Adhesive postage stamps
These were invented by Scot James Chalmers.
James Simpson, an Edinburgh physician, was the first doctor to use anaesthetics to relieve the pain of surgery in the mid 19th Century. His main objective at the beginning was to alleviate the pain that women felt in childbirth. There was strong opposition to this idea from the Church, because the Old Testament claims that God’s punishment to women for the sins of Eve was that they should bring forth children in pain.
Fortunately for women everywhere, Simpson won this argument.
Joseph Lister, Professor of surgery at Glasgow University, was the first to realize that the high post-operative mortality of his patients was due to the onset of bloodpoisoning (sepsis) caused by micro-organisms. Operating theatres were not the pristine places they are today. In the early 19th century, they were awash with blood and amputated body parts. In 1865 Lister found that carbolic acid was an effective antiseptic.
In the mid 19th Century, a Scottish scientist managed to produce some tiny artificial diamonds by a secret process that has never been duplicated.
Agricultural Reaping Machine
Patrick Bell won the prize from the Highland and Agricultural Society in 1790 for a reaping machine – long before the better known machine of Cyrus McCormick patented in 1834.
The inventor and electrical engineer, Sir James Swinburne, patented many ideas and inventions including improvements to electric lamps and dynamos. He was beaten to the patent office by only one day by Baekeland for Bakelite the thermosetting resin that founded the modern plastics industry. Swinburne had discovered this material independently but did not profit from his discovery. He did patent another synthetic lacquer, Damard.
Joseph Black (1728 – 1799) Chemist. Professor of Anatomy and Chemistry in Glasgow University (1756) and then Professor of Medicine and Chemistry in Edinburgh (1766). Developed the concept of “Latent Heat” and discovered Carbon Dioxide (“Fixed Air”). Regarded as the Father of Quantitative Chemistry.
Botanist Robert Brown observed small specks of pollen suspended in a liquid were continually dancing around in a haphazard way. He correctly surmised that they were being pushed around by the molecules of the liquid which were themselves too tiny to see. In time his discovery contributed to the development of the Quantum Theory.
Buick is the brand name stamped on over 25 million cars in the USA. This car is the named after David Dunbar Buick, a Scot who immigrated to the U.S. in 1856. Buick started out as a plumber at age 15, and is credited with developing a method for bonding enamel to cast iron; a process responsible for our blue bathtubs and pink sinks. But David’s passion was the internal combustion engine. In 1899, in the city of Detroit, he formed the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company, manufacturer of gasoline engines. David also patented a carburetor and designed an automobile, but business debts and failed investments prevented him from realizing profits from his inventions. He died, impoverished, in 1929. But General Motors saluted his inventiveness in 1937 when it adopted the Buick name and family crest for its new line of cars.
Thomas Graham (1805 – 1869) is called the “Father of colloid chemistry” He was born in Glasgow and educated at Glasgow University. He also formulated “Graham’s Law” on the diffusion of gases.
John Boyd Dunlop patented his pneumatic tyre in 1888. He was a vetinary surgeon, but his interest in inventions led him to develop the tyres for his son’s bicycle. He lived long enough to see his invention become the foundation for a huge industry around the world.
Alexander Crum Brown (1838 – 1922) was born in Edinburgh. After studying in London and Leipzig, he returned to the University of Edinburgh in 1863. He held the chair of Chemistry, which now bears his name, until his death. He devised the system of representing chemical compounds in diagrammatic form, with connecting lines representing bonds.
Cure for scurvy
The first person to publish the idea that consuming citrus fruits would prevent scurvy, then a plague on board sailing ships, was an Edinburgh man.
