Science Innovation and Invention

Science, Innovation and Invention. Explore the science timeline to explore the context and intriguing connections to science and invention over the last thousand years.

  • The Royal Society
  • Laura Bassi Scientist
  • Henrietta Vansittart Engineer
  • Sarah Guppy an English Inventor
  • The Crystal Palace
  • John Wilkinson Ironmaster
  • James Watt Industrial Revolution
  • Hugh Myddleton the New River
  • James Brindley Canal Builder

Drill down into recent articles to find out more about the people and ideas that shaped scientific, technological and engineering advances in Britain.

Science is an important part of our cultural heritage. As myths gave way to experiment, what we now call technological advance took place. Instead of waiting for things to happen or for fate to unfurl her flag, humans started to seek rational explanations for phenomena, the beginning of the scientific method was born.

We want to place the science in context, science emerges in waves across the historic periods. Sometimes one aspect of science explodes into consciousness and inventions come tumbling out with the science, sometimes groups of like minded people happen to be in the same place at the same time and this sharing of ideas, results in a hub of new innovations and ideas.

I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of others behind whom were centuries of work
Henry Ford

History has shown us time and time again, that scientific discovery and invention go hand in hand and that they tend to come in bundles, moving society on in great bursts of scientific thinking. The timetable of science is important because knowing when scientific ideas emerged is important. Why? Because it influences the thinking of those who follow. Sometimes great ideas and great thinkers, turn up in the ‘wrong’ period of history. Leonardo da Vinci and his inventions, out stripped the ability of the technology to see them to fruition, e.g his design for a helicopter.

Small ideas, big impact

It is almost impossible to for see the impact and implications a scientific discovery, idea or invention will have. Nor is it possible from our perspective, to totally understand the impact it had in that period of time because we are always looking at it from a position of advancement. Things such as standardization of screw threads,

For example a simple device with big implications, the can opener.

Robert Yates Can Opener
Robert Yates Can Opener

In the 17th century a plethora of great brains emerged and great changes in science thinking took place. The new universities, the printed word, coffee houses were full of people who were exploring a new way of thinking about science. Figures such as Francis Bacon, Newton, Wren and Hooke rejected the Medieval approach to science, instead they were using direct observation, measurement and experimentation to expand their ideas.

The need to measure spurred the manufacture of fine tools and Britain was at the heart of precision tooling manufacture in the world.

The idea of sharing information led to the setting up of new institutions, the Royal Society was formed, the Greenwich Observatory, clubs such as the Lunar Society brought together great minds.

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants
Issac Newton

Science, innovation and invention
Flamsted Building Greenwich Royal Observatory

Exploration, science, innovation and invention

Exploration driven by the desire to settle and trade with new lands, demanded advances in astronomy, maths and time keeping. Being able to determine where you were on the globe led to competitions such as the Longitude Prize and so it went on. The great journeys of James Cook and the revolutionary thoughts of Charles Darwin, all pushing the frontiers of scientific knowledge.

science, innovation and invention
Voyages of Exploration. Maritime Museum Greenwich

 Medicine, science, innovation and invention

Anatomists began to apply the same principles of observation to medicine and the ‘theatres’ of anatomy were established. People struggled to understand how the human body worked and how disease was spread, the outbreaks of plague and cholera killing hundreds of thousands. Moves towards a modern approach to the spread of disease in the work of Lister and Florence Nightingale.


The Royal Society

The Royal Society

The Royal Society for the promotion of natural knowledge is one of Britain’s longest standing organisations, its members some of the worlds most brilliant minds.

Medieval Leprosy

Medieval Leprosy

Medieval leprosy was a complicated part of Medieval society. The idea of the leper as being a carrier of disease is too simplistic. The leper was a person who carried the outward mark of sin, whose purgatory on Earth would be rewarded in heaven.

