While long-dead engineers are still widely recognised, modern-day geniuses like Trevor Baylis and James Dyson (pictured above) are not as well-known, according to IET research.
Alexander Graham Bell, the man behind the telephone, has topped a poll of the greatest British engineers of all time, being mentioned by 41%. He came in ahead of George Stephenson (38%), the inventor of the steam locomotive engine, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (37%), who built the Great Western Railway.
Also high on the list was John Logie Baird (23%), the inventor of the television, and Michael Faraday (12%), the forefather of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.
However, the significant achievements of more contemporary inventors such as British engineer Frank Whittle (11%), best known as the inventor of the turbo jet engine, came much further down the list. So did Sir James Dyson (7%), inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner.
The study, conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), was intended to find out how much the general public knows about engineering and how it contributes to the nation and the world.
“The survey highlights a lack of awareness of the central role of engineering and engineers in our everyday lives,” said Barry Brooks, who has this week become the new President of the IET. “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.”
The survey also showed that less than 2% had heard of some of Britain’s greatest current engineers such as Trevor Baylis, best known for inventing the wind-up radio. Respondents were also tested on whether they were aware of which great inventions came out of Britain, with 37% unaware that the television was invented here, 26% the jet engine and a quarter (25%) the steam engine. However, just over one-third (34%) knew that the telephone was not developed in the UK, despite its inventor being Scottish.
While three-quarters of those surveyed were confident that they knew what an engineer was and did, less than half (44%) correctly identified that an engineer is a person who designs, builds or maintains engines, machines or public works.
Incoming IET President Barry Brookes will be conducting his maiden speech tonight from London on on British innovation, engineering and invention
A live stream will begin from 6.45 and is available via the following links: http://www.studiotalk.tv/show/british-innovation-the-past-present-and-future or http://conferences.theiet.org/presidents-address/webcast/index.cfm