Explore Inventors Biography Alphabetically


Home A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

ReferenceToday Home 

Art | Business Studies | Citizenship | Countries | Design and Technology | Everyday life | Geography | History | Information Technology | Language and Literature | Mathematics | Music | People | Portals | Religion | Science | Timeline of Inventions | Subject Index


Scottish inventions and discoveries

Scottish inventions and discoveries are objects, processes or techniques which owe their existence either partially or entirely to a person born in or descended from Scotland; in some cases, the invention's Scottishness is determined by the fact that they were brought into existence in Scotland (e.g. animal cloning), by non-Scots working in the country. Often, things which are discovered for the first time, are also called "inventions", and in many cases, there is no clear line between the two.

The Scots take enormous pride in the history of Scottish invention and discovery. There are many books devoted solely to the subject, as well as scores of websites listing Scottish inventions and discoveries with varying degrees of science.

Even before the Industrial Revolution, Scots have been at the forefront of innovation and discovery across a wide range of spheres: the steam engine,[1] the flush toilet, the bicycle,[2] macadamisation (not to be confused with Tarmac or Tarmacadam[3]) the telephone,[4] television,[5] the motion picture,[6] penicillin,[7] electromagnetics, radar,[8] and insulin,[9] are only a few of the most significant products of Scottish ingenuity.

The following is a list of inventions or discoveries often held to be in some way Scottish.


Road transport innovations

  • The first British working model of a steam car (steam engine): William Murdoch (1754-1839) [10] (First steam car invented by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769)
  • Macadamised roads (the basis for, but not specifically, Tarmac): John Loudon MacAdam (1756-1836)[3] [1]
  • The pedal bicycle: Attributed to both Kirkpatrick Macmillan (1813-1878)[2] and Thomas McCall (1834-1904)
  • The pneumatic tyre: Robert William Thomson and John Boyd Dunlop (1822-1873) [2]
  • The overhead valve engine: David Dunbar Buick (1854-1929)

Civil engineering innovations


  • Bridge design: Sir William Arrol (1838-1913), Thomas Telford (1757-1834) & John Rennie (1761-1821)
  • Suspension bridge improvements: Sir Samuel Brown (1776-1852)
  • Tubular steel: Sir William Fairbairn (1789-1874)

Canals and docks

  • Falkirk Wheel: ??? (Opened 2002)
  • Canal design: Thomas Telford (1757-1834)
  • Dock design: John Rennie (1761-1821)
  • The patent slip for docking vessels: Thomas Morton (1781-1832)
  • Crane design: James Bremner (1784-1856)


  • Lighthouse design: Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)
  • The Drummond Light: Thomas Drummond (1797-1840)

Power innovations

  • Condensing steam engine improvements: James Watt (1736-1819)[1]
  • Coal-gas lighting: William Murdoch (1754-1839)
  • The Stirling heat engine: Rev. Robert Stirling (1790-1878)
  • Electro-magnetic innovations: James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79)
  • Carbon brushes for dynamos: George Forbes (1849-1936)
  • The Clark cycle gas engine: Sir Dugald Clark (1854-1932)
  • Wireless transformer improvements: Sir James Swinburne (1858-1958)
  • Cloud chamber recording of atoms: Charles T. R. Wilson (1869-1959)
  • Wave-powered electricity generator:By South African Engineer Stephen Salter in 1977

Shipbuilding innovations

  • The steamship paddle wheel: Patrick Miller (1731-1815)
  • Improvements in The steam boat: William Symington (1763-1831)
  • Europe's first passenger steamboat: Henry Bell (1767-1830)
  • The first iron-hulled steamship: Sir William Fairbairn (1789-1874)
  • The first practical screw propeller: Robert Wilson (1803-1882)
  • Marine engine innovations: James Howden (1832-1913)

Heavy industry innovations

  • The carronade cannon: Robert Melville (1723-1809)
  • Making cast steel from wrought iron: David Mushet (1772-1847)
  • Wrought iron sash bars for glass houses: John C. Loudon (1783-1865)
  • The hot blast oven: James Beaumont Neilson (1792-1865)
  • The steam hammer: James Nasmyth (1808-1890)
  • Wire rope: Robert Stirling Newall (1812-1889)
  • Steam engine improvements: William Mcnaught (1831-1881)
  • The Fairlie, a narrow gauge, double-bogie railway engine: Robert Francis Fairlie (1831-1885)
  • Cordite - Sir James Dewar, Sir Frederick Abel

