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IET 15 MOST VALUABLE INVENTIONS: From the humble fridge to the first EV taxi more than 125 years ago

From the humble fridge to the surprising story of the first electric taxi that hit Victorian London streets 125 years ago, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) have listed 15 of the most valuable inventions of the last 150 years, as the institution celebrates innovation to mark its 150th anniversary.

The list comprises discoveries and advancements that have contributed significantly to humanity, the planet, society, and the economy, making their marks throughout our lives.

Voted for by a panel of IET members, the list highlights the impact that science and technology have on everyday life; from store cupboards to travel, healthcare to communication, the top 15 have profoundly changed humanity across the globe.

The IET Power 15:

  • AC power generation – brought electricity to our homes and, ultimately, light, comfort and all our essential gadgets.

  • Aviation – drove the globalisation of the economy and made travel for business and pleasure accessible for the masses.

  • Canned Food – made it possible to store and transport food safely and easily for the first time.

  • Cars – revolutionised transport for the masses, and profoundly changed how businesses could market their goods. Special focus on the first electric taxi to appear 125 years ago.

  • Computing – the invention without which almost all businesses would be unable to function, and which kept us connected with loved ones throughout the pandemic.

  • Electric lightbulb – bringing illumination to our lives, this invention has made our days longer, streets safer and even enabled the early development of the TV!

  • Fibreoptic communication – with enormous data carrying capacity, fibreoptic cables have revolutionised the way we are able to use the internet.

  • Measurement – a true cornerstone of all scientific endeavour, the standardisation of measurement under SI units allows researchers across the globe to collaborate – never more essential than in the last year when developing Covid vaccines.

  • Microscopes – the ability to magnify the world around us has played an essential role in advancing our understanding of nature, developing medicines and miniaturising technology.

  • Telescope – advanced our understanding of the universe and fundamental laws of physics, without which essential technology like Satnavs would not function.

  • Radio – the original communication revolutionary, radio played an integral role during the war and continues to be one of the most consumed forms of media in the world.

  • Refrigeration – sparking another nutrition revolution, home refrigeration made fresh food accessible to millions.

  • Telephony – these devices have become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives that they have totally engulfed the meaning of the word ‘mobile’.

  • Triode valve - important for the development of international wireless networks, making modern Wifi and Bluetooth technology possible.

  • X-Ray – from broken bones to cancer, this breakthrough remains one of the most important tools for medics across the globe.

Panel co-chair and president of the IET, Professor Danielle George MBE, said: “This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, making for the perfect opportunity to celebrate and champion the invaluable role that science and engineering plays in society.

“I am immensely proud of our rich heritage of innovation, something our priceless archive brings to life in the most wonderful way. Each treasure represents a unique moment in the development of some of the most significant technological advancements in human history, many of which were made possible by IET members – difference makers, past and present.”

The panel’s second chair, June Angelides MBE, added: “As someone whose entire career is only possible thanks to the pioneers of technology, I understand better than any how utterly vital innovators, scientists and engineers are to practically every aspect of our modern lives.

“The innovators on our list paved the way for so many other developments which continue to shape and enhance our lives, a fact that fuels my passion for encouraging people from all backgrounds and genders into careers in technology. Having the opportunity to see into the incredible IET archives has been truly inspiring – not least because I was able to see first-hand how many incredible women have come before me.”


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