British Empire—Science and Invention

1660 to 1914
Isaac Newton to 20th century

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Characters—Science and Invention

Character/Date Short Biography

Science - Astronomy

Tycho Brahe
Made accurate astronomical observations, used by Kepler to calculate motion of planets.
Johannes Kepler
Proposed Heliocentric theory after studying measurements of Tycho Brahe.
Galileo Galilei
Promoted Heliocentric theory against pressure from the Pope. Invented the telescope.
Isaac Newton
Outstanding scientist. Made important breakthroughs in physics, optics, and mathematics.
William Herschel
Astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus, improved telescopes, and made many other discoveries.

Science - Physics/Chemistry

Antoine Lavoisier
French scientist, known as the "Father of Chemistry". Discovered oxygen and established the principle of conservation of mass.
John Dalton
Chemist who proposed the atomic theory, and designed experiments to prove it.
Lord Kelvin
Made important discoveries in thermodynamics and electricity.
J. J. Thomson
Discovered the electron, and also the isotope.
Madame Curie
A pioneer in the field of radioactivity, and first female winner of the Nobel prize in physics.
Ernest Rutherford
Father of nuclear physics. Advocated the orbital theory of the atom.

Science - Biology/Geology

Carolus Linnaeus
Great Taxonomist, who initiated naming conventions and classification of plants and animals.
Charles Lyell
Influential 19th century Geologist who promoted the idea of doctrine of uniformitarianism (as opposed to catastrophism.)
Charles Darwin
Proposed the theory of evolution of species. Wrote The Descent of Man.


Alexander Volta
Invented the first usable electrical storage battery.
Samuel Morse
Inventor of Morse code, a system telegraph transmission widely used before the telephone.
Michael Faraday
Physicist who was important in the development of electricity and magnetism.
James Clerk Maxwell
Developed laws defining the behavior of electricity and magnetism.
Alexander Graham Bell
Inventor of the telephone, and also a founder of a school for the deaf.
Thomas Edison
Prolific inventor, responsible for improvements in the light bulb, movies, phonograph, and many others.
Guglielmo Marconi
Inventor of a wireless telegraphy system, first used on ships.


William Harvey
Medical doctor who described the process of circulation and the role of the heart and blood.
Edward Jenner
English doctor who developed a vaccine for smallpox.
Louis Pasteur
Renowned scientist in bacteriology. Helped develop germ theory of disease and pasteurization process.
Joseph Lister
Promoted the idea of sterilization using antiseptics to kill germs on wounds and medical instruments.
Alexander Fleming
Scottish biologist who studied bacteria and discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin.


James Hargreaves
Inventor of an automated Spinning wheel. Founder of the Industrial Revolution.
Richard Arkwright
Inventor of the spinning frame, which allowed water or steam power to spin cloth.
Samuel Crompton
Inventor of the Spinning Mule, which could be used to make fine cloth such as Muslin.
Eli Whitney
Inventor of the Cotton Gin, and also interchangeable parts for rifles.
Elias Howe
American inventor of the sewing machine. His great innovation was the "lock stitch".


James Watt
Inventor of the Steam Engine, and founder of the Industrial Revolution.
Robert Fulton
Inventor of Steamboats. Operated the steamboat Clermont on the Hudson River.
George Stephenson
Inventor of the steam locamotive, and the modern railroad.
Charles Goodyear
Discovered the process for 'vulcanizing' rubber, and making it far more usable.
Cyrus McCormick
Invented the mechanical reaper, which revolutionized agriculture, especially in midwest.
Henry Bessemer
Invented a process for the manufacture of steel, that was of superior quality for a low cost.
Rudolf Diesel
German engineer and inventor who developed a practical internal combustion 'diesel' engine.
Wilber and Orville
Inventors of the first practical airplane. The Wright brothers were self-educated bicycle shop owners.

Timeline—Science and Invention

AD YearEvent

Invention and Industry

1764 James Hargreaves invents the Spinning Jenny, allowing multiple threads of yarn.
1769 Richard Arkwright designs a water frame that made it possible to spin strong threads.
1781 James Watt invents the Steam Engine—ushers in the industrial revolution.
1793 Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, greatly lowering the price of cotton.
1807 Robert Fulton runs the first steam propelled boat on the Hudson river.
1821 George Stephenson creates the first practical railroad locomotive; ushers in age of railways.
1844 Charles Goodyear receives a patent for vulcanized rubber.
1847 Cyrus McCormick establishes a mechanical reaper business in Chicago, revolutionizes agriculture.
1851 Elias Howe invents sewing machine, but Isaac Singer succeeds in selling his version.
1858 Cyrus Field lays the first trans-Atlantic cable from Ireland to Newfoundland.
1865 Henry Bessemer invents a process that greatly improves production of steel.
1893 Rudolf Diesel invents an internal combustion engine.

Electromagnetism and Communication

1800 Alexander Volta invents the first electric battery.
1831 Michael Faraday invents a dynamo which uses electromagnetic induction to create a current.
1836 Samuel Morse invents the telegraph. First Washington to Baltimore telegraph in 1844.
1873 James Clerk Maxwell proposes a theory of electromagnetism.
1876 Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for the telephone.
1879 Thomas Edison produces the first practical light bulb.
1897 Guglielmo Marconi perfects wireless telegraphy.

Advances in Medicine

1628 William Harvey publishes 'De Motu Cordis" detailing operation of heart and circulatory system.
1796 Edward Jenner develops the first small pox vaccine.
1861 Louis Pasteur establishes Germ theory, and develops methods for sterilization.
1928 Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin, an antibiotic substances that kills bacteria.

Astronomy and Heliocentric Theory

1543 Nicholas Copernicus publishes his theory of a heliocentric universe.
1609 Johannes Kepler publishes 'Astronomia Nova, a book detailing his theory of eliptical planetary orbits.
1633 Galileo Galilei is subjected to the Inquisition for promoting heliocentric theory.
1687 Isaac Newton publishes Principia his universal laws of motion.
1781 William Herschel discovers of Uranus, improves telescope.

Science and Discovery

1789 Antoine Lavoisier discovers the element oxygen and law of conservation of mass.
1805 John Dalton develops the Atomic Theory of chemistry.
1827 Amedeo Avogadro defines the Gas Law relating volume to number of gas molecules.
1848 Lord Kelvin establishes the value of absolute zero.
1859 Charles Darwin publishes The Origin of Species.
1865 Gregor Mendel develops laws of inheritance, establishes basis for genetics.
1898 J. J. Thomson discovers electrons, proposes the Plum pudding model of an atom.
1898 Madame Curie discovers polonium, radium, and coins the term "radioactivity".
1900 Max Planck develops law of black body radiation, basis for quantum theory.
1909 Robert Millikan conducts an oil drop experiment, determines charge of electrons.
1913 Niels Bohr establishes the Bohr Model of the atom, proposing electronic orbitals.
1915 Albert Einstein proposes a general theory of relativity.

Recommended Reading—Science and Invention

Read chapters from "core" texts before reviewing study questions.

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Harding - The Story of England   Industrial and Social Changes (1)
Bachman - Great Inventors and Their Inventions   Watt and the Steam Engine to Bessemer and Making Steel (9)

Supplemental Recommendations

Wright - Children's Stories of the Great Scientists    entire book
Gibson - War Inventions    entire book
Gibson - Stories of the Great Scientists    entire book
Rowbotham - Story Lives of Great Scientists    entire book
Gibson - The Wonders of Scientific Discovery    entire book
Gibson - Twentieth Century Inventions    entire book