Famous British Inventors & Discoverers

Before you go on to read this section, thank Sir Timothy John Berners Lee for had it not been for this supremely talented British computer scientist, you wouldn’t have had World Wide Web! It was Berners Lee whose pioneering work led to the foundation of the modern computing system and internet. But British contribution to inventions and discoveries does not limit to World Wide Web alone. The English men are responsible for great many discoveries and invention that have made the world a better place to live in. Be it Roger Bacon’s magnifying glass or Michael Faraday’s electric transformer, John Ambroise Fleming’s vacuum diode or Rowland Hill’s postage stamp, George William Manby’s fire extinguisher or Sir Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope, Stephen Perry’s rubber band or Joseph Priestley’s soda water, each of their inventions has greatly influenced our lifestyle and made living stress-free. Talking about discoveries, British explorers contributed greatly to the development of modern society that we know of today. So whether it is Sir Walter Raleigh or Henry Hudson, Sir Francis Drake or Captain James Cook, each of them and many more discovered new lands and routes for current and future generation travellers and explorers. Check this section to know about the life and works of famous British inventors and discoverers.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee
Famous As: Inventor of the World Wide Web
Birthdate: June 8, 1955
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England

Widely known as ten inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee made the first communication between an HTTP client and server through the internet in 1989. He is associated with various organizations, such as the W3C and the World Wide Web Foundation, and has received the knighthood, too.

 2 Alan Turing

Alan Turing
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: June 23, 1912
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: London, England
Died: June 7, 1954

Regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing was a distinguished mathematician and logician. During WWII, he successfully broke the challenging German Enigma machine codes thereby reducing the duration of war by a couple of years. The scientist, who was convicted for being gay, has been an inspiration for numerous films, plays and novels.

 3 Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton
Famous As: Scientist, Mathematician
Birthdate: January 4, 1643
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lincolnshire, England
Died: March 31, 1727

One of the most influential and popular scientists of all time, Sir Isaac Newton played a prominent role in our understanding of natural phenomena. He formulated the law of universal gravitation and laws of motion. He also developed the Newtonian telescope among other devices. Apart from science, Newton was also intrigued by religion, occult, and alchemy.

 4 Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage
Famous As: Father of the computer
Birthdate: December 26, 1791
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 18, 1871
Charles Babbage, or the “father of the computer,” invented the prototype of the world’s first mechanical calculator, the Difference Engine. With the help of mathematician Ada Lovelace, he also created the Analytical Engine, the first general-purpose computer and a precursor of the modern computer, with its looping and sequential mechanism.

 5 Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming
Famous As: Biologist, Pharmacologist, Discovered Penicillin
Birthdate: August 6, 1881
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lochfield, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died: March 11, 1955

Alexander Fleming was a Scottish microbiologist and physician. He is credited with discovering penicillin, the world's first effective antibiotic substance; a discovery that changed the course of history. He also discovered lysozyme, an antimicrobial enzyme which forms part of the innate immune system. In 1999, Fleming was named in Time magazine's 100 Most Important People of the 20th century list.

 6 George Stephenson

George Stephenson
Famous As: Father of Railways
Birthdate: June 9, 1781
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Wylam
Died: August 12, 1848

George Stephenson was a British mechanical and civil engineer. Stephenson is credited with pioneering rail transport which is widely regarded as one of the most prominent inventions of the 19th century. Regarded as the Father of Railways, George Stephenson is also credited with developing the standard rail gauge which is used by several railways around the world.

 7 Edd China

Edd China
Famous As: Television Presenter
Birthdate: May 9, 1971
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, England
Edd China is best known as the host of the Discovery Channel show Wheeler Dealers. He has also been part of Fifth Gear and Top Gear. He established Cummfy Banana Limited. After racing a motorized sofa at 148 km/h, China set a Guinness record for the fastest furniture.
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 8 James Dyson

James Dyson
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: May 2, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Cromer

James Dyson is a British industrial designer, inventor, entrepreneur, and landowner. He is credited with founding the popular technology company, Dyson Ltd. He is also credited with inventing the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. Also known for his philanthropic activities, Dyson established the James Dyson Foundation to support engineering education and to inspire young people.

 9 Frank Whittle

Frank Whittle
Famous As: Engineer, Inventor, Royal Air Force Air Officer
Birthdate: June 1, 1907
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Coventry, England
Died: August 9, 1996

Aviation engineer Frank Whittle entered the Royal Air Force as an apprentice and rose through the ranks to become a pilot. He invented the jet engine, though his idea of a plane that could fly at a phenomenal speed was initially laughed at. He was later knighted for his achievements.

