Inventions and Technology in Sport

  • The rounded cue

    The rounded cue
    Before Captain Francois Mingaud invented the rounded cue tip in 1807, a push and prod was as sophisticated as a billiards shot could be. Mingaud's tip opened up a whole new level of skill, allowing a ball to be spun back. Eventually he had 40 shots in his locker, including glancing blows and raised cue shots. Pros such as Jack Carr made a living selling special "twisting chalk", until it was discovered that any old chalk would do.
  • Lawn Mower

    Lawn Mower
    Before the lawn mower, all sports fields had to be grazed messily by sheep, or cut by men with scythes while the dew was still on the grass. That was until 1830 when West Country engineer Edwin Beard Budding adapted wool trimming technology to "crop or shear the vegetable surface of lawns". Once anyone with a few quid could have a reliable playing surface, the way was open for new games such as croquet and tennis.
  • Longitudinal socks

    Longitudinal socks
    Now known as cricket pads. "Long" Jack Robinson of Surrey first saved his shins with a wooden pair in 1800, but it took vulcanised rubber and batsman Nicholas "Felix" Wanostrocht to make them acceptable. Felix's enthusiasm for leg protection in the 1840s was no surprise given that Kent team-mate Alfred Mynn was so badly injured at the wicket that he almost lost his leg. Footballers adopted shin guards from 1874.
  • The vulcanised rubber tennis ball

    The vulcanised rubber tennis ball
    Charles Goodyear spent nearly 20 years trying to create a rubber that didn't stink, melt or crack. Having been imprisoned for debt, nearly killed himself with nitric acid and worn a foul-smelling rubber suit for promotional purposes, he finally chanced upon his dream of "vulcanised" rubber in 1843. Once rubber balls could be pumped up hard enough to bounce properly off grass, lawn tennis – and modern football – soon followed.
  • The racing shell

    The racing shell
    Racing Shell His rivals cried "foul", but it was Tyneside's Harry Clasper who put together the first modern rowing boat. Clasper combined a narrow lightweight hull with cross-braced outriggers so that the crew, now seated in line, could get the same leverage as on a wider craft. By replacing tubs with tubes, Harry and his family won the 1845 national rowing championships and he built his first eight-man "Clasper" three years later.
  • The Dartboard

    The Dartboard
    The dartboard For centuries boards were barrel tops or slices of tree with bull's eyes marked. Then, in 1896, Bury showman Brian Gamlin devised a 1-20 board, with the higher scoring segments separated by lower ones to make the game harder. His layout is one of the best of the myriad possible combinations. But even that wasn't as clever as the slogan he used to draw punters to his fairground stall: "No skill required".
  • The Haskell Golf Ball

    The Haskell Golf Ball
    Bouncing a ball of rubber bands paid off for Ohio businessman Coburn Haskell in 1899. He found that such a ball, coated with traditional latex or gutta percha, had more spin and "feel" and flew 25 metres further than existing "gutty" balls. With bumps (which later became dimples) to reduce their swerve, Haskell's "bounding billies" won Alexander Herd the 1902 Open, ushering in more challenging courses and more aggressive play.
  • The rubber-faced table tennis bat

    The rubber-faced table tennis bat
    Table tennis would have remained a harmless pat-a-cake had it not been for London sporting goods manufacturer Frank Bryan. James Gibb's introduction of the celluloid ball helped, but it was Bryan's 1901 rubber-faced Atropos bat ("A wonderful bat for screwing") that made it a genuine athletic sport. In fact the spin became so unplayable on serve that since the 30s the ball has had to be tossed up from the palm.
  • The derailleur gear

    The derailleur gear
    Derailleur Gear Two was the full range of gears available to racing cyclists before Tullio Campagnolo, competing in the 1927 Gran Premio della Vittoria, found himself on the snowy Croce d'Aune pass in the Dolomites, trying to disengage his back wheel and turn it round to employ the other gear for the descent. Tullio's moment of realisation led to the quick-release hub and, in 1937, to the first rod-operated derailleur, as used by Fausto Coppi, above.
  • Shorts

    The 1947 US and Wimbledon champion Jack Kramer saw artificial surfaces, metal rackets and cortisone injections – but rated shorts, which he was the first to wear on Centre Court, the greatest innovation of all. Credit goes to Loretto School in Musselburgh, where shorts replaced knickerbockers in football in the 1890s, and where the boys played golf without coats and pioneered 'anatomical' – left and right-fitting - boots.