In 1990 Routledge published An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology, edited by my good friend and fellow editor of the present work, Ian McNeil. The Encyclopaedia told the story of the inventiveness of human beings in applying their knowledge of the physical world to rendering their material circumstances less inconvenient and uncomfortable. Throughout the thousand and more pages of the Encyclopaedia, hundreds of characters flitted in and out, making tantalizingly brief appearances, before receding into the shadows. It is the aim of this biographical dictionary to bring these characters into the light of day, so we can see the background that produced them, the development of their inventions or discoveries and their significance in the area of technology concerned. We have selected almost 1,300 names of those whom we judge to have made a significant contribution, in one way or another, to the advance of technology.
The selection of these names was perhaps the most difficult part of the whole work. Technology has such wide ramifications, with vague boundaries with arts and crafts and, most difficult, with science. We have therefore encountered difficulties in selection which the compiler of a national biography, for example, does not have to cope with. We have tried not to duplicate the several biographical dictionaries of scientists, ranging from the handy works of reference to the magnificent series of volumes of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Nevertheless, many scientists have applied their discoveries to solving practical problems and thus also been 'technologists', or their discoveries have been so intimately bound up with a technological advance that it would seem too rigid to exclude them. Other names have been excluded for a variety of reasons. We would like to have included the inventors of the wheel, the smelting furnace or the glass blowing iron, but their names are lost in the mists of antiquity. At the other end of the time scale, it is not easy to identify discoverers, because many technical achievements this century have been by teams of workers at the behest of large companies. Sometimes a leading name can be identified; his or her co-worker will then be mentioned in the entry for the main contributor rather than duplicate much of the information in an entry for the co-worker. Indeed, many names of those who have made some contribution to a great advance but who do not rate an entry of their own are similarly 'mentioned in dispatches': they can all be traced by consulting the name index at the end of the book. Again, a number of inventors have achieved useful inventions, yet otherwise have left few traces. Sometimes we have decided that the importance of their contribution did not justify their inclusion; sometimes we felt the inventions were so useful that their authors merited an entry, however scrappy the information on them might be. The line we had to draw was often very fine.
We took as a starting point for the selection of names the name index to the Encyclopaedia, on the rude assumption that the authors of the chapters in that work would have mentioned any names worth mentioning. Some names, which had been given merely a passing reference, such as Queen Victoria and King Solomon, were quickly deleted. We then divided the names into their respective subject areas and submitted them to whichever of our twenty six authors was expert in that subject. Here we should like to pay tribute to the technical and historical expertise and literary skill of the authors who have contributed to this work, as also to their patience, co-operation and determination. Their first task was to scan the list of names in their field and suggest additions or deletions. Their advice was much valued but we must make clear that the final responsibility for the content of this work is our own.
The content of these lists of names remained fluid until the end, for further names were