Mechanical engineering history timeline

Engineering has been an integral factor throughout history, from the first boats to present day projects to improve renewable energy, and a crucial instrument of change and development.

Timelining the major dates and their associated achievements helps us to plot the progress of society, through invention and technical developments.

Hover to the left of images to go backwards, right to go forwards.

Or find out more about our history, the history of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Timeline of mechanical engineering history as a list

2014 - Aeroboat

Propelled by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engine that powered Britain's Spitfires to victory in World War II: the yacht designers, Claydon Reeves, also based the boat’s design on the ‘sleek lines’ of the famous fighter planes. It can ‘fly’ like a jet across water at 109mph. The boat costs £3 million.

2013 - Supersub

2013 - Large Hadron Collider

2012-2013 - Synthetic meat

The meat is grown from stem cells, marking the first step for a possible revolution in meat production. However, taste tests (2013) and costs currently limit the project.

2012-2013 - Electric vehicle stations

As of December 2012, there were around 50,000 non-residential slow charging points and about 2,000 fast chargers deployed in the U.S., Europe, Japan and China. As of March 2013, the United States had 5,678 public charging stations across the country with 16,256 public charging points. As of November 2012, about 15,000 charging stations had been installed in Europe

The world's top-selling highway-capable all-electric cars are the Nissan Leaf, with global sales of over 71,000 units by mid July 2013.

2012 - Sound barrier broken by body

Skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks the sound barrier without the use of a vehicle, diving 24.23 miles and reaching a speed of 843.598 mph.

2010 - Project Bloodhound

2009 - McLaren new supercar

The design for the McLaren MP4-12C supercar marks the first car fully designed and built by the company in over a decade. Car launched 2011.

2008 - Crossrail

2008 - Carbon capture and storage

First pilot plant.

2007 - Stem cells

James Thomson and Shinya Yamanaka convert human skin into stem cells, previously the cells had to be harvested from human embryos.

2007 - Solar Atlantic Crossing

Sun21 completes the first solar-powered crossing of the Atlantic Ocean taking 29 days.

2007 - Skysails

SkySails is piloted on cargo ships.  A 160 metre square kite, controlled by computers, its makers believe it could cut the fuel costs of cargo ships by 10 to 35 per cent.

2006 - Water 'creation'

Aqua Sciences develop technology to extract water from the atmosphere.  The device works virtually anywhere that is inhabited by human beings, delivering clean water for drinking, industry etc.

2006 - Turbosteamer

BMW develops prototype turbosteamer technology.  It converts 80 per cent of exhaust heat into power.

2006 - Institution of Mechanical Engineers first female CE

IMechE appoint Ruth Spellman Chief Executive.

2006 - Cosmoplane test flight

Russia’s Institute of Applied Mechanics developed a new aircraft: it takes off and lands like an ordinary plane, but it behaves like a spacecraft for the rest of the flight. The aerospace craft is expected to fly at heights between 100-200 kilometres and with speed as high as 30 thousand kilometres per hour. It takes the vehicle 20 minutes to fly from Moscow to Paris and 50 minutes to New York. The cosmoplane uses hypersonic engines fuelled by oxygen and hydrogen. Tests of plane’s 1:25 scale model by institute’s experts proved to be successful.

2004-2010 - Graphene

2004 - Injection by soundwave

SonoPrep is invented by bioengineer Robert Langer.  The device delivers medication by sound waves rather than injection.

2003 - Hybrid electric vehicle

The Renault Kangoo is produced.  It is the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, which can be recharged from the mains, and does not require conventional fuel for short trips.

2003 - Clear Skies

The Clear Skies renewable energy grant scheme is launched in the UK.

2002 - Scramjet

The HyShot supersonic ramjet (scramjet) makes its first successful flight at Mach 7.6, over seven times the speed of sound.  It is a jet engine powered by oxygen which is taken from the atmosphere as it flies, compressed and mixed with a small amount of hydrogen to produce an explosion.

2002 - Hydrogen fuel car

General Motors reveal the Hy-Wire, a revolutionary concept car powered by hydrogen fuel cells.  It is controlled electronically, removing the need for steering wheels, pedals and other traditional features of the automobile.

2002 - Falkirk Wheel opens

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in Scotland. It connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.

2001 - Segway PT

The two wheeled, self-balancing, electric vehicle is unveiled by inventor Dean Kamen.

2000 - Blyth wind farm

Blyth offshore wind farm, the first in the UK, opens off the Northumberland coast.  Its 2MW turbines are the largest offshore turbines in the world.

1999 - Millennium Wheel

The Millennium Wheel is hoisted into position, transforming the London skyline.

1998 - Robot assisted heart bypass

The first robot assisted heart bypass operation is performed by Dr. Ralph Damiano at Pennsylvania State Hospital, USA.

