Welsh Inventions

Updated April 17, 2017

For a small country in the United Kingdom, Wales has been responsible for a relatively large number of inventions spanning a number of fields, from engineering to mathematics. Many Welsh inventions have gone on to influence the development of technology we use in the 21st century, or else are still used and recognised in their original forms.


Welsh inventions in this field include the forerunner of the modern fuel cell, which was known as the gas voltaic battery. This was invented in 1839 by William Grove, a scientist and lawyer who was experimenting with hydrogen and water, and used them to produce an electric current. Grove was also responsible for creating the Grove Cell, which was utilised to power electric telegraphs in the U.S. before the American Civil War, and consisted of sulphuric acid and platinum within nitric acid.


Welsh mathematicians gave the field a few inventions still used in the 21st century. Robert Recorde came up with the modern "equals" symbol, consisting of two horizontal parallel lines, back in 1557. The symbol first appeared in Recorde's text, "The Whetstone of Witte," and was intended to replace the Latin abbreviation originally utilised, ae, as well as a variant symbol which was formed of vertical parallel lines. Another mathematical concept represented by a well-known symbol, Pi, was invented by the Welsh math tutor William Jones in 1706. Pi has since become a cornerstone of mathematical equations in fields such as trigonometry and physics.


A precursor to the steam locomotives developed by George Stephenson, the Penydarren loco was designed by the Welshman Richard Trevithick in 1803, and finished a year later. The loco made its maiden journey, the first railway trip in the world, on Feb. 21, 1804, departing from Penydarren and heading for the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal in Wales. Although many people believe that the Wright brothers made the first manned flight, some historians credit the Welsh carpenter, Bill Frost, with this feat. Eyewitness reports from the time, noted on the B.B.C. website, indicate that Frost, from Saundersfoot in the county of Pembrokeshire, launched a powered flight in 1894, in a machine that was a hybrid of helicopter, plane and balloon.


Significant developments in industrial processes were made by Welshman Richard Roberts. Roberts invented the spinning mule in 1824, a machine which could spin and weave cloth, all but replacing the human workers who previously did this job. Roberts is also credited with designing the Jacquard punching machine, a device which placed holes in iron plates and was utilised in aiding the construction of railway bridges. Again, this invention replaced the need for this work to be performed manually.

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About the Author

Simon Fuller has been a freelance writer since 2008. His work has appeared in "Record Collector," "OPEN" and the online publication, brand-e. Fuller has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Reading and a postgraduate diploma from the London School of Journalism.