Imaginative Innovations

It was not only the research organisations and universities that contributed to Australian science and technology. The corporate sector and individuals from all walks of life have also come up with some very imaginative innovations, many of which are world firsts in their various fields. There are far too many to be all mentioned here. We have therefore chosen a selection of world first innovations of global significance.

Electric Drill (1889)

An imaginative Arthur James Arnot, patented the world's first electric drill on 20 August 1889 while he was an employee of the Union Electric Company in Melbourne. He designed it primarily to drill rock and to dig coal.

Notepad (1902)

In 1902 a Tasmanian stationery company, Birchall's of Launceston, started selling the world's first notepads called Silvercity Writing Tablets. For 500 years, paper had been supplied in loose sheets. Proprietor J A Birchall decided that it would be a good idea to cut the sheets into half, back them with cardboard and glue them together at the top. His British paper suppliers Wiggins Teape were at first reluctant to supply paper bound in this manner, but were eventually persuaded by the persistent Taswegian.

Thrust bearing (1905)

One of Australia's most outstanding engineers was Anthony G M Mitchell, who in 1905 invented the tilt-pad thrust bearing, and completely revolutionised thrust technology, particularly in the area of marine propulsion. He mathematically designed a way of separating rotating and sliding metal components with lubrication, to reduce friction and increase power transmission. The principles were applied globally to automobile and aircraft engines, pumps and compressors. In 1920, Mitchell formed the Crankless Engines (Australia) Pty Ltd to make crankless engines, the essential feature of which was the application of the inclined slipper principle of the thrust bearing invention, to the process of converting reciprocating motion to rotary motion.

Surf life-saving reel (1906)

The first surf life-saving reel in the world was demonstrated at Bondi Beach on 23 December 1906 by its designer Lester Ormsby. The first of many lives saved by the reel was that of a young boy on 31 December, who in later years as Sir Charles Kingford Smith became famed for his contribution to world aviation history.

Xerography (1907)

The dry photographic copying process called xerography, works by forming an electrostatic mirror image of the item to be copied on a selenium-coated surface by exposing it to light. The charged surface attracts the dark powder particles, which are transferred to a sheet of paper and cured by heating. A research paper on the photoconductivity properties of selenium, published in 1907 by Professor O U Vonwiller from the University of Sydney, provided the key technology for the subsequent invention of the xerographic process in the United States by Chester Carlston in 1937. The result was the Xerox copier.

Humespun process (1910)

The Humespun process was developed by Walter Hume of Humes Ltd for making concrete pipes of high strength and low permeability. The process revolutionised pipe manufacture in 1910 and has since been used around the world. In later years the company also developed Plastline, a black plasticised PVC sheet specifically designed to be embedded in concrete as a surface protection.

Automatic totalisator (1913)

The world's first automatic totalisator for calculating horse-racing bets was made by Sir George Julius, who later become chairman of the CSIR. Aadaped from a vote-counting machine which he had developed earlier, his automatic totalisator was first installed in 1913.

Electric record changing salonola (1925)

Tasmanian engineer Eric Waterworth developed and patented the world's first Electric Record Changing Salonola in 1925. When the Australian manufacturer went into liquidation, Waterworth sold the patent to the Symphony Gramophone and Radio Co Ltd in England. Although the company never produced the record changers, the key feature of Waterworth's design, the stepped centre spindle, was used in record changers which became popular in later years.

Speedo (1927)

The 'Great Aussie Cossie' made its debut in 1927 when Speedo launched the revolutionary 'racer-back' style, which reduced fabric drag. In 1955, Speedo introduced the use of nylon for their racing swimwear. At the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympics, more than 70 per cent of all swimming medals were won by competitors wearing Speedo.

Transverse folding stroller (1942)

In 1942, Harold Cornish designed the first transverse folding stroller. The sturdy, lightweight design of his Stoway Strollers made life easier for many mothers using public transport as it could be folded and placed under a tram seat.