1998 - International Space Station

Work begins on the ISS, a collaboration between the USA, Canada, Russia, Europe and Japan.

1998 - Formula Student

Formula Student is launched, one of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers most popular events.  Teams of students design and build a single-seater racing car, which then faces three days of endurance tests and scrutiny by professional engineers and industry experts.

1997 - Thrust SSC

Thrust SSC sets the land speed record, reaching 763.044 mph. It is the first car to officially break the sound barrier, it is jet-propelled. Designed by Richard Noble and driven by Andy Green.

1997 - The Institution of Mechanical Engineers first female President

The IMechE's 150th anniversary is marked by the appointment of its first female President, Pam Liversidge.

1997 - Mars probe

1997 - Kyoto Protocol

55 nations agree to binding obligations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, aviation and shipping are excluded. The USA refuses to sign.

1997 - Hybrid automobile

The Toyota Prius is the first mass-produced hybrid automobile.  It goes on sale in Japan in 1997, and is introduced worldwide in 2001.

1997 - Deep Blue

IBM's super computer beats Russian world chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov. Marking the first defeat of a human by a machine in chess.

1996 - Solar crossing of Pacific

Kenichi Horie completes the first solar powered crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

1995 - Space walking Briton

Dr Michael Foale performs the first space walk by a British-born American citizen.

1995 - M-theory

A new universal theory of everything is proposed by Edward Witten, uniting attempts to reconcile gravity with quantum physics (string theories). Witten's theory is championed by Stephen Hawkin, but remains incomplete.

1995 - GPS

Conceived by Roger Easton, GPS (Global Positioning System) measures time and location in all weathers using a network of satellites.

1995 - Fermat's Last Theorem

358 years after it is conceived, Pierre de Fermat theorem (or conjecture) is proved by Andrew Wiles. Famously Fermat placed it in the margin of a copy of Arithmetica but he claimed he had a proof that was too large to fit in the margin. It states that, no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two.

1994 - GM crops

Genetically modified crops, supposedly more resistant to disease and faster growing, are introduced.

1993 - Fuel cell bus

The first bus powered by a fuel cell is completed.

1993 - Dyson vacuums founded

Bagless vacuum cleaners are produced by James Dyson's new company. In 2005 they become the market leader in the USA. 

1991 - UK wind farm

Delabole wind farm opens, the first in the UK.

1991 - First Briton in space

Helen Sharman is the first Briton is space, on-board the Soviet space capsule, Soyuz TM-12.

1990-1994 - Channel Tunnel

Construction workers drilling the Channel Tunnel meet in the middle, physically joining the UK to Europe for the first time in the modern age. The Channel Tunnel is formally opened by the Queen and the French President Francois Mitterrand in 1994.

1990 - Hubble Space Telescope

1989-1990 - World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee invents the web, a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via a web browser.

1987 - World Solar Challenge

The World Solar Challenge is founded.  It is a biannual solar-powered car race, run over 1877 miles from Darwin to Adelaide.  The first winner reaches a speed of 42mph.

1984 - Thames Barrier opens

The 520 metre barrier completes construction, aiming to prevent flooding from rising tides and storm surges.

1984 - Macintosh launched

Apple Computer launch the first commercially successful computer to use a mouse and graphical user interface.

1983 - Sonic toothbrush

Philips invent the sonic toothbrush.

1983 - Maglev

The world's first maglev (magnetically levitating) train begins operating in the UK as a shuttle between Birmingham airport and Birmingham International Railway Station, it is replaced a few years later.

1982 - Volkswagen photovoltaic arrays

Volkswagen began testing photovoltaic arrays mounted on the roofs of vehicles.

1981-1988 - Stealth aircraft

The US F-117A Nighthawk is the first aircraft to use stealth capability.  It is produced by Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Co. The maiden flight for the type was conducted in 1981, and it achieved initial operating capability status in October 1983. The F-117 was "acknowledged" and revealed to the world in November 1988.

1981-1984 - 3D printing (additive manufacturing)

In 1981, the first published account of a printed solid model was made by Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute. However, the man most often credited with inventing the 3D printer is Charles W. Hull, who first patented the term 'stereolithography' (defined as "system for generating three-dimensional objects by creating a cross-sectional pattern of the object to be formed") in 1984.

1981 - Space shuttle

Space Shuttle Columbia is launched, the first space shuttle flight.  It is also the first time that solid rocket fuels are used in a US manned launch.

1981 - Solar One

Solar One is completed.  The 126 acre pilot solar-thermal project produces 10MW using 1818 mirrors or heliostats.  The heliostats concentrate the suns rays on a collector tower, which transfers the energy to a substance which stores the heat for later use.

1980 - Rubik cube

The Hungarian architect Erno Rubik's cube goes on sale, the 3D twisting cube becomes the best selling toy of all time.

