1881) later published by S.R. Publishers 1970, ISBN 0-85409-578-0
* Watch & Clockmakers Of The British Isles, Birmingham, ISBN 1-871252-008
* A Pictoral History Of Boxing, Sam Andre and Nat Fleischer, Hamlyn, 1988, ISBN 0-600-50288-0
* [http://www.warwick.ac.uk/~cesaef/inventors/ Birmingham Inventors club]
* [http://www.bham.ac.uk/news_and_events_details.asp?section=00010001000900100007&id=2104 Innovators and inventors from the University of Birmingham]
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