The pneumatic tyre was developed to help transform road travel and make journeys more comfortable, while reducing damage to vehicles. Its emergence can be credited to two different Scottish inventors – first Robert Thomson in the 1840s, who patented the tyre, and later John Boyd Dunlop some 40 years after, whose designs led to improvements for bicycles and later cars.
Before the 1800s, most homes, workplaces and streets were lit by candles, oil lamps or rushlights (rush plants dried and dipped in grease or fat). But these gave off a very dim light and could be smoky. In 1792, the Scottish engineer and inventor William Murdoch (1754-1839) made an extraordinary discovery which would transform not only lighting, but heating, cooking and all sorts of other activity and industry. Experimenting in his back garden in Cornwall, he found a way to produce gas, by heating coal in a closed container and collecting and cleaning the smoke. He piped the gas into his house, made holes in the pipes and lit the gas there. This produced a light much brighter and safer than from candles or oil lamps.
Today, the stethoscope is a fundamental and indispensable part of a doctor’s kit, often providing the first clues to the nature of a variety of chest complaints. But in the early 1800s, simple diagnostic tools like this had yet to be developed. The invention of the stethoscope by René Laënnec (1781 – 1826) revolutionised the capacity of the physician (doctor) to diagnose chest, heart and lung complaints.
The atmospheric engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. It was the first machine to be powered by steam and was largely used to pump water out of mines. Hundreds of these engines were made and used all over Britain and Europe in the 1700s. They became known simply as the Newcomen Engine and helped pave the way for the Industrial revolution.
James Watt’s ingenious improvements to the steam engine transformed this relatively simple technology, making it more efficient and adapting it so it could be used to turn wheels. His ideas revolutionised steam power, literally driving the industrial revolution and transforming the British landscape and the lives of its people.
The industrial printing press was one of the most influential inventions of the Age of Revolution. It allowed thousands of copies of all types of written texts and images to be printed quickly and cheaply. Pamphlets, newspapers, handbills and books could now be mass produced and distributed, spreading news, ideas, political and social campaigns, propaganda, stories, poetry and more.
The advent of steam hauled railways in the 1820s quickly revolutionised passenger travel and the transport of goods across Britain and the wider world. This is an early train ticket for a journey from Liverpool to Warrington.
John McAdam revolutionised road travel in the 1800s, through his ‘Macadamisation’ method. The greatest advance in road construction since Roman times, his principles are still applied to road building today.
The spinning mule was invented by Samuel Crompton in 1779. It revolutionised textile production by vastly increasing the amount of cotton that could be spun at any one time. But this also meant textile manufacturers no longer needed to pay individual spinners to create spindles (wooden rods) wound with cotton thread, as just one operator could now use the machine to spin hundreds of spindles at once.
Created in 1838 by inventor Louis Daguerre, this is thought to be the first ‘photograph’ of a person. The image shows a street scene from the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. In the bottom left hand corner, is a small figure – a man having his shoes shined.