1979 - Bileaflet heart valve

1978 - Village photovoltaic system

The world's first village photovoltaic system is installed at Papago Indian Reservation, Schuchuli, Arizona.

1978 - Regenerative braking

David Arthurs develops the regenerative braking system.

1976 - Concorde

The first Concorde jets carrying commercial passengers take off simultaneously from London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio de Janeiro.

1975 - North Sea pipeline

The North Sea pipeline is opened, bringing ashore 40,000 barrels of oil a day to the Grangemouth Refinery on the Firth of Forth, Scotland.

1974 - Edinburgh Duck

Professor Stephen Salter develops the Edinburgh Duck, a device which can stop 90% of wave motion; of that, 90% can be converted into electricity.

1974 - Catalytic converter

General Motors introduce the catalytic converter, a device to reduce the toxicity of emissions from an internal combustion engine.

1973 - Mobile phone

Dr Martin Cooper invents the mobile phone.

1973 - Airbag

The first car to be sold to the general public with an airbag as a standard feature is the Oldsmobile Tornado.  It is available only on the passenger side.

1972-1977 - MRI scanner

Dr Raymond Damadian patents the world's first MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner), he undertakes the first full-body scan in 1977.

1971 - Space station

1971 - Holography

Dennis Gabor pioneers holography, a technique of recording and playing back images that can be viewed from a range of angles as if they existed in 3D space.

1970 - Boeing 747

A Boeing 747 jet arrives at Heathrow Airport in London after completing its maiden flight from New York.

1970 - Apollo 13

Apollo 13, carrying three US astronauts, splashes down safely after a five day rescue operation in space. The trouble is caused by an explosion on board the spacecraft during their journey to land on the Moon.

1969-1976 - Supersonic commercial flight

Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner or supersonic transport (SST) is first flown in 1969, Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued commercial flights for 27 years.

It is one of only two SSTs to have entered commercial service; the other was the Tupolev Tu-144. Concorde was jointly developed and produced by Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty.

1969 - Institution of Locomotive Engineers

Institution of Mechanical Engineers merge with the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, creating the Railway Division.

1969 - First man on the moon

1968 - Jet ski

Clayton Jacobsen patents the jet ski.  Kawasaki buy the rights.

1967-1969 - ATM/Cash point

The world's first Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) is installed at the Rockville Centre, Long Island at a branch of Chemical Bank, 1969.  It was invented by Don Wetzel. 

Barclays Bank had introduced a simpler version two years previously at a branch in North London, but it used paper vouchers (rather than the magnetic strip technology used by the Chemical Bank's ATM).

1966 - First lunar landing

The first scheduled unmanned soft landing on the moon surface is made by the Soviet Luna 9.

1964 - Tokaido Shinkansen

The Tokaido Shinkansen opens. It is the first high speed train in the world, travelling between Tokyo and Shimonoseki at speeds of 130 mph.

1964 - Mouse

Dr Douglas Engelbart invents the computer mouse.

1964 - Land speed record

British speed pioneer Sir Donald Campbell sets a new land speed record of 429mph in his car, Bluebird. Campbell held and broke a number of land and water speed records throughout his career.

1961 - UK carwash

The first fully automated car wash in the UK opens by Stirling Moss on Brompton Road, London.

1961 - First man in space

1960 - Internal pacemaker

The internal heart pacemaker is patented by Wilson Greatbatch. See 1950 - External pacemaker.

1960 - Bubblewrap

The Sealed Air Corporation is formed by US engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, in order to market their new invention, bubble wrap.

1959 - Luna 1

1959 - Hydrogen fuel cell

Francis Thomas Bacon builds the first modern fuel cell, fed with high pressure hydrogen.

1958 - Photovoltaic satellite

The first photovoltaic powered satellite is launched in the US.

1957 - Sputnik 1

1957 - Monorail

Ueno Zoo, Tokyo, is the site of the first monorail.

1956-2001 - Artificial heart

The artificial heart was patented in 1956 by Dr. Paul Winchell.

In 1982 the first 'successful' artificial heart (the Jarvik-7) is designed by Robert Jarvik, it is received by Barney Clark: William DeVries performs the surgery. He lives for 112 days, although the heart was intended to last a lifetime it is the first occurrence of a patient living beyond surgery. Jarvik continued to improve the device for example, working on the Jarvik 2000, a thumb-sized heart pump.

Various incarnations of the technology sought to replace transplant but it was not until 2001 that a major breakthrough occurred.

In 2001 the AbioCor artificial heart is invented by AbioMed. It is fully implantable within a patient, due to a combination of advances in miniaturization, biosensors, plastics and energy transfer. The AbioCor runs on a rechargeable source of power. The internal battery is charged by a transcutaneous energy transmission (TET) system, meaning that no wires or tubes penetrate the skin and therefore there is less risk of infection

1956-1959 - Hovercraft

The modern hovercraft is invented by Christopher Cockerell. He produced his first hovercraft, SRN 1, in 1959.

