On November 19, 1981 new telephone plug sockets were introduced for the first time by British Telecom.

A new plug socket might not sound particularly exciting, but for the first time this allowed telephone users to buy their own phone and plug it in, rather than renting one.

[Read more: 9 telecoms technologies that changed our lives]

The new plugs were British Standard BS 6312, also known as ‘BT Standard.’ Prior to the standard, the majority of plugs used a hard-wired system, which required an engineer.

BT Standard connector

As far back as 1969, there were some jack-type plugs that allowed customers to move phones around, but the new type of plug allowed customers to buy handsets from BT and other companies.

 In January 1982, 11 phones hops were opened in major department stores.

Here are ten everyday inventions, that make a huge difference to our lives, but we take for granted.


The computer mouse

Douglas Engelbart mouse

If you are reading this on a PC, it’s highly likely you are using Douglas Engelbart’s invention – the computer mouse. 

In 1967 he applied for  US 3541541 patent for an: “X-Y position indicator control for movement by the hand over any surface to move a cursor over the display on a cathode ray tube, the indicator control generating signals indicating its position, to cause a cursor to be displayed on the tube at the corresponding position.”


Safety pin

Safety pin patent

From nappies to dressmaking, medicine and body jewellery, the humble safety pin is something we use every day. The pin, with a clasp and spring mechanism, was invented by Walter Hunt in 1849.

He sold the patent for $400 to pay off a debt. Over the years the buyer, W.R. Grace and Company, have made millions.

[Read more: Wacky British inventions that failed]



Pacemakers give life to people all over the word, but their invention was a happy accident by electrical engineer Wilson Greatbatch.

He was working at the University of Buffalo building a device to record heart sounds, when he used the wrong resistor that gave off an unfamiliar pulse.

He later wrote: “I stared at the thing in disbelief and then realized that this was exactly what was needed to drive a heart. For the next five years most of the world’s pacemakers were to use a blocking oscillator…. just because I grabbed the wrong resistor.” 


Soft contact lens

Contact lens

Early contact lenses were hard and made from glass or plastic. The invention of the soft contact lens changed the life of many people with eye issues.

Chemist Otto Wichterle experimented with hydroxyethyl methacrylate at his home, using the water-retaining plastic to spin cast a lens that didn’t dry out on the eyeball.

He sold the rights in 1966 to an American company called Bausch & Lomb, which manufactured them in the US.


Zippo lighter

Zippo lighter

George G. Blaisdell  from the Zippo Manufacturing Company patented the Zippo lighter in 1936. Made from metal, the Zippo lighter is reusable and includes a wind proof design.

They were used by the US military in the 1960s to burn down villages during the Vietnam War.


Phillips-head screw and screwdriver

Phillips screw head

The Phillips screw was developed by Henry Frank Phillips in the 1930s, after he bought a self-centring design from John P. Thompson.

The motoring industry was using assembly lines with automated screwdrivers, so needed a screw that could handle more torque. Enter the renamed Phillips screw with an X-shaped socket head.

By the 1930s it was widely used for car manufacturing.


Smoke detector

Smoke alarm

The first automatic fire alarm was developed as early as 1980 by Francis Robbins Upton, but it was in 1965 that the first smoke detector with a replaceable battery was mass produced.

It was developed by Duane D. Pearsall. He was instrumental along with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in getting the law changed, so smoke detectors were installed in new buildings.

[Read more: Take our area codes dialling quiz]


Egg box

Egg box

OK, it’s not strictly technological, but the egg box is an ingenious invention which has been used around the world for over 100 years. 

Joseph Coyle, a newspaper editor from Canada, made it by hand using cardboard with cushioned slots, allegedly to solve an argument between an egg delivery man and a hotelier.

[Read more: 8 British inventions that changed the world]

Traffic light

Traffic light

Invented in 1868 by engineer John Peake Knight, the traffic light has saved the lives of thousands of people around the world.

Located near the House of Commons, the first traffic light was operated manually by a policeman. It used a semaphore system with arms directing the horse-drawn carts.

At night it used red and green gas-powered lights. Unfortunately one of the traffic lights exploded, killing a policeman, and the idea was abandoned until electric signals were introduced.


The barcode


Morse code was the inspiration Norman Woodland used to create the barcode in the late 1940s, extending the dots and dashes to make lines.

Woodland and his friend Bernard Silver were granted a patent in 1952: “To provide automatic apparatus for classifying things according to photo-response to lines and/or colours which constitute classification instructions and which have been attached to, imprinted upon or caused to represent the things being classified.”

The first barcode was scanned on June 26, 1974 in Ohio. It was a packet of chewing gum.

Credit: BT Archives

Picture credit: "British Telephone connector" by Megapixie at Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Patent 6281 by U.S. Patent Office - inventor Walter Hunt. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Read more: From the first phone call to the speaking clock - how the UK got connected