Despite having little education in the subject, Winston Churchill was fascinated by science. His interest was more than just a hobby – thanks to his passion, science and technology became priorities for the British government, and, naturally, increased funding led to breakthrough after breakthrough.
To celebrate Winston Churchill Day on April 9, we’ve brought together eight facts about Churchill and technology that you might not know. From wacky inventions to spot-on predictions, here’s how Churchill’s interest in tech changed the course of British history.
1. He was the first prime minister to insist on a scientific adviser
It didn’t even occur to his predecessors to be in constant contact with a scientific expert, but Churchill understood the power of science. As such, he was the first premier to have a dedicated scientific adviser at his beck and call. Under Churchill, scientists were given unprecedented access to the government and to funding.
2. He was inspired by science fiction
Churchill was a close friend of sci-fi author H.G. Wells. Churchill said that Wells’ book The Time Machine was “one of the books I would like to take with me to purgatory”. His love of sci-fi inspired some of his more outlandish ideas, including aerial mines and an aircraft carrier that was made from an iceberg – ideas Churchill described as ‘funnies’.
3. He invented a rolling, rocket-powered bomb that didn’t work
Perhaps the craziest of Churchill’s ‘funnies’ was The Panjandrum. It was essentially two huge wheels packed with explosives, and powered by rockets. The idea was the rockets would send it rolling towards the German defences on the beaches of Normandy, and you can imagine the rest. However, it proved impossible to control, and the idea was dropped.
4. He predicted wireless telephones and smart TVs
In a 1931 essay called Fifty Years Hence, Churchill wrote that wireless telephones and TVs would “enable their owner to connect up with any room similarly installed, and hear and take part in the conversation as well as if he put his head in through the window.” How prescient.
5. He foresaw the nuclear age
As early as 1914, Churchill was already speaking about the potential of atomic bombs. In an article in The Strand Magazine in 1931, he predicted that scientists would soon be able to harness nuclear energy as a weapon, and that “explosive forces, energy, materials, machinery will be available upon a scale which can annihilate whole nations.” These “tremendous and awful” powers would pose one of mankind’s greatest challenges, he added. He was also instrumental in setting up Britain’s nuclear project.
6. He pioneered the use of tanks
Once Churchill’s friend H.G Wells had showed him the importance of tanks in combat, Churchill became a huge advocate of the vehicles. He was even known as the godfather of tanks, such was his support. Tanks ended up being instrumental in winning the First World War.
7. He saw the importance of nutritional science
Churchill recognised the importance of keeping both soldiers and civilians healthy, and set up projects to devise the best diets and exercise regimes. He also employed two food scientists – Robert McCance and Elsie Widdowson – to test the austere war diet on themselves, combined with the benefits of fell walking in the Lake District. Nice work if you can get it.
8. He invented the onesie, though his was more technical than today’s lounging outfits
Churchill’s ‘siren suit’ was an all-in-one outfit that was designed to be donned during air raids. Similar to a boiler suit in style, it could be put on over nightclothes, and kept both adults and children warm when on their way to air-raid shelters. Churchill did much to publicise the siren suit, wearing it while meeting such high ranking officials as US president Franklin D. Roosevelt.