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Most important inventions? The wheel, the internet and the teabag, according to survey

People think the Victorian age was the most inventive

The humble teabag and the internet are among the inventions the British public have chosen as the most important of all time, in a survey for English Heritage.

The poll comes as the charity reveals some of the great examples of human ingenuity it has found in its vast collection of historic artefacts in its castles, forts and stately homes.

A nationwide exhibition for English Heritage’s “Ingenious!” season includes innovative objects from ground-breaking Roman armour at Corbridge Roman Town in Northumberland to a state-of-the-art 1930s vacuum cleaner at Eltham Palace, London.

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(Joe Giddens/PA

With the research also revealing people think the Victorian age was the most inventive, the displays also include an ice-cream maker from the era at Brodsworth Hall and the Bell telephone at Queen Victoria’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

The survey of 2,005 people by ICM Unlimited found some unsurprising choices in the top 10, including the wheel, light bulbs and penicillin, chosen from a long list of inventions over time.

But there were some more unexpected ones, with the British valuing the invention of the teabag, which has transformed the making of the average cuppa, while sewers, the plough and clocks also made it onto the list.

Teabags were invented by accident in 1908 when American entrepreneur Thomas Sullivan decided to package samples of tea in bags made of silk and customers assumed the teabags were intended to be dipped into hot water.

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(Julien Behal/PA)

Matt Thompson, head collections curator at English Heritage, said: “This summer, at our sites across the country, we’re celebrating ingenuity through the ages and – from prehistoric axes to vintage vacuum cleaners – we’re showcasing some of the most important inventions of all time.

“History has been built on ingenious inventions, big and small, and it’s fascinating today to hear what people find ingenious. The teabag was invented by accident but has stood the test of time.”

English Heritage is urging people to pick their favourite invention from the top 10 by voting.

The charity, which as around 100,000 artefacts on display across more than 400 sites at any time, also says it may have missed some ingenious objects and wants the public to get to its sites and let it know by tweeting #Ingenious with anything they think should have been included.

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