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Saturday, 17th May 2008
Pat Pending

W hen I was younger

my ambition in life was to be an inventor. It rather defeats me as to how long this desire persisted but it was certainly more than 24 hours therefore comfortably beating my desire to be an engine driver but not as important as my architectural career.

Of more interest was why all my toy cars had pat pending written on the bottom of them. All I knew was he was an inventor on Wacky Races. Now I wonder if a Pat Pending is as good as a patent or if it was just a way of cutting costs and/or competition at the time.

Still my short career did burn brightly when I invented plate tectonics. The press conference would have seen a rather sheepish seven-year-old spinning a globe and explaining that it looked vaguely possible to link Africa and South America together rather like two bits of a jigsaw puzzle.


this is where the box out goes

We can all be wise after the event, more of a discovery than an invention it hardly registers as anything on the basis that it had already been discovered and I forgot to tell anyone other than my mother; who would have said something along the lines of, "That's nice dear." Those really analytical minds would also notice my initial thought hardly had the strength to struggle off the drawing board.

Perhaps I was a little swift in giving up as some of the world's greatest inventors were really only a matter of extending the work of someone else or just marketing better.

In 1915 Wills issued, Famous Inventions, a series of 50 cards.

This is a reasonably early example of a recurring theme within cigarette cards and which was maintained by trade card sets such down as Brooke Bond, Inventors and Inventions [1975].

Such sets are always interesting because you could consider almost endlessly the relative merits of inventions in either being included or excluded from such a set. It also represents a a snapshot of where we were because inevitably the most famous inventions are the modern inventions, almost regardless of relative merits. Immeadiacy is important in the world where television editing has reduced our attention spans to 20 seconds.

Card 47 depicts the Axminster Carpet Loom which surprisingly is close to falling into the category of recent invention from this sets perspective being perfected as it is was in 1894 having first appeared in experimental form in 1881, its principal designer being George Crompton. Some 100,000 of development meant by 1894 it was capable of producing 40 yards of Axminster carpet per day. The card also informs me Axminster is one of six distinct types of carpet produced in Great Britain. Learning all the time and none of them seem to be foam backed (surely another great invention of our time).



A good many of the cards are dedicated to the art of spinning or weaving which neatly illustrates the continuum of inventive thought which is far more usual than the "Eureka" moment.

Card 4 shows Arkwright's spinning machine which was invented by James Hargreaves in 1764. This did not make him very popular in his home-town of Blackburn; his neighbours broke up the machines and ran him out of town in the belief it would drive them out of employment.

Like a great many Luddites before and after, they were right. Arkwright being the first to employee machinery on large scale for textile manufacturing. No doubt a few politicians would have been on hand to say this was a shame but an inevitable product of progress. They weavers would just have to learn how to become surgeons, this being a growth area.

Certainly it would be nice to think the inventions of the next century will give back to us some of the humanity which has been stripped from us since the Industrial Revolution.

There are somewhat wild claims we are moving from the Industrial Revolution to an information revolution and this usually goes hand in hand with breathless hype about the communications revolution (aka the Internet).

At the turn of the 20th century Wireless and the Telegraph were the communications revolution. Card 2 shows the Marconi transmitting apparatus which in 1901 transmitted the first wireless Telegraph across the Atlantic. Such was the development of communications that the card also notes almost all large liners, battleships and cargo boats are fitted with such a device. The world 'almost' being the most significant along with all the vessels the list did not include.



I would like to take up the argument that the title of the set might be slightly misrepresenting in its term "famous". It could just be the case that 90 years later we have forgotten just how famous the auto - piano was. Card 23 certainly gives it prominence sitting as it does very closely to card 21 representing the grand piano. Is the grand piano really the most famous musical instrument ever invented?

Once again I see no order in which the cards have been compiled, quite how the vacuum flask appeared on card three is difficult to determine.

This does betray a somewhat linear attitude of mind as the method of distributing the cards ensured the cards were collected in a reasonably random manner but I am sure you agree a number sequence is a number sequence is a number sequence.


The very nature or invention is really open question. Although not actually in the set Stevenson is usually credited with the invention, the steam engine. He was almost everything other than that. All the elements pre-existed for the locomotive to be built. It was Stevenson that put them together and marketed them, the later development being more important than the former. Card 12 deals with this rather interesting period of development.

Card 12
Watt's Steam Engine
About 1712 Thomas Newman and Dartmouth blacksmith, made an engine to pump water out of coal mines, and in 1765 James Watt invented a much stronger and superior engine for the same purpose. Richard Trevithick in the 1804 made the first steam propelled carriage to travel along the road faster than a horse-drawn vehicle, and the first passenger railway was opened from Stockton to Darlington in 1825. George Stephenson being the engineer.

This will rather neatly describes the continuum of invention. For example you can clearly see the family resemblance between card 38, the steam hammer and card 41, the hydraulic press.

It is not enough just to invent something I also to be seen to invent something. Thomas Edison is considered one of the greatest of American inventors and might represent the very pinnacle of this statement. The reality being he set up something akin to a thought factory which developed and refined all manner of ideas.

Card 9 shows the Edison Phonograph. It was the development of an idea which had existed for 20 years. Card 32 the is the electric light which actually refuses to name an inventor.

Card 39 is the Kinetoscope again attributed to Edison. A development of the 'Zoetrope' which famously in 1877 provided a succession of pictures showing a horse running which finally settled the argument about the action of a horse. By 1892 Edison had combined moving pictures projected on a large screen with synchronised sound thereby being credited on the card as the inventor of the first practical moving picture apparatus.

Neatly that brings us on to a number of cards within this set which represent great ideas in their infancy. Card 31 shows an airship which although powered by an engine as early as 1852 took until 1884 to become truly practicable perhaps old hat by 1915. Heavier than air flight was still pretty new and card 37 shows a rather remarkable development of the aircraft engine which in 1906 ensured it was the first flight in Europe to be officially recorded and was also the first flight over 100 metres later in the year.

To get into the record books it has to be recorded. No point being the first to fly in Europe and forget to tell anyone, or rather forget to tell the right people. All part of the inventing process, just ask the inventor of the vacuum cleaner.

No less in its infancy is the contraption on card 33 which illustrates the motor car. Specifically this being the car which won the most important of motor race up to that point, the Paris to Bordeaux and back which took place in 1895. The race distance was 730 miles and the winner took 48 hours 48 minutes at an average speed of 15 miles per hour. The highest speed on the level being about 20 miles per hour.

Of equal importance for the modern cityscape is card 36 and the steel frame building thus enabling buildings to grow from the 12-14 stories of brick buildings to 60 storey buildings which had been constructed in New York at the time of the set.

I might have a few niggles about the naming of this set as "Famous Inventions" but if you gave me the task of compiling 50 cards on the same there is little chance I would do any better and every chance I would do a great deal worse.

A set which represents inspiration for anyone that works in a thought factory today I reckon.