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It is said that Scot's are quite reserved and never talk themselves up but not on this site. So with that let me just say, yes, we like to invent things as well. here is just some of the long list to get you started.


John Logie Baird (1888 - 1946), Born in Helensburgh, Dumbarton. John Logie Baird was an engineer who invented the television in 1926 - he was the first to demonstrate a working television set and transmit a recognizable image. This is one of the Scottish inventions that the majority of the world use every day. During WWII he was involved in the development of RADAR (Radio detection and ranging) with fellow Scottish inventor Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, and at one time also took out a patent on fiber-optics.

A television is 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.


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.

The Stereotype (Printing)

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.



'Macadamisation' (aka Tarmac) - John McAdam (1756 - 1836), Born in Ayr. John McAdam was a surveyor and heavily involved in road building and management. He developed the 'macadamisation' process which led to the invention of today's tarmac (aka asphalt in the USA). The first 'tarmac' road was laid in Paris in 1854.

Iron Bridges

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.



James Braid (1795 - 1860)

Born in Fife. James Braid was a surgeon, physician and founding pioneer of the practice of hypnosis, often regarded as the 'Father of Hypnosis'. He published an influential book on the subject in 1843 called 'Neurypnology or The Rationale of Nervous Sleep Considered In Relation With Animal Magnetism'. The term 'hypnosis' came from the Greek God of sleep 'Hypnos'.

Penicillin - Sir Alexander Fleming (1881 - 1955)

Thermos bottles (Dewar)

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.



Sir Alexander Fleming FRS FRSE FRCS (6 August 1881 – 11 March 1955) was a Scottish Physician, biologist,pharmacologist and botanist. In 1928, while working with the flu virus, he 'accidentally' discovered the antibiotic Penicillin - this is not only one of the most important in terms of Scottish inventions, but on an international level. His best-known discoveries are the enzyme        Lysozyme in 1923 and the world's first antibiotic substance benzylpenicillin (Penicillin G) from the mould Penicillium notatum in 1928, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain. He wrote many articles on bacteriology, immunology, and chemotherapy. Another of Fleming's discoveries was the vaccine for typhoid.

Fleming was knighted for his scientific achievements in 1944. In 1999, he was named in Time magazine's list of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th century. In 2002, he was chosen in the BBC's television poll for determining the 100 Greatest Britons, and in 2009, he was also voted third "greatest Scot" in an opinion poll conducted by STV, behind only Robert Burns and William Wallace.


Prof John James Rickard Macleod, FRS FRSE LLD (6 September 1876 – 16 March 1935) was a Scottish biochemist and physiologist. He devoted his career to diverse topics in physiology and biochemistry, but was chiefly interested in carbohydrate metabolism. He is noted for his role in the discovery and isolation of insulin during his tenure as a lecturer at the University of Toronto, for which he and Frederick Banting received the 1923 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine


Sir James Young Simpson (1811 - 1870), Born in Bathgate, Linlithgowshire. James Young Simpson was a physician and obstetrician who pioneered the use of anesthetics (especially chloroform) during surgery and childbirth. He 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.


I despise the recent trend in the USA for impressionable pregnant women to refuse any painkillers during delivery. Their fear of harming the baby with the drugs often means a longer birth and more trauma to the baby than a quick painless birth. He also introduced several new obstetric techniques and practices which improved care for women both then and now. 


Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister, OM PC PRS, known between 1883 and 1897 as Sir Joseph Lister, Bt., was a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. He promoted the idea of sterile surgery while working at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, was the first to realise that the high post-operative mortality of his patients was due to the onset of blood poisoning (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.

Artificial Diamonds

In the mid 19th Century, a Scottish scientist managed to produce some tiny artificial diamonds by a secret process that has never been duplicated.


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.


Flushing toilet,

Alexhander Cumming (sometimes referred to as Alexander Cummings) FRSE (1733 –8 March 1814) was a Scottish watch maker and instrument inventor, who was the first to patent a design of the flush toilet, that had been invented by Sir John Harrington. The S-trap (or bend) was invented by Cumming in 1775 to retain water permanently within the bowl, thus preventing sewer gases from entering buildings. It survives in today's plumbing modified as a U- or J-shaped pipe trap located below or within a plumbing fixture.


