Sir Christopher Sydney Cockerell (1910 -- 1999) was a radio engineer who later studied hydrodynamics. During the course of his life he registered over 100 patents but is mainly remembered for developing the hovercraft and it was in 1953 that he pioneered the amphibious hovercraft idea. By 1955 Cockerell's experiment consisted of an industrial blower, two tins and a set of scales. The first true hovercraft was a 76cm. model in balsa wood weighing 127.6g made in 1955 and powered by a model aircraft petrol engine -- it could travel at 20.8km/hr (13mph) over land and water. He filed his first hovercraft patent on December 12th 1955, and in the following year formed Hovercraft Ltd. He then set about trying to interest manufacturers -- with no success. Boat builders said it was an aircraft, and aircraft manufacturers said it was a boat.
Realising that the invention had military applications, he then chose to offer his idea to the government. They responded by putting the idea on the secrets list, which meant that Cockerell was unable to discuss his invention with anyone. Eventually however they gave him a grant of £1,000 for further development. Despite the government's lack of support, Cockerell's fierce patriotism meant that he never took up the many lucrative offers he received from abroad.
A prototype, the S.R.N.I. made the Calais-Dover crossing in 1959, leading to a regular service that operated until 2000.