Open/Close Menu A website, archive and interactive space celebrating one of Britain's most innovative engineers and inventors, Frederick Lanchester

To showcase the diverse range of the Lanchester Interactive Archive, we’ll be highlighting some of the collection in this A-Z. If you have any suggestions or would like to see something featured then contact us on Twitter at @lanchester_ia or email info@lanchesterinteractive.org.

In 1907 Fred published ‘Aerodynamics‘, the first part of his two volume publication called ‘Aerial Flight’. It brought together Fred’s ideas and theories on many aspects of flight for the first time. He followed this a year later with the second volume ‘Aerodonetics‘, (the study of soaring or gliding) which focused on stability in flight,…

Lanchester Motor Company was bought out by Birmingham Small Arms Ltd and managed by another BSA firm Daimler to save it from liquidation. It relocates to Daimler factory in Radford, Coventry. George Lanchester stays Chief Engineer. Frank transfers to London Sales Department. Find out more about Fred’s achievements on the timeline.

Colour Photography patent LAN6/120 1895

  In the same year (1895) that he developed the first all-British motor car and continued with his passion for aeronautics, Fred Lanchester somehow managed to find time to patent a method for ‘Photography in colours’.   The apparatus incorporated a grate of parallel opaque bars which were placed as close to the photograph’s subject…

In December 1902 Fred patented an invention that offered ‘…an improved form of brake mechanism for power-propelled vehicles and…particularly to an improved construction of road wheel brake.’ The new system was featured in the Lanchester 18 h.p. model.The original patent can be found here. Unfortunately the system wasn’t a complete success – due to the…

In the days before synchromesh or automatic gearboxes, it was a real challenge for a driver to match the revolutions of the engine to make sure that the final drive gear matched the revolutions of the road wheels. Often there was a lot of scraping, grunting and crashing as drivers would attempt to change gear…

Fred was born to the architect Henry Jones Lanchester and Octavia, a teacher of mathematics and Latin in 1868.  He was one of nine siblings, eight who survived into adulthood, the twin of his younger brother Frank dying shortly after he was born. Frank and his younger brother George (see in the car above, next…

In June 1894 Fred presented a paper to the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society entitled The Soaring of birds and the possibilities of mechanical flight. This was based upon years of experiments Fred and his brothers conducted. They built a series of gliders and launched them from the first floor of the home on…

As early as 1915 Fred was beginning to think about the possibilities hybrid petrol-electric engines offered. In fact he took a patent out in 1915 for an internal combustion engine, electric motor and and a generator on one shaft. This was not developed further until the 1920s when Fred and his brother George began to…

Have you ever had to draw a series of parallel lines or hatches on a drawing and got bored? Fred’s first job was working as a draughtsman in a patent agent’s office and experienced the same sense of dullness at this mundane, boring and repetitive role. He set to work thinking of an invention that…

From the first all-British four-wheeled petrol car, to today’s performance luxury cars there is a connection of innovation and technology that flows through like letters through a stick of rock, spelling ‘Lanchester’. The first Lanchesters were produced by the Lanchester Engine Company before it was declared bankrupt and reformed as the Lanchester Motor Company Limited…

Rudyard Kipling extols the virtues of a Lanchester - From the Lanchester Legacy Volume 1

Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling was introduced to Lanchester cars in the early 1900s when Works Manager Max Lawrence drove a demonstration 10h.p. car to his sisters who had recently founded Roedean School near Brighton. Kipling was a close neighbour to the school and already a steam car owner.  He was impressed by the Lanchester…

In 1923, Fred formed a new venture called Lanchester Laboratories Ltd, in partnership with Daimler. The company later produced sound equipment including speakers and radios designed by Fred, which were available by mail order. The Lanchester Company was the 1st European company to use cellulose paint.

