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6 British Inventors You Should Know

#1 Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a renowned English computer scientist famously known as the inventor of the Internet, or the “World Wide Web” (www.). Earning a place as one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’, Lee’s work can arguably be said to have drastically shaped and impacted the lives of every human being alive today - and not just in Britain! He has received a great many accolades for his work, most notably a knighthood in 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II and the permanent position of Professorial Fellow of Computer Science at the University of Oxford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two of the most prestigious universities in the world. Presently, he is the Director of the Web Science Trust, an organisation founded by him and others in 2009 in order to promote education in Web Science. He is also a spokesman and leader for the WWWF (World Wide Web Foundation), an organisation which campaigns for a world where everyone has affordable and meaningful access to the internet.

#2 Alan Turing

Alan Turing was a mathematician and scientist renowned for his contributions to the development of Computer Science, the Turing machine, and the Allied war effort in World War Two during which he and his team famously cracked several German ciphers. The efforts of him and his colleagues secured crucial information for the allies, and are estimated to have saved many thousands of lives. His legacy is extensive and controversial: while his efforts are now widely celebrated, his life tragically ended in suicide after he and his male partner were convicted for “gross indecency” (the legal term used to describe homosexual acts until the late 1960s, when homosexuality was legalised). On the 7th of June, 1954 Turing was found dead, with a half-eaten, allegedly self-poisoned apple at his bedside counter determined to be the cause of death. Whether the cause of death was suicide or accidental is fiercely debated among historians, however what is for certain is that Turing’s actions, accomplishments and his inventions in the field of Computer Science earn him a firm place on this list.

#3 Richard Trevithick

Richard Trevithick was a British inventor and engineer born in 1771. He is credited with inventing the very first steam engine and operational locomotive in the late 1700s. Born to the son of a working-class family of miners in Cornwall, Trevithick was not raised for greatness. However, his significant contributions to the world of engineering made him a highly respected figure in the field even during his day, as his contemporaries could not help but acknowledge the greatness of what he had invented. Despite facing a great many difficulties in his life, such as financial ruin and an illness which he eventually succumbed to, he was extraordinarily committed to his work, and the prototypes that he developed are regarded as the building blocks of all mechanical vehicle transport available to us today. He died in 1833 from Pneumonia, at the age of 61.

#4 Sir Frank Whittle

Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle was an RAF officer and inventor credited with the invention of the turbojet engine. Born to a small working class family in Earlsdon, Coventry in 1907, he developed a passion for aviation from a very young age. Both an enthusiastic reader and a helper at his father’s engineering workshop, Whittle eventually made the decision to apply to the RAF when he was 15 years old. Despite failing not once, but twice to pass the physical exam required for all recruits, he reapplied a third time under a different name (after being told that he could not apply again) and, as a result of an intense physical training regimen, managed to pass all physical exams and enter as an apprentice: a testament to the brilliant dedication of a man behind one of the 20th century’s most significant inventions. Years after his invention was enthusiastically adopted by the British and American air forces, he retired from the RAF with the rank of Air Commodore and migrated to America, where he lectured at an American Naval Academy until his death in 1996.

#5 John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird was a Scottish inventor and innovator responsible for the creation of the colour television system, and the first transatlantic television transmission in 1928. Developing a fascination with electronics from a young age, Baird entered into education at the Royal Technical College of Glasgow. Named in 2006 as one of the 10 greatest Scottish scientists of all time, he is known today as ‘The Father of Television’ - a title rightly well earned! His breakthrough came in 1925 when he achieved the public transmission of a Maltese cross over a city street in Glasgow. In 1932, the BBC adopted his televisor model for the first public television service, however five years later his system was deemed outdated and replaced with the system of an Italian inventor instead. After this, he was rewarded with a fellowship by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and he continued to live the rest of his life exploring his inventions until he died of a stroke in June 1946.

#6 Sir Isaac Newton

Known to many Britons as the man who discovered gravity and liked apples, it would require many more pages than can be afforded for this list to fully cover the vast list of accomplishments, achievements and inventions that Sir Isaac Newton created. Philosopher, Theologian, Scientist, Author and Alchemist, and one of the key figures in the revolutionary period known as the Enlightenment, Newton is widely regarded for his discovery of the principle of gravity. His endless curiousity enabled him to tackle many of the greatest scientific mysteries of the 18th century, and he is rightfully remembered as one of the most influential intellectuals of all time. Calculus, the three laws of motion, the modern-day coin, the reflecting telescope and… cat doors. All of these inventions and more are attributed to Newton’s genius, and even if they aren’t strictly /inventions/, the principles he developed paved the way for the creation of a great many devices of the future which we take for granted. 

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