 10 Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley
Famous As: Discoverer of Oxygen
Birthdate: March 24, 1733
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Birstall
Died: February 6, 1804

Best remembered for his contribution to the chemistry of gases, Joseph Priestley was an English scientist, clergyman, political theorist and educator, who has been credited with discovering oxygen independently, publishing his findings before Carl Wilhelm could. A prolific writer, he has authored 150 works on various subjects including electricity. He also contributed immensely to the advancement of political and religious thoughts.

 11 Francis Galton

Francis Galton
Famous As: Polymath
Birthdate: February 16, 1822
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Birmingham
Died: January 17, 1911

Nineteenth-century polymath Francis Galton revolutionized science with his pathbreaking research on human intelligence and psychometrics. His books dealt with diverse topics such as correlational calculus, fingerprint analysis, and meteorology, and he also explored Africa. He left Cambridge without an honors degree, and yet ended up being knighted for his achievements.

 12 Humphry Davy

Humphry Davy
Famous As: Inventor of Davy Lamp
Birthdate: December 17, 1778
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Penzance, England
Died: May 29, 1829

Best remembered for his invention of the Davy lamp, a safety lamp for miners, Humphry Davy initially aspired to be a doctor but later deviated to chemistry. The Copley Medal winner had co-founded the Zoological Society of London. He also excelled in writing poetry and loved fishing.

 13 Henry Bessemer

Henry Bessemer
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: January 19, 1813
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Charlton
Died: March 15, 1898

 14 James Chadwick

James Chadwick
Famous As: Discoverer of Neutron
Birthdate: October 20, 1891
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bollington
Died: July 24, 1974

Best remembered as a Nobel laureate who discovered neutron, Sir James Chadwick began his career at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, where he worked with Ernest Rutherford to investigate the nature of atomic nucleus, a work that led to the epoch-making discovery. Credited with writing the final draft of the MAUD Report, he also headed the British team at the Manhattan Project

 15 Richard Arkwright

Richard Arkwright
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: December 23, 1732
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Preston, Lancashire
Died: August 3, 1792

Initially a wig-maker, Richard Arkwright later grew an interest in the spinning mechanism, building the Arkwright’s water frame, which used water power to produce cotton yarn. He soon became a name to reckon with in the textile industry, with many mills to his name. He was knighted for his feats.

 16 Richard Trevithick

Richard Trevithick
Famous As: Pioneer of steam-powered road & rail transport
Birthdate: April 13, 1771
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Tregajorran, Cornwall, England
Died: April 22, 1833

Richard Trevithick was a British mining engineer and inventor. A pioneer of rail transport and steam-powered vehicles, Trevithick is credited with developing the first working railway steam locomotive and the first high-pressure steam engine. He was a highly respected figure in the fields of engineering and mining during the peak of his career.

 17 Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger
Famous As: Biochemist
Birthdate: August 13, 1918
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Rendcomb
Died: November 19, 2013

Frederick Sanger remains one of only two people to have won the Nobel Prize twice in the same category. The British biochemist is remembered for his ground-breaking work on nucleic acids and the insulin molecule. The son of a Quaker medical missionary, Sanger, too, grew up believing in Quakerism.

 18 Barnes Wallis

Barnes Wallis
Famous As: Inventor of Bouncing Bomb
Birthdate: September 26, 1887
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Ripley
Died: October 30, 1979

Barnes Wallis was an English engineer, inventor, and scientist. He played an important role during the Second World War by inventing the bouncing bomb which was used in Operation Chastise by the Royal Air Force to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley. Barnes Wallis is also credited with inventing the earthquake bomb and his version of the geodetic airframe.

 19 William Henry Perkin

William Henry Perkin
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: March 12, 1838
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: London, England
Died: July 14, 1907

William Henry Perkin is best remembered for his chance discovery of the dye mauveine, made of aniline purple. He had apparently discovered the dye while attempting to synthesize quinine. The Royal Medal-winning British chemist also studied salicyl alcohol and flavoring agents and synthesized the first artificial perfume.

 20 Clive Sinclair

Clive Sinclair
Famous As: Entrepreneur, Engineer, Inventor, Computer scientist
Birthdate: July 30, 1940
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Surrey

A consumer electronics pioneer, entrepreneur Clive Sinclair began his business venture selling radio and amplifier kits. He went on to launch the word’s first pocket calculator and later also worked on products such as digital watches and pocket TV. He is a fan of poker and is a Mensa member.

