• Morgan Fagg

Irish inventions that changed the world

Hank Lockman, originally from Athlone, is always sharing some wonderful insights into Ireland's past, black and white photographs of my town a century ago, a few jokes here and there and then some interesting insights about Irish culture and in this case, contributions that changed the world.

Reading this list, it makes me wonder why Americans say, "Chips" and the British say "Crisps" when everyone should clearly be saying "Taytos."


Yes the US Navy and Royal Navy pioneered the submarine of an Irish emigrant who was originally hired by the Fenians to build a device capable of sinking British ships but the idea of a sinkable ship sounds like an actual Kerryman joke that I used to be tell when I was very young.


I didn't realise the contribution that an Offaly man made on colour photography for example and am surprised that the Earl of Rosse's Levithan telescope didn't make the list. His discoveries afterall, were quite literally, out of this world.

There are many many incredible inventions that we take for granted today, some by people way ahead of their time. As an Irish emigrant, I will take delight in this list but there are many people who contributed to the world that don't always get the credit that they deserve.


Black inventors, female pioneers, and the man who helped defeat Hitler's flotilla of submarines with the world's first computer, Alan Turing, a man who was prosecuted for being a homosexual and committed suicide.


Hedy Lamarr comes to mind, an Austrian actress who made it big in America in the 1940s and is credited with enormous contributions to secure Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth for the inventions she worked on in her downtime. Lamarr was born to Jewish parents and I can imagine Nazi Germany could have used all the Albert Einsteins and Hedy Lamarrs that they could find.


Let's stick to Irish inventors only but the Irish have contributed some very combative devices such as the tank, submarine and guided missile. I'll try to focus on more lifesaving devices first and remind you that Guinness is good for you, and that I find it funny that a man named Mallet is regarded as the "Father of seismology." I guess he really hit the nail on the head with his groundbreaking discoveries.


Inventions can happen by accident such as the microwave, and by trial and error where years are spent developing cures and machines that will change our lives. Northern Ireland seems to pioneer new lifesaving devices such as the Injector Seat and Portable Defibrillator mentioned below, that have saved countless lives but I believe a soldier in Northern Ireland came up with the idea for the bomb disposal robot we know today. The idea, I believe was based on a lawnmower as he used to tie a rope to his mower and let it cut the grass in circles. We might take robotic hovers and lawnmowers for granted today but many of the break-throughs below saved lives or significantly enhanced them.


Hank Lockman was a manager for Delorean in Belfast and I secretly think he has spent the last few years taking black and white photographs of my hometown in a Delorean prototype a century ago, and discovering the background to some of these top Irish inventions. I'm pretty sure the Delorean as seen in the Back to the Future films was built in Belfast to help save the Titanic.




Top Irish inventions that changed the world.


The underwater hairdryer, the inflatable dartboard, the water proof tea bag, the parachute that opens on impact and the solar powered miner's lamp. Yes, you've all probably been told at one time or another that we, the Irish, invented the above and someone got a good laugh out of telling us.


Well. while we are well thought of around the world for our literature and arts, we are also well up there with the best when it comes to scientific discoveries and inventions.


You might be surprised at some of the weird and wonderful things that we Irish have invented.


Here are seventeen of the most surprising and influential...You'll be impressed.


1. Guinness. Ireland's most successful and recognizable export.


2. Colour photography. In 1894, John Joly from County Offaly, found a successful way of producing colour photographs from a single plate. He changed the way we see the world.


3. Trans-Atlantic calls. It’s a long way from Skype but it was an Irishman who was knighted for his work in establishing the Atlantic Telegraph Cable in 1865. Lord Kelvin Thomson helped to lay the cable which stretched from Newfoundland to Valentia in County Kerry. The 'Kelvin Scale' for measuring temperature is named after him.


4. A cure for Leprosy. Vincent Barry made this accidental and miraculous discovery while he was looking for an answer to Ireland’s tuberculosis problem. What a lucky mistake. With the catchy title of compound B663, this compound would go on to cure 15 million people of this devastating disease.


5. The modern tractor. “The Mad Mechanic” Harry Ferguson was responsible for the original Ferguson System of tractor. It was patented by the mad inventor in 1926 and is the same basic design for a modern tractor that is used today. His name lives on in the Massey Ferguson company.