In 1894, Fred wanted to test the engine destined for the first motor car but he was unable to try the advanced single cylinder engine on the road.  The Locomotive Act of 1865 required all road locomotives, which included cars, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph in the country and 2 mph in the city,…

Fred was an entrepreneur as well as an inventor and designer and was involved in many companies (not always successful ones) during his lifetime. Like many companies we know as car manufacturers today, Fred’s first venture was a bicycle component company ‘The Lanchester Brothers’ that made things like pedals and ball-bearings. It was short-lived however…

Fred became interested in optics and ophthalmology and he met Robert Lockhart, Professor of Anatomy at Birmingham University, beginning a life-long friendship. In 1933 Fred wrote a paper titled ‘Directional Fixity and the Transitory Visual Impression or Fleeting Image’ .  He continued to write to Professor Lockhart and exchange ideas on subjects like the ‘blind-spot’…

Between 1888 and 1946 Fred Lanchester (and his brothers) successfully patented over 200 hundred inventions. They are all available to search in the patent area of the online archive but the sheer variety as well as quantity can be overwhelming! His first invention – a draughtsman’s drawing aid to rule equidistant lines – was registered…

Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret getting out of the royal Lanchester Landaulet JJ4

Lanchester cars have a long association with member of the Royal Family. Albert, Duke of York purchased a 40hp Lanchester limousine in 1925, establishing a long history of royal support for the Lanchester brand. The future George VI’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, made her first public appearance in this same car at only six weeks…

Although Fred was not really interested in racing, the powerful 40 h.p. chassis of the 1920s led several individuals to use the cars for records attempts, especially at the iconic Brooklands racing circuit. Cars with a large 6.2 litre engine, streamlined, lightweight bodywork and names like ‘Hoieh-Wayaryah-Gointoo’, ‘Softly-Catch-Monkey’ and ‘Winni-Prap-Praps’ (because of the noise its…

In the early 1930s Fred began to patent designs for sound systems, patenting designs for amplifiers, loudspeakers, gramophones and microphones through his company Lanchester Laboratories Ltd. Fred demonstrated his loudspeaker, which was intended to be used in large concert halls, to a journalist at his home on 23rd January 1929 who was impressed at the…

The Lanchester Motor Company designed and manufactured armoured cars for the Ministry of Defence. They were sent to Belgium, used to rescue pilots after the battle of Ypres and later used on airfields in Britain. The company also produced staff cars, trucks and over 450 aero-engines for use in the war effort. The last remaining…

Coventry (Lanchester) Polytechnic building

Fred Lanchester enjoyed science and mathematics at school and was accepted by the Hartley Institution in Southampton (now the University of Southampton) at the age of 13, and had to wait a year before taking up his place. After two years of studying he won a national scholarship to the combined Normal School of Science…

Fred’s passion for flight began during a transatlantic trip when he observed the flight of birds gliding next to the boat on which he was travelling.  He was fascinated by the movement and the shape of their wings and began to develop a theory of flight based on the twisting flow of air or ‘vortex’…

Plan of the Daimler and Lanchester Factory - Radford Works Coventry

In the Blitz of 1940 that affected so much of Coventry, in one evening a factory was decimated and the first all-British, four-wheeled petrol motor car was destroyed. The 5hp Lanchester built in 1895 was the first all-British petrol four-wheel car and by the time BSA took over it had been moved to the Radford…

Original and unfinished version of paper before first reading by Frederick Lanchester to Birmingham University Engineering Society on 31 October 1935

Fred’s interests went way beyond cars and aeroplanes into the fundamentals of astrophysics, space, time and gravity! In 1921 he wrote his first paper on Relativity and followed up with his theory on ‘The Expansion of the Universe’ in 1934, and wrote a further 222 page book on Relativity in 1935. His understanding led him…

Fred’s interest in flight continued into the 20th century and he travelled to watch the Wright Brothers fly in France during their tour of Europe. He wrote to them to share his ideas and Wilbur Wright replied on the 4th January 1909 treating Fred’s letter rather dismissively, preferring to ‘follow my usual plan, and let…

Fred’s notebooks often contain fascinating lists of components and materials including this one for a battery from 1905. It includes: India rubber Zinc discs Copper ore KHO (Potassium Hydroxide) Hg (Mercury) Tie wires Paraffin wax He also notes that Zinc gives a definite “amp hourage” approximate to 2,000,000 ft lbs =  1 HP hour =…

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