The notation we use today first appeared in a book called “Descriptio” by the Edinburgh mathematician, John Napier, Laird of Merchiston, in the 1616. He used a decimal point to separate the whole number part from the decimal number part. Known as ‘Marvellous Merchiston”, he published many other treatises including “Mirifici logarithmorum” (1614) and Rabdologia (1615) on systems of arithmetic using calculation aids known as Napiers Bones. Other achievements include his revolutionary methods for tilling and fertilising soil. To defend the country against Philip of Spain he came up with a number of “Secret Inventions” including the round chariot with firepower but offering protection (the tank); an underwater ship (the submarine); an artillery piece which would mow down a field of soldiers (the machine gun). Biographical details of John Napier
In the first era (1st–6th editions, 1768–1826), the Britannica was managed and published by its founders, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell.
Beam me up, Scotty! Joke…
Invented by a blacksmith in Dumfries in the early 19th Century. This was not the same electronic process used today, but was a functional technique. Some years later, Napoleon used a similar process to send messages to his commanders all over France.
First cloned mammal
Dolly the sheep, in Edinburgh, 1997.
The first successful machine to replace the primitive hand flail for husking grain was invented by millwright Andrew Meikle in 1784. His machine consisted of a drum into which the grain was fed, which rotated inside a curved metal sheet with very small clearance. The husks were rubbed off the grain. the
In 1785 the naturalist James Hutton published his theory that the formation of the Earth, its mountains and other geological formations must have taken millions of years.
If you go to Edinburgh, be sure to have a dram at the 15th Century Golf Tavern near an ancient but now vanished golf course.
Americans think they invented it. Certainly, they commercialized the hell out of it, and pushed down our throats. What used to be a quaint and charming way of getting pocket money to buy fireworks for the 5th of November has turned into a mass-marketing of bite-sized snickers bars. But back hundreds of years ago, in Scotland and Northern England, there was no street lighting, and nothing to light your way home in the countryside when it got dark at 4 pm on the cold afternoon of October 31st. People were scared of the ghosts, witches, and evil spirits that rose from their graves, or hell, to wander abroad on the eve of All Hallows (November 1st – you know – Disney showed it in the scary bit near the end of Fantasia). So folk decided it might be possible to escape the notice of these evil beings if they dressed up like a ghost or a witch themselves on Halloween. That’s where the tradition came from – wear a disguise so the ghouls will think you’re one of them, and you’ll get home safely on Halloween.
Later, with the Victorian era, a bit of gas lighting in the streets, a bit of scientific education and enlightenment, people pretended that they didn’t believe in witches, ghosts and evil spirits anymore, and the custom was donated to children. It became a fun night, and kids were encouraged to dress up, go round to their neighbours houses, and do “a turn” or a party-piece to amuse the adults. This was called “guising” from the word disguise. In return, the kids were given a treat or some money. Party games such as ducking for apples were laid on as well. There was never any “tricking”. You only got a treat if you did your turn first, by singing a song, playing a tune on a mouthorgan or recited a poem.
The Historical Novel
This literary form was “invented” by Sir Walter Scott, author of “Ivanhoe”, “Rob Roy” and many other historical novels. It may be argued that there are earlier examples from Japanese literature, but these were not known about in the west. So in the literary tradition of Europe and America, Scott was an innovator.
Engineer Thomas Telford is famous for building more than 1200 bridges, many of them using cast iron. Other major achievements of his include the Caledonian Canal, the Menai suspension bridge, and the London to Holyhead road. As a road builder he ranked second only to McAdam. Telford founded the Institute of Civil Engineers.
Despite claims to the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that King Arthur and most of the knights of the Round Table were Scottish. And what was that Questing Beast that Sir Pellinore spent years pursuing – could it be the Loch Ness Monster? Was Arthur the son of King Aidan?
The Kelvin scale of temperature
Named after the scientist, Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), professor at Glasgow University, who was a pioneer in the field of thermodynamics.
Presbyterian minister Alexander Forsyth invented this in 1809. Within a few years the flintlock, always susceptible to damp, was obsolete. It was replaced by a weather-proof hammer action, the cap resting on the crown of a nipple which contained the flash-hole.
Natural logarithms were invented by the Edinburgh mathematician, John Napier, Laird of Merchiston, in the late 1500s. He published many treatises including “Mirifici logarithmorum” (1614) and Rabdologia (1615) on systems of arithmetic using calculation aids known as Napiers Bones.
