Great Scots who Changed the World

Our 2009 exhibition was planned as part of a Scotland-wide event called Homecoming Scotland. We adopted Homecoming Scotland’s theme of ‘Scottish Inventors and Innovators’, but re-branded it ‘Great Scots Who Changed the World’. The exhibition was so successful that we continued it in 2010, supplemented by much new material.

The exhibition featured just a few of the outstanding Scottish inventors and innovators in the fields of communications, science and technology – scientists and engineers who have made an immense impact on communications and have quite literally changed our society, and indeed the world, for all time.

After the exhibition we decided to keep adding to the list and to feature it on this website. Please send us your suggestions if you think anyone else should be included!

Here is our Top Twenty List – along with some of their achievements:-

John Napier 1550 – 1617 Invents Logarithms and “Napier’s Bones” – a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods.

James Watt 1736 – 1819 Watt’s great improvements to the steam engine accelerate the Industrial Revolution.

John Macadam 1756 – 1836 Invents a method of using coal tar to bind the road surface stones together.

Lord George Murray 1761 – 1803 Commissioned by the Admiralty, he devises an Optical Shutter Telegraph, capable of transmitting messages from London to ports at Yarmouth, Deal, Portsmouth and Plymouth and back in under 10 minutes! (1796)

Robert Stevenson 1772 – 1850 Head of the great civil engineering firm of lighthouse builders, introduces innovations such as oil lamps, reflectors and clockwork mechanisms to rotate the beams.

Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872) Mary was born at her aunt’s home in Jedburgh, but spent her early years in Burntisland. A self-taught mathematician and astronomer, she writes, translates and publishes many papers and books on scientific themes and is the first person to be called a ‘scientist’.

Sir David Brewster 1781 – 1868 Studies the polarization of light; improves the optics of lighthouses; invents the Kaleidoscope (1816)

James Chalmers 1782 – 1853 Designs and prints adhesive postage stamps, several years before Rowland Hill’s ‘Penny Black’

James Bowman Lindsay 1799 – 1862 Devises an electric telegraph (1832); produces a constant electric light (1835 – over 40 years before Edison!); accomplishes wireless telegraphy through water (1853)

James Young Simpson 1811 – 1870 Introduces the first anaesthetic (Chloroform)

Alexander Bain 1811 – 1877 Designs and patents the electric clock (1841); facsimile machine (1843); chemical telegraph (1846)

Kirkpatrick Macmillan 1812 – 1878 Constructs the first pedal-driven bicycle – and gets the first speeding ticket (for travelling at 8 mph and knocking down a child)

Robert Thomson 1822 – 1873 1846: patents the pneumatic tyre. His inventions range from the fountain pen to the sprung mattress!

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) 1824 – 1907 Develops the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature measurement (1848); scientific adviser responsible for laying of the successful transatlantic telegraph cable (1866)

James Clerk Maxwell 1831 – 1879 Demonstrates colour photography (1861); publishes great treatise on electricity and magnetism (1873)

Alexander Graham Bell 1847 – 1922 Designs and patents the telephone (1876)

John James Rickard Macleod 1876 – 1935 Discovers Insulin, and gives new life to the world’s diabetics

Alexander Fleming 1881 – 1955 Discovers the world’s first antibiotic….. Penicillin has since saved millions of lives

John Logie Baird 1888 – 1946 First public demonstration of television (1925). Pioneers:- fibre optics, radar, infra-red TV, video recording, colour TV, transatlantic TV – and all before 1930! Facsimile TV (1944), 3D colour TV (1946)

Robert Watson-Watt 1892 – 1973 Develops radar (RAdio Direction And Ranging). Designs the Chain Home radar stations in WW2 …