We take inventions that were created years ago for granted. But we often forget about the people who devised them. Once you read about the ways in which these people created their life-changing inventions, you’ll appreciate even more what they had to go through to make it.
Christopher Cockerell: The Hovercraft
Christopher Cockerell became interested in the idea for the hovercraft after scientists discovered a basic prototype could float with a cushion of air inside it. The problem was that the air quickly escaped through the sides.
Cockerell demonstrated that a “wall” of air could solve this problem by trapping all the air.
In 1955, he patented his idea. Four years later, his hovercraft test was successful after it traveled along the South Coast of England.
Frank Whittle: The Jet Engine
While studying at the Royal Air Force College, Frank Whittle wrote a paper on “Future Developments in Aircraft Design.” He went into detail about how airplanes would soon be able to travel at speeds of more than 800 kilometers per hour (500 mph). Sadly, the Air Ministry wasn’t interested in his idea. In 1936, he decided to start a company called Power Jets Ltd. while studying at Cambridge University. He filed a patent for his turbojet engine idea as well as the turbofan. The engine was initially tested on the ground on April 12, 1937. Four years later in May 1941, it was installed in the Gloster E28/39 airplane and flown for the first time with no problems.
Peter Durand: Tin Can
Peter Durand received the first patent for the tin can. However, Nicholas Appert from France was the first person to preserve food by packing it in glass jars. Durand applied the same method with his tin can. He placed food in a container and sealed it. Next, he placed the container in cold water and gradually brought it to a boil. Finally, he opened the lid slightly and then sealed it again.
Charles Babbage: The Computer
During his time studying mathematics at Cambridge University, Charles Babbage was working on a table that could calculate logarithms so that he could do mathematical computations accurately. In the 1820s, this was dubbed the “Difference Engine.” He also had plans to build the “Difference Engine 2.” He was so determined that he even persuaded the British government to invest £17,000 in the project. He also invested £6,000 of his own money.
The project was never completed as Babbage was way ahead of his time. He would have had to wait many more years for the right kind of machine to be built to perform those calculations. Despite this, Babbage is usually regarded as the “grandfather of the modern computer.”
Heinrich Hertz: Radar
Heinrich Hertz was a German physicist who proved that electromagnetism was real, which supported James Clerk Maxwell’s theory from 1865. Hertz conducted experiments in his laboratory while teaching physics at Karlsruhe Polytechnic between 1885 and 1889.He showed that electromagnetic waves were the same as light and heat waves. They behaved in a similar way through vibration and reflection.
In 1888, Hertz set up an experiment in which he used an electrical circuit to make a spark hop across a gap between couple of metal rods. This produced electric pulses in another circuit from a further distance. This led him to become the first person to send and receive radio waves. Sadly, Hertz died at age 36—before Guglielmo Marconi showed how radio waves could send messages over long distances.
John Logie Baird: Television
John Logie Baird started out as an engineer. His first ideas failed and made him penniless at age 35. Then, in 1923, he began to work on a machine that could transmit images. It would also be able to broadcast sound via radio. Baird televised outlined images in 1924 and showed human faces you could recognize in 1925. He then gave a public demonstration of televised moving objects at the Royal Institution in London in 1926. If it wasn’t for Baird’s initial invention; we wouldn’t be watching TV today.
Guglielmo Marconi: Radio
Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor who followed in the footsteps of Heinrich Hertz and James Clerk Maxwell after learning about their experiments. Marconi started his tests in 1894 on his father’s estate near Bologna. In 1895, he managed to send radio signals from up to 1.6 kilometers (1 mi) away. He used simple equipment, including an induction coil, a Morse key, and a coherer to detect radio waves.
His breakthrough came five years later in 1901. He received radio signals in St. John’s, Newfoundland, that had been sent across the Atlantic Ocean from Poldhu in Cornwall, England. This helped to start the development of radio broadcasting services that we still use today.
Trevor Baylis: Wind-Up Radio
Trevor Baylis was an English inventor. He started developing a prototype for the wind-up radio after watching a TV program in 1991 about the spread of AIDS in Africa. He used a clockwork motor, which was run on a coiled-up spring. The clockwork motor got its name as coiled-up springs were used in clocks. His prototype ran for about 14 minutes. Baylis won many awards for his invention and helped many people in the process.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Calculus
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was often credited with inventing differential and integral calculus. In Leibniz’s case, he funded his studies by building a calculating machine. He showed this device to the Royal Society during his journey to London in 1673. By 1675, he had established the principles of differential and integral calculus.