Laura Bassi Scientist

Laura Bassi Scientist

Laura Bassi was born in Bologna in 1711, the same year as St Paul’s Cathedral in London was completed. Laura Maria Caterina Bassi was a brilliant and erudite young woman, born into a heady atmosphere of early 18th century Bologna, a melting pot of ideas and fusion of like minded scholars, caught in the bosom…

Henrietta Vansittart Engineer

Henrietta Vansittart Engineer

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Women Inventors, Scientists and Engineers

Henrietta Vanstittart b.1833, was a woman who seemed to flout convention. She was a self taught engineer, a married woman with a high profile lover, Edward Lytton.

Sarah Guppy an English Inventor

Sarah Guppy an English Inventor

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Women Inventors, Scientists and Engineers

Sarah Guppy an English inventor and a rare breed indeed. She was born in 1770 and developed a passion for engineering that culminated in a plethora of useful and esoteric inventions.

Smallpox Inoculation 1721

Smallpox Inoculation 1721

Smallpox is a devastating disease that holds a unique place in medical history. The foresight of people such as Lady Montague helped in it’s eradication. Many people had their lives saved due to her persistent and courageous actions before Jenner’s vaccination took over.

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1185The first recorded use of a post windmill, in Yorkshire. The first were of the sunken type.Invention Engineering
1400Oil is used as a base for paintsArt
1409St Andrew's University in Edinburgh is foundedEducation
1414First written record of an outbreak of influenza in EuropeMedical
1430First instance of a drive belt to power an engineEngineering
1434The first book on perspective is written by Leone AlbertiMathematics
1440 - 1449Gutenberg and Koster invent printing with movable typePrinting Art
1452Leonardo da Vinci born in ItalyPeople
1454Gutenberg prints the 42 line Bible in Germany using movable typePrinting Art
1455Johann Fust acquires Gutenberg's presses in repayment of a debt and is the first European to print in more than a single colourPrinting Art
1472Regiomontanus is the first person to scientifically study a comet (later to become known as Halley's comet)Astronomy
1473Michelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine ChapelArt
1473Nicolaus Copernicus is born. He was the first astronomer to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe.Astronomy
1474William Caxton prints the first book in EnglishPrinting
1490An anatomical theatre is opened in Padua ItalyMedical
1491Calandri's arithmetic text introduces the algorithm for long divisionMathematics
1492Christopher Columbus reaches the West IndiesExploration
1492Pello introduces the decimal pointMathematics
1492First globe map of the Earth made by Martin BehaimCartography
1492Da Vinci draws a flying machineInvention Flight
1494First paper mill is built in England possibly in the Meon Valley HampshirePrinting Art
1494Da Vinci draws a clock with a pendulumInvention Time
1494First printed book on algebra derived from Fibonacci's Liber abaciMathematics
1496Da Vinci invents roller bearingsInvention
1497Copernicus observes and records the occultation of a star by the moonAstronomy
1498Vasco de Gama reaches IndiaExploration
1498Venetian printer Petrucci invents a way of printing music using movable typePrinting Music
1500First appearance of the gun in the West. Da Vinci invents the wheel lock musketInvention Military
1502Henlein builds a spring driven pocket watch, the first pocket watchTime Invention
1507Cartographer Waldseemuller publishes a 1000 copies of a map on which is seen the name America appear for the first timeCartography
1514Copernicus writes his first version of his heliocentric theoryAstronomy
1514The + and - sign is introduced by mathematician Vander HoeckeMathematics
1517Fracastoro examines fossils in strata and determines they are the remains of actual organisms and also postulates that they were laid down at different times not all at once following Noah's flood.Geology
1518The Royal College of Physicians is established in LondonMedical
1519Leonardo da Vinci died in Amboise in FrancePeople
1522Cuthbert Tunstall publishes the first book on arithmetic in EnglandMathematics
1527Matteo Bresan, supervisor of the Venice Arsenal, oversaw the construction of a full-rigged sailing ship with lidded gunports, called a 'galleon.'Maritime
1530Matches first used in EuropeInvention