1956 - First commercial nuclear power station

Calder Hall, the world's first large-scale commercial nuclear power station, is connected to the national grid.

1955 - Diesel electric trains

Diesel electric trains are first introduced in the UK.

1954 - Photovoltaic cell

1954 - Nuclear power station

The world's first nuclear power station opens at Obninsk, near Moscow. Britiain's first station opens in the same year, at Harwell.

1953-1969 - Colour television

The first successful colour television system is designed by the Radio Corporation of America.  Broadcasting begins on 17 December 1953. It was introduced in the UK on BBC Two for Wimbledon coverage on July 1, 1967. The launch of the BBC2 "full" colour service took place on December 2, 1967. Some British TV programs, however, had been produced in colour even before the introduction of colour television in 1967, for the purpose of sales to American, Canadian, and Filipino networks. BBC One and ITV started colour transmissions November 15, 1969.

1953 - Heart-lung machine

The heart-lung machine is developed by John Gibbon of Philadelphia.

1953 - Airbag

The first patent for the airbag is taken out by American naval engineer, John Hetrick.  It is perfected by American inventor, Allen K Breed, in 1968.

1952 - Mechanical heart valve

The first human implant of a mechanical heart valve is made.

1951 - Electricity from nuclear fission

The first usable electricity from nuclear fission is produced at the National Reactor Station, Idaho.  Four years later, the neighbouring town of Arco is the first to be powered by nuclear energy.

1950 - Microwave

Percy Lebaron Spencer, from Massachusetts, patents the first microwave oven.

1950 - External pacemaker

Dr Mark Lidewell invents the pacemaker: a medical device that uses electrical impulses, delivered by electrodes contracting the heart muscles, to regulate the beating of the heart. See 1960 - Internal pacemaker.

1950 - Cardiac pacemaker

Canadian John Hopps invents the cardiac pacemaker, although the first model is too large to fit into the human body.

1949 - De Havilland Comet

The de Havilland Comet, the world's first jet airliner, makes its maiden flight.

1947 - Institution of Automobile Engineers

Institution of Mechanical Engineers merges with the Institution of Automobile Engineers, creating the Automobile Division.

1947 - GLEEP

1947 - Breaking the sound barrier

Chuck Yeager is the first person to break the sound barrier in level flight, flying the X-1.

1945 - Turing-Welchman Bombe

Alan Turing develops the Turing-Welchman Bombe, an electromechanical machine capable of deciphering the German enigma codes, at Bletchley Park.

1945 - James Clayton lecture

First James Clayton lecture (Institution of Mechanical Engineers premier award of its type) is authorised by Council. Frank Whittle presents ‘The early history of the Whittle gas turbine’ to a packed house. Read the paper.

1944 - Calculator

American Howard Aiken develops the first fully automatic, large scale calculator, known as the Harvard Mark I.  It has over 750,000 parts.

1944 - PLUTO

The Pipeline Under the Ocean (PLUTO) was designed to supply petrol from storage tanks in southern England to the advancing Allied armies in France in the months following D-Day. It was fully operational by June 14 1944.

1943 - Dialysis machine

The artificial kidney (dialysis machine) is tested for the first time.

1942 - Nuclear chain reaction

Enrico Fermi demonstrates the first self supporting nuclear chain reaction in a laboratory at the University of Chicago.

1941 - Gloster E28/39

The Gloster E28/39 is the first aircraft to fly using Whittle's jet engine.

1939 - First working helicopter

The first working helicopter is constructed by Sikorsky.

1939 - First rocket powered flight

Flight Captain Erich Warsitz pilots the first rocket powered aircraft, the He176.

1939 - First jet powered flight

The first jet aircraft to fly is the Heinkel He 178, powered by an He S3B engine designed by Hans von Ohain.  The plane is piloted by Flight Captain Erich Warsitz, who also piloted the first jet powered aircraft.

1938 - Tumble dryer

Hamilton's Manufacturing Company produces the first commercial tumble dryer, invented by J Ross Moore.

1938 - Steam locomotive speed record broken

The Mallard locomotive gains the world speed record for steam locomotives at 126 mph (203 kph).  It was designed by the renowned locomotive engineer Sir Nigel Gresley.

1937-1959 - Photocopier

Chester F Carlson invents the photocopier.  It is not patented until 1942, and it is not until 1959 that the first commercial machine goes on sale by the Haloid Company, later renamed the Xerox Corporation.

1937 - Jet engine

1936-1938 - Spitfire

The Spitfire fighter plane, designed by Reginald Mitchell, has its maiden flight.  It enters RAF service in 1938.

1935; 1952 - Biro

Laszlo Biro produces the ballpoint pen commercially. It is not until 1952 that the most popular ballpoint pen in the UK, the Bic, is first produced by French manufacturer Marcel Bich.

