Nov. 30: It’s St. Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland. So we offer a toast to the great inventors who have applied Scottish ingenuity to their work over the years, helping craft the modern world in the process.
Others, like Arthur James Arnot — a Scot who moved to Australia, where he patented the electric drill — are less so.
In the wake of the Scottish Enlightenment, an 18th-century period during which the country achieved great intellectual and scientific accomplishments, emigrants such as Arnot spread what writer Arthur Herman calls the “Scottish mentality” well beyond the United Kingdom.
“When we gaze out on a contemporary world shaped by technology, capitalism and modern democracy, and struggle to find our own place in it, we are in effect viewing the world through the same lens as the Scots did,” writes Herman in his 2001 book, How the Scots Invented the Modern World.
Here are some of the great Scottish inventors who helped change the world:
- John Aitken: Inventor of the koniscope, or dust counter, an instrument designed to measure the content of particles in the atmosphere.
- Alexander Bain: Inventor of the electric clock.
- Patrick Bell: This Church of Scotland minister invented the reaping machine, but refused to patent his horse-powered agricultural device, because he wanted mankind to benefit freely.
- James Blyth: An electrical engineer, his pioneering windmill became the world’s first structure to generate electricity from wind.
- Dugald Clerk: Designer of the first two-stroke engine.
- Robert Davidson: Builder of the first electric locomotive.
- James Dewar: Inventor of the Dewar flask (the first vacuum flask, progenitor of the Thermos bottle).
- William Kennedy Dickson: Creator of the Kinetoscope, an early movie-projection device. (Dickson developed the machine based on an idea by his employer, Thomas Edison.)
- Patrick Ferguson: Inventor of the Ferguson rifle.
- Sir William Fergusson: Inventor of several surgical tools, including bone forceps, lion forceps and the vaginal speculum.
- William Ged: Inventor of stereotype printing.
- Barbara Gilmour Creator of Dunlop cheese, made from the unskimmed milk of Ayrshire cows.
- James Goodfellow: Invented the automatic teller machine and patented personal-identification-number tech.
- Fleeming Jenkin: Inventor of telpherage, the system for moving an aerial tram using one fixed cable and another that pulls the car.
- Charles Macintosh: Inventor of waterproof fabrics (the Mackintosh raincoat is named after him).
- John Loudon McAdam: Inventor of the road-building process called “macadamization,” which introduced tar into the materials list, paving the way for today’s modern roads.
- John Napier: Creator of logartihms and an abacus known as “Napier’s bones.”
- James Nasmyth: Inventor of the steam hammer.
- William Nicol: Inventor of the Nicol prism, the first-ever device for obtaining plane-polarized light.
- James Porteous: Inventor of the Fresno scraper, a revolutionary agricultural implement that greatly influenced modern earth movers.
- Thomas Stevenson: Creator of the Stevenson screen, an enclosure for protecting meteorological gear. He also designed dozens of lighthouses.
- Robert Stirling: Inventor of the Stirling engine.
- William Symington: Builder of the “first practical steamboat.”
- Robert Watson-Watt: Patented radar.
- Robert Wauchope: Inventor of the time ball, a shore-based device that lets mariners synchronize and check the accuracy of their marine chronometers while at sea.