This side of the Atlantic, our weekend will be about Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix, the Ashes (cricket!), Princess Charlotte’s christening, Pimms, strawberries, and summer fetes. We certainly won’t be commemorating long-lost battles. I remember, years ago, some Texan friends asking how we would be spending Independence Day. I asked “Independence from whom?” Long silence down the phone followed by a light-bulb moment and a roar of laughter.
It’s nice that the Fourth appears to be a celebration of all things American rather than an orgy of Brit-bashing, but nonetheless I feel the urge to offer up a little positive PR on behalf of the old country. With the 8 Ladies and friends in mind, here are some other major historic landmarks brought to you by those really very nice people across the pond 🙂
Cocoa beans have been around forever, but in 1795, Joseph Storrs Fry patented a method of grinding them using a Watt steam engine, paving the way for large-scale production of chocolate. In 1847, his son, also Joseph, went one step better and molded cocoa powder, sugar and melted cocoa butter into the world’s first ever chocolate bar. Writing may have driven Hemingway and Faulkner to drink, but sooner or later it drives most romance writers to the confectionery store. Next time you reach for your anesthetic of choice, spare a thought for the pioneering Fry family.
Cockney Tommy Flowers, the son of a bricklayer, invented the world’s first programmable all-electric computer. Born in 1905, he was a mechanical and electrical engineer who worked at the research station of the Telecommunications branch of the General Post Office. From 1935 onwards he explored the use of electronics for telephone exchanges, and his unique combination of skills and experience enabled him to create Colossus, the first all-electronic computer, designed to decode high-level encrypted German wartime messages. Check out this picture of a Colossus, reconstructed in 1994, complete with its with its ground-breaking thousand-plus valves. Then look at your sleek, speedy laptop or desk-top, and marvel.
The automatic kettle
Given our national obsession with tea, it’s hardly surprising that as soon as we got a domestic electrical supply, we set to work inventing an electric kettle. The first models were invented some time in the late nineteenth century, but we never got around their dangerous tendency to boil dry until Peter Hobbs invented the first ever vapor-controlled automatic electric kettle in 1955.
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN (the European particle physics laboratory) invented the world-wide web, an internet-based hypermedia initiative for global information sharing. He wrote the first web client and server in 1990, and transformed every fiction writer’s research process. Read more about Sir Tim in the Internet Hall of Fame.
So, sorry about the tea taxes and all that, but hopefully chocolate gets us some brownie points 🙂
Have a lovely weekend, everyone!