1932-1939 - BBC broadcasting, television and radio

The BBC makes the first televised broadcast, from Alexandra Palace, London on 22nd August. From December radio broadcasting widens: on the 19th The Empire Service (precursor of the World Service) launches; and on the 25th King George V becomes the first monarch to deliver a Christmas Day message by radio, on the Empire Service.

Four years later, the BBC opens the world's first regular high-definition television service:

  • 1937
    • 12 May – First use of TV outside broadcast van, for the coronation procession of King George VI.
    • 21 June – The BBC broadcasts television coverage of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships for the first time.
    • 16 September – The BBC makes the world's first live television broadcast of a football match, a specially arranged local mirror match derby fixture between Arsenal and Arsenal reserves.
  • 1938
    • 3 January – The BBC begins broadcasting its first foreign-language radio service, in Arabic.
    • 30 April – The BBC broadcasts television coverage of the FA Cup for the first time.
    • 27 September – Start of the European Service on radio, broadcasting in French, German and Italian. Portuguese and Spanish are added before the start of the Second World War.
  • 1939
    • 1 September – The BBC Television Service is suspended, about 20 minutes after the conclusion of a Mickey Mouse cartoon (Mickey's Gala Premiere), due to the imminent outbreak of the Second World War, amid fears that the VHF transmissions would act as perfect guidance beams for enemy bombers attempting to locate central London – also, the technicians and engineers of the service will be needed for war efforts such as the RADAR programme. On radio, the Home Service replaces the National and Regional Programmes.

1932 - Piccadilly Circus electrified

In London, Piccadilly Circus lights are lit by electricity for the first time.

1931 - Wind generator

1930 - Quick freeze machine

Clarence Birdseye patents the 'Quick Freeze Machine', reducing the time needed to freeze food from three days to a few minutes.

1929 - Transatlantic non-stop flight

English air pioneers John Alcock and Arthur Brown complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland.

1929 - Jet engine

1927 - Transatlantic airplane flight

1926 - Rocket propellant

The world's first liquid rocket propellant is launched by Robert Goddard, near Worcester, Massachusetts.

1924-1926 - Television

Television is demonstrated for the first time by John Logie Baird at Selfridges, London, 1926.  It used a mechanical system of rotating discs which had been patented in 1924.

1924 - Wembley Stadium

On 23 April 1924 Wembley Stadium is officially opened by King George V.

1924 - IMechE first female member

Verena Holmes becomes the first woman to be elected as an Institution of Mechanical Engineers member.

1924 - First rotary engine

Felix Wankel develops the Wankel engine, the world's first rotary engine.

1921 - First IMechE Local Branch

The first Institution of Mechanical Engineers local members’ branch is created in Birmingham, the birthplace of the Institution (1847) before its move to London in 1877.

1919 - Transatlantic airship crossing

1919 - Pop up toaster

Charles Strite designs the pop-up toaster.  It is patented in 1921 and launched in 1926.

1917 - First aircraft carrier

HMS Argus is launched, the first vessel to be designed for use as an aircraft carrier.

1915-1917 - Dual power/hybrid car

'Dual Power’ developed by Woods Motor Vehicles.  It has a four cylinder internal combustion engine and an electric motor.  For speeds under 15mph the car is powered by the electric motor, while the internal combustion engine takes it up to a maximum speed of 35mph.  Around 600 are made up to 1918. The first was produced in 1917.

1914 - Tank

1914 - First car wash

The world's first car wash, the Automated Laundry, opens in Detroit, Michigan.

1914 - First bomber aircraft

The German airship Zeppelin (named after its pioneer, Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin) is the world's first bomber aircraft.

1913- Assembly line

The assembly line is introduced to manufacture Ford Model Ts. As a result, Ford's cars came off the line in three-minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, reducing production time by a factor of eight (requiring 12.5 hours before, 93 minutes afterwards), while using less manpower.

1913 - IMechE Graduateship

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers commences its own graduateship examinations in a drive to improve and control the training. The tests are not entirely technical; general knowledge papers tested candidates reading of Chaucer and Tennyson.

1911 - Refrigerator

General Electric launch their first home-market refrigerator.

1911 - Electric starter motor

The electric starter motor for automobiles is invented by Charles Kettering.

1908 - Electric washing machine

1908 - Electric vacuum cleaner

James Murray Spangler develops the first electric powered vacuum cleaner.  The patent is bought by Hoover.

1907 - Helicopter flight

French brothers Jacques and Louis Breguet's helicopter makes the world's first flight.

1907 - Brooklands

Brooklands, the first purpose built, off-road race track, is built at Weybridge in Surrey.

1906 - Grand prix

The French Grand Prix, the first of its kind, takes place on a 100km road circuit near the town of Le Mans.  The total distance run is 1100km.

