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everyone knows....
by richard cole
3.26.10
tech

When he arrived at CERN in the late 1980’s, Tim Berners-Lee just wanted to get hold of some information but found it extraordinarily difficult. Data was stored in different formats on different computers. He found doing his job almost impossible so decided to do something about it. In 1990, he wrote the first web server and client around the concepts of URL’s, HTTP and HTML.

Everyone knows he invented the World Wide Web, just as everyone knows Robert Smith to be America’s most important architect of the 18th century working for the likes of Benjamin Franklin and who was responsible for the look of Philadelphia’s skyline.

Alexander Graham Bell may be more widely known as the inventor of the telephone in 1876 but he also pioneered work on hydrofoils and optical telecoms. But has anyone heard of Kane Kramer who invented the digital audio player in 1981 or William Bourne who came up with the submarine in 1578.

There’s Christopher Holtum who demonstrated the first horseless carriage, or car, in 1711 taking delighted Londoner’s around Covent Garden at an eye watering 5 miles per hour, and William Friese-Greene who invented the movies in 1889 when he patented his chronophotographic camera capable of recording moving images on celluloid.

Then we’d need to give some thought to Richard Amerike, a rich Somerset merchant who paid for John Cabot’s voyage to discover the lands to the west of Britain that now bear his surname, as was the custom in those days…America, in 1497. And what about Alexander Wilson, the father of US ornithology.

Computers were invented in 1822 by Charles Babbage in an attempt to remove human error from calculating numerical tables.

John Ross became the elected chief of the Cherokee Indian Nation from 1826 to 1866.

Another John, Stringfellow invented the first aircraft to fly under its own power in 1848

And everyone’s heard of John Ive who gave us the iPod, iMac and iPhone. If his name had been John Smith, would they have been the sPod, sMac and sPhone?

The list is almost endless: Viagra, Christmas, plastic, radar, rubber, scouting, vaccinations, the jet engine, gravity, the light bulb, vitamins, the modern Olympics and even the language you are reading this in to name but a few.

What do all these things have in common? They are all British.

We are a tiny nation by comparison to many, yet according to MITI of Japan 54% of the world’s most important inventions have been British. They have teams of people scouring through British patents looking for those that have expired so they can exploit our genius.

So despite being rather good at inventing things we don’t seem (yet) to have been able to invent a legal system to protect our inventors at a price they can afford. Consequently, a lot of wealth has been given away to countries who have, perhaps, got their priorities sorted.

When the new incoming American boss at Hovermarine Ltd, a company set up to exploit another British invention, the hovercraft, arrived he is reported to have said that we Brits “couldn’t market our way out of a paper bag.”

He’s probably right, but then, the paper bag was invented in the USA.


ABOUT RICHARD COLE

I live in Suffolk, England with my family. After teaching for years I ended up in a high octane job in London advising the UK government on educational stuff. I retired early to pursue my writing career. Now, I write and ride a ridiculously large motor cycle, although not at the same time.

more about richard cole




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