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Pioneers: innovators in science and technology

This is the on-line version of the exhibition which was in our searchroom showcases from October 2010 to January 2011. It was part of the national Archives Awareness Campaign on the theme of 'Discovery'. Science and Technology at Warwick, our display of photographs from the University Archive, was also part of that campaign.

The pioneers profiled are: John Boyd Dunlop, Sir Frank Whittle, Sir Arthur Vick and John Simmons.

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of each document.


the Belfast vet who ensured a smoother ride.

Dunlop’s invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1888 was a key moment in the history of cycling, and it has been hugely influential in the subsequent development of road transport generally.

“ . . . it struck me that indiarubber in an inflated form might be used to prevent the jarring of wheels to velocipedes . . .”

In this statement made in connection with a legal case, Dunlop outlines the process by which he arrived at his momentous invention.

Reference: MSS.328/N5/3/2/13A

Johnnie Dunlop, the inventor’s son, on the first bicycle ever fitted with pneumatic tyres in 1888

Dunlop senior claimed that the front wheel of this historic machine eventually covered 3,000 miles without a puncture.

Reference: MSS.328/N5/12/2/4

“. . . when deflated . . . the tyre does not show to advantage.”

The tyre and rim of the first Dunlop tyre ever constructed. This picture appears in the master copy of Dunlop’s The history of the pneumatic tyre. The note by his daughter, Jean, a staunch advocate of her father’s work, explains the tyre’s unimpressive appearance.

Reference: MSS.328/N5/4/2/10 page 26

Old racer

The 78-year-old Dunlop with his racing bike. The picture on the right shows him at a meeting of the ‘Irish Old Timers’ at Donnybrook in 1918. In his The history of the pneumatic tyre, Dunlop stated that this machine was then “the oldest air tyred cycle extant.” A note in the master copy of this book claimed that it had done about 8,000 miles.

References: MSS.328/N5/12/2/2 (left) & MSS.328/N5/12/1/5 (right) 


the local hero who launched the jet age.

This Earlsdon-born engineering genius was the main reason why the aircraft jet engine became a reality. He changed the course of aviation history and hence the lives of millions around the world.

Hot gases rather than propellers

Part of an outline of the key features of Whittle’s “W” engine drawn up in September 1940. This is from the papers Arthur Primrose Young, the works manager at British Thomson-Houston’s Rugby plant, where work on the engine was being carried out.

Reference: MSS.242/SW/13/2

" . . . the potentiality of this device is so enormous... "

Part of the draft of a memorandum submitted in September 1940 by Arthur Primrose Young of British Thomson-Houston to Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour and National Service, urging that work on Whittle’s engine be accelerated. Young, who was on secondment to the Ministry as a Director of Labour Supplies, wrote the memorandum after a frustrated Whittle had complained to him about the lack of co-operation he was experiencing. Bevin took the document to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and steps were then taken which led to the first British jet fighter, the Gloster E28/39, taking to the air in May 1941.

Reference: MSS.242/SW/13/5

“an outstanding inventive genius ... an outstanding scientist ... an outstanding engineer ... an outstanding man”

Oration by Warwick University’s Public Orator, Professor Allen Phillips Griffiths, to mark the award to Whittle (in his absence) of an honorary doctorate of science in 1968. Griffiths pays suitable tribute to Whittle’s achievements, although he does express the (presumably) tongue-in-cheek regret that the jet engine had removed an excuse “for a leisurely and luxurious sea passage across the Atlantic”.

Reference: UWA/PUB/10/2

Following in Sir Frank’s footsteps

Leaflet produced by the Warwick engineering department telling Whittle’s story in order to encourage a new generation of engineers.

Reference: UWA/PUB/DEP/7/1


the leading physicist and great supporter of Warwick

Vick’s distinguished career in academia and elsewhere included important war-time government research on bomb fuses and the directorship of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment. In retirement he served Warwick University as Pro-Chancellor and as a member of the Modern Records Centre's Advisory Board.

Transatlantic collaboration

Correspondence between Vick and Dr M A Tuve on the production and testing of shell fuses, 1942-1943. Tuve was the United States' Chief Physicist between 1938 and 1946. He refers in the last paragraph of his letter to the visit of A F H Thomson, one of Vick’s technical colleagues at the Ministry of Supply.

Reference: MSS.395/3/45/1

“The shell that beat the flying bomb . . .”

Official photograph of the radio proximity anti-aircraft shell fuse worked on by Vick during World War II, with a cutting from The Times explaining how it protected British warships from Kamikaze attacks as well as dealing with the flying bomb, September 1945.

Reference: MSS.395/3/1/2


the numbers man who revolutionised a business

Simmons was a statistician and a leader in the practical application of data-processing technology. Whilst working in the 1950s for the caterers, J. Lyons & Company Limited, he was the driving force behind LEO (Lyons Electronic Office), the world’s first business computer.

'The layman's guide to LEO'

Diagram showing the basic units required by any calculating machine and explaining that LEO uses them automatically without the need for an operator. Despite being aimed at a non-specialist readership, this guide runs to about 300 detailed pages.

Reference: MSS.363/S4/12

Performing for a princess

LEO showed the visiting Princess Elizabeth in 1951 that it could communicate both its success and its failure in running a programme. Jack Edwards, one of the engineers involved in the project, later claimed in a letter to the Lyons Mail that this was the first time a computer had printed a sentence (MSS.363/S4/14/1/23).

Reference: MSS.363/S4/3/2

The state of the art, c1953

The LEO installation at J Lyons’ Cadby Hall offices in London. The system was used for such functions as the management of the company’s payroll.

Reference: MSS.363/S4/10