Yorkshire Day – Celebrating Yorkshire’s role in the development of America


Today August 1st is Yorkshire Day. But there will be no message from President Trump, no parade in New York, and barely a mention in the American press.

To celebrate ‘God’s Own County’, we thought we would showcase the incredible contribution Yorkshire has made to America – from Thanksgiving Day, to the discovery of Hawaii and the development of film.

Yorkshire’s contribution to the development of America has been significant and it is one worth celebrating this Yorkshire Day.

White (Rose) House
The east and west colonnades of the White House were designed by Yorkshireman Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who was born in Leeds in 1764. Known as the ‘Father of American Architecture’, his most famous building is the US Capitol building.

Bring me a bud
Budweiser is the all-American beer, but if you want your Bud draught and not from the bottle, you have to thank Yorkshireman Joseph Bramah who invented the beer pump in 1797. A prolific inventor, he patented a flush toilet, the Bramah lock, and a fire engine pump.

Thanks to Yorkshire for Thanksgiving
Yorkshireman William Bradford (March 19, 1590 – May 9, 1657) was an English leader of the settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, and was elected thirty times to be the Governor after John Carver died. Bradford is credited as being the first person proclaim the first Thanksgiving.

William Bradford Statue
William Bradford

The US is often symbolised by the skyscrapers which dominate American city skylines. But without Yorkshire inventions, they would not have been possible. Stainless steel and Portland cement were both Yorkshire inventions.

Stainless Steel Invention
A New York Times Article from 1915

Putting America on track
Grand Central Station is a focal point of New York and the railways helped open up America’s West. It was in Yorkshire, however, that the World’s first railway line opened with the Middleton Railway in 1758. The pioneering work of John Blenkinsop and Matthew Murray won admiration around Europe and their steam engines, the first commercially successful steam engines in the world, were inspected by the Russian Tsar and the German Royal family.

Leeds to Hollywood
Hollywood may dominate the film industry now, but the whole industry began in Yorkshire. The earliest celluloid film was shot by Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince in 1888. It was taken in the garden of the Whitley family house in Oakwood Grange Road, Roundhay, a suburb of Leeds, Yorkshire. It lasts just 2 seconds and includes 4 frames. The second ever film shows traffic in Leeds.

Yorkshiremen commanded the Starship Enterprise, and killed Captain Kirk
Not only have Yorkshiremen commanded Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise (Patrick Stewart hails from Mirfield and Chris Pine attended Leeds University), but the actor who finally killed William Shatner (Captain Kirk) in the film Star Trek Generations comes from Horsforth, Leeds. Yorkshire folk have been into space for real too – the first Brit in space was from Sheffield.

You call it Soccer, we call it football
Yorkshire is the undisputed birthplace of the modern club game and Football’s (soccer’s) oldest club is Sheffield FC. The Sheffield rules were the basis for the modern game.

Gay Marriage – ‘Stonewalling’ Yorkshire beats New York Stonewall by 150 years
The gay rights movement is widely credited as starting in the Stonewall bar in New York in 1969. But it was in the stonewalled fields of Yorkshire 150 years earlier, that an extraordinary woman first lived life as an ‘out’ gay woman.
Anne Lister is widely credited as being the first modern lesbian. Her diaries were only decoded in the 1930s and running to more than 4,000,000 words, the work ranks as one of the most important journals in English literature. She and her female partner held one of the earliest recorded samesex marriages. She died climbing a mountain in what is now Georgia in 1840, having become the first person to climb Mount Vignemale in the Pyrenees. Quite extraordinary for a woman in the early 19th century.

Giving the Wright Brothers a flying start
Most Americans know the Wright Brothers as being the first to fly, but Yorkshire folk like to think of George Cayley as the father of flight. He designed the first successful human glider. and discovered the four aerodynamic forces of flight : weight, lift, drag, thrust and cambered wings, the basis for the design of the modern aeroplane. Read our expanded article on Cayley here.

Coming to America
In the Age of Sail, when America was first being explored and developed, navigation was a huge problem. To solve the problem, John Harrison invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought device in solving the problem of establishing the East-West position or longitude of a ship at sea, thus revolutionising and extending the possibility of safe long distance sea travel. His invention made the transatlantic crossing quicker and safer and helped in the development and expansion of America.

Old York, New York
If anything symbolises the link between Yorkshire and the US, surely it must be the fact that the largest city in America is named after the capital of Yorkshire.

Who’s that guy?
When Americans say ‘guy’, they are referring to a random man, but the origin of the word refers to a specific man, a Yorkshireman – Guido Fawkes. Guido (Guy) Fawkes led the gunpowder plot on November 5th 1605.

Putting the Union Jack on the Hawaiian flag
Ever wondered why the Union Jack is on the Hawaiian flag? Yorkshireman James Cook was one of the most important explorers in history and was the first European to reach Hawaii. His contribution to the furtherment of mankind’s knowledge were even widely recognised during Cook’s lifetime . In 1779, when the American colonies were at war with Britain in their war for independence, Benjamin Franklin wrote to captains of American warships at sea, recommending that if they came into contact with Cook’s vessel, to:

”…not consider her an enemy, nor suffer any plunder to be made of the effects contained in her, nor obstruct her immediate return to England by detaining her or sending her into any other part of Europe or to America; but that you treat the said Captain Cook and his people with all civility and kindness, . . . as common friends to mankind.”

Captain Cook Whitby
Statue of Captain Cook overlooking his hometown of Whitby

Abolition of Slavery
William Wilberforce was a Yorkshire-born campaigner whose efforts led to the abolition of slavery across the British Empire with the Slave Trade Act of 1807. This then put pressure on the United States, as thousands of slaves were defecting to British colonies, and the supply of new slaves was drying up. Slavery remained a legal feature of American society until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.