Maxwell’s Equations in Electromagnetism
Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynnman said that a thousand years from now the 1860s will be remembered not for the American Civil War which will be a mere footnote in history, but for Maxwell’s mathematical description of electromagnetism. James Clerk Maxwell(1831 – 79), who was known as “daftie” Maxwell as a schoolboy at the Edinburgh Academy, became a professor of physics by the age of 21. He created the electromagnetic theory of light, and interpreted Faraday’s electromagnetic field mathematically. He correctly predicted the existence of radio waves later confirmed experimentally by Hertz. Maxwell made important contributions to the study of heat and the kinetic theory of gases.
“As a creative and imaginative genius, he ranks with Newton and Einstein” …Trevor Williams wrote in his book The History of Invention.
The story goes that a Dundee businessman imported a shipload of oranges from Spain that were found to be too bitter to sell as fruit. He turned them into an orange preserve which proved to be popular – marmalade
Since the rainiest spot in Europe is found in the Scottish highlands, it is not surprising that this technique for waterproofing clothing was developed there.
John Loudon McAdam devised the macadamized road in which the underlying soil is protected by a light protective layer that is waterproof and cambered to divert rainwater to the sides.
Microwave ovens were a direct offshoot of the development of the magnetron in 1940. The magnetron is a device that produces electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of about 5 inches. Its first application was in radar. The American science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, author of the novel “Starship Troopers” amongst many others, was the first civilian to use a microwave oven.
Discovered in 1928 by the bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming. This drug has saved more lives than the number lost in all the wars of history.
James Young was a chemist who made his fortune as the first to market paraffin as a lighting and heating oil.
Sir Hugh Dalrymple (Lord Drummore) (1700 – 1753) Invented hollow-pipe drainage. This innovation allowed the drying of water-logged land, bringing large areas into agricultural production.
From the play of the same name by J.M. Barrie. The American writer, Harlan Ellison, listed the world’s five most recognizable fictional characters as:
Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Robin Hood.
Radar Defense System
Physicist, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, was the mind behind the radar network on the coast of England that detected incoming German aircraft in World War II. He had worked on the radio detection of thunderstorms (hazardous to aviators) during World War I. In 1935 he proposed a method for locating aircraft by a radio-pulse technique. The radar system was invaluable to the defense of Britain during the Battle of Britain in 1940. It operated day and night over a range of 40 miles, giving the Royal Air Force information about the height and bearing of German planes.
James Harrison, who emigrated to Australia from Scotland, invented a cooling system for a brewery in Bendigo, in 1851. He had noticed that ether had a cooling effect on metals, and so he pumped it through pipes. As the ether evaporated it took heat from its surroundings to provide the latent heat of evaporation. His idea was used in the first refrigerated ship, the SS Strathleven, which carried a cargo of meat from Australia to England, a voyage of several months, in 1876. Refrigeration was a major force in the economic development of both Australia and New Zealand.
In 1846, the brilliant mathematician, John Adams, calculated where a hitherto undiscovered planet would be based on the anomalous motion of Uranus around the Sun. Unfortunately, his boss would not allow him the use of the university observatory to confirm his prediction, and he was beaten to the post by the French. That planet is Neptune.
George Cleghorn (1716 – 1794) was the army surgeon who discovered that quinine bark acted as a cure for Malaria.
The Steam Engine
Invented by James Watt, instrumental in powering the Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. His engine was not mobile, but was fixed in position. Soon it was being built and used in mining, to pull coal carts up to the pithead. Mine manager, John Blenkinsop, put one of these steam boilers on wheels so that it could carry the coal further. This came to the attention of George Stephenson who was also a mining engineer. Stephenson took the idea a stage further with his invention of the steam locomotive.
A cure for insomnia
Dr. Christine Carmichael first published her cure on the Internet on January 17, 1998.
Invented by the engineer and manufacturer of steam engines and machine tools, James Nasmyth, in 1839. The steam-hammer made it possible to forge much larger items than before.