 21 Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull
Famous As: Agricultural Pioneer
Birthdate: March 30, 1674
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Basildon
Died: February 21, 1741

A pioneer of modern British agriculture, Jethro Tull made many inventions, such as a horse-drawn mechanism for sowing seeds. Though he was trained to be a lawyer, he chose to work on his father’s farm instead. His studies on agriculture were later released as The New Horse Houghing Husbandry.

 22 John Harington

John Harington
Famous As: English author
Birthdate: August 4, 1561
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Kelston, United Kingdom
Died: November 20, 1612

Though a witty author, John Harington is better remembered as the inventor of the flush toilet. He was banished from the royal court for the cockiness of his language in his written works. He also earned a knighthood and later came to be known as Queen Elizabeth’s “saucy godson.”

 23 Joseph Swan

Joseph Swan
Famous As: Chemist, Physicist, Inventor
Birthdate: October 31, 1828
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Sunderland
Died: May 27, 1914

Joseph Swan was an English chemist, physicist, and inventor known for being an independent early developer of a successful incandescent light bulb. He developed and supplied the first batch of incandescent lights used for illuminating houses and public buildings. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1894 and knighted by King Edward VII in 1904. 

 24 Hiram Maxim

Hiram Maxim
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: February 5, 1840
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Sangerville
Died: November 24, 1916

 25 Andre Geim

Andre Geim
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: October 21, 1958
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Sochi, Russia

Andre Geim is a Russian-born Dutch-British physicist. He has been associated with the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester for several years. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with Konstantin Novoselov in recognition of his work on graphene. He is also a recipient of the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics. 

 26 Thomas Newcomen

Thomas Newcomen
Famous As: Inventor of Atmospheric Steam Engine
Birthdate: January 31, 1664
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Dartmouth
Died: August 5, 1729

 27 Robert Watson-Watt

Robert Watson-Watt
Famous As: Developer
Birthdate: April 13, 1892
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brechin, Scotland
Died: December 5, 1973

Robert Watson-Watt, often called the father of radar was a British physicist who did pioneering work in radio direction finding (RDF) and radar technology. He developed high-frequency direction finding (huff-duff) as a system for locating lightning. It was later introduced during the Second World War and played an instrumental role in intelligence, mainly in catching enemy radios while they transmitted.

 28 John Boyd Dunlop

John Boyd Dunlop
Famous As: Inventor, Entrepreneur
Birthdate: February 5, 1840
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Dreghorn
Died: October 23, 1921

 29 Henry Shrapnel

Henry Shrapnel
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: June 3, 1761
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bradford-on-Avon, England
Died: March 13, 1842

 30 Ian Wilmut

Ian Wilmut
Famous As: Biologist
Birthdate: July 7, 1944
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Hampton Lucy, England

British biologist Ian Wilmut revolutionized embryology by leading the team of researchers who successfully created the first cloned mammal, the sheep named Dolly. A leading proponent of cryopreservation, he also implanted the first calf embryo, Frostie, in a surrogate cow. He was later knighted for his achievements.

 31 George Cayley

George Cayley
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: December 27, 1773
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Scarborough, England
Died: December 15, 1857

British engineer and inventor George Cayley was a pioneer of aeronautics and aviation. He designed the world’s first glider that could successfully carry a human being. He was also a prominent Whig and had contributed to the formation of what is now known as the University of Westminster.

 32 John Herschel

John Herschel
Famous As: Polymath
Birthdate: March 7, 1792
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Slough, Buckinghamshire, England
Died: May 11, 1871

The son of renowned astronomer William Herschel, John Herschel was educated at Eton and Cambridge and grew up to be a polymath. Apart from contributing to the field of photography, he was known for cataloguing and naming stars and satellites. He briefly also served as the Master of the Royal Mint.

 33 Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill
Famous As: Teacher
Birthdate: December 3, 1795
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kidderminster, England
Died: August 27, 1879

Born to a schoolmaster, Rowland Hill followed in his father’s footsteps to become a teacher and explored subjects such as astronomy and math. He is, however, best remembered for his reform of the postal system, including increasing the speed of letter transfer and introducing the prototype of the postage stamp.  

