Last week we looked at five of the more unexpected fun facts about Wales, from language to geography to religion. Continuing in that vein a little, this week we are looking at five contributions or five inventions that Wales has given to the world. Wales may be a small country but it is responsible for some major advancements in technology, science and mathematics, amongst many other creations that we take for granted in our lives today.
Lets discuss five (or six) of the more unique, memorable and biggest contributions that the people of Wales have made to our day to day lives.
1. Mathematics: The Equals (=), Plus (+) & Pi (π) Symbols
Briefly mentioned in last week’s Top 5 Fun Facts about Wales, the equals symbol that we have all used throughout our lives was created by a Welshman, nominative determinism’s Robert Recorde. Recorde, from Tenby, also popularised the plus symbol in the English language during his lifetime.
Recorde studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and became physician to King Edward VI and to Queen Mary in the first half of the 16th century. He was also controller of the Bristol Royal Mint and served as "Comptroller of Mines and Monies" in Ireland, after which, somewhat ironically, Recorde spent time in prison for bringing it into debt.
The last of his many publications on arithmetic, astronomy and geometry, used his new symbol for equality (=).
The popular symbol for Pi (π) was also created by a Welshman, William Jones of Llanfihangel Tre'r Beirdd, outside Benllech, on Anglesey. Following a period working at sea on Navy ships teaching Maths, Jones published Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos in 1706, a work which used π for the ratio of circumference to diameter for the first time. Pi may be thousands of years old but the symbol itself came about through Jones 300 years ago.
2. Powered Air Travel
Most people would consider powered flight to have been first achieved by the Wright Brothers in the US in 1903. However, it was ,in fact, first accomplished by Bill Frost, a carpenter from Saundersfoot, in 1896. Despite his poverty he managed to construct the "Frost Airship Glider", which resembled a vertical takeoff airplane, with gas-filled tanks. Observers said the machine flew about 500 metres, then crashed into bushes, outlasting the 120 feet in 12 seconds that the Wright Brother's later achieved.
To Frost's misfortune, the event, although witnessed, was not officially recorded. Frost has applied for a patent which was accepted and registered in 1894, but unable to pay renewal fees, he allowed the patent to lapse four years later. Sadly, he died without wealth or recognition in 1935.
3. Theory of Evolution
Forget Charles Darwin, the real leading naturalist, explorer and evolutionist of the 19th century was a Welshman, Alfred Russel Wallace, from Llanbadoc, Monmouthshire. Wallace independently conceived the theory of evolution through natural selection; his paper on the subject was jointly published with some of Darwin's writings in 1858. It was this that prompted Darwin to publish his own ideas in On the Origin of Species. Wallace did extensive fieldwork. First in the Amazon River basin, and then in southeast Asia, where he identified the faunal divide now termed the Wallace Line, which separates the Indonesian archipelago into two parts: a western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the fauna reflect Australasia. As a result he was considered the 19th century's leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the "father of biogeography". In fact, the Darwin Award, awarded every other year for work done in biology, was first awarded in 1890 not to Darwin but to Wallace himself. Unfortunately his poorer background compared to his contemporaries limited his ability to publish all his works and he never quite gained the national and world wide recognition his work deserved in his lifetime. However, that has changed somewhat into the 21st century. The Natural History Museum in London, co-ordinated commemorative events for the Wallace worldwide in 2013 and on 7 November 2013, the 100th anniversary of Wallace's death, Sir David Attenborough unveiled a statue of Wallace at the museum (below).
4. Mail Order Shopping
Pryce Pryce-Jones of Llanllwchaiarn owned a shop in Newtown, Powys in the mid-19th century. He was a Welsh entrepreneur who formed the first mail order business, revolutionising how products were sold. Creating the first mail order catalogues, consisting of woollen goods, customers could order by post for the first time ever.. Pryce-Jones had noticed that the railways were being expanded, and he decided to use this new resource to his own advantage. He sent out leaflets by post, detailing his available products, and encouraged people to ‘mail order’.
He eventually became hugely successful across the UK, with his high-profile customers including Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria. He even exported flannel across Europe, to the US and Australia, and he was knighted in 1887.
Mail ordering is the forerunner to what many of us partake in today, and in these times potentially more than ever before: internet shopping!
Bonus: Pryce-Jones is also credited with the invention of the sleeping bag, patented in 1876 under the name of the Euklisia Rug.
5. Deep Space Photography
Isaac Roberts (1829-1904), of Denbighshire, was an engineer and businessman best known for his work as an amateur astronomer, pioneering the field of astrophotography of nebulae. Roberts solved the problem of how to keep a camera pointing at faint celestial objects, which require very long exposures, while the earth is continuously rotating beneath us. He developed a technique of "piggyback" astronomical photography, mounting the camera/lens on a larger equatorial mounted telescope that was used as a "guidescope". The combination kept the camera aimed accurately over the long exposure time as the Earth rotated.
As a result, he was able to produce this photograph, revealing that the nebula had a spiral structure, which was quite unexpected at the time.
The Irish have claimed St. Patrick as their own, but maybe the Welsh can now claim Guinness as theirs. Guinness founder, Arthur Guinness, regularly travelled between London and Dublin. While doing so he would pass through north Wales, sampling the local delights, which included the dark ales of Llanfairfechan (image below), near Bangor, at a tavern named Gwyn Du ('black wine'), where the ale served was renowned for being much darker, smoother and deeper than porter, and more like the Guinness we know today.
Depending on your leanings, Arthur Guinness either stole or asked for the recipe, but either way it was arguably adapted into the drink we all know and love. So, while Wales may not have invented the drink we currently think of as Guinness, there is strong reason to believe that it may not exist today without the influence of Wales and Gwyn Du of Llanfairfechan.
What are some of your favourite Welsh inventions? Make sure to comment below or on any of our social channels (links below).
If you have enjoyed this blog, make sure to check out our other articles about Wales, Welsh history, culture, traditions and its people on our regularly updated Blog page.
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