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New Zealand is known for its Kiwi ingenuity. Learn about a few of our greatest inventors who have powered their way into our history books! Can you think of any other innovative New Zealanders? Use the internet to do some research!


Richard Pearse

Richard Pearse was a Kiwi inventor of great ingenuity and imagination.

His first invention in 1902, was a new style of bicycle. It had a bamboo frame with a vertical-drive pedal action, gears and back-pedalling brakes.

But flying, not cycling, was his dream. There is evidence that he had built his first two-cylinder petrol engine by 1902 and then constructed a monoplane using bamboo, tubular steel, wire and canvas.

After considerable taxiing on his farm paddocks, Pearse made his first public flight attempt down Main Waitohi Road adjacent to his farm. After a short distance in the air, he crashed into gorse. It is likely that this took place in 1903.
In the early 1930s, he set about designing and building a second aircraft. Constructed in great secrecy, Pearse's convertiplane allowed for vertical take-off and landing. Pearse hoped this extraordinary aircraft would be able to be flown from a person's backyard.
Other inventions by Pearse included a needle-threader, power cycle, recording machine, magic viewer, harp, power generator, potato-planter, top-dresser, motorised discing machine and two sorts of musical box.

He was known locally as ‘Mad Pearse' and ‘Bamboo Dick'.

Pearse was admitted to Sunnyside Mental Hospital in Christchurch in June 1951. He died there on 29 July 1953 after a heart attack. He was 75 years old.

A replica of his first aeroplane was built and tests proved it would have been able to fly. It is on display at MOTAT in Auckland.

William (Bill) Gallagher

Bill Gallagher lived in the Waikato in the 1930s.

His invention came about in an unusual way.

He was annoyed by a horse named Joe who had a love for scratching its flank on the family car. But Joe was in for a shock. Gallagher, while watching the old horse rocking the car, put his inventive mind into action and came up with a solution to stop it from happening. He electrified his car.

Every time the horse rocked the car as it scratched itself, a triggering device sent a current through the car – and through Joe. Joe quickly learnt the old Essex car was not such a great backscratcher after all.

Bill Gallagher soon realised that electricity could be used for other things on his Waikato property and, by 1938, his experiments with electrifying fences became the basis for the Gallagher Power Fencing company.

The electric fence was an invention which not only became a successful business worldwide but also it changed the nature of pasture-management practices in farming. The electric fence was one of those inventions that increased the country's competitiveness as well as earning money through international sales.

Bill Gallagher knew by 1940 there was a market for his electric fences and, by 1964, the company had made more than 20,000 electric fences.

It gave farmers much greater control over their pastures. Because the fences were light and portable, farmers could fence off an area of a paddock easily and put the cows in there, thus carefully measuring how much feed they could eat as well as leaving other areas of the paddock to grow.

With a reputation for quality products, the company decided to expand overseas in the 1970s.

Today, the company is a world leader in agricultural electric fencing and exports all around the world; it employs more than 300 people in New Zealand.

William Hamilton

William (Bill) Hamilton is a distinguished New Zealand inventor and innovator. As a small boy, he had dreamed of a boat that would carry him up the swiftly flowing rivers of the Mackenzie Basin.

In 1954, his dream became a reality and, in the 50 years since, the Hamilton Waterjet has revolutionised the world of conventional boating.

Bill was born near Fairlie (South Island, New Zealand) on 26 July 1899. He was educated at Waihi School, Winchester and, later, at Christ's College, Christchurch.

In 1921, he bought the 10,000-hectare Irishman Creek Station, one of the most notable sheep and cattle runs in the Mackenzie Country (Central Otago). Here, he quickly established his first workshop – the forerunner of the Hamilton Group of Companies.

His first project was the construction of a two-hectare dam for a hydroelectric plant to provide power for the station's homestead and workshop. Conventional earth-moving scoops proved inadequate so, in typical Hamilton fashion, he invented his own more efficient model. This scoop, the ‘I.C. Excavator', was used extensively for local contract work, with several more being manufactured and sold in New Zealand and Britain.

Steady expansion continued and, in 1948, Sir William purchased a 10-hectare site at Middleton, Christchurch. A 465-square-metre factory was constructed for the production of bulldozers, scrapers, excavators and hydraulic machinery.

The shift to Christchurch allowed the Irishman Creek workshop to become solely a research and development centre. This provided the opportunity to devote resources to the development of the Hamilton Waterjet.

Sir William's first jetboat was a 3.6-metre plywood hull with a 100-E Ford engine, and the jet a centrifugal-type pump. This craft was tested on the Irishman Creek dam before eventually travelling up the Waitaki River in early 1954.

Continual improvements in the waterjet design, particularly the shift to a multi-stage axial flow pumping system, allowed boats to travel to places that had never been accessible before.

In 1960, Sir William's son Jon was a key member of the Colorado River expedition team – the first to travel up through the Grand Canyon. Over the next 20 years, other ground-breaking trips were made up the Sun Kosi (Nepal), Sepik (Papua New Guinea), Zaire, Ganges and Amazon Rivers, and jetboats became widely used for flood relief, surveying and recreation.

Before his death in 1978, Bill Hamilton was recognised for his services to manufacturing with a knighthood.

Glenn Martin

Developed by Glenn Martin over the past three decades, the Martin Jetpack is theoretically capable of flying an average-sized pilot nearly 50 kilometres in 30 minutes on a full tank of fuel.

The jetpack, which is operated by a joy stick-like control, had its first public outing in 2008 at the annual aviation convention of the Experimental Aircraft Association in east-central Wisconsin.

The device, which weighs 115 kilograms, is capable of carrying one passenger and a person can fly it without needing a pilot's licence.

The craft contains two large, high-powered downward-thrusting propellers powered by a 200-horsepower petrol-driven engine. The propellers push the device and its pilot off the ground. So far it hasn't been flown above a height of six feet.

Most previous jetpacks have lasted only a few minutes before running out of fuel. But Glenn, who gave up his job to concentrate on his design, hopes its superior performance will win lots of fans.
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