Until the invention of the stereotype in 1727 printing type had to be reset if a second printing was to be made. It was not economic to keep the type standing for prolonged periods of time. William Ged, a goldsmith in Edinburgh, took a plaster mould of the type and then cast the whole page in metal.
John Roebuck of Prestonpans, near Edinburgh, invented the lead chamber process for the distillation of sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid is of central importance in the manufacture of many other chemicals and in metal refining.
Alexander Graham Bell was born in Edinburgh and lived there until his family emigrated to Canada when he was 18. He patented the telephone in 1876 and now there are more than 500 million of them spanning the globe. He revolutionized world communications.
Thermos bottles (Dewars)
Sir James Dewar (1842 – 1923) invented the dewar flask to keep liquids cool in the laboratory. The idea became the domestic thermos flask, which keeps hot liquids hot as well as cold things cold by isolating them from their surroundings, thus reducing the flow of heat. His scientific career was noted for his pioneer work on low temperature physics and vacuum techniques. He was the first to liquify hydrogen.
The Scots Magazine first published the concept for the telegraph in 1753. An anonymous contributor suggested that words could be spelled out along a 26 wire system activated by static electricity. The receiver had twenty six pith balls, each with a different letter of the alphabet. The pith balls would be attracted to their corresponding charged wires when the wires were activated with static electricity. The state of technology was not up to the task until Volta invented the electric battery in 1800, however.
A photo-mechanical device invented by John Logie Baird in 1922. He set up the first practical television system in the world in 1929, in Britain. In 1935 Baird worked with the German company, Fernseh, to start the world’s first 3-day per week television service.
In 1908, another Scot, Alan Campbell-Swinton, outlined the use of the cathode-ray tube for transmission and reception that is used in modern television. This method replaced Baird’s in the 1930′s.
Sir William Fairbairn (1789 – 1874) was born in Kelso, in southern Scotland. An engineer, he developed the idea of using tubular steel, which was much stronger than solid steel, as a construction material.
Adam Ferguson (1723 – 1816) Born in Logierait, Perthshire, he became Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh. He introduced the method of studying humankind in groups and is father of the subject now called “Sociology”.
Patrick Ferguson (1744 – 1780) Born in Pitfour, Aberdeenshire, Ferguson invented the breech-loading rifle, which was capable of firing seven shots per minute. With the help of this weapon, the Americans were defeated at the Battle of Brandywine (1777). He was killed at the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina, USA.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a medical student in Edinburgh. The character of Sherlock Holmes was based on one of the professors of Medicine at the University. A recent BBC program “The Killing Rooms” portrayed a semi-fictional version of how Doyle learned the techniques of deduction and forensic science from this professor.
Toad of Toad Hall
… and Mole, Ratty, Badger and Otter. “The Wind in the Willows” was written by Edinburgh writer Kenneth Grahame.
Long John Silver
The pirate villain of the famous novel “Treasure Island” written by Edinburgh’s Robert Louis Stevenson.
Jekyll and Hyde
The mad doctor and his alter-ego of the famous novel written by Edinburgh’s Robert Louis Stevenson. He claimed that each chapter came to him in nightly instalments while he dreamed.
Auld Lang Syne
This is one of the most sung songs in the world. Some lists give “Happy Birthday” as #1, “Auld Lang Syne” as #2 in popular frequency. It was written by poet Rabbie Burns, and is now associated with New Year’s celebrations.
Around 1815 William Nicol (lecturer of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh) had used Canada balsam to cement pieces of fossil wood or minerals onto a glass plate and then ground the sample down to slices so fine you could see through them with a microscope and discover all kinds of good stuff–like bubbles in crystals, which told you something of the way the minerals had been formed, or the cell patterns that showed what kind of plant the sample had come from. Prior to this, paleobotany (… the morphology of fossil plants) was a subject virtually untouched, except for some earlier research by another Scotsman.”
