Alexander Graham Bell has topped a poll of the greatest British engineers of all time

Historic engineers better-known than modern counterparts

The man behind the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, has topped a poll of the greatest British engineers of all time.

Bell was chosen by 41 per cent of the 2,037 respondents beating George Stephenson (38 per cent), the inventor of the steam locomotive engine and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (37 per cent), who built the Great Western Railway, to claim the top spot.

Also featuring highly in the list was John Logie Baird (23 per cent), the inventor of the colour television, and Michael Faraday (12 per cent) the forefather of electromagnetism and electrochemistry who discovered electrolysis.

But more contemporary inventors such as British engineer Frank Whittle (11 per cent), who designed the turbo jet engine, seem to have made less of a mark on the public conscious, with James Dyson (7 per cent), inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, and Trevor Baylis (2 per cent), best known for inventing the wind-up radio, also low on people’s radars.

A surprising 8 per cent of respondents said they did not recognise any of the names they were presented with, while 3 per cent said none of the names should be classed as Britain’s greatest engineers.

And a staggering 25 per cent listed serial inventor Thomas Edison, most famous for devising the first commercially viable light bulb, among the UK’s top engineers despite him being from the USA.

The study was conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) to find out how much the general public knows about engineering and how much it contributes to the nation and the world.

Barry Brooks, who this week became the new President of the IET, said: “The survey highlights a lack of awareness of the central role of engineering and engineers in our everyday lives.”

Respondents were also tested on whether they were aware of which great inventions came out of Britain, with a third (34 per cent) unaware that the telephone was invented here, 37 per cent the television, 26 per cent the jet engine and a quarter (25 per cent) the steam engine.

While three quarters of those surveyed were confident that they knew what an engineer was and did, less than half (44 per cent) correctly identified that an engineer is a person who designs, builds or maintains engines, machines or public works.

Brooks added: “Engineering and technology benefits everyone, everywhere in the world. When you turn on the lights, receive calls and data on your mobile phone, or drive your car, these things couldn’t have been done without the work of engineers.

“During my term as IET President, I will be working hard to improve awareness of engineers and technicians in improving the quality of life of us all.”

Brooks will be delivering his President’s Address at the Royal Institution in London this evening.


Results of a poll asking about Britain's best known engineers

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