 34 James Hargreaves

James Hargreaves
Famous As: carpenter, inventor, engineer
Birthdate: 1720 AD
Birthplace: Blackburn
Died: April 22, 1778

 35 Thomas Savery

Thomas Savery
Famous As: engineer, inventor
Birthdate: 1650 AD
Birthplace: Modbury
Died: April 30, 1715

 36 David Brewster

David Brewster
Famous As: Scientist
Birthdate: December 11, 1781
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Jedburgh, Scotland
Died: February 10, 1868

David Brewster was a British scientist, inventor, and author. He conducted many experiments in physical optics, especially concerned with the study of the polarization of light. Fellow scientist William Whewell dubbed him the "father of modern experimental optics." He was also a pioneer in photography and invented an improved stereoscope. He wrote numerous works of popular science as well. 

 37 James Dewar

James Dewar
Famous As: Chemist
Birthdate: September 20, 1842
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kincardine, Scotland
Died: March 27, 1923

James Dewar was a British chemist and physicist best known for his invention of the vacuum flask. He conducted considerable research into the liquefaction of gases and atomic and molecular spectroscopy. He also wrote papers on the qualities of hydrogen and organic chemistry. He was awarded the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts and the Rumford Medal. 

 38 Edmund Cartwright

Edmund Cartwright
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: April 24, 1743
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Nottinghamshire
Died: October 30, 1823

 39 Joseph Whitworth

Joseph Whitworth
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: December 21, 1803
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Stockport, England
Died: January 22, 1887

Mechanical engineer Joseph Whitworth is best remembered for devising the British Standard Whitworth system for screw threads. He contributed a lot to the development of Owens College, introduced a scholarship, and left most of his fortunes to the people of Manchester. He was also made a baronet of the U.K.

 40 Trevor Baylis

Trevor Baylis
Famous As: Swimmer, Inventor
Birthdate: May 13, 1937
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London

 41 John Shepherd-Barron

John Shepherd-Barron
Famous As: Inventor, Military personnel
Birthdate: June 23, 1925
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Shillong
Died: May 15, 2010

 42 Harry Ferguson

Harry Ferguson
Famous As: Mechanic
Birthdate: November 4, 1884
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Dromore, Northern Ireland
Died: October 25, 1960

Known as the Mad Mechanic, Harry Ferguson was the man behind the invention of the modern tractor, popularly known as the Wee Grey Fergie. He was also the first Irish to build and fly his own plane. His legacy lives on in the Massey Ferguson brand of agricultural machinery.

 43 Charles Algernon Parsons

Charles Algernon Parsons
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: June 13, 1854
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: London, England
Died: February 11, 1931

Copley Medal-winning engineer Charles Algernon Parsons revolutionized marine transport with his invention of a multi-stage steam turbine. His other inventions include a mechanical reducing gear. Apart from being named a Fellow of the Royal Society, he was also knighted and awarded an Order of Merit for his contributions.

 44 Jim Marshall

Jim Marshall
Famous As: British inventor
Birthdate: July 29, 1923
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London, England
Died: April 5, 2012

 45 John Ambrose Fleming

John Ambrose Fleming
Famous As: Engineer
Birthdate: November 29, 1849
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Lancaster, England
Died: April 18, 1945

John Ambrose Fleming was an English electrical engineer and physicist. He is known for inventing the first thermionic valve or vacuum tube and designing the radio transmitter with which the first transatlantic radio transmission was made. Along with  Douglas Dewar and Bernard Acworth, he helped establish the Evolution Protest Movement. Fleming was also a noted photographer and artist. 


 46 James Starley

James Starley
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: April 21, 1830
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Albourne, England
Died: June 17, 1881

 47 George Daniels

George Daniels
Famous As: watchmaker, non-fiction writer
Birthdate: August 19, 1926
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: London
Died: October 21, 2011

 48 Samuel Crompton

Samuel Crompton
Famous As: Inventor
Birthdate: December 3, 1753
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Firwood, England
Died: June 26, 1827

 49 William Friese-Greene

William Friese-Greene
Famous As: Photographer, Inventor
Birthdate: September 7, 1855
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Bristol
Died: May 5, 1921

William Friese-Greene was a British photographer and inventor. A pioneer of motion pictures, Friese-Greene is remembered for devising a series of cameras with which he shot moving pictures in London. Despite earning substantial amount of money throughout his career, Friese-Greene died in poverty as he spent his earnings on his inventions. His life inspired a biopic titled The Magic Box.

 50 Oliver Lodge

Oliver Lodge
Famous As: Physicist
Birthdate: June 12, 1851
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Penkhull, England
Died: August 22, 1940

Best known for developing the radio-wave detector named coherer, Oliver Lodge had also served as the first principal of Birmingham University. He was made a Knights Bachelor and had also been a Royal Institution lecturer. His inventions revolutionized early wireless telegraph technology, though they were replaced by modern instruments later.