1904 - Geothermal electricity

A geothermal electric generator is built at Larderello, Italy.

1901 - First hybrid car

Ferdinand Porsche designs the ‘Mixte’, the first recorded petroleum electric hybrid vehicle on record.  It uses a petrol motor to power a generator, which in turn powers a hub motor, with a battery pack for backup.  It has a top speed of 35mph.

1900-1901 - Escalator

Charles D Seeberger joins forces with the Otis Elevator Company to produce the first practical device with moving stairs. It is exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1900. The first commercial version is installed at Gimbel's department store, Philadelphia, the following year.

1900 - The Zeppelin

Ferdinand von Zeppelin develops the world’s first successful dirigible – the Zeppelin.

1900 - Peanut oil engine

Diesel demonstrates an engine which runs on peanut oil.

1899 - IMechE Headquarters

Institution of Mechanical Engineers constructs Storey’s Gate headquarters, later known as 1 Birdcage Walk. A Graduates’ section for younger members is created and immediately makes its mark when the first ever paper on automobiles is delivered.

1896 - Michelin & Cie

Pneumatic tyres are first used on motor cars by Michelin & Cie, France.

1896 - First flight

Samuel Pierpont Langley makes the first sustained flight by a heavier-than-air powered, unmanned aircraft: the Number 5 model, driven by a miniature steam engine, flew half a mile in 90 seconds over the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. In November that year the Number 6 flew more than five thousand feet.

1896 - British petrol-driven car

Frederick Lanchester develops the first full sized British petrol-driven car.

1895 - X-rays

Wilhelm Roentgen discovers X-rays. In recognition of his work, he is awarded the first Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901. He refuses to patent his work, considering it a gift to humankind.

1895 - First petrol driven bus

The world's first petrol driven bus is created in Germany by the Netphener Omnibusgesellschaft, who convert a Benz truck.  It is capable of carrying eight passengers.

1895 - First Lanchester automobile

Frederick Lanchester and his brother construct a production model, one of the earliest petrol automobiles in England.

1893 - Lawnmower

James Sumner of Leyland, Lancashire, develops the first motor driven lawnmower.  It is powered by steam and weighs two tonnes.

1893 - Hydroelectric dam

The first dam designed specifically for generating hydroelectricity is built across the Colorado River.

1893 - Ferris wheel

George Washington Ferris builds the first Ferris wheel for the World Fair at Chicago.

1892-1898 - Diesel engine

Rudolf Diesel invents the engine in 1892.  It is patented six years later.

1891 - Electric toaster

Crompton and Company invent the electric toaster.  The same company later launches the electric kettle, exhibited 1892.

1888 (1935) - Ballpoint pen

American John Loud invents the ballpoint pen but it is not produced commercially until 1935.

1888 - Pneumatic tyre

John Dunlop invents the pneumatic tyre.

1888 - Electricity generation

A brush post mill is used to generate electricity in Cleveland, Ohio; in 1891 La Cour windmill is used to generate electricity.

1887 - Radar

German physicist Heinrich Hertz develops radar.

1886 - Four-wheeled motor vehicle

The first four-wheeled motor vehicle is produced by Daimler, working with Wilhelm Maybach.

1886 - Commercial dishwasher

Josephine Cochrane invents and patents the first commercial dishwashing machine.  Apparently she was dissatisfied with the treatment her servants were subjecting her china to and disliked doing the washing up herself.

1885 - Motorbike

Gottlieb Daimler builds the world's first motorbike.

1885 - Automobile

Karl Benz creates the first purpose built automobile.

1884 - Parson's Steam turbine

Sir Charles Parsons invents the modern steam turbine, whose first model was connected to a dynamo that generated 7.5 kW of electricity. The invention made cheap and plentiful electricity possible and revolutionised marine transport and naval warfare, amongst other industries.

1884 - Machine gun

Hiram Maxim demonstrates the first prototype Maxim gun, the first truly automatic machine gun.

1882 - First trolley bus

Siemens install the world's first trolley bus service along the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin.

1881 - Metal detector

Alexander Graham Bell invents the metal detector, with limited initial success. When President James Garfield is shot doctors asks Bell to locate the bullet but he couldn't. However, there is some debate as to whether this was due to metal in the bed.

1879 - Long distance pipeline

The first long distance pipeline is built in the United States by Tide Water Oil Company, running from Pennsylvania to the East Coast.

1879 - Cash register

Barman James Ritty invents the cash register.

1878-1881 - First two-stroke petrol engine

Sir Dugald Clerk develops the first two-stroke petrol engine (or two-cycle engine), 1878. It is patented three years later. The crankcase-scavenged engine, employing the area below the piston as a charging pump, is generally credited to Englishman Joseph Day.

1878 - Solar powered steam engine

A solar powered steam engine is exhibited in Paris.

