Thursday 29 December 2016

Great Scottish Innovations To The Rest Of The World


Here are the Great Scottish gifts to the rest of the world, which are still existing today.

Bank of England

Mark Carney has Sir William Paterson to thank for the second-oldest central bank in the world. The Scottish trader proposed the idea of the BoE. In 1694, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, adopted his idea, founded the bank and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. Where did we keep the gold before?


Blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan made a pedal cycle based on a hobby horse, with horizontal pedal movement. He would "cycle" the rough roads in Dumfriesshire, but never tried to profit from his invention. Unlike the Lycra industry.


While canals date back to Roman times, we have Thomas Telford, from Dumfriesshire, to thank for the design of the Ellesmere and Shrewsbury canals, as well as the Caledonian canal.

Carnegie Hall

Andrew Carnegie's ascent from weaver's son to billionaire steel magnate is one of the greatest rags-to-riches tales ever. Of course, he had to leave Scotland to make his fortune, heading for America with his parents in 1848, aged 13. But he did put a lot back, giving oodles of money to his home town of Dunfermline to build a library and a park, and to New York for Carnegie Hall.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Glasgow chef Ali Ahmed Aslam lays claim to creating Britain's favourite dish, and the staple of a million takeaways. The proprietor of Shish Mahal restaurant, in the west end of the city, was experimenting with condensed tomato soup, and threw in spices for sauce. And culinary history was made.


Sir James Y Simpson, a professor of midwifery, was his own guinea pig, experimenting with chloroform on himself and later on his friends in 1847. He went on to use it as an anaesthetic to ease the pain of childbirth, leading to its acceptance in modern medicine. If only you could use it during a debate on the Barnett formula.

Colour photography

Those Kodak moments were only possible thanks to 19th-century Scottish scientist James Maxwell, who invented the "three-colour method". His theory, based on mixing red, green and blue colours of light, led him to present the world's first colour photograph – inevitably of a tartan ribbon – in 1861.

Decimal fraction

The 16th-century mathematician John Napier's discovery of the logarithm has brought misery to countless generations of maths students. And Napier, the 8th Laird of Merchiston, also invented "Napier's bones" – an abacus to calculate products and quotients of numbers.

Dolly the Sheep

The world's first cloned mammal was created in 1996 by a team of experts at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh. Dolly survived for six years, before she died from a lung disease. The world's most famous sheep is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

Driving on the left

It was Scotland, not England, that pioneered driving on the "wrong" side of the road. Driving on the left entered Scottish law in 1772, more than 60 years before England and Wales adopted it in 1835. If only the rest of the world had followed suit.

Flushing toilet

Eighteenth-century watchmaker Alexander Cummings was the first to patent a design of the flush toilet. In 1775 he invented the, S-trap – still in use today – which uses standing water to prevent nasty smells backing up out of the sewer.

Gin and tonic

The drink of millions worldwide, but it would not exist had it not been for Edinburgh-born George Cleghorn, an 18th-century doctor who discovered that quinine could cure malaria. The quinine was drunk in tonic water, but it was so bitter that gin was added to make it more palatable. Bottoms up!


Scotland is the birthplace of golf – with the first written record in 1457, when James II banned it as an unwelcome distraction from learning archery. Since then, it's given us plus fours, Pringle jumpers and Tiger Woods's colourful private life. The Old Course at St Andrews dates to the 16th century.

Gospel singing

The singing of psalms in Gaelic by Presbyterians of the Scottish Hebrides, according to Yale University music professor Willie Ruff, evolved from "lining out" – where one person sings a solo before others follow – into the call-and-response of what we now know as the black gospel music of the southern US. Hallelujah.


The word (from Hallows Evening) is Scottish in origin – arising out of ancient Celtic celebrations of Samhain ("summer's end") that signalled the end of the harvest season. Some Scots would leave an empty chair and a plate of food – believing that ghosts would come out on Hallowe'en.


The Kinross-born surgeon James Braid was the first to experiment with hypnotism, using candles to get people into a trance-like state. And, presumably, eat an onion while clucking like a hen.

Hypodermic syringes

Anyone who has seen Trainspotting shouldn't be surprised that Scotland's connection with syringes goes back a long, long way. The Edinburgh-based physician Alexander Wood is credited with inventing the hypodermic syringe in 1853. And 143 years later, Danny Boyle's underground hit would chart Renton's bid to kick his heroin habit on the streets of Edinburgh.

​James Watt

Without this Glaswegian engineer, the Industrial Revolution might never have happened. He developed a way of making steam engines efficient, to speed trains along. The rail replacement bus service came later.


The dancing coloured shards seen through a kaleidoscope have entertained children and drug-addled teenagers for generations. The Edinburgh-based physicist Sir David Brewster first came up with the concept in 1815, but never made a penny from it as he didn't register a patent in time.

Kelvin scale

Glasgow University academic William Thomson, Lord Kelvin to his friends, discovered there was a lower limit to temperature, which he called absolute zero. His rescaling of temperature to start at this point (-273C) was named after him and is still used today. Brrr.