Vacuum Flask,

Sir James Dewar (1842 - 1923), Born in Kincardine, Fife. James Dewar was a talented physicist who invented the vacuum flask in 1892, (at first called the 'Dewar Flask' but later renamed the 'thermos flask' from the Greek word 'therme' which means hot. He also was the co-inventor of cordite (a smokeless gunpowder), developed a machine which could produce large quantities of liquid nitrogen and structural formulas for Benzene. He was Knighted in 1904.

Treatment of Malaria - 

Sir Patrick Manson (1844 - 1922), Born in Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire. Patrick Manson was a doctor and medical pioneer who spent his life studying tropical diseases, and was heavily involved in researching the condition commonly known as 'elephantiasis'.During his studies, he discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. His efforts led to the foundation of the Medical School of Hong Kong, and the London School of Tropical Medicine.He is sometimes called 'the father of tropical medicine'.

Electromagnetism (Maxwell's Equations)

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.


Keiller's marmalade, is named after its creator Janet Keiller, and is believed to have been the first commercial brand of marmalade, originating in Dundee, Scotland. The apocryphal story tells that James Keiller bought a ship load of oranges from a ship that had sought harbour from a winter storm. The ship had started its journey in Seville but the delay caused by the storm had made the oranges less fresh than they ought to have been. The bargain gave Keiller's wife, Janet, the opportunity to manufacture a large quantity of marmalade.

The true story is more prosaic; in reality, the Keillers adapted an existing recipe for manufacture, by adding the characteristic rind suspended in the preserve. The first commercial brand of marmalade, along with the world's first marmalade plant, was founded in 1797. In 1828, the company became James Keiller and Son, when James junior joined the business In 1859 the company set up a factory in Guernsey in order to avoid the sugar tax charged on the mainland and with a view to eventually expanding business in the south of England.


In 1880 the company opened a factory at Tay Wharf, Silvertown in London.[2] By the late 19th century the marmalade was shipping as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and China. It is believed that James Keiller and Son was also the first to produce Dundee cake commercially and to give it the distinctive name. By the 1920s, after the firm had been acquired by Crosse & Blackwell, the company had become a producer of a wide range of confectionery, preserves and cakes. After this acquisition in 1920, Keiller was sold again several times before becoming part of another company of Scottish origin, Robertson's. It is now produced by Hain Celestial Group for export only.



Sir David Brewster KH PRSE FRS FSA(Scot) FSSA MICE (11 December 1781 – 10 February 1868) was a Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, writer, historian of science and university principal. Most noted for his contributions to the field of optics, he studied the double refraction by compression and discovered the photoelastic effect, which gave birth to the field of optical mineralogy. For his work, William Whewell dubbed him the "Father of modern experimental optics" and "the Johannes Kepler of Optics.

He is well-recognized for being the inventor of the kaleidoscope and an improved version of the stereoscope applied to photography.[5]He called it the "lenticular stereoscope", which was the first portable, 3D viewing device. He also invented the binocular camera, two types of polarimeters, the polyzonal lens and the lighthouse illuminator.

A prominent figure in the popularization of science, he is considered one of the founders of the British Association, of which he would be elected President in 1849. In addition, he became the public face of higher education in Scotland, acting as Principal of the University of St Andrews and then Edinburgh between 1837 and 1868. Brewster also edited the 18-volume Edinburgh Encyclopædia.



Colour Photography, Electromagnetism.

James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE (13 June 1831 – 5 November 1879) was a Scottish scientist in the field of mathematical physics. His most notable achievement was to formulate the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon. Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism have been called the "second great unification in physics" after the first one realised by Isaac Newton.

With the publication of "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" in 1865, Maxwell demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light. Maxwell proposed that light is an undulation in the same medium that is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena. The unification of light and electrical phenomena led to the prediction of the existence of radio waves.

Maxwell helped develop the Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, a statistical means of describing aspects of the kinetic theory of gases. He is also known for presenting the first durable colour photograph in 1861 and for his foundational work on analysing the rigidity of rod-and-joint frameworks (trusses) like those in many bridges.


Percussion Cap,

Rev. Alexander John Forsyth (1769 - 1848), Born in Belhevie, Aberdeenshire. Alexander John Forsyth was a Scottish Minister who was also a pioneer in the development of firearms because he invented, and patented, the 'percussion cap' in 1807.

The percussion method of ignition replaced the the flintlock method which was in use at that time, and although you may not know what it is, this invention is the predecessor of the modern-day bullet.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.


Electric toaster....  

