British Inventions A-Z

Did You Know a Brit Invented That?

The following British inventions are defined as having been made in the United Kingdom or made by a person of British citizenship. We are placing together inventors of English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh origins (pardon to those of you belonging to separatists movements.)

It should also be noted that the British inventions named will include inventions that have been invented in other nations i.e. computers, cars, or steam power and are not necessarily exclusives or firsts. This list is far from complete.

British Inventions A-Z 


Anemometer - Robert Hooke. This device measures wind speed.


Disc Brakes - Frederick William Lanchester


Tin Can - Peter Durand (Americans were left to invent the can opener).
Cat Eyes - Percy Shaw . These are road reflectors that help drivers see in the fog or at night.
Portland Cement - Joseph Aspdin . It revolutionized construction.
Cordite - Sir James Dewar, Sir Frederick Abel
Corkscrews - H.S. Heeley . His design is the A1 double lever, using a pivoting link.
Crossword Puzzles - Arthur Wynne wrote it for the New York World in 1913.


Depth Charges - developed by the British in World War I in 1915.
Diving Equipment/Scuba Gear - John Smeaton, William James, Henry Fleuss


EKG (Underlying Principles) - Various . Although Dutch physiologist Willem Einthoven won the Nobel Prize for inventing the electrocardiogram, British researchers laid some of the groundwork.
Electric Motor - Michael Faraday
Electromagnet - William Sturgeon


Fax Machine - Alexander Bain. It pre-dates the telephone.


Gas Mask -John Tyndall and others


Dew-point Hygrometer - John Frederic Daniell .Use to measure the humidity of air and other gases.
Holography - Dennis Gábor


Internal Combustion Engine - Samuel Brown was one of many involved in developing it.
Jet Engines - Sir Frank Whittle registered the first turbojet patent in 1930.
Kelvin Scale - Lord William Thomson Kelvin


Metal Lathe - Henry Maudslay invented the first in 1797.
Lawn Mower - Edwin Beard Budding
Lightbulbs - Humphry Davy, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, James Bowman Lindsay
Locomotive - Richard Trevithick
Power Loom - Edmund Cartwright


Little Nipper Mousetrap - James Henry Atkinson. Has anybody really invented a better one?


Penicillin - Alexander Fleming . The first widely-used antibiotic revolutionized treating infections.
Penny Farthing - James Starley. The bicycle with the large front wheel and small rear wheel was the first efficient one.
Periodic Table - John Newlands. Dimitri Medeleev greatly improved upon it, but Newlands was the first person to arrange chemical elements in order of their relative atomic masses in columns. 
Periscope - Sir Howard Grubb . He perfected it during World War I.
Polyester - John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson patented polyethylene terephthalte (PET) in 1941. It was developed into polyester fibers.
Puckle Gun - John Puckle. His flintlock gun could fire nine shots per minute with a multishot revolving cylinder.


Radar Locating of Aircraft - Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt. He also coined the term "ionosphere."
Radio (Underlying Principles) - James Clerk Maxwell, the master of electromagnetism.
Rubber Bands - Stephen Perry
Rubber Masticator - Thomas Hancock invented a machine that enabled reuse of scraps of rubber from his manufacturing processes.


Seed Drill - Jethro Tull . This first agricultural machine with moving parts led to less wasted seed than hand sowing.
Seismometer - James Forbes
Seismograph - John Milne, Sir James Alfred Ewing, Thomas Gray
Sewing Machines - Thomas Saint
Shrapnel - Henry Shrapnel designed this antipersonnel projectile for the British army.
Steam Engine - Thomas Savery, Thomas Newcomen, James Watt
Steel Production - Sir Henry Bessemer
Submarine - William Bourne
Spinning Jenny - James Hargreaves
Spinning Frame - Richard Arkwright's invention mechanically spun thread.
Spinning Mule - Samuel Crompton


Television - John Logie Baird.  His mechanical television system lost out to the Marconi-EMI electronic television technology.
Thermos - Sir James Dewar developed the system of two flasks, one inside the other, separated by a vacuum to store hot and cold substances and prevent temperature change.
Toilet Paper - British Perforated Paper Company first produced it in boxes of small pre-cut squares. St. Andrew's Paper Mill in Great Britain introduced the first two-ply toilet paper in 1942.
Torpedo - Robert Whitehead 1866 


Umbrella (steel-ribbed) - Samuel Fox
Universal Joint - Robert Hooke (also Iris Diaphragm, Balance Spring)

Vacuum Cleaner - Hubert Cecil Booth
Viagra - Peter Dunn, Albert Wood, Dr Nicholas Terrett


Wacky Inventions - Arthur Paul Pedrick enjoyed patenting 161 absurd inventions including a device to fling giant snowballs from Antarctica to the world's deserts for irrigation purposes, a horse-powered car, a revolving restaurant combination television tower, a mooring mast for airships, and a transparent meditation globe.
Waterproof Fabric - Charles Macintosh patented a method using rubber dissolved in coal-tar naphtha between two pieces of cloth.
World Wide Web - Tim Berners-Lee