Inventions – not so serious and serious

The First World War was a time for inventions. A classic example is the British invention of the tank – there were many ideas for a mechanical war vehicle before 1915 but it was not until the first tank, built by William Foster of Lincoln, rolled out of the factory did it become reality. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project looks at patent applications as reported in the local newspaper which includes one from a Poole resident.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported that while the number of patent applications in 1914 by men had dropped by 5,000, presumably because of the war, those by women had remained at 350 ie virtually the same as in 1913. The article listed the types of invention applied for by women – these ranged from clothing and medical to motor cars and cycling. It noted that amongst the inventions which could be of military use was an inflatable life-belt and nets ‘for defensive purposes’. The article is an illuminating example of attitudes of the era. It refers to ‘the versatility of women’s genius’ but then says that several applications from women were joint with a man – ‘naturally [one can] conclude that in such cases the device has emanated from the brain of the gentleman’.

The War Office had several committees which looked at inventions. For example, the Air Inventions Committee received several thousand ideas in the nine months up to July 1918. Two of the more unusual suggestions were that moonlight could be countered by hiding the Moon with a black balloon while another suggested that clouds could be frozen so that guns could be put on them.

In June 1917, under the headline ‘Armour Plate: A Dorset Invention’, the local newspaper reported that a Poole man, Mr J. Pullman, of The Knollsea, Lilliput, Parkstone had been granted a patent for his invention of a type of body armour. It was to be made of metal plates that would overlap in a series of fabric pockets and fabric hinges to make it flexible. The armour could be worn over the body or attached to a jacket. The metal plates could differ in thickness depending on which part of the body they protected. The newspaper article did not give the patent number and a search of various sources has unfortunately not uncovered the original patent. Did Pullman’s invention ever develop beyond just an idea?

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