1530Girolamo Fracastoro identified typhus.Medical
1533A way of finding longitude is described using a mechanical clock and comparing it to sun timeTime Navigation Maritime
1535Diving bells are inventedInvention Maritime
1540Blue glass is produced by the introduction of Cobalt in the glass making processGlass Chemistry
1543Copernicus's book 'On the Revolutions of Celestial Bodies' is published, describing the notion that the Earth and other planets move around the sunAstronomy
1543Andreas Vesalius published a large collection of meticulous anatomical drawings, emphasizing especially the systems of organs.Biology
1544Cosmographia' published in Germany, the first work on world geographyGeography
1545Charles Estienne published illustrations showing the venous, arterial, and nervous systems.Biology
1546The idea that diseases are seed like and transfer from person to person is postulated for the first timeMedical
1546Tycho Brahe was born in Skane, then in Denmark, now in Sweden. His contributions to astronomy were enormous. He not only designed and built instruments, he also calibrated them and checked their accuracy periodically.Astronomy People
1546The word fossil is used for the first timeGeology
1550Tobacco is grown in Spain for the first timeBotany
1550John Napier is born. He was a Scottish mathematician, physicist, astronomer & astrologerMathematics
1551Up to date astronomical tables are published using Copernicus's theoryAstronomy
1551Theodolite is invented by Leonard DiggesMathematics Cartography Geography
1554Galileo is bornPeople
1557Discovery of PlatinumGeology
1562Gabriel Fallopio described the ovaries and uterus and the tubes connecting them.Biology
1564The horse drawn carriage is introduced to EnglandTransport
1565The potato arrives in SpainBotany
1566First seed drill is used in EuropeAgriculture
1568Mercator produces the projected map that still carries his nameCartography
1570The pinhole camera is inventedPhotography
1571Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician, astronomer, and astrologer. A key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution, he is best known for his laws of planetary motionAstronomy People
1578Mathematician and innkeeper William Bourne designs an underwater rowing boat, covered in waterproof leather. The design is never built.Maritime
1582Pope Gregory reforms the calender it becomes the Gregorian calenderTime
1583Cesalpino, in De Plantis, classified plants with seeds according to the number, position, and shape of the parts of their fruitBotany
1583Galileo discovered by experiment that the oscillations of a swinging pendulum took the same amount of time regardless of their amplitude.Physics
1586Stevinus performs the key experiment on gravity, dropping 2 differently weighted obects at the same time and noting that they strike the ground at the same timePhysics
1586Walter Raleigh introduces the smoking of tobacco into England
1589William Lee invents the knitting machine.Invention Textiles
1590Janssen invents the compound microscope, combined double convex lenses in a tube, producing the first telescope.Invention
1590Galileo refute Aristotelian physicsPhysics
1591Snowflakes are first described as being six sided or six pointedPhysics
1596Andreas Cellarius was a Dutch-German cartographer, best known for his Harmonia Macrocosmica of 1660, a major star atlasCartography Astronomy People
1600The first tretise based on experimental science is published. It relates static electricity and describes the Earth as a magnet. William Gilbert 'Concerning Magnetism'Physics
1601Tycho Brahe, astronomer diesAstronomy People
1602Tycho Brahe's 'Introduction to the New Astronomy' is published posthumously.Astronomy
1603Hugh Platt discovers coke
1604Johannes Kepler describes how the eye focuses lightPhysics
1604Kepler observes and descrobes a supernovaAstronomy
1605Francis Bacon, with the Advancement of Learning, began the publication of his philosophical works, in which he urged collaboration between the inductive and experimental methods of proofPeople Methodology
1608Hans Lippershey invents the telescopeAstronomy Physics
1609Galileo built a telescope with which he discovered the mountains on the moon, that the Milky Way consisted of innumerable stars, the four largest satellites of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, and sunspots.Astronomy
1611Scientific explanation of the rainbowPhysics
1614John Napier explains the nature of logarithms and produces tables and rules for their useMathematics