1877 - Tynewydd Colliery

1877 - IMechE moves to London

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers moves to London, with a rented headquarters at 10 Victoria Chambers, Victoria Street.

1876 - Telephone

1868 - Westinghouse compressed air brake

George Westinghouse invents the compressed air locomotive brake.

1868 - Typewriter

Christopher Latham Sholes patents the first commercial typewriter.

1868 - Traffic signals

John Peake Knight invents the first traffic signals. They are installed at the junction of George Street and Bridge Street in Westminster, London. His invention was instigated by the 1102 people who were killed and 1334 injured on roads in London, in 1866.

1865 - First pipeline

The world's first pipeline is built, out of wood.  Nine miles long, it carries crude oil from the well at Pithole, Pennsylvania.

1863 - First underground railway

The world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Line, is opened in London, running from Bishop's Road, Paddington to Farringdon.

1862 - Man-made plastic

Alexander Parkes invents the first man-made plastic by mixing pyroxylin with alcohol and camphor.  He called the resulting hard, transparent and flexible material Parkesine.

1861 - Solar power

Auguste Mouchot is granted a patent for running a motor by solar power.

1860 - Singer sewing machine

Isaac Singer builds the first commercially successful sewing machine. The company he founds becomes the world's largest manufacturer of sewing machines.

1858 - Transatlantic cable

The first transatlantic cable is laid by American Cyrus Field.

1858 - The Great Eastern

1857 - Elevator
The first mechanical elevator is installed at E V Haughwout and Company department store, Broadway, New York City.

1857 - Blast furnace

William Kelly invents the blast furnace for steel production.

1856 - Bessemer steel process

Bessemer's process for steel production is introduced. This is the first process commercially viable process for producing steel, leading to the replacement of iron and other metals with steel.

1855 - Rayon

George Audemars invents Rayon but is not able to manufacture it commercially.

1854 - Halladay windmill

Daniel Halladay patented the first commercially successful self-governing windmill.

1854 - Bunsen burner

Bunsen burners are first produced by German physicist and chemist Robert Bunsen.

1852 - Burglar alarm

American manufacturer Edwin Holmes develops the burglar alarm.

1851 - Washing machine

James King is awarded the first patent for a mechanical clothes washing device: a hand powered, rotating cylinder machine with a drum.

1851 - The Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition is held at Crystal Palace, London. It was a showcase for manufacturers and industrialists, and was a great success, attracting over 6 million visitors and making a profit of £187,000 for the nation.

1851 - First IMechE London Meeting

In the same year as The Great Exhibition, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers first London meeting is held.

1850 - Underwater telegraph cable

The first underwater telegraph cable is laid between France and England.

1850 - Dishwasher

The first dishwasher is developed by Joel Houghton.

1847 - Institution of Mechanical Engineers founded

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is created, ‘to give an impulse to inventions likely to be useful to the world’. 56 engineers and manufacturers meet at the Queen’s Hotel, Birmingham for the inaugural meeting. George Stephenson is elected first President.  IMechE bases itself in Newhall Street, Birmingham.

1843 - Fax Machine

Alexander Bain develops the first fax machine.

1841 - Stapler

Samuel Slocum patents the stapler.

1840 - Measuring machine

Joseph Whitworth develops his measurement machine, previously accuracy was up to one sixteenth of an inch was a good workman. Whitworth’s measured up to one two-millionth of an inch: allowed him to produce standard measures and gauges. Uniformity was extended to the still famous Whitworth system of thread screw threads.

1839-1842 - Steam hammer

James Nasmyth invents the steam hammer circa 1839, patenting it in June 1842.

1839 - Fuel cell

The first fuel cell, combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electrical power, is developed by William Robert Grove.

1837 - Mechanical refrigeration

The first patent for mechanical refrigeration is issued to American Jacob Perkins.

1830 - Liverpool & Manchester Railway

The Liverpool & Manchester Railway opens.  It is the first purpose built passenger railway in the world.

1829 - Rainhill Trials

The Rainhill Trials are held to determine whether steam locomotives could be capable of providing the motive power for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.  The contest is won by Rocket, Robert Stephenson’s locomotive based upon the design principles of George Stephenson.

1827-1837 - Water Turbine

The first water turbine is developed and produced by Benoît Fourneyron.

1825 - First passenger locomotive

1822 - Difference engine

Mathematician Charles Babbage builds his difference engine (or automatic mechanical calculator) to improve significantly the accuracy of the calculations in the production of arithmetical tables.

1813 - First cotton-to-cloth mill

Francis Lowell's investor group builds Waltham Mills, Massachusetts. It is the first to place cotton-to-cloth production under one roof. The group was incorporated as the Boston Manufacturing Company in 1814.

