Historic 1900s bowling machine recreated by Cambridge engineers

Image courtesy of University of Cambridge

Engineers from the University of Cambridge have recreated an historic bowling machine which bested an Australian international cricketer four times more than 100 years ago.

The wooden contraption, which was originally designed by John Venn – the famous mathematician who gave his name to the Venn diagram – bowled out visiting Australian star batsman Victor Trumper in 1909.

Using patent diagrams and an old photograph discovered online, the Cambridge engineers rebuilt the machine, which can launch balls at around 33mph, to use at events to inspire people considering careers in maths and engineering. Among these, it will feature at Essex County Cricket Club on June 10, as part of an event for the Essex Year of Numbers initiative to inspire a love of learning, with a focus on numeracy.

The recreation of the bowling machine was set as a challenge by Hugh Hunt, professor of engineering dynamics and vibration at Cambridge University.

Professor Hunt said: “It’s a great story, and an ingenious device, and at the time would have been in a lot of newspapers, but now it’s not really remembered outside the cricket world. Most people learn about Venn Diagrams at school, but not many know about John Venn’s quirky side – that he invented a bowling machine using wood and string and maths, which bowled out members of the Australian cricket team more than a hundred years ago. So the idea behind the project was to recreate a bit of history, and to show how much fun you can have with maths.”

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