Invest in the West Midlands

From bicycles, steam engines and traffic lights to the latest advances in life sciences and zero carbon technology, the West Midlands has made its mark globally. As the home of the steam engine in the 18th century and the self-adhesive stamp in the 1960s, plus the UK’s first multi-city testbed for 5G technology – the West Midlands has remained at the forefront of industry for centuries. Here you can travel through time to find out how the West Midlands has made its mark on the business world.

Curated by the West Midlands Growth Company, find out more at

1712-09-05 21:50:30

Start Your Engines

Thomas Newcomen and his partner, John Calley, build the first fuel-burning engine at the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley.

1777-02-01 15:50:54

Pen Pals

Birmingham engineer James Watt patents a ‘letter copying machine’ to deal with the mass of paperwork at his business. It’s credited as the first ever photocopier and the first of many office-based inventions to come out of the West Midlands. Just down the road in the Jewellery Quarter, John Mitchell creates a machine to mass produce steel nib pens. By the 1820s, 75% of everything written in the world is with a Birmingham pen. Today, Katye’s Magic Candy Factory owns the first 3D printer that can personalise gummy sweets.

1808-06-01 15:50:54

A Head of Steam

The ‘Catch Me Who Can’ locomotive has its inaugural demonstration in Bridgnorth. The famous steam train comes just 25 years after West Midlands-based inventor James Watt produced the Smethwick Engine, the machine which blended the force of steam and a pressure vacuum for the first time.

1823-01-25 15:50:54

No Easy Pick

Wolverhampton lock making firm Chubb is awarded a special license by King George IV. The company would go on to be the sole supplier of locks to the General Post Office and Her Majesty’s Prison. At its peak, 90% of the locks produced in England were made in Willenhall and Wolverhampton.

1832-08-01 15:07:27

Glass Act

Smethwick’s Chance Brothers and Co. were the first company to adopt the cylinder method of producing sheet glass. They became the largest British manufacturer of window glass, plate glass and optical glasses.

1837-10-02 03:50:54

Custard Start

Bird’s Custard is first formulated and cooked at a chemist shop in Birmingham. Alfred Bird’s unique powdered custard recipe was so well received by dinner guests, he would go on to form Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd to increase wider production.

1864-04-01 00:00:00

Show Me The Money

The first Lloyds Bank opens in Oldbury. The bank was originally set up in 1765 by John Taylor and Sampson Lloyd as a private banking business in Dale End, Birmingham. After starting as the Birmingham and Midlands Bank in 1836, HSBC unveiled its ring-fenced banking HQ in Birmingham in 2018. It joined PwC and Deutsche Bank in relocating to the region.

1871-03-02 03:50:54

The Penny Drops

Coventry becomes home to Britain’s first cycle factory, manufacturing the penny-farthing. Its influence spread across the West Midlands, with John Richard Dedicoat inventing the bicycle bell in Birmingham some years later.

1890-12-02 03:50:54

Jewel In The Crown

The School of Jewellery is founded at the heart of Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter. The area would go on to produce 40% of the country's jewellery including boxing belts, the FIFA World Player of the Year awards and 12 million items at Europe's largest Assay Office.

1896-04-02 03:50:54

The X-Factor

Birmingham’s John Hall-Edwards kickstarts a whole new field of medical science, pioneering the use of X-ray imaging. He would be the first medical professional to use radiation during a surgical operation and take the first ever X-ray image of a human spine.

1922-10-02 03:50:54

In The Driving Seat

The Swallow Sidecar Company begins making motorcycles in Coventry, before changing its name to Jaguar and specialising in the production of automobiles. Close to a century on, the West Midlands remains the centre of UK automotive Research & Development, with Jaguar Land Rover’s car manufacturing plant in Solihull continuing to drive automotive ambition.

1951-07-02 03:50:54

Computer Says Yes

Conway Berners-Lee invents the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first ever commercially available computer. In the same year, the WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell) is launched. It is recorded as the oldest digital computer.

1960-04-02 03:50:54

Stamping Down

Walsall Security Printers develops and prints the world’s first self-adhesive stamps. More than 70% of its stamp output would be produced for overseas markets, including Europe and Japan The company eventually changed its name to ISP and still remains a major export success in the West Midlands.

1960-05-01 19:28:55

Setting The Pace

Landmark research by heart surgeon Leon Abrams and electronic engineer Ray Lightwood, both alumni of the University of Birmingham, results in the development of the first variable rate heart pacemaker. It would go on to transform the lives of patients with heart rate conditions around the world.

1987-12-05 13:00:33

Revolutionary Treatment

The world’s leading brain cancer drug temozolomide is created by Professor Malcolm Stevens and his team at Aston University. In combination with radiotherapy, temozolomide would become the international standard-of-care for thousands of people with cancer. The theme of medical innovation in the West Midlands would continue in the coming decades. Professor Graham Harding of Aston University was the first person to find a link between flashes of light on television programmes or video games and epilepsy during the 1990s.

2011-09-02 03:50:54

Electric Dreams

The Microcab H2EV makes its first public outing at Low Carbon Vehicle 2011. A spin-out company from Coventry University, Microcab continues to lead the charge in zero-emission machines and show its commitment to a low carbon economy.

2013-05-02 03:50:54

Ground-breaking Research

Dr Helen Maddock of Coventry University incorporates InoCardia to implement a ground-breaking method of testing the effect of drugs on the heart without using human or animal trials. Dr Maddock’s technique, which uses real human heart tissue for all tests, has the potential to shave years off the development of successful drugs for a range of treatments.

2015-06-01 00:00:00


University of Warwick and Coventry-based company Medherant produces and patents the world’s first ibuprofen patch, delivering the drug directly through skin to exactly where it is needed at a consistent dose rate. This paves the way for the development of a range of long-acting, over-the-counter pain relief products, without the need to take potentially damaging doses of the drug orally.

2015-08-01 00:00:00

Magnificent Magnesium

Birmingham City University forms the Magnesium Innovation Group with the world’s largest producer of magnesium die case components, Meridien Lightweight Technologies UK, to address the misconceptions and underuse of magnesium in industry. Its researchers continue to transform the future of magnesium by showing its importance to the transport industry as a viable alternative to steel or aluminium.

2017-02-02 03:50:54

All Aboard

Royal Assent is granted after Government confirms the route for High Speed 2 Phase One between London and the West Midlands. Computer Generated Images of Birmingham Curzon Street and Solihull Interchange stations are released for the first time. The next generation of tram systems also prepares for launch. Engineers and researchers from Warwick Manufacturing Group finalise development of Very Light Rail – a revolutionary system to make trams more efficient, affordable and autonomous.

2018-09-02 03:50:54

5G Revolution

The West Midlands Combined Authority is announced as the preferred partner for the Urban Connected Communities Project. Developing a multi-city 5G pilot across the region, hubs are confirmed in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Invest in the West Midlands

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