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T GREAT OUR INVENTIONS INVENTIONS; New book challenges some accepted facts.

Terry Breverton is a former businessman, consultant and academic who has won the Welsh Books Council Book of the Month award five times. He has presented documentaries on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel and has appeared on around 20 other TV programmes on pirates and privateers. Here he takes a look at the great traditions of invention in Wales MY book challenges some of the accepted facts about the most important inventions and discoveries from the beginnings of history to the present day.

For instance, one would think that the invention of buttons enabled us to develop today's clothing, but in fact it was the unknown 13th-century inventor of the button-hole that allowed this.

Even when we come to 'known' inventors or discoverers, sometimes they are 'standing on the shoulders of giants, following on from a long line of original thinkers.

In other cases, the wrong inventor has been attributed because he or she was better at innovating or marketing, or simply better-known.

In my book, you will surprisingly read about the Welshman Professor Daniel Merlin Pryce (1902-1976) of Treoed-y-Rhiw, Glamorgan, and the discovery of Penicillium notatummould in 1928, not Alexander Fleming, and of the men and women who developed penicillin, the antibiotic agent which has saved millions of lives. And the genius Nikola Tesla, carrying on the work of the London-born Welshman David Hughes (1831-1900), was really responsible for the invention of the radio in 1892 in America, not the commonly attributed Marconi.

Equally, Joseph Swan, not Thomas Edison developed the electric light bulb. There are at more than 20 great ideas which changed today's world, which have been re-attributed in this text.

Some entries are longer than others, such as that on the unknown, yet prolific, geniuses David Hughes and Richard Trevithick of Cornwall. This usually always been carried out in the interest of 'putting the record straight.' Wales was once the heart of the Industrial Revolution, where the world's first steam locomotive ran on rails at Penydarren, Merthyr Tydfil in 1804. Trevithick's engine hauled ten tons of steel for over none miles, a quarter of a century before Stevenson's Rocket. Wales led the world in copper, coal, iron, steel and tin technologies.

In North Wales, we can still see in operation the first modern suspension bridge in the world, Telford's Menai Suspension Bridge of 1826.

Also in North Wales, Richard Roberts of Llanymynech was responsible for the development of high precision machine tools from 1817. Roberts was possibly the world's most important mechanical engineer of the 19th century.

He innovated and manufactured gas meters, water meters, gear-cutting machines, metal planers, letterpresses, metal-turning lathes, screw-cutters, power looms, shapers, railway locomotives, milling machines, punches and engines.

The inventions and innovations of this uneducated man are astounding to anyone who understands mechanical engineering. His primary contribution was the introduction of improved machine tools and standard manufacturing techniques, without which high standards of accuracy could not be achieved. This laid the foundation of production engineering, leading to the interchangeabilityof standard parts and mass production.

Mail order and mail order catalogues are always presented as an American invention, but Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones of Newtown was 11 years earlier in 1861. The advent of a national postal service from 1840, and the arrival of railways in Newtown from 1859, helped Pryce-Jones turn his flannel shop in Newtown into a global company. He decided to send out promotional leaflets, from which people could choose what they wanted, and Pryce-Jones would then dispatch them by post and train.

By 1880, he had more than 100,000 customers and his success was acknowledged by Queen Victoria in 1887 with a knighthood. His massive Royal Welsh warehouse still looms over Newtown.

Pryce Jones changed the nature of retailing and shopping across the world. Internet shopping has damaged catalogue shopping in the last decade or so, but the underlying principle of internet marketing is the same. One of his thousands of products was the world's first sleeping bag, an all-in-one rug, shawl, blanket and pillow. Records show that they were used in the Australian outback, the Congo jungle, and by armies across Europe.

Again, few realise that the steam engine was invented at Raglan Castle in 1641 by Lord Herbert, 2ndMarquess of Worcester.

Unfortunately, his huge fortune was lost in supporting the Royalists in the Civil War, but there is evidence that he had a steam pump in operation before war broke out in 1641.

He was later too impoverished to innovate his invention. 'Worcester''s engine' was granted a patent in 1663, with Somerset calling it his 'water commanding' engine, as its function was to raise water.

Somerset never made a penny out of his machine, but the idea was again taken up more than half a century later by Thomas Savery, who probably read about it in Somerset''s 1655 book, and is usually credited with being the inventor of the steam engine.

The steam engine was the driving force of the Industrial Revolution across the world.

Also in South Wales, Robert Recorde of Tenby had invented the equals sign in 1557. A mathematician, merchant, doctor of medicine, navigator, teacher, metallurgist, cartographer, inventor and astronomer, Recorde's textbooks and their translations were studied across the Western world.

Other Welshmen who have made the world a different place include Swansea's Sir William Grove (1811-1896), the inventor of the fuel cell in 1838.

His battery had a much higher voltage and, with low internal resistance, and a stronger current than any previous battery. Instead of harmful gases, 'Grove cells' produce water, and are being used in a new generation of hydrogen-powered cars, backed by US Government funding. Fuel cells were used by NASA to power onboard systems for its Apollo and Shuttle space programmes, and Grove is known as 'The Father of the Fuel Cell',overseeing the genesis of a 'clean' power source.

The previously mentioned David Edward Hughes invented the printing telegraph system (teleprinter) in 1856-59, and the carbon microphone vital to telephony and broadcasting in 1877.

He invented the induction balance (1878), the metal detector (1878), the world's first radio wave transmission (1879) and the technology of powder coating (1879). Hughes is a prime example of an unknown inventor, a polymath and the first man to transmit and receive radio waves.

His inventions were vital to telephony and later to broadcasting and sound recording. Hughes refused to take out patents, but gave the invention to the world.

Shamefully, modern historians still ascribe the Origin of the Species theory to Darwin, but Alfred Russell Wallace of Usk near Monmouth(1823-1913) was the true discoverer. Darwin quickly used Wallace's theory as the framework for his own research. The modern steel industry also owes its origins to Welshmen.

Ebbw Vale's George Parry invented the 'basic Bessemer process' of steel production in 1856, selling the patent to Henry Bessemer. In 1877, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas (1850-1885) and his cousin Percy Gilchrist (1851-1935) invented the 'Thomas process' at Blaenfaon.

This was later sold to Carnegie and renamed the 'Carnegie process', revolutionising steel manufacture across the world. In 1896, the world's first powered flight was carried out by Bill Frost of Saundersfoot (1848-1935), seven years before the Orville Wright flight. Frost desperately and unsuccessfully sought governmental funding for his patented aircraft, understanding its potential. We can see that over the centuries, the Welsh have made an outstanding contribution to scientific development and discovery. ? Breverton's Encyclopedia of Inventions - a compendium of technological leaps, groundbreaking discoveries and scientific breakthroughs that changed the world. Quercus April 2012 pounds 9.99 hardback


Terry Breverton's book looks at inventions such as Telford's suspension bride, main and inset left, Trevithick high pressure steam engine, inset centre, and Grove''s fuel cell, inset right
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Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 9, 2012
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