Ireland has a long history of great innovators and inventors you may not be aware of. To celebrate St Patrick’s day, here are 6 important ones.
When people think of Irish inventions, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Guinness. And while it’s a fine invention enjoyed the world over (approximately 11 million pints per day), it’s not nearly as important as some of the other contributions which Ireland has made to science and society. So to celebrate my (partial) Irish heritage, here are a couple which everyone should feel lucky for having the Irish:
1. Submarines – 1881
John Philip Holland developed the first manned submarine design in County Clare, called the Holland 1. The first design was for a model called the Feniam Ram in 1881, but didn’t have the capabilities needed for extended travel underwater.
It wasn’t until 1897 when a privately-designed enhanced version with both an electric and gasoline motor showed extended periods underwater were possible that the US Navy commissioned Holland for a model. After extensive testing, this became the Holland 1, commissioned on 12 October 1900.
2. Pneumatic Tyres – 1887
Many people know that John Dunlop developed the first pneumatic tyres in 1887, and it’s a lovely story. Dunlop first did it with his son’s tricycle, which until then had metal wheels and were very uncomfortable, by fitting a rubber garden hose around one of the wheels, filling it with air and sealing it. What Dunlop found though was that when he rolled the wheel with a rubber ring through the garden, it travelled much further than the purely metal wheel. He then created designs for bicycles which proved the superiority of pneumatic tyres to the wider public, before finally creating versions for the newly-emerging car market.
While Dunlop was born in Scotland, most of his achievements including his work on the tyre happened while living in Downpatrick, Ireland. What you may also not know is that this invention happened independently and 40 years after of Robert William Thomson also developing and patenting the pneumatic tyre in 1847 in France. It was however Dunlop who managed to commercialise his version more successfully.
3. Chemistry – 1661
What is Ireland’s greatest contribution to science? I would say it comes from Robert Boyle, who is regarded as one of the founders of modern Chemistry and the experimental Scientific Method. His publication of the seminal book The Sceptical Chymist in 1661 introduced many people to the idea that all matter was made of atoms and that their clusters in the form of molecules. This theory came at a time when many people still believed in Aristotle’s theory that everything was made up of four elements (air, fire, earth, water) and three principles (salt, sulphur and mercury).
This proved to be the foundation of subsequent scientific methods which relied of evidence-based experimentation, which led to many subsequent breakthroughs in the discovery of elements and how they interact. He even has his own law, Boyle’s Law, which governs the relationship between pressure and volume of a gas.
4. Colour Photography (1894) AND Radiotherapy (1914)
What have these two, very different innovations have in common with each other? They were created by the same person, John Joly. Joly is best known in the scientific community for his work with radioactive materials, not only with the development of Radiotherapy for cancer but also using Radium as a method to date the earth using radioactive decay, producing results which are still in line with modern calculations.
But in addition to his work with radiation, he was a bit of a renaissance man, also helping to develop a photometer for measuring light intensity, a meldometer for measuring the melting points of minerals, a differential steam calorimeter for measuring specific heats and a constant-volume gas thermometer, all of which bear his name, together with one of the first color photographic processes, the Joly Colour process.
5. The work of Lord William Thomson Kelvin – 1860
Lord William Thomson Kelvin was another scientist who had a hand in a whole host of various scientific developments and innovations. Kelvin is perhaps best known for his work on the understanding on the laws of thermodynamics, and specifically the relationship between temperature and energy. This ultimately led to the Kelvin scale, the scientific measure of temperature still used today which correctly predicted a temperature of absolute zero at approximately -273.15 degrees Celsius.
Much like Joly, Kelvin also had a hand in a number of other important innovations. He developed the design of a mariner’s compass which tremendously improved reliability while at sea. But it was his work in helping to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable between Newfoundland and County Cork in 1865 for which he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
6. Tractor – 1926
Scientific breakthroughs are one thing, but sometimes some innovations are all about fundamental hard work. Harry Ferguson revolutionised agriculture with his design for the modern tractor, specifically the three-point hitch system. This simple innovation substantially improved the effectiveness of ploughing ability, and therefore the amount of land available for farming. The design is still the industry standard today.
What were your favorite Irish innovations? Which ones should we have included? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to sign up your name and email in the form below to get innovations insights delivered right to your inbox every week.