Return to Appendix One Index
Appendix Nine - Old Inventions
As noted in the Historical Background by the time the railway arrived on the scene most of the crucial materials and technologies were already in place.
Bricks, ropes and netting date from the stone age, pottery dates back over seven thousand years, plumbing was introduced four thousand years ago and sailing ships were at sea over three thousand years ago. The Egyptians were building canals (mainly for irrigation) over five hundred years before Christ and the pulley was invented at about this time.
By the time of the Greeks most simple machines such as pulleys, inclined planes, wooden-toothed gears and the screw thread were well understood and complex machines such as the weaving loom were in widespread use. The wheel, writing and the paper to write on were all available over two thousand years ago and at about that time the Chinese invented the wheel-barrow (it took eight hundred years to reach Europe).
By the time of the Romans glass was available in Europe, the Romans invented the lathe, devised the crane and built pumps capable of lifting water to considerable heights. It was around this time that coins came into use and the Chinese invented the pound lock for use on their inland waterways.
Things in Europe slowed almost to a halt for the next thousand years or so, although the Arabs were busy developing the modern form of mathematics. Spectacles were developed in Italy in about 1300 (based on work done by the Arabs) and clockwork with the associated (portable) clock was developed in about 1430. The spirit level was invented in about 1573, early types used water but the modern spirit filled type was developed in 1681.
Time keeping improved, at least for stationary clocks, when Galileo invented the pendulum in 1582 and the liquid-in-glass thermometer was invented in 1654. It took a while for anyone to work out a standard scale for thermometers, an Englishman by the name of Robert Hooke used melting ice for the zero in the 1660's but when the Dutchman D. G. Fahrenheit devised his standard scale of temperature in 1717 (based on melting ice mixed with salt and the temperature of human blood) it soon became the international standard. In 1742 a Swedish astronomer called Anders Celsius devised a scale based on melting ice and boiling water in 1742 but he had the scale running from 100 degrees in the ice to zero in the boiling water. This scale was subsequently reversed and with its hundred divisions between the two points it was named centigrade. In 1942 the name changed by international agreement to degrees Celsius to avoid confusion with the angular measure also known as centigrade.
Meanwhile Blaize Pascal had devised the barometer in the 1640's, enabling the first meteorological observations of air pressure and altitude determination (the English scientist Robert Boyle coined the name barometer in 1665).
The Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich in 1762 (this allowed him to continue playing cards whilst eating) and the cork-screw was devised in the seventeenth century, providing the vital accompaniment.