Scots of course take great pride in Scottish history and have particular reason to be proud of innovations and innovators that have derived from the country.
Some may think that Scotland’s innovation history began with the industrial revolution, but we were providing the world with new, better ways to do things way before then.
Let’s begin exalting these great Scots with innovations that are used to make everyday life that much better in the home. Did you know that William Cullen, an expert in medicine and chemistry, developed the technology that went on to become the refrigerator in 1748 or that Alexander Cumming created the S-trap in 1775 that stopped toilets letting the smell of the sewers below into the home – an innovation that we still use today.
If Alan MacMasters hadn’t worked out a better way to cook toast for breakfast in 1893 in creating the electric bread toaster, who knows what kind of mess would we would be in each morning before work! Paisley’s own Clark family are responsible for innovations relating to cotton thread and it’s impact on the world.
However, we have to give maximum credit to a certain John Logie Baird, a humble, innovative engineer, for the invention of the television in 1926 which has touched almost everyone in the developed world. His place in history is cemented forever and rightfully so.
Moving out of the home and onto the streets (literally), who could ignore John Loudon McAdam, inventor of ‘macadamisation’, making roads much more durable and smooth for travelers since the 1820s which of course led to use of the pneumatic tyre in 1888 after sterling work by both Robert William Thomson and John Boyd Dunlop. And on the theme of roads, Kirkpatrick Macmillan’s innovation, adding a pedal mechanism to the bicycle, should be lauded by all those that wear cycling shorts in the modern day.
Moving into the field of medicine, John James Rickard Macleod’s truly excellent work in helping to discover the isolation of insulin led to him receiving a Nobel prize in 1923. Sir James Young Simpson’s work in demonstrating chloroform and its anaesthetic properties on humans ensured it would be used on hundreds of millions of people in hospitals all over the world and his various innovations across the field of medicine and care for humans are numerous. The physician, Alexander Wood invented the first hypodermic needle in 1853, innovating upon how bees sting.
A notable mention should go to John Macintyre who set up the world’s very first radiology department at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and there are so many more medical innovations that originated from the Scottish medical community.
Perhaps Scotland’s most famous medical innovation was that of Sir Alexander Fleming and his work with antibiotics for which he received the ‘Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine’. Fleming is often seen as one of the very greatest Scots in history and his impact upon the improvement of the lives of people across the world is hard to comprehend, such is his impact.
The history of scientific innovations originating from Scotland is almost endless with exceptionally strong representations in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and physics.
There are of course famous representations such as John Napier, James Gregory, Adam Smith, Sir William Ramsay and William Playfair, but let’s start with a brilliant chemist, James Young who created the first commercial oil refinery, distilling paraffin from coal and oil shales which started in 1856 after many years of developing the processes behind. Young had an excellent career in the UK at various companies, innovating his way from company to company, improving each one in turn, until he became a businessman himself. In later life, he discovered in rustproofing ships and worked on the speed of light. A true, great, underappreciated Scot indeed.
Other innovators of science include Sir Patrick Manson, known as the father of Tropical Medicine, Adam Ferguson, the father of modern sociology, James Braid, the father of modern hypnotism, James Hutton, the father of modern geology and Adam Smith, the father of modern economics.
There should be many, many more innovators that Scotland should be proud of including Henry Bell (steam engines), William John Macquorn Rankine ( thermodynamic cycle), Sir Dugald Clerk (two-stroke engine), Sir George Bruce of Carnock (coal mining), James Hall Nasmyth (steam hammer), David Mushet (metallurgy), James Anderson (Scotch plough), James Chalmers (postal service), Sir Sandford Fleming (Universal Time), Alexander Graham bell (telephony), James Goodfellow (PIN code and cash machines), Sir William Boog Leishman (vaccines) and Thomas telford (civil engineering) to name but a few.
This particular writer’s most revered Scottish innovator is James Clerk Maxwell, a true genius and pioneer that many Scottish people know far too little about, which is a crying shame. A brilliant mathematician and scientist, he excelled in so many different areas that perhaps he is too difficult to study due to his sheer diversity of influence. His work in electromagnetism using his brilliant mathematical brain was astounding at the time and has grown in reverence ever since among the scientific community. To mention just his work in electromagnetism without mentioning his other triumphs such as those with colours and the discovery of the composition of Saturn’s rings would be wholly inadequate. Indeed, I could write a hundred pages about his genius and innovations.
Who was James Clerk Maxwell’s biggest fan? A certain Albert Einstein, who often explained how he owed many of his own successes to James Clerk Maxwell and even had a photo of him on his study wall.