Castors (1946)

Engineer George Shepherd invented the dome shaped furniture castors back in the 1930s. The ingenious design was first produced commercially in 1946, and gradually replaced the traditional pivoted wheel castors around the world.

Atomic absorption spectrophotometer (1952)

Atomic absorption spectrophotometer is a complex analytical instrument incorporating micro-computer electronics and precision optics and mechanics, used in chemical analysis to determine low concentrations of metals in a wide variety of substances. It was first developed in 1952 by Sir Alan Walsh of the CSIRO. The instrument far surpassed the technology of the day. It is now manufactured in Australia by GBC Scientific Equipment Pty Ltd and Varian Australia Pty Ltd, and a number of international companies.

Flame ionisation detector (1957)

One of the most accurate instruments ever developed for the detection of emissions and environmental control, was the flame ionisation detector, invented by Ian McWilliam at the Australian subsidiary of ICI in 1957. The instrument, which could measure one part in 10 million, has been used worldwide in a number of important areas, including chemical analysis in the petrochemical industry, medical and biochemical research, and in the monitoring of the environment.

Plastic spectacle lenses (1960)

A special plastic developed in the United States for aircraft windshields, provided the material for the world's first plastic spectacle lenses made by Scientific Optical Laboratories of Australia (now Sola International Holdings Ltd) in 1960. The new lenses were 60 per cent lighter than glass and were also used for safety lenses and sunglasses.

Wine cask (1965)

The wine cask is arguably one of Australia's better known icons, even though the original idea of storing liquids in this fashion was first developed in the United States in the 1950s. Invented by Thomas Angrove of the wine making company Angrove's Pty Ltd, the wine cask - a cardboard box housing a plastic container which collapses as the wine is drawn off, thus preventing contact with air, was launched in 1965.

Vapocure process (1971)

In 1971, Vapocure International Pty Ltd developed a unique non-polluting, low energy process for drying paint, printing inks and coatings by exposing wet film to a vapour containing special catalysts. The patented process has been licensed worldwide for a wide diversity of applications.

In-stream Analysis (1972)

To speed-up analysis of metals during the recovery process, which used to take up to 24 hours, in 1972 Amdel Limited developed an on-the-spot analysis equipment called the In-Stream Analysis System, for the processing of copper, zinc, lead and platinum - and the washing of coal. This computerised system allowed continuous analysis of key metals and meant greater productivity for the mineral industry worldwide.

Plastic injection moulding software (1978)

In 1978, engineers at Moldflow Pty Ltd, revolutionised the plastic injection process with a new computer aided engineering software, that simulated the injection moulding process and offered a design strategy to evaluate, refine and optimise successive simulations. It gave engineers the capability to "manufacture" plastic products while still on the drawing board. The technique has been used widely in the automotive, whitegoods, computer, packaging, communications, aeronautical and photographic industries.

Race-cam (1979)

Race-cam was developed by Geoff Healey, an engineer with Australian Television Network Seven in Sydney. The tiny lightweight camera is used in sports broadcasts and provides viewers with spectacular views of events such as motor racing, which are impossible with conventional cameras. Race-cam was launched in 1979.

Frozen embryo baby (1984)

Other major Australian breakthroughs included the world's first frozen embryo baby born in Melbourne on 28 March 1984.

As we approach the end of the 20th century, Australians have clearly demonstrated their creativity, capability and inventiveness in so many diverse fields. They have contributed much to the overall quality of life for the 'global citizen' in today's world. What marvels can we expect from them in tomorrow's world?

  • Early Innovations in Agriculture
  • Early Innovations in Transport
  • Early Innovations in Communications
  • Early Innovations in Science and Medicine
  • Imaginative Innovations
  • Notable Australian World Firsts from 1838 to 1995.

    Public Notice: Due to an unresolved dispute with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), who copied and adopted as their own certain material from Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published the material in their Australia Open for Business website, without remorse or recompense, access by Australian Government servers to this online edition has been blocked indefinitely.

    Print Edition: ISBN 0646252119 - Paperback - 224 pages - 350 illustrations - $55.00 incl. GST.

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