1616William Harvey lectures about the circulation of the blood to the Royal College of PhysiciansMedical
1616Galileo is warned by Cardinal Bellarmine that he should not defend the Copernican doctrinePhysics
1617John Napier describes the device for multiplying that becomes known as Napier's rodsMathematics
1620Cornelius Drebbel builds a navigable submarine that can carry 24 people. Tested on the River Thames.Maritime
1623Binomial names used to describe first the genus and second the genusBiology
1623Blaise Pascal is born. He was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He invented a calculating machineMathematics
1625Giovanni Domenico Cassini studied mathematics and astronomy at the Jesuits and became professor of astronomy at BolognaAstronomy People
1627The aurochs, the wild ancestor of domestic cattle, becomes extinctBiology
1629Giovanni Branca describes a steam turbine in which steam is directed at the vanes of a wheelInventions
1629Pierre de Fermat discovered that the equation f(x,y)=0 represents a curve in thexy-plane. This is the fundamental principle of analytic geometryMathematics
1631The Vernier Scale is invented for precise measurementsInventions
1633The Roman Catholic Inquisition forces Galileo to recant his Copernican viewAstronomy
1635Robert Hooke, natural philosopher, inventor, architect, chemist, mathematician, physicist, engineer. Robert Hooke is one of the most neglected natural philosophers of all time. The inventor of, amongst other things, the iris diaphragm in camerasPhysics People Chemistry
1639William Gascoigne unvents the micrometer. It is placed in the focus of a telescope and used to measure the angular distance between starsInvention Astronomy
1642Pascal invents a calculating machineMathematics
1642Isaac Newton is born in WoolsthorpePeople
1643Torricelli makes the first barometer and in doing so the first vacuum known to scienceInvention
1647Denis Papin was born. He was a French physicist, mathematician and inventor, best known for his pioneering invention of the forerunner of the steam engine, and of the pressure cooker.Invention Mathematics People
1650Invention of the air pump to create vacuumsInvention
1652Thomas Bartholin discovered the lymphatic system and determined its relation to the circulatory system.Biology
1656Edmund Halley is born. After a famous meeting with Wren and Hooke, he visited Newton in Cambridge, and hearing about his work on gravitation, persuaded him to publish it. In 1703 he became professor of astronomy at Oxford, and in 1720 astronomer-royal. He computed the orbits of several comets, and deduced that those of 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were periodic returns of the same body.Astronomy People
1658Robert Hooke invents the the balance spring for watchesInvention
1658Jan Swammerdam is the first to see and describe red blood cellsBiology
1661Robert Boyle, in the Sceptical Chymist, separated chemistry as corpuscles, from alchemy, as qualities, and gave the first precise definitions of a chemical element, a chemical reaction, chemical analysis, and made studies of acids and bases.Chemistry
1662Robert Boyle asserts that in an ideal gas under constant temperature volume and pressure vary inverselyChemistry
1664Isaac Newton discovers the binomial theoremMathematics
1665Robert Hooke compares light waves to water wavesPhysics
1665Isaac Newton invents the first form of calculus. He also discovers that white light is a mixture of colours and develops his first law of universal gravitationPhysics
1665Grimaldi, in 'Physico-Mathesis de lumine, coloribus, et eride', discovered that light going through a fine slit cannot be prevented from spreading on the farther side, a phenomena which he named 'diffraction' and postulated was caused by its wave-like motion.Physics
1665Robert Hooke, in Micrographia, named and gave the first description of cellsBiology
1665Cassini, while attempting to map Jupiter, discovered the Great Red SpotAstronomy
1666First blood transfusion between two animals (dogs) is demonstratedBiology
1666Robert Boyle in 'The Origin of Forms and Quantities' suggests that everything is made up of atomsChemistry
1668Isaac Newton invents the reflecting telescopePhysics
1668John Wallis is the first to suggest the law of conservation of momentumPhysics
1670Robert Boyle produced hydrogen by reacting metals with acid.Physics
1676Hookes Law. Hooke found that the stretch of a spring varies directly with it's tensionPhysics
1678Edmond Halley returned from St. Helena where he had added 341 stars to the southern hemisphere catalogue with the aid of a telescope.Astronomy
