The humble fridge has been crowned by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) as one of the 15 most valuable inventions of the last 150 years.
It comes as the institution is celebrating innovation to mark its 150th anniversary. The list comprises discoveries and advancements that have contributed significantly to humanity, the planet, society and the economy, making their marks throughout our lives.
With fridges now found in almost all homes in the UK, the value of this widely available technology has been thrown into even sharper relief in recent months. Simple fridges have played a vital role in the Covid-19 vaccine programme roll-out across the globe.
As part of the celebrations, the IET has also thrown open its treasure trove archives, uncovering countless hidden gems that tell unique stories of each invention’s histories – not least the fridge!
These range from journals dating back to the 1920s through to brilliantly ‘inventive’ recipes for housewives to ‘cook’ in their fridges, such as American Fried Chicken and Orange Meringue Pie!
The archives bring to life the colourful, and often bizarre, stories behind some of our most valued technologies, from prototype to world changing final product.
Voted for by an esteemed panel of IET members, the list highlights the incredible impact that science and technology have on everyday life; from store cupboards to travel, healthcare to communication, the top 15 have profoundly changed humanity across the globe.
The IET Power 15
- AC power generation – brought electricity to our homes and, ultimately, light, comfort and all our essential gadgets.
- Aviation – drove the globalisation of the economy and made travel for business and pleasure accessible for the masses.
- Canned Food – made it possible to store and transport food safely and easily for the first time.
- Cars – revolutionised transport for the masses, and profoundly changed how businesses could market their goods.
- Computing – the invention without which almost all businesses would be unable to function, and which kept us connected with loved ones throughout the pandemic.
- Electric lightbulb – bringing illumination to our lives, this invention has made our days longer, streets safer and even enabled the early development of the TV!
- Fibreoptic communication – with enormous data carrying capacity, fibreoptic cables have revolutionised the way we are able to use the internet.
- Measurement – a true cornerstone of all scientific endeavour, the standardisation of measurement under SI units allows researchers across the globe to collaborate – never more essential than in the last year when developing Covid vaccines.
- Microscopes – the ability to magnify the world around us has played an essential role in advancing our understanding of nature, developing medicines and miniaturising technology.
- Telescope – advanced our understanding of the universe and fundamental laws of physics, without which essential technology like Satnavs would not function.
- Radio – the original communication revolutionary, radio played an integral role during the war and continues to be one of the most consumed forms of media in the world.
- Refrigeration – sparking another nutrition revolution, home refrigeration made fresh food accessible to millions.
- Telephony – these devices have become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives that they have totally engulfed the meaning of the word ‘mobile’.
- Triode valve – important for the development of international wireless networks, making modern Wifi and Bluetooth technology possible.
- X-Ray – from broken bones to cancer, this breakthrough remains one of the most important tools for medics across the globe.
Championing the role of science in society
Panel co-chair and president of the IET, Professor Danielle George MBE said, “This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. This makes for the perfect opportunity to celebrate and champion the invaluable role that science and engineering plays in society.
“I am immensely proud of our rich heritage of innovation, something our priceless archive brings to life in the most wonderful way. Each treasure represents a unique moment in the development of some of the most significant technological advancements in human history, many of which were made possible by IET members – difference makers, past and present.”
Encouraging everyone into careers in tech
The panel’s second chair, June Angelides MBE added, “As someone whose entire career is only possible thanks to the pioneers of technology, I understand better than any how utterly vital innovators, scientists and engineers are to practically every aspect of our modern lives.
“This fact fuels my passion for encouraging people from all backgrounds and genders into careers in technology. Having the opportunity to see into the incredible IET archives has been truly inspiring – not least because I was able to see first-hand how many incredible women have come before me.”
Best known for starting the UK’s first child-friendly coding school, Mums in Tech, IET Honorary Fellow June was passionate about computing technology being on the final list and remains a staunch advocate for the value of STEM to society.
Professor George concluded, “Many of the inventions on the list have played a pivotal role in helping us navigate our way out of the pandemic over the past year and will be crucial in our ongoing challenges to tackle global issues such as climate change.
“These facts viscerally underline the importance of STEM in today’s modern society; something which the IET will continue to invest in over the next 150 years.”