Agricultural innovations

  • Threshing machine improvements: James Meikle (c.1690-c.1780) & Andrew Meikle (1719-1811)
  • Hollow pipe drainage: Sir Hew Dalrymple, Lord Drummore (1700-1753)
  • The Scotch Plough: James Anderson of Hermiston (1739-1808)
  • Deanstonisation soil-drainage system: James Smith (1789-1850)
  • The mechanical reaping machine: Rev. Patrick Bell (1799-1869)
  • The Fresno Scraper: James Porteous (1848-1922)
  • The Tuley tree shelter: Graham Tuley in 1979

Communication innovations

  • Print stereotyping: William Ged (1690-1749)
  • The balloon post: John Anderson (1726-1796)
  • Roller printing: Thomas Bell (patented 1783)
  • The adhesive postage stamp and the postmark: James Chalmers (1782-1853)
  • The mail-van service
  • Universal Standard Time: Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915)
  • Light signalling between ships: Admiral Philip H. Colomb (1831-1899)
  • The telephone:(disputed) Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)[4]
  • The teleprinter: Frederick G. Creed (1871-1957)
  • The television: (disputed widely) see Paul Nipkov.John Logie Baird (1888-1946)[5]
  • Radar: Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973)[8]
  • Fax Machine - Alexander Bain
  • The underlying principles of Radio - James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

Publishing firsts

  • The first book translated from English into a foreign language
  • The first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1768-81)
  • The first English textbook on surgery (1597)
  • The first modern pharmacopaedia, the Materia Medica Catalogue (1776)
  • The first textbook on Newtonian science
  • The first colour newspaper advertisement
  • The first postcards and picture postcards in the UK

Scientific innovations

  • Logarithms: John Napier (1550-1617)
  • The theory of electromagnetism: James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
  • Popularising the decimal point: John Napier (1550-1617)
  • The Gregorian telescope: James Gregory (1638-1675)
  • The concept of latent heat: Joseph Black (1728-1799)
  • The pyroscope, atmometer and aethrioscope scientific instruments: Sir John Leslie (1766-1832)
  • Identifying the nucleus in living cells: Robert Brown (1773-1858)
  • Hypnosis: James Braid (1795-1860)
  • Colloid chemistry: Thomas Graham (1805-1869)
  • The kelvin SI unit of temperature: William Thompson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)
  • Devising the diagramatic system of representing chemical bonds: Alexander Crum Brown (1838-1922)
  • Criminal fingerprinting: Henry Faulds (1843-1930)
  • The noble gases: Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916)
  • The Cloud chamber: Charles Thomson Rees Wilson (1869-1959)
  • Pioneering work on nutrition and poverty: John Boyd Orr (1880-1971)
  • The ultrasound scanner: Ian Donald (1910-1987)
  • Ferrocene synthetic substances: Peter Ludwig Pauson in 1955
  • The MRI body scanner: John Mallard in 1980
  • The first cloned mammal (Dolly the Sheep): Was conducted in The Roslin Institute research centre in 1996 although by two Englishmen, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell.
  • Seismometer innovations thereof - James David Forbes

Sports innovations

Scots have been instrumental in the invention and early development of several sports:

  • several modern athletics events, i.e. shot put and the hammer throw, possibly derive from Highland Games events
  • Curling
  • Cycling, invention of the pedal-cycle
  • Golf (see Golf in Scotland)
  • Shinty The history of Shinty pre-dates Scotland the Nation. It is thought to have originated in Ireland.
  • Football The oldest recorded football team was based in Edinburgh.

Medical innovations

  • Pioneering the use of surgical anaesthesia with Chloroform: Sir James Young Simpson (1811-1870)
  • The hypodermic syringe: Alexander Wood (1817-1884)
  • Pioneering the use of antiseptics: Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
  • Identifying the mosquito as the carrier of malaria: Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932)
  • Identifying the cause of brucellosis: Sir David Bruce (1855-1931)
  • Discovering the vaccine for typhoid fever: Sir William B. Leishman (1865-1926)
  • Discovering insulin: John J R Macleod (1876-1935) with others
  • Penicillin: Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)
  • Discovering an effective tuberculosis treatment: Sir John Crofton in the 1950s
  • Primary creator of the artificial kidney (Professor Kenneth Lowe - Later Queen's physician in Scotland)
  • Developing the first beta-blocker drugs: Sir James W. Black in 1964
  • Glasgow Coma Scale: Graham Teasdale and Bryan J. Jennett (1974)

