Historic engineers more widely known than modern counterparts

Paul Boughton

The man behind the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell has topped (41 per cent) a poll of the greatest British engineers of all time ahead of George Stephenson (38 per cent), the inventor of the steam locomotive engine and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (37 per cent), who built the Great Western Railway.

Also featuring highly in the list was John Logie Baird (23 per cent), the inventor of the colour television, and Michael Faraday (12 per cent) the forefather of electromagnetism and electrochemistry who discovered electrolysis.

However, the significant achievements of more contemporary inventors such as British engineer Frank Whittle (11 per cent), best known as the inventor of the turbo jet engine, came in much further down the list as did James Dyson (7 per cent), inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.

The study was conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to find out how much the general public knows about engineering and how much it contributes to the nation and the world.

Barry Brooks, who has this week become the new President of the IET, said: “The survey highlights a lack of awareness of the central role of engineering and engineers in our everyday lives.

“Engineering and technology benefits everyone, everywhere in the world. When you turn on the lights, receive calls and data on your mobile phone, or drive your car, these things couldn’t have been done without the work of engineers.

“During my term as IET President, I will be working hard to improve awareness of engineers and technicians in improving the quality of life of us all.”

The survey also showed that less than 2 per cent had heard of some of Britain’s greatest current engineers such as Trevor Baylis, best known for inventing the wind-up radio.

Respondents were also tested on whether they were aware of which great inventions came out of Britain, with a third (34 per cent) unaware that the telephone was invented here, 37 per cent the television, 26 per cent the jet engine and a quarter (25 per cent) the steam engine.

While three quarters of those surveyed were confident that they knew what an engineer was and did, less than half (44 per cent) correctly identified that an engineer is a person who designs, builds or maintains engines, machines or public works.

For more information, visit www.theiet.org