The December 8th issue of The Economist has an advert on pages 16 & 17 for UK Trade & Investment, which is the UK Government organisation that helps UK-based companies ‘succeed in an increasingly global economy. Its range of expert services are tailored to the needs of individual businesses to maximise their international success. They provide companies with knowledge, advice and practical support’.
Their ad baldly declares ‘So, apart from the iPod, the internet, Oxford University, investment banking, the railway, penicillin, Concorde, bioscience, copyright, (and the crossword puzzle)… what has the UK ever done for you?’ along with the tag ‘Hit the world running’. Now, forgive us for being so pedantic, but the ad implies that the UK brought us all the above.
A quick examination (admittedly a very quick web search and probably as doubtful as the ad agency’s research) of these claims casts doubt on the veracity of the ad.
1. The iPod (from Wikipedia). Apple’s hardware engineering chief, Jon Rubinstein (American), ordered by Steve Jobs American), assembled a team of engineers to design it, including Tony Fadell (described as father of the iPod by Wired magazine – American), hardware engineer Michael Dhuey (also American), and design engineer Jonathon Ive (principal designer of the iMac, iPod and the iPhone and yes – a Londoner!). So the design engineer was English but the team was predominantly American.
2. The Internet. British scientist Tim Berners-Lee had begun creating HTML, HTTP and the first few Web pages at CERN in 1989. The Web began as a CERN project initiated by Lee and Robert Cailliau in 1990. It’s arguable who invented the internet! No one person invented the Internet as we know it today. However, certain major figures, including Berners-Lee contributed major breakthroughs. So an Englishman was a leading figure in the development of the internet.
3. Oxford University – Is a University in the UK.
4. Investment banking – not sure!
5. The Railway. The earliest evidence of a railway is a 6th century track in Greece called the Diolkos wagonway which transported boats – they were pushed by slaves in grooves in limestone, which provided the track element, preventing the wagons from leaving the intended route. The first horse-drawn wagonways also appeared in ancient Greece, with others to be found on Malta and various parts of the Roman Empire. Wagonways or Tramways are thought to have developed in Germany in the 1550’s to facilitate the transport of ore tubs to and from mines, utilising primitive wooden rails. The technology appears to have only arrived in Britain in the early 1600’s.
6. Penicillin. The discovery of penicillin is usually attributed to Fleming (a Scot) in 1928. However, in 2000, doctors in Costa Rica published manuscripts belonging to a Costa Rican scientist (Twight – 1887 -1944) which explained his experiences between 1915 and 1927 regarding the inhibitory actions of the fungi of genera Penic. Apparently he had reported his discovery to the Paris Academy of Sciences in Paris, but did not patent it.
7. Concorde – The design was a UK design.
8. The biosciences – the branches of natural science dealing with the structure and behavior of living organisms – to say that the UK gave us Bioscience is surely a stretch.
9. The first historic mention of Copyright can be traced to Early Christian Ireland. It is contained in a judgement of Diarmaid against Columba who had been accused of plagiarizing a Psalter of St. Finian’s. This led to Diarmuid’s ruling that ‘As to every Cow its Calf, so to every Book its Copy’. The first law of copyright came in 1709 with the English Statute of Anne. Therefore Copyright was an Irish invention.
10. And finally, the Crossword. Arthur Wynne, a Briton who emigrated to the United States wrote the first crossword puzzle for an American newspaper called the New York World. It was published on Sunday, December 21, 1913. Wynne based his crossword puzzle on a similar but much older game played in ancient Pompeii translated from Latin to mean magic squares! Here’s a link to the earliest crossword puzzle.
Pedantic Paddy therefore points out that the ad should more correctly read:
‘So, apart from the iPod, the internet, Oxford University, investment banking, the railway, penicillin, Concorde, bioscience, copyright (and the crossword puzzle) – some of which were brought to you by, or invented in the UK, but most of which were realised by other county’s citizens but we have erroneously ascribed them to the UK in this ad for one of our Government Agencies … what has the UK ever done for you?’.