1679Denis Papin devised a vessel in which the boiling point of water is raised by an increase in steam pressure.Physics
1679Binary maths is introduced by LeibnizMathematics
1680Minute hands on clocks are introducedTime
1684Wren, Hooke, Halley and Newton discuss the laws of movement of the planets. This leads Newton to begin the task of writing his ideas down in what will become 'Principia'Physics
1686Newton presents his first volume of 'Principia'Physics
1691Robert Boyle diedPeople
1691First textbook on bones of the human body is published by Clopton HaversBiology
1693Edmund Halley discovered the formula for the focus of a lensPhysics
1693John Harrison was born. He was a carpenter and clockmaker. He invented the marine chronometerMaritime Time People
1698Thomas Savery patented an engine which produced a vacuum by condensing steam. The engine is used for pumping water out of mines, it is known as the 'Miners Friend'Invention Engineering
1701Jethro Tull invents the machine drill for planting seedsInvention Agriculture
1703Robert Hooke diesPeople
1704Isaac Newton's 'Optics' publishedPhysics
1705Proof that sound needs air to travel. Francis Hauksbee shows that sound cannot travel in a vacuumPhysics
1705Posthumous lecture by Hooke suggesting that earthquakes might change the face of the surface of the EarthGeology
1707Papin modifies Thomas Savery's steam pumpInventions
1709Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit constructed an alcohol thermometerPhysics
1709Abraham Derby introduces the use of coke for iron smeltingIndustrial Revolution
1710Jacob Le Bon invents 3 colour printingInvention Printing
1712Flamsteed's publishes first volume of his star catalogueAstronomy
1712Thomas Newcomen builds the first practical steam engine to use both a piston and a cylinderInvention Engineering
1714British parliament set up the Board of Longitude. The two competing methods were astronomical calculation, which meant plotting the position of the moon against known stars, and by chronometer, which meant timing the position against a known land longitude.Maritime
1718Mary Wortley Montagu publicized the use of inoculation against smallpox in Turkey.Medical
1712Astronomer Cassini diedPeople
1713Physicist Francis Hauksbee diedPeople
1713Revised edition of Newton's 'Principia' is published, it contains the famous General ScholiumPhysics
1714Fahrenheit builds a mercurythermometerPhysics
1714British Board of Longitude set upMaritime
1715John Harrison constructs an 8 day clockTime Maritime
1718Halley discovers proper motion of fixed stars, i.e apparent motion with respect to other fixed starsAstronomy
1718Mary Wortley Montagu publicized the use of inoculation against smallpox in Turkey.Medical
1719John Flamsteed died in GreenwichPeople
1720George Graham invents the deadbeat escapement for clocksTime Invention
1721George Graham invents the mercury compensating pendulum for clocksTime Invention
1723Sir Christopher Wren diedPeople
1724Gabriel Fahrenheit describes the super cooling of waterPhysics
1730Otto Muller is among the first to observe bacteria and to classify themBiology
1730First tracheotomy for the treatment of diptheriaMedical
1730George Brandt discovered cobalt.Chemistry
1733John Kat patented his 'Flying Shuttle'Industrial Revolution
1735John Harrison builds his first marine chronometer known as Number 1Maritime Time
1735Linnaeus 'System of Nature' the system of classification of organisms still in use todayBiology Botany
1736Work on sea salt identifies the 2 salts sodium and potassiumChemistry
1736James Watt was born. He was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial RevolutionInventor Industrial Revolution
1737Linnaeus explains his classification method and classifies 18,000 species of plantsBotany
1737Pierre Fournier introduces the point system for measuring type sizesPrinting
1738Charles Dangeau de Labelye develops the caisson, a device for building tunnels and bridgesEngineering
1741Jethro Tull diedAgriculture
1742Benjamin Huntsman introduces the crucible process for molten steelIndustrial Revolution
1742Celcius developed the centigrade temperature scale which carries his name.Physics
1742Edmund Halley astronomer diedAstronomy
1743Christopher Pack draws the first geological mapCartography
1744Benjamin Franklin invents the Franklin stoveInvention
1746The lead chamber process for making sulfuric acid is invented by John Roebuck in EnglandInvention Chemistry
