According to Brits, the top 100 inventions of all time are…

By Grant Jacobs 02/06/2010 8

I know I’ve come on to this late, but it’s fun and I want to put a lazy post up…

Tesco, something akin to our Warehouse, surveyed 4,000* Brits who declared that:

  • Central heating is important (Did they do the survey in winter? Or is this just a British thing?)
  • Mascara is important enough to be ranked in the top 100 inventions. (What the??? These polls are silly.)
  • OK, that’s the gals. ’The game of football’ is ranked even higher. (It’s the round ball, people, not the oblong one.) I’m sure that’s the guys.
  • The iPhone is more important than the loo.
  • Have to laugh at ‘baby’s dummy’ making the cut. Must be a lot of relieved parents out there…
  • Interesting to see the compass ranked quite high, that’s quite a subtle one to get right.
  • The light bulb is listed, but not electricity. What’s with that?

One source points out there is confusion of innovation and invention on display, although I’d say there is a lot more confusion than that on display…

A challenge for readers, perhaps: name the top, say, 20 scientific discoveries of all time. Comments open. (No cheating… not that I would know if you did.)

Here’s the full list:

  1. Wheel
  2. Aeroplane
  3. Light bulb
  4. Internet
  5. PCs
  6. Telephone
  7. Penicillin
  8. iPhone
  9. Flushing toilet
  10. Combustion engine
  11. Contraceptive pill
  12. Washing machine
  13. Central heating
  14. Fridge
  15. Pain killers
  16. Steam engine
  17. Freezer
  18. Camera
  19. Cars
  20. Spectacles
  21. Mobile phones
  22. Toilet paper
  23. Hoover
  24. Trains
  25. Google
  26. Microwave
  27. Email
  28. The pen
  29. Hot water
  30. Shoe
  31. Compass
  32. Ibuprofen
  33. Toothbrush
  34. Hair straighteners
  35. Laptops
  36. Knife and fork
  37. Scissors
  38. Paper
  39. Space travel
  40. Kettle
  41. Calculator
  42. Bed
  43. Remote control
  44. Roof
  45. Air conditioning
  46. SAT NAV
  47. Wi-Fi
  48. Cats-eyes
  49. Matches
  50. Power steering
  51. Tumble dryer
  52. Bicycle
  53. Sky+
  54. Tea bags
  55. Umbrella
  56. iPod
  57. Taps
  58. Crash helmet
  59. Wristwatch
  60. eBay
  61. DVD player
  62. Nappies
  63. Ladder
  64. Sun tan lotion
  65. Lawnmower
  66. Make-up
  67. Chairs
  68. Sunglasses
  69. The game of football
  70. Sliced bread
  71. Sofa
  72. Razor blades
  73. Screwdriver
  74. Motorways
  75. Head/ear phones
  76. Towels
  77. Push-up bra
  78. Binoculars
  79. WD40
  80. Mascara
  81. Hair dryer
  82. Facebook
  83. Escalator
  84. Hair dye
  85. Wellington boots
  86. Spell check
  87. Calendars
  88. Cheese grater
  89. Buses
  90. Post-it notes
  91. Gloves
  92. Satellite discs
  93. Pedestrian crossing
  94. Baby’s dummy
  95. Curtains
  96. Bottle opener
  97. Food blender
  98. Dustpan and brush
  99. Desks
  100. Clothes peg

* Some reports say 1,000. Some 2,000… I’ve tried hard to locate the original source for the results of this poll, but media sources aren’t providing links. Yes, even short fun articles ought to have links, please!

A few lighter posts at Code for life:

Illusory balls

The iPad: a cat toy?

Undiluted humour: If Homeopathy Beats Science

Preconceptual science, the dismissal-ness of it all

TIME’s top ten scientific discoveries for 2009

8 Responses to “According to Brits, the top 100 inventions of all time are…”

  • A lot of those inventions miss the point … e.g. they’ve got “internet”, “PCs” and “iPhone” in the top 10, but “transistor” doesn’t make the top 100.