6. The submarine In 1881, County Clare man, John Philip Holland was the first person to successfully launch a submarine. The first of its kind, it was called the “Fenian Ram”. By 1900 the U.S. Navy was formally commissioning the production.


7. The tank.

A British soldier from Blackrock, Dublin, came up with the prototype of the modern tank in 1911. When the then Home Secretary in Britain, Winston Churchill commissioned the design of a vehicle “capable of resisting bullets and shrapnel, crossing trenches, flattening barbed wire, and negotiating the mud of no-man’s land” this is what our Dublin boy came up with.


8. Guided missile. From Castlebar, County Mayo, Louis Brennan invented the guided missile. This stealth torpedo was used as a coastal defensive mechanism. Brennan is also credited with inventing the first helicopter. However, his prototype crashed and burnt in 1925.


9. Ejector seat. In 1945, Sir James Martin tested out his device on a dummy - a wise choice. The following year, a man called Bernard Lynch became the first live tester of the County Down man’s invention. It was soon adopted by the Royal Air force as a standard safety device.


10. Apparatus for whiskey distilling. A Dubliner named Aeneas Coffey, came up with the world first heat-exchange device in 1830. This might not sound like that big a deal but this very efficient little piece of equipment led to huge advances in distilling, including whiskey.


11.The hypodermic syringe. The hypodermic syringe was invented by Irish doctor Samuel Rynd in the 1840s. He came up with the device while treating a woman suffering from intense facial pain.


12. Tattoo machine In 1891, a successful tattoo artist named Samuel O’Reilly patented the rotary tattoo machine. Based in New York, Samuel O’Reilly was an Irish immigrant with a tattoo parlour in Chinatown.


13. Flavoured crisps We have an Irish man to thank for them. Joseph ‘Spud’ Murphy, the man behind Tayto, was the brains behind the delicacy. After much experimentation, Murphy came up with three crisp flavours – cheese & onion, barbecue and salt & vinegar. It revolutionised crisps and firms all over the world have since replicated Murphy’s innovation. (Before Murphy, the only crisp flavour you could get was “salt”, which is grim.)


14. Seismology Irish geophysicist Robert Mallet is often credited as the “father of seismology” thanks to his pioneering research into earthquakes. In addition to writing several pioneering papers that helped shape our understanding of earthquakes, Mallet also coined the words “seismology” and “epicentre”.


15. Perforated stamps When postage stamps were first invented, they were printed on rectangular sheets on paper. Scissors were required to cut stamps from the sheet. Needless to say, there were crooked edges aplenty. Henry Archer, a London-based Irish businessman and landowner, devised a perforation machine specifically designed to perforate sheets of stamps, giving that classic rippled outline that we all know and love today. The 1850 Penny Red was the first stamp to be perforated and, well, the rest is history.


16. Portable defibrillator It’s safe to say that Professor Frank Pantridge, a doctor hailing from Northern Ireland, transformed and modernised emergency medicine when he invented the emergency defibrillator. Since the initial prototype was first installed in a Belfast ambulance in 1965, emergency defibrillators have become a key first aid tool and saved countless lives. And we’ve got a Co. Down native to thank for that.


17. Rubber soles A Corkman by the name of Humphrey O’Sullivan is responsible for rubber-soled shoes. O’Sullivan worked at a printing press and found that he had sore feet after standing all day. After seeking relief by standing on rubber mats, O’Sullivan had that “Eureka!” moment and set about patenting rubber-soled shoes. In 1899, he filed the patent and our feet have been grateful ever since.




As always, I hope Hank Lockman doesn't mind me resharing his posts and maybe this list has inspired you to take a second look at the doodle you left on a post-it or to take encouragement in the fact that the post-it and penicillan were both accidental discoveries as was the microwave I mentioned earlier.


Would the microwave oven exist today if a scientist didn't have a chocolate bar in his pocket while testing microwaves? We all hate melted chocolate of course but unlike Newton's discoveries, this one wouldn't have worked well with an apple.







Hedy Lamarr: https://www.forbes.com/sites/shivaunefield/2018/02/28/hedy-lamarr-the-incredible-mind-behind-secure-wi-fi-gps-bluetooth/?sh=1a53fd4f41b7

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© 2018 by Morgan Fagg.