1746William Watson's experiments on the nature of electricity is publishedPhysics
1748John Wilkinson builds the first blast furnace in Bilston UKIndustrial Revolution
1748Bradley announced that there were tiny deviations in the Earth's axis caused by the pull of the Moon.Astronomy
1749Vaughn patents radial ball bearings for carriage axilsInventions Engineering
1749Benjamin Franklin installs a lightening conductor on his homePhysics
1751Linnaeus rejects any idea of evolutionBiology
1751The first mental health institute is opened in LondonMedical
1751Benjamin Franklin describes electricity as a fluid and distinguishes between + and - electricity. He also shows that electricity can magnetize and demagnetize iron needlesPhysics
1752Britain adopts the Gregorian calender
1752Benjamin Franklin demonstrates his kite experiment to show that lightening is a form of electricityPhysics
1754Henry Cort builds his first iron rolling mill at Funtley in Hampshire UKIndustrial Revolution
1757John Wilkinson patents a hydraulic blowing machine that uses waterpower to drive bellowsIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1758British Imperial Standards are introducedMethodology
1758Jedediah Strutt invents the ribbing machine for the manufacture of stockingsInvention Industrial Revolution
1759James Brindley builds the first canal that crosses a river on an aqueductCanals Engineering
1759John Harrison completes marine chronometer Number 4Maritime
1760Royal Botanical Gardens open at KewBotany
1761John Rennie builds Waterloo BridgeBridges Engineering
1762James Bradley completes a new star catalogue measuring the position of 60,000 starsAstronomy
1764James Hargreaves invents the 'Spinning Jenny'Invention Textiles
1765John Harrison receives the Longitude prizeMaritime
1765James Watt builds a model of a steam engine in which the condenser is separated from the cylinderIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1766Matthew Boulton founds the Lunar SocietyOrganisations
1767Joseph Priestly writes 'The history and present state of electricity' He has met Franklin who encouraged him to write this and he included Franklin's kite experimentPhysics
1768Captain Cook begins the first of his three voyages to the PacificExploration Astronomy Maritime
1768Euler proposed that the wave length of light determines its color.Physics
1769Richard Arkwright patents the 'Water Frame' spinning machineIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1771The Smeatonian Club for engineers is founded in LondonOrganisations
1772Cook's voyages announce there is no large southern continent except AustraliaExploration
1772Daniel Rutherford described nitrogen, which he called 'residual air.'Chemistry
1773Priestly discovered sulphur dioxide, ammonia, and 'dephlogisticated air' which was later named OxygenChemistry
1774John Wilkinson patents a precision cannon borerIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1775James Watt obtains a patent for his version of the steam engineIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1776John Wilkinson uses a steam engine to create a blast of air in a blast furnaceIndustrial Revolutions Inventions
1776John Harrison clockmaker diedPeople
1777Bushnel invents the torpedoInventions
1778John Wilkinson invents the turning latheIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1779Lavoisier proposes name oxygen for the part of the air responsible for combustionChemistry
1779Samuel Compton develops the 'Spinning Mule'Industrial Revolution Inventions
1779Abraham Derby builds the first iron bridge at CoalbrookdaleIndustrial Revolution
1781Priestly ignited hydrogen in oxygen obtaining waterChemistry
1781Richard Arkwright builds the first factoryIndustrial Revolution Textiles
1781James Watt patents a way to change the power produced by a steam engine from a back and forth motion to a rotary motionIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1782James Watt patents a double acting steam engineIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1783Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Étienne Montgolfier invented the first practical hot air balloonInventions Flight
1784Cavendish announces the composition of waterChemistry
1784Henry Cort invents the puddling method of turning coke smelted iron into wrought ironIndustrial Revolution Inventions
1784Benjamin Franklin invents bifocal glassesInvention
1784Andrew Meikle invents the threshing machineInvention Agriculture
1785Edmund Cartwright invents a power loomInvention Industrial Revolution Textiles