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Joseph Lister

Sir James Swinburne

Joseph Black




David Dunbar Buick







John Boyd Dunlop






John Napier








James Hutton

















Sir Walter Scott


Thomas Telford


Lord Kelvin







James Clerk Maxwell










John Loudon McAdam


Sir Alexander Fleming



Scottish Discoveries and Inventions

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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
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.

Chemical Bonds
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.

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). Biographical details of John Napier

Fax Machines
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

Flailing machines
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. And don't forget to visit the Old Course in St Andrews.

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 mouth organ 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.

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.

King Arthur
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.

Percussion Powder
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

Mackintosh Raincoats
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.

Macadamised roads
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. the

Microwave Ovens
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.

Hollow-pipe drainage
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.

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