​King James Bible

To traditionalist English Anglicans, there are few things more faith-affirming than the King James translation of the Bible. It is poetry compared with the New International Version. Only trouble is – England's James I was Scotland's, and was born in Edinburgh Castle. A scholar and author of several works, he was nevertheless called "the wisest fool in Christendom". By an Englishman, of course.


Descended from a Scots-Irish family, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald changed the way the world ate after they opened the first branch of McDonald's in San Bernardino in 1938. Now 64 million people are lovin' it....


Ready-meals would be a distant dream if the magnetron had not been developed by Scotland's Robert Watson-Watt. These short-wave radio waves are now used as the source of heat in microwave ovens – essential for students, exhausted parents and rubbish cooks the worldwide.


After noticing that oil was dripping from the roof of a coal mine, Glaswegian chemist James Young discovered that by using heat you could distill coal to make paraffin. Homes without electricity could be lit and heated, thanks to his invention.


If Ayrshire-born Alexander Fleming hadn't been such an untidy scientist we would never have the life-saving drugs we have today. His discovery of a mould growing in one of his culture dishes that killed the surrounding bacteria prompted one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century.

Piano foot pedals

East Lothian-born carpenter John Broadwood is credited with developing the foot-pedal method for sustaining the pianoforte's sounded notes. Broadwood also revolutionised the instrument's boxy design, coming up with the grand piano in 1777.

Pneumatic tyre

Where there's a hit, there's a writ. So, the question of who invented the inflatable rubber tyre had to be fought out in a legal battle between two Scots. Veterinary surgeon John Boyd Dunlop, who patented a bicycle tyre for his son's tricycle in 1888, is commonly credited with the invention.

Postage-stamp adhesive

Imagine a world without those little damp sponges for people who are too busy/posh/dry-mouthed to lick their own stamps. Thanks to James Chalmers, from Dundee, we don't have to. He wrote proposing the idea to Robert Wallace, then MP for Greenock. It is not clear how he made sure the stamp stayed on his letter.


The screw, or a mechanical type of fan that produces a force by converting a rotational motion into thrust, is credited to Scot James Watt, who first applied it to a steam engine on board ships in 1770.


Developed in secret during the Second World War, the object-detection system that uses radio waves to determine the location and speed of an object evolved under Angus-born Robert Watson-Watt in 1936 and later tracked aircraft in the Battle of Britain.


First sold in 1824, the Macintosh coat is named after its Glaswegian inventor, Charles Macintosh. He designed one of the first waterproof fabrics by rubberising sheets of material in his textile factory.


Considering the wintry temperatures recorded in Scotland, you would not think refrigeration was utmost in people's minds, but it was here that physicist and chemist William Cullen demonstrated the first method of artificial refrigeration in 1748. However, he did not put it to practical use.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

We'd still all be eating eggs and bacon if Dr John Harvey Kellogg hadn't dreamt up the cornflake, going on to become a cereal inventor. Descended from Scottish Immigrants, the Seventh Day Adventist from Tyrone, Michigan began working with his brother Will Keith Kellogg to develop breakfast cereals in 1897, launching the brand that would later give us Rice Krispies and Frosties. They're grrrreaaattt!

Steam hammer

A power-driven hammer used to shape large pieces of wrought iron was invented in 1837 by Scot James Npasmyth. His hammers were said to be able to crack the top of the shell of an egg placed in a wine glass, without breaking the glass. If only the same could be said of the glass in Glasgow pubs.


Ever wondered where the word "tarmac" came from? Add "tar" to the surname of Scot engineer and road builder, John McAdam, and you have it. His process, "macadamisation" developed smooth, hard-surfaced for roads in around 1820.


"Mr Watson – come here – I want to see you," are the famous first words that Scottish inventor Alexander Bell uttered to his assistant during his invention of the first practical telephone in the 1870s. He rushed his design to patent within hours of another inventor. It took another two years before he could get Mrs Bell off it.

The shortest place name

Ae, a village near Dumfries and Galloway, boasts the claim to fame of having the shortest place name in the UK. Situated in a conifer forest, it lies near the Water of Ae, a tributary of the River Annan.


The Wire, Mad Men, Take Me Out... you name it, we may not have had it without Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. In 1926, he became the first person to publicly demonstrate a working television system. Two years later, he gave the first demonstration of colour television.

US Navy

Sailor John Paul Jones is known in America as a founder of the country's naval force. Born on the estate of Arbigland near Kirkbean, southwest Scotland, he later emigrated and fought against Britain in the American War of Independence.

US presidents

An astonishing 23 presidents of the United States have Scots or Scots-Irish heritage, including many of the most distinguished: Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. The George Bushes, senior and junior, also originate from Scotland, though obviously it was Texas that made them that way.

Vacuum flask

The saviour of ramblers and picnickers across the world was the brainchild of Scottish physicist and chemist Sir James Dewar. He made the invention in 1892 but failed to get a patent and so did not profit from his ingenuity.


Not to be confused with Irish whiskey, the first evidence of the production of the "water of life" in Scotland is recorded in 1494, although distillation dates back centuries before. James IV was said to be rather partial to the tipple. Slàinte!



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