Alan MacMasters (20 March 1865 – 25 December 1927) was a Scottish scientist. He is credited with creating the first electric bread toaster, which went on to be developed by Crompton, Stephen J. Cook & Company as the Eclipse. Although not ultimately a commercial success, MacMasters's invention would pave the way for Charles Strite to invent the automatic pop-up toaster in 1919, which is the device we know as the toaster today. MacMasters died of heart failure on 25 December 1927 at the age of 62.

The MacKintosh  (raincoat) 

Charles Mackintosh (1766 - 1843), Born in Glasgow. Charles MacKintosh was a scientist/inventor/entrepreneur. He made several inventions relating to the iron and steel industry, but his biggest achievement was developing the waterproof fabric that is used to make raincoats. He patented this process in 1823 and although there have obviously been other improvements and inventions in this area since his time, in the UK raincoats are often still called 'mackintoshes' (or 'plastic macs'). It seems to be that in terms of Scottish inventions, this may be one of the most appropriate, because with Scotland's wet weather a raincoat is pretty much a necessity of life!

The Threshing Machine - Andrew Meikle (1719 - 1811), Born in East Lothian. Andrew Meikle was a millwright, mechanical engineer, and the inventor of the threshing machine around 1786. This machine was one of the major developments of the British Agricultural Revolution. He also invented a type of sail for windmills called 'Spring sails', which helped the windmills to be operated more safely during stormy weather. 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 Reaping Machine - Rev. Patrick Bell (1800 - 1869), Born in rural Auchterhouse, Angus. The Reverend Patrick Bell was a minister who invented the 'reaping machine'. This was basically an early version of the combine harvester. It was one of the first pieces of mechanical agricultural machinery to ever be developed. 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.


Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (1892 - 1973) Born in Brechin, Angus. Robert Alexander Watson-Watt was the son of scientist and inventor, James Watt. He was also a physicist and meteorologist, who developed a working RADAR (Radio detection a nd ranging) system during WWII.

The principles of RADAR were known earlier than this, but no-one had yet developed a workable system. He was knighted in 1942 for his contributions to the war effort.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.

'Hot Blast' Oven - James Beaumont Neilson (1792 - 1865)

Born in Shettleston, just outside Glasgow. James Beaumont Neilson was an engineer who invented the 'hot blast oven' for smelting iron. This used a process which utilized a blast of hot air, as opposed to cold air, which was the current method.

His invention was patented in 1828 and it greatly increased efficiency and productivity in the iron industry - particularly in regards to railway and shipbuilding.


Adhesive postage stamps

These were invented by Scot James Chalmers.

Brownian Movement

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.

Latent Heat

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.

Colloid Chemistry

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.

Pneumatic Tyres, Self-filling Pen,

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.

Decimal Point

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)


David Dunbar Buick (September 17, 1854 – March 5, 1929) was a Scottish-born American Detroit-based inventor, best known for founding the Buick Motor Company. He headed this company and its predecessor from 1899 until 1906, thereby helping to create one of the most successful nameplates in United States motor vehicle history.Buick was born in Arbroath, Angus, Scotland and moved to Detroit at the age of two with his family. He left school in 1869 and worked for a company which made plumbing goods. When the company ran into trouble in 1882, he and a partner took it over.


At this time Buick began to show his promise as an inventor, producing many innovations including a lawn sprinkler, and a method for permanently coating cast iron with vitreous enamel which allowed the production of "white" baths at lower cost. Although cast iron baths are uncommon nowadays, the method is still in use for enamelling them. With the combination of Buick's innovation and his partner's sound business management the company became quite 1903 Buick was forced to raise more money via a $5,000 loan (equal to $133,278 today) from a friend and fellow car enthusiast, Benjamin Briscoe. With this financial help, Buick formed the Buick Motor Company which would eventually become the cornerstone of the General Motors empire.The concentration on development had produced the revolutionary "Valve-in-Head" overhead valve engine. This method of engine construction produces a much more powerful engine than the rival side valve engine design used by all other manufacturers at the time. Overhead valve engines are used by most car manufacturers today,


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 chocolate. 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, 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 mouth organ or recited a poem.

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.

Tubular steel

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".


Breech-loading rifle

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.


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.

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. 


The list is just the beginning, a search for Scottish inventions on the internet will yield even greater results than there is here.

To get a bigger picture go here. Scottish Inventions.

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