Polarization of Light
In 1828, William Nicol discovered polarization of light (the effect that makes polarized sunglasses useful). He stuck two bits of an Iceland spar crystal together and invented the Nicol prism. Iceland spar splits a beam of light into two polarized rays, with the transverse electromagnetic waves vibrating in orthogonal directions in the two beams. If two Nicol prisms were used, when the second one was rotated, one of the polarized light rays coming through would dim and then cut off once it had rotated through 90 degrees.
Be sure you don’t spell this with an ‘e’ or it’s not Scotch.
Founded by John Paul Jones, a Scotsman. Read about his exploits in any US history book.
Navy of Chile
Brought to life and success by Thomas, Lord Cochrane, a Scotsman. You can read about his exploits in the book “With Cochrane the Dauntless” by G.A. Henty. In the preface to this book, Henty writes: “Cochrane’s life was passed in one long struggle on behalf of the oppressed. He ruined his career in our (the British) navy, and created for himself a host of bitter enemies by his crusade against the enormous abuses of our naval administration, and by the ardour with which he championed the cause of reform at home. Finding the English navy closed to him he threw himself into the cause of oppressed nationalities. His valour and genius saved Chile from being reconquered by the Spanish, rescued Peru from their grasp, and utterly broke their power in South America. Similarly, he crushed the Portuguese power in Brazil and ensured its independence, and then took up the cause of Greece.”
Naval History of Chile states: ” Alvarez Condarco managed to enroll Lord Thomas Cochrane, later the tenth Earl of Dundonald, as commander in chief of the Chilean fleet. Cochrane was a Scot of very high reputation as a seaman. He had entered the Royal Navy at an early age and by the time he was twenty years old he was in command of the brig Speedy. Under his command the ship made a most successful cruise in the Mediterranean. Later he commanded a frigate and used his prize money to run for Parliament. There he became a sharp critic of abuses within the Navy. His own party decided to send him to sea and he was given the frigate Imperieuse in command of which he participated in the Battle of Basque Roads. Because of the timidity and indecisiveness of Admiral Lord Gambier– whom Cochrane accused of incompetence– his own brilliant performance achieved no result. When the Admiral was absolved, Cochrane had to resign from the Navy. He was later convicted of fraud in the stock market in 1814 and expelled from Parliament. He went to Chile in 1818 and upon his return, was pardoned in 1832, restored to the Navy list and gazetted Rear-Admiral of the Fleet. He had been offered a position in the Spanish Navy, but took Chile’s offer instead.
“At Cochrane’s insistence, Alvarez Condarco committed Chile to buy a 410 ton, 60 horsepower steam warship. The Admiral was so excited about the prospect of a ship that did not have to depend on the wind for its power that he contributed 15000 pesos out of his own pocket. The ship was christened the Rising Star. Cochrane’s plan to sail her to Chile was never realized, however, because the ship– the first steam warship ever built– had not been properly designed and the boiler was too small to propel her. Since the miscalculation could not be easily remedied, Alvarez Condarco asked Cochrane to leave for Chile without delay, so that he could take immediate command of the squadron. The steamship would eventually reach Chile too late to participate in the struggle for Independence. When Cochrane arrived in Valpara’so, O’Higgins himself went there to greet him. The government and the people received him with great enthusiasm; they expected great things from him and were not be disappointed.
Cochrane was the model for Horatio Hornblower, in the popular series of books by C.S. Forrester.
Adam Smith, author of the book “The Wealth of Nations” was a Scot. This book is the first study and analysis of how commerce and free trade create the wealth of a country. He is buried in Greyfriars churchyard, near Edinburgh Castle.
The Cloud Chamber
Was invented by Charles Thomson Rees Wilson (1869 – 1959) an eminent Edinburgh scientist. After observing optical atmospheric phenomena in the Highlands, he realized that condensation trails could be used to track and detect atomic and subatomic particles. The cloud chamber became an indispensible detection device in nuclear physics, and therefore he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927. In addition to his research on atomic physics, Wilson studied atmospheric phenomena all his life and his work on the electrical behaviour of the atmosphere is the basis of our understanding of what is involved in thunderstorms.