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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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who copied and adopted as their own certain material from
Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published
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