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Northern Irish Entrepreneurs

Are you Northern Ireland’s next great entrepreneur?

It is a little known fact that Northern Irish citizens have produced some brilliant inventions. From Tractors to milk chocolate, we have created a lot over the years. Here is a list of 20 inventions that you may not know originated from Northern Ireland.

Milk Chocolate:

Invented by Hans Sloane from Killyleagh in Co Down. Sloane was a royal physician who travelled to Jamaica in 1687. During his time in Jamaica he catalogued hundreds of botanical species, including the cocoa bean. Locals would mix the cocoa bean with water, but Sloane found this hard to drink, so instead boiled the cocoa with milk and sugar, inventing milk chocolate. Sloane went on to use this recipe to treat digestion and consumption issues. It was more than 60 years later that Cadbury then produced ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate’.


The world’s first omnibus and streetcar were created back in 1833 by John Stephenson from Armagh.  Immigrating to New York with his parents when he was two years old. Stephenson later went on to open his own manufacturing business building streetcars until the great depression. Undeterred by the closure of his company Stephenson bounced back and repaid loans with interest, earning him the nickname ‘Honest John Stephenson’

Discount Department Stores and Mail Order Business:

In 1823, Alexander Turney Stewart originally from Lisburn moved to New York at the age of 20. He spent his $3,000 inheritance on Irish lace and linens. With this investment Stewart established a small store in Manhattan and built an empire on retail prices.  Full length mirrors and fashion shows lured women into Stewart’s second store, while an innovative mailer order business solidified his wealth.

Milk of Magnesia:

James Murray, an Irish physician from Co. Derry carried out research into digestion that led to the creation on Milk of Magnesia in 1809. The fluid magnesia was developed by using Magnesium sulfate which was known for its benefits in digestion. Murray set up a factory in Belfast to commercially produce the product. He also set up the company Sir James Murray & Sons to market the product under its new name of ‘Milk of Magnesia’.

Artificial Fertiliser:

During Murray’s research for the Milk of Magnesia, he also discovered that the by-products created when creating the Milk of Magnesia included sodium, potassium, bicarbonates and silicates. He treated them with sulphuric acid and created artificial fertiliser in 1817.

Safety Lamp:

William Reid Clanny, a physician from Bangor served as an assistant surgeon in the Royal Navy. It was the Felling Colliery disaster of 1812 encouraged him to deal with the issues of underground lighting. The first lamp that Clanny had designed was a candle in a glass surround. Below the glass was a trough which contained water through which air was forced by a pair of bellows and the fumes came out through another water chamber above.

The Ulster Overcoat:

A coat made famous by the ficitonal character Sherlock Holmes, was designed by John Getty McGee. McGee owned the Ulster Overcoat Company and had a shop based on High Street in Belfast. The double-breasted coat was cut from heavy Donegal tweed. Features of the coat included pleats, pockets and a belt also giving the option to add a cape.

The Kelvin Scale:

William Thomson was born in Belfast in 1824. He determined a lower limit to temperature, absolute zero, as -273.15 degree Celsius. He went on to create many other inventions. In 1866 he helped calculate the required thickness for the first transatlantic telegraph cable and also invented the reversible heat engine – which is now the basis for refrigeration techniques. He also designed the compass which is fitted to every British Naval Ship.

Electric Tramway:

The first electric tramway was invented by Brothers William and Anthony Traill from Co Antrim. The Giant’s Causeway Tramway was first opened in January 1883 and is still in use today. The first section was a three-foot narrow gauge line which harnessed hydro-electric power. The first section also linked Bushmills with Portrush.

Pneumatic Tyres:

John Dunlop from Belfast created what has been called one of transportations greatest inventions to date, with the use of air filled tubes. This was invented as a result of Dunlop’s son asking him to make his tricycles solid rubber wheels more comfortable. This was because of Belfast’s bumpy roads.

Penalty Kick:

William McCrum from Milford in Co Armagh played as goalkeep her Milford FC. Not a fan of foul play around the goal line, Mc Crum invented the penalty kick to stop unsportsman behaviour. The idea was approved in 1891 after being proposed at an International Football Association Board meeting in 1890.

The LA Aqueduct:

William Mulholland born in Belfast, moved to California in 1877 aged 22, after spending 4 years in the Merchant Navy. He was a self-taught engineer and designed the 200 mile Los Angeles Aqueduct to being water to the City. It opened in 1913 after taking five years to build.

The Modern Tractor:

Harry Ferguson from Growel in Co Down invented the three-point linage system to combine the tractors and ploughs, cutting out the cumbersome and dangerous process that was previously required to operate them. He combined the two together and used hydraulics to move the plough, resulting in less time consuming, safer and more cost-effective farming.

The Ejector Seat:

After his business partner was killed in a test flight in 1942, James Martin from Crossgar, Co. Down who was an aircraft manufacturer turned his attention to flight safety. During World War II, Martin researched escape mechanisms for the spitfire and from his research created an explosive charge to forcibly eject the pilot’s seat. The first test was conducted in 1945 with the first in-flight test taking place a year later. More than 7,400 pilots have successfully ejected to date as a result of this invention.

Portable Defibrillator:

Frank Pantridge from Hillsborough was a physician who later became a cardiologist. During the Second World War, Partridge became a Japanese prisoner of war and after the war he went to study cardiology in the US before he returned to Belfast, becoming a cardiac consultant in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Pantridge invented the portable defibrillator in 1966 as a result of the urgent need to treat cardiac patients.

Split Atom:

Ernest Walton from Belfast attended Cambridge University in the early 1930s where he met John Cockcroft and changed the world with atom-smashing experiments. The pair created an apparatus which showed that nuclei of various lightweight elements could be split by using fast moving protons. They received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 for their work on the transmutation of the atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles.


Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was born in Belfast in 1943.  Graduating with a degree in physics from the University of Glasgow before gaining a PhD at Cambridge University. She discovered the first radio pulsars, using a radio telescope designed by her advisors Anthony Hewish and Martin Ryle. She found strange radio pulses coming from a single point in the sky. Bell Burnell and her colleagues later confirmed that the pulsars were produced by rapidly revolving neutron stars.

Earthworm Jim:

Earthworm Jim was created by David Perry from Lisburn, he created the game in 1994. As a result of the popularity of the game, Perry became one of the top developers for Shiny Entertainment, one of the world’s leading game developers.


Dr Wallace Dinsmore from Belfast formed part of a team of researchers who were working on creating a drug to treat angina in 1999. They soon discovered the side effect of the drug which is now known as Viagra.

Large Hadron Collider:

Dr Steve Myers from Belfast was one of the scientists behind the recent discover of the so-called ‘God Particle’. He is also described by his peers as ‘the man who made the Large Hadron Collider Work’. Myers is currently the director of accelerators and technology at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Northern Ireland’s inventions have contributed a lot to the world. Could you be the next great Northern Irish entrepreneur?

If you would like more information regarding jobs within Northern Irelandjoin our Belfast for Life community where we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

10:12 20/09/2017