Household innovations

  • The Refrigerator: William Cullen (1748)
  • The Flush toilet: Alexander Cummings (1775)
  • The Dewar Flask: Sir James Dewar (1847-1932)
  • The piano footpedal: John Broadwood (1732-1812)
  • The waterproof macintosh: Charles Macintosh (1766-1843)
  • The kaleidoscope: Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)
  • The modern lawnmower: Alexander Shanks (1801-1845)
  • The Lucifer friction match: Sir Isaac Holden (1807-1897)
  • The self filling pen: Robert Thomson (1822-1873)
  • Cotton-reel thread: J & J Clark of Paisley
  • Lime Cordial: Peter Burnett in 1867
  • Bovril beef extract: Jamie Nelson in 1874
  • The life ring, or personal flotation device: Captain Ward in 1854
  • Electric clock - Alexander Bain (1840)

Weapons innovations

  • The Ferguson rifle: Patrick Ferguson in 1770 or 1776
  • The Lee bolt system as used in the Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield series rifles: James Paris Lee
  • The Ghillie suit

Economics innovations

Adam Smith; Smith was born in 1723, hailing from Kirkcaldy, a Scottish town north of Edinburgh; the 18th century Scot considered to be the father of modern economics; Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which argued that minimal government interference in commerce would promote human welfare and alleviate poverty, was published in 1776. He is the first Scotsman to appear on the central bank's currency in England, replacing Elgar's image in the next few years on as many as 1 billion notes.

Miscellaneous innovations

  • The digestive biscuit, invented by McVitie's in Edinburgh in 1892 by Alexander Grant.
  • Boys' Brigade
  • Bank of England
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Bank of France
  • Colour photography: the first known permanent colour photograph was taken by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)
  • The comb - Aberdeen
  • The keyring - Aberdeen
  • Robinson Crusoe - influenced by the real-life Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway

See also


  1. ^ a b "BBC - History - James Watt". http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/watt_james.shtml. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  2. ^ a b "BBC - History - Kirkpatrick Macmillan". http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/macmillan_kirkpatrick.shtml. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  3. ^ a b "John Loudon MacAdam 1756-1836". http://www.visitscotland.com/library/johnmacadam. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  4. ^ a b "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: Alexander Graham Bell". http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=7894. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  5. ^ a b "BBC - History - John Logie Baird". http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/baird_logie.shtml. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  6. ^ "Who's Who of Victorian Cinema". http://www.victorian-cinema.net/dickson.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  7. ^ "Nobelprize.org: Sir Alexander Fleming - Biography". http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1945/fleming-bio.html. 
  8. ^ a b "Radar Personalities: Sir Robert Watson-Watt". http://www.radarpages.co.uk/people/watson-watt/watson-watt.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  9. ^ "Nobelprize.org: John Macleod - Biography". http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1923/macleod-bio.html. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  10. ^ Griffiths, John (1992). The Third Man, The Life and Times of William Murdoch 1754-1839. Andre Deutsch. ISBN 0-233-98778-9. 

"John Loudon MacAdam 1756-1836". http://www.visitscotland.com/library/johnmacadam. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 

"Kirkpatrick Macmillan". http://www.webscot.co.uk/greatscots/kirkpatrickmacmillan.htm. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 

"Robert William Thomson, Scotland's forgotten inventor". http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/Scotland-History/RobertWilliamThomson.htm. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 

External links


  • Great Scottish Discoveries and Inventions, Bill Fletcher, William W. Fletcher, John Harrold, Drew, 1985, University of California, ISBN 0862670845, 9780862670849
  • Great Scottish inventions and discoveries: a concise guide : a selection of Scottish inventions and discoveries made over a period stretching back to the fifteenth century, John Geddes, Northern Books, 1994
  • Scottish Inventors, Alistair Fyfe, HarperCollins, 1999, ISBN 0004723260, 9780004723266
  • The Scottish invention of America, democracy and human rights: a history of liberty and freedom from the ancient Celts to the New Millennium, Alexander Leslie Klieforth, Robert John Munro, University Press of America, 2004, ISBN 0761827919, 9780761827917
  • The Scottish invention of English literature, Robert Crawford, Cambridge University Press, 1998, ISBN 0521590388, 9780521590389
  • Philosophical chemistry in the Scottish enlightenment: the doctrines and discoveries of William Cullen and Joseph Black, Arthur L. Donovan