Scottish Inventions:
A Legacy of household names

Scottish inventions, there are quite a few of them. In every possible area from sports to medicine, including some of our most commonly used appliances – the Scot inventors have left their mark. The number of inventions that can be attributed to Scots is especially impressive when you think that the Scottish population has always been quite small – just a few millions. Let’s take a look at some of the most common inventions, which most of us use everyday, and have their origins in a Scottish invention.

Scottish inventions #1 - Refrigerator

One of the most important contributions of the Scots to the world is the refrigerator. If James Harrison (1816 – 1893), a Scottish immigrant to Australia, didn’t accidentally push ether gas into a metal tube, people might still be using boxes filled with blocks of ice to cool their food.

The problem he was dealing with? How to overcome the need for ice, in the refrigeration process? The task of acquiring ice in itself was quite frustrating and meant hard work. Ice had to be cut fresh from frozen lakes and stored inside an underground house until it was ready to be used as a cooler. Australians had difficulty gaining access to natural ice since Australia does not enjoy that many lakes.

Harrison came up with a method to force ether gas through a tube, make it into a liquid reduce its temperature in the process. The liquid was then passed through specific coils and vaporised anew – which as a result made the air around it cooler – safeguarding food.

His discovery was beneficial the world over, but especially made a huge difference to his new adopting country - Australia. It meant food could now be transferred in ships across the world and would survive the long journey without going bad. This was Harrison’s original incentive of his development – allowing Australia to market its sheep and cattle to Europe. He even tried one such journey to Europe – but the ether has leaked during the voyage and ruined the entire cargo. Harrison went bankrupt but his legacy meant a huge difference to the Australian economy.

Scottish inventions #2 - Television

Also one of the most commonly used Scottish inventions today is the television. It was invented by John Logie Baird in 1922, both in black and white, and in color. Even if the invention of the television is the result of inventive work by many inventors (link in site: inventions by kids ), Baird made one of the major advances in the field. He is the first one to produce a moving picture, to broadcast images across the Atlantic, to broadcast in color, and to set-up the first television show, which was aired on BBC. Baird’s television is a product of heavy brainstorming, research, and experimentation. Most of his contemporaries failed while trying to achieve goals similar to his.

A more practical method, using cathode ray tubes, used in modern day televisions, replaced Baird’s in the 1930’s. This method was outlined by another Scot, Alan Campbell-Swinton.

Scottish inventions #3 - Telephone

A great example of an invention that came to be, while focusing on something else entirely, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, in an attempt to build a hearing device to aid the hard of hearing and deaf. Bell is very well known for receiving a patent for the invention of the first telephone in 1876, but not many people know about his life passion –aiding the deaf. Both Bell’s mother and wife were deaf. Through his experience for facilitating the transfer of sound he started developing the acoustic telegraph – which eventually evolved into the first telephone.

Bell’s story is a great example of how following one’s passion and interest can lead to great breakthroughs. Bell’s passion of teaching the deaf, the deaf-mute and the blind continued. Helen Keller was among his students.

Scottish inventions #4 - ATM

John Shepherd Barron, the son of Scot parents, lost sleep over the fact that he wasn’t able to access his own money, anywhere in the world. His breakthrough moment came about in the bath when he realised “if a machine could dispense chocolate, why not money?” He went on to invent the first cash dispensing machine prototype that was actually tested, in 1967. His invention would dispense £10 if a four-digit personal identification number was keyed in. Instead of plastic cards, the user had to ‘scan’ in a paper cheque imprinted with a mildly radioactive chemical. His machine, a predecessor of the present day ATM, was first used at a London branch of Barclays Bank.

Scottish inventions #5 - Fax Machine

Moving our view from the home to the office, a device that helped a lot of individuals and businesses alike in saving time and money sending out correspondence is the fax machine. The fax machine that we know today is electronic, but the original technology was first invented in the 19th century by a Scottish blacksmith: Alexander Bain.

In 1843, he even received a patent for his invention. His concept of a fax machine used clock mechanism parts combined with a fax machine, to scan a metal surface for images and transfer them through a telegraph: the very first fax machine.

Scottish inventions #6 - Bicycle

Villagers thought of Kirkpatrick MacMillan as mad since he was obsessed with what he called his “velocipede”, the first rear-wheel-drive bicycle world-wide. Back in 1842, his invention was referred to as “Daft Pate” by the locals, but it is considered by many, the first prototype of the bicycle we still use today.

In 1842, he went on his first long journey, from his home to Glasgow –almost 70 miles, travelled on his invention. Upon arrival he lightly injured a pedestrian and was fined 5 shillings – but in the process, made it into the history books as a proper inventor.

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