Skip to content

Let me introduce the PS Savannah (‘PS’ stands for paddle steamer). 190 years ago, Savannah was docked in Russia while the captain received a gold watch from the country’s Emperor. What was the occasion? A few months earlier, Savannah had become the world’s first steam-powered ship to cross an ocean, travelling from Savannah (on America’s south-east coast), to Liverpool (on England’s west coast) in 29 days. Actually, it was a hybrid sail and steam ship, and most of its journey was carried out under sail, not steam […]

The latest addition to the Science Museum’s road transport collection is the last ever coin-operated kerbside parking meter in Westminster. It arrived at our storage facility last week (let’s hope the delivery van didn’t get a parking ticket). Westminster Council was the first in Britain to install parking meters, back in 1958 (great Times article here), and the roadside sentries have been a feature of London’s West End (and elsewhere) ever since. This particular one was installed in Warwick Square […]

I live on the A2 trunk road as it goes through Greenwich. Well, not actually on it, that would hurt. But I live close enough to hear lots of traffic, and amongst the police sirens (this is south-east London, after all), the 2-stroke scooters and the bass-bins kicking out music I don’t like very much, some of the noisier vehicles are the lorries. But it could have been worse, if it wasn’t for the work of British transport scientists, which leads me […]

I woke yesterday to the news that the Mini is set to receive a boost, as two new models are to be built at BMW’s plant in Cowley, Oxford. Up to 1,000 jobs might be created. Our love affair with the Mini goes back to 1959. Versions of the original design, by Alec Issigonis, continued in production until 2000, and BMW launched the new Mini the following year. Our curator Andrew Nahum’s book on Issigonis tells the whole story. My parents had a Mini […]

The Royal Mail is planning to phase out postal deliveries by bike, according to the Telegraph. Even if new methods are slowly taking over it’s great to know that muscle-power is still used in the final stages of the supply chain, as it’s often the best technology for the job. Until the eighteenth century, mail delivery was largely a matter of messengers on horseback, or slow horse-drawn carts, and by all accounts it was a pretty inefficient system. Then 225 years […]

Earlier this week, a team of British engineers broke the world steam-car land speed record. The ‘Inspiration’ car used a turbine driven by steam from twelve boilers fitted inside the car – check out the video here. The previous record was set in 1906, by American racing car driver Fred Marriott. Marriott drove a Stanley steam car at Daytona Beach for his 1906 record-setting run, averaging an impressive 128mph. The record stood for more than a hundred years, until the Inspiration team drove their […]

Tuesday was the 90th anniversary of the first daily scheduled airline service. By today’s standards it was a pretty modest affair. The aircraft seated a grand total of two alongside packets of mail. But it was a start. The service ran between Hounslow Heath (near today’s London Heathrow Airport) and Le Bourget, just outside Paris. It was operated by the Aircraft Transport & Travel company run by George Holt-Thomas, and 25 August 1919 saw its inaugural flight. Those first services […]

I happened across this BBC news report about a stolen bus brought to a halt on the M1 motorway by a police stinger. If you want to see a stinger up close, you’d be better off visiting our Making the Modern World gallery and seeing the one we’ve got on display, rather than stealing a bus: Quite by chance, our stinger is on display right next to a piece of the M1 motorway: And to complete this very literal interpretation […]

I had a great day yesterday at the Science Museum Wroughton, recording a series of video interviews promoting the Festival of Innovation (12 – 13 September). I was there to talk about twenty transport icons that shaped the modern world. One was a Moulton bicycle, the first significant design change to the bike since J. K. Starley’s ‘Rover’ safety bicycle hit the scene in the 1880s. The Moulton is a small-wheel, compact cycle with full suspension that is easy to […]

Last week I showed you one of our family of crash-test dummies, called Sierra Susie. I was never really sure whether that was a type name or a one-off until I found, quite by chance, a 1996 NATO report on crash test dummies. It was stuffed in a filing cabinet I had never previously had the courage to open. My office is full of them. Anyway, right at the front I found a table of dummy types. The first whole-body […]

Last week our Antenna team brought in a pair of self-guided ‘pod cars’ that will soon be installed at Heathrow airport, transporting passengers from the car parks to the terminals. There’s no driver in the four-seat cabins – they’re controlled by lasers bouncing off an external guideway and feedback tells the pod to steer as necessary. It’s a sophisticated new take on a fifty-year-old concern. The Science Museum has a 1960 Citroen DS19 car which was modified by the Road […]

I saw a report in last week’s Daily Telegraph suggesting that whilst road deaths are on a general downwards slope, drink-driving deaths were up last year. The report then brings up the perennial debate about speed cameras. This is, of course, a complex matter, involving the intersection of people, technology and legislation. Cars and trucks are big, heavy and fast, so road safety – for passengers and pedestrians – has been the subject of life-saving innovation for decades. On display […]