1810 - Steam-powered printing press

1808 - 'Catch-me-who-can'

Richard Trevithick builds a circular railway track nicknamed the 'Catch-me-who-can', to demonstrate his steam engine. Entrance to the "steam circus" cost one shilling and included a ride; it was intended to show that rail travel was faster than by horse.

1804 - Jacquard Loom

Joseph Marie Jacquard invents the Jacquard Loom.  Through the use of punched cards, the loom is capable of weaving complex designs.

1804 - Gas lighting

Friedrich Winzer (also known as Winsor) patents gas lighting.

1802-1804 - Pen-y-Darren steam locomotive

Richard Trevithick builds a prototype steam locomotive at Pen-y-Darren, 1802. Selling the patent the next year. In 1804 a revised version successfully carried 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men for 9.75 miles in 4 hours and 5 minutes (at an average speed of approximately 2.4 mph). Making it the first steam locomotive to undertake practical work.

1801 - Trevithick steam carriage

Richard Trevithick builds the first steam-carriage designed for road travel.

1800 - Battery

Alessandro Volta invents the battery.

1794 - Cotton gin

Eli Whitney patents the cotton gin, which automates the process of separation cotton seed from short-staple cotton fibre.

1791 - Heated factories

James Watt heats his factories through piped steam.  He patents this method in the same year.

1787 - Steamboat

American clock-maker John Fitch demonstrates the first steamboat.

1779 - Spinning mule

Samuel Crompton invents the spinning mule (or cotton mule), allowing for greater control over the weaving process.  It allows extremely fine yarn to be produced, allowing muslin to be made; previously this could only be made using hand-spun yarn from India.

1778 - Water closet

Joseph Bramah patents his water closet. The design was a success and production continued well into the 19th century. His original water closets are still working in Osbourne House, Queen Victoria's home on the Isle of Wight.

1769 - Steam wagon

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot demonstrates a 'steam wagon', predecessor to the first automobile.

1769 - Spinning frame

Richard Arkwright invents a spinning frame (or water-frame) adapted to use water power. This made much cheaper manufacture possible, subsequently a great expansion of the cotton industry followed.

1764 - Spinning Jenny

James Hargreaves invents the Spinning Jenny (or multi-spool spinning frame).  This invention allows faster production of cotton products.

1757-1769 - Watt steam engine

James Watt patents his steam engine with separate condenser in 1769. Work begun in 1757. Also known as the Boulton & Watt steam engine.

1755 - Sewing machine

The first recorded patent for a sewing machine is issued.  It is a British patent issued to German Charles Weisenthal.

1733 - Flying shuttle

John Kay invents the flying shuttle.  This device makes mass production of textiles a possibility for the first time.

1712 - Newcomen steam engine

Thomas Newcomen develops a working atmospheric steam engine, the first of its kind.

1698 - Savery steam engine

1690 - Piston

Denis Papin uses steam to move a piston.

1673 - Huygens motor

Christiaan Huygens builds a gunpowder explosion-driven motor.

1629 - Branca steam turbine

1620-1624 - Submarine

Cornelius Drebbel invents the first submarine, a human-powered submersible.  He holds successful trials in the Thames in 1624.

1589 - Knitting machine

William Lee invents the knitting machine.

1578 - Underwater rowing boat

Mathematician and innkeeper William Bourne designs an underwater rowing boat, covered in waterproof leather.  The design is never built.

1493 - Concept of flight

Leonardo da Vinci conceives of flying machines, creating over 100 sketches to illustrate his ideas.

1440 - Printing press

The modern printing press is invented by Johannes Gensfleisch Gutenberg.

1326 - Prototype handgun

1185 - Post windmill

The first recorded use of a post windmill, in Yorkshire. The first were of the sunken type.

1150 - Tidal mills

Tidal mills are documented as being in use in England and France.

1050 - Steel

Precursor to the modern Bessemer process that uses partial decarbonization via repeated forging under a cold blast  is documented as being in use.

However, steel was known much earlier.

1010 - Human flight

First human flight, according to popular myth. Inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus, Brother Elmer (a monk at Malmesbury Abbey) creates a glider from wood and either linen or parchment. Launching himself from a height of around 18 metres, he flies 200 metres before panicking and crashing, breaking both of his legs.

650 - Windmill

The horizontal windmill is in use in Iran and Afghanistan.

644 - Wind-power

A wind-power machine is developed by the Persians.

62 - Æolipile

The æolipile, a simple steam engine, is invented by Hero of Alexandria.

circa 3000 BC - Potter's Wheel

The potter's wheel is invented.

circa 3300 BC - First sailing ship

The first depiction of a ship using cloth sails, in Egyptian paintings.

circa 4000 BC - First wheeled vehicle

The first depiction of a wheeled-vehicle is on a pot from Southern Poland.  It shows a wagon with four wheels and two axles.

circa 6000 BC - First boats

First depictions of canoes, dugouts and rafts in Egyptian rock paintings.