    [and who gets credit for inventing the roof?]

  • Of course, these top 100 polls are nuts :-)

    I mean, what’s a cheese grater doing in there?! (Maybe it’s an oblique reference to “blessed are the cheesemakers”?? I’m kidding, I’m kidding.)

    Or hair dye?

    Perhaps some people thought it was something about what they purchased at Tesco’s? People don’t always read instructions well…

    A larger sample size would probably (hopefully!) reduce some of the more idiotic entries, but who knows?

  • I agree with Grant, such polls are nuts. The entries seem a bit random – we have sat-Nav and Satellite dishes mentioned but no satellites? And pedestrian crossing and sofas?????

    Even naming the top 20 scientific discoveries would be a challenge – one of the things I love about science is the way one invention leads to new discoveries and then onto new inventions (does anyone else remember the science history programme “Connections”?). The “on the shoulders of giants” quote has great meaning to me.
    I have listed 19 inventions, which in my opinion are key inventions. I haven’t included a 20th, as an acknowledgement that I don’t think there would be a list that everyone would agree on.
    I think the 1) transistor and the 2) battery underlie our electronic age, 3) penicillin and the 4) contraceptive pill are probably two drugs which have had the most significant effect, 5) carbonic acid for sterilisation and 6) superphosphate as a fertiliser also spring to mind. 7) Gunpowder and 8) dynamite – for military and construction reasons, 9) stainless steel, the 10) internet (while reliant on a lot of electronic technology) the concept of sharing information worldwide is phenomenal, same with the 11) computer (rapid processing of information), and the 12) telegraph/ 13) telephone. Also the 14) printing press, 15) optical lens (which then covers basic telescopes and microscopes), 16) the PCR reaction, 17) the Fourier Transform (if it can be classed as an invention), the 18) silicon chip,
    the 19) combustion engine and ????

  • Um, this is a classic case of a self-submitting survey, and how weirdly they can skew information.
    If I wanted to know what Tesco customers are like, this is perfect. Is it representative of Brits as a whole? No.
    It’s worth remembering that while Tesco and The Warehouse may occupy roughly similar markets, their target demographics vary hugely. In a society like the UK’s, where class truly does divide people’s shopping habits very strongly, Tesco’s customers will tend to be primarily working class (unlike here, where it seems people of all sorts play at TW). High levels of education are not, um, probable.
    Taken in that light, it really doesn’t surprise me at all that things like mascara have been chosen – you’ve only got to see a girl with a Croydon Facelift (accompanied by the obvious accoutrements of babies and expensive phone) to get it.
    How do I know this? I worked in retail strat and market research. In the UK. And I even lived in South Croydon and frequented a Tesco for a while :)

  • Oh yeah, and wrt central heating – it really is that important to them, yes. Also, Brits get through the winter without having to freeze in their homes…

  • Hi Aimee,

    Didn’t realise it was self-submitting survey, thanks for mentioning that.

    I’m playing up the suggestions 😉

    I’ve used Tesco’s a few times (not often) and am familiar with England in general: I did my doctorate there. While we (me and my friends) were at an up-market university and obviously not as poor as some in England, living off a grad studentship we weren’t exactly well off either. Like students everywhere I guess, we bought things as cheaply as we could!

    I have good (good??) memories of why central heating matters there! (I’ll try not bore you with travel stories…!) I was just playing up how the results suggest an apparent fixation on it, rather than not thinking it had value, etc. From my experience, I think it’s used pretty much everywhere in the Northern hemisphere. It is a bit of a wonder why it’s not used much here.

    You’d be right about the demographics, but I’d like to be at pains to point out that I wasn’t trying to play on others’ levels of education just the general choice of ideas, which I took to be similar to polls anywhere.

  • Grant

    I understand that :) I was simply pointing out why the results might be as they are…

    And sorry – the term is self-selecting, not self-submitting (I;m not sure whether Tesco asked people, or had them volunteer, but asking only one’s customer base is automatically self-selecting to some degree)

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