Scottish inventions and discoveries

Scottish inventions and discoveries are objects, processes or techniques either partially or entirely invented, innovated, or discovered by a person born in or descended from Scotland. In some cases, an invention's Scottishness is determined by the fact that it came into existence in Scotland (e.g., animal cloning), by non-Scots working in the country. Often, things that are discovered for the first time are also called "inventions" and in many cases there is no clear line between the two.

The Scots take enormous pride in the history of Scottish invention and discovery. There are many books devoted solely to the subject, as well as scores of websites listing Scottish inventions and discoveries with varying degrees of science.

Even before the Industrial Revolution, Scots have been at the forefront of innovation and discovery across a wide range of spheres. Some of the most significant products of Scottish ingenuity include James Watt's steam engine, improving on that of Thomas Newcomen,[1] the bicycle,[2] macadamisation (not to be confused with tarmac or tarmacadam[3]), Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the first practical telephone,[4] John Logie Baird's invention of television,[5][6] Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin[7] and insulin.[8]

The following is a list of inventions, innovations, or discoveries that are known or generally recognised as being Scottish.


"the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electrodynamics"

Road transport innovations

Civil engineering innovations

Aviation innovations

Power innovations

Shipbuilding innovations

Military innovations

Heavy industry innovations

Agricultural innovations

Communication innovations

Publishing firsts

  • The first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1768–81)[63]
  • The first English textbook on surgery (1597)[64]
  • The first modern pharmacopaedia, William Cullen (1776). The book became 'Europe's principal text on the classification and treatment of disease'. His ideas survive in the terms nervous energy and neuroses (a word that Cullen coined).[65]
  • The first postcards and picture postcards in the UK[66]
  • The educational foundation of Ophthalmology: Stewart Duke-Elder in his ground breaking work including ‘Textbook of Ophthalmology and fifteen volumes of System of Ophthalmology’[67]

Culture and the arts

Fictional characters

Scientific innovations

The first positive displacement liquid flowmeter, the reciprocating piston meter by Thomas Kennedy Snr.[122]

Sports innovations

Scots have been instrumental in the invention and early development of several sports:

Medical innovations

Household innovations

Weapons innovations

paintball gun

Miscellaneous innovations

See also


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  • Great Scottish Discoveries and Inventions, Bill Fletcher, William W. Fletcher, John Harrold, Drew, 1985, University of California, ISBN 0-86267-084-5, ISBN 978-0-86267-084-9
  • Great Scottish inventions and discoveries: a concise guide : a selection of Scottish inventions and discoveries made over a period stretching back to the fifteenth century, John Geddes, Northern Books, 1994
  • Scottish Inventors, Alistair Fyfe, HarperCollins, 1999, ISBN 0-00-472326-0, ISBN 978-0-00-472326-6
  • The Scottish invention of America, democracy and human rights: a history of liberty and freedom from the ancient Celts to the New Millennium, Alexander Leslie Klieforth, Robert John Munro, University Press of America, 2004, ISBN 0-7618-2791-9, ISBN 978-0-7618-2791-7
  • Philosophical chemistry in the Scottish enlightenment: the doctrines and discoveries of William Cullen and Joseph Black, Arthur L. Donovan

External links

Burns supper

A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), the author of many Scots poems. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet's birthday, 25 January, occasionally known as Robert Burns Day (or Robbie Burns Day or Rabbie Burns Day) but more commonly known as Burns Night (Scots: Burns Nicht). However, in principle, celebrations may be held at any other time of the year.


Crofting is a form of land tenure and small-scale food production particular to the Scottish Highlands, the islands of Scotland, and formerly on the Isle of Man.

Within the 19th century townships, individual crofts are established on the better land, and a large area of poorer-quality hill ground is shared by all the crofters of the township for grazing of their livestock.

Culture of Scotland

The culture of Scotland refers to the patterns of human activity and symbolism associated with Scotland and the Scottish people. Some elements of Scottish culture, such as its separate national church, are protected in law, as agreed in the Treaty of Union and other instruments. The Scottish flag is blue with a white saltire, and represents the cross of Saint Andrew.


A doorbell is a signaling device typically placed near a door to a building's entrance. When a visitor presses a button the bell rings inside the building, alerting the occupant to the presence of the visitor. Although the first doorbells were mechanical, activated by pulling a cord, modern doorbells are generally electric switch and the most recent versions can contain miniature cameras, be connected to the internet and may incorporate facial recognition technology.

Golf in Scotland

Golf in Scotland was first recorded in the 15th century, and the modern game of golf was first developed and established in the country. The game plays a key role in the national sporting consciousness.The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, known as the R&A, is the world governing body for the game (except in the United States and Mexico). The Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association was founded in 1904 and the Scottish Golf Union (SGU) in 1920. They merged in 2015 into a new organization, Scottish Golf.

To many golfers, the Old Course at St Andrews, an ancient links course dating to before 1574, is considered to be a site of pilgrimage. There are many other famous golf courses in Scotland, including Carnoustie, Gleneagles, Muirfield, Balcomie and Royal Troon. The world's first Open Championship was held at Prestwick in 1860, and Scots golfers have the most victories at the Open at 42 wins, one ahead of the United States.

Although golf is often seen as an elitist sport elsewhere in the world, in the land of its birth it enjoys widespread appeal across the social spectrum, in line with the country's egalitarian tradition. For example, the Old Course at St Andrews is a charitable trust and Musselburgh Links is public courses. Council-owned courses, with low fees and easy access, are common throughout the country wherever demography and geography allow. Therefore, golf courses, whether public or private, are far more common in the Lowlands than in the Highlands and Islands, where shinty (a game which may share a common ancestry with golf) is often the traditional sport.

Scotland is widely promoted as the "Home of Golf," and along with whisky and the long list of Scottish inventions and discoveries, golf is widely seen as being a key national cultural icon throughout the world. It is frequently used to market the country to potential visitors, for example for the Homecoming year in 2009, and golf tourism accounted for approximately 2% of overall Scottish tourism spending in 2004. One page that explains the history of golf in Scotland starts off by stating that, "There has been much debate as to the origins of the game and, in some cases, how it was originally played. One thing is certain — the game of golf as we know it was born in Scotland".Scotland has 587 courses [1]. The highest concentrations are around Glasgow (94 courses) and Edinburgh (67 courses), since these two cities and their environs account for the bulk of the population. But the other districts still average about 40 courses each. Even the distant northern islands have 14 options. Such largesse is possible because Scotland boasts more courses per head of population than any other country.


Hogmanay (Scots: [ˌhɔɡməˈneː]; English: HOG-mə-NAY) is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year (Gregorian calendar) in the Scottish manner. It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year's Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January—a Scottish bank holiday.

The origins of Hogmanay are unclear, but it may be derived from Norse and Gaelic observances. Customs vary throughout Scotland, and usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours, with special attention given to the first-foot, the first guest of the new year.

James Goodfellow

James Goodfellow OBE (born 1937 in Paisley, Renfrewshire) is a Scottish inventor. He was educated at St Mirin's Academy in his home town. In 1966, he patented personal identification number (PIN) technology, and the cash machine.He was a development engineer given the project of developing an automatic cash dispenser in 1965. His system accepted a machine readable encrypted card, with a numerical PIN keypad.

Despite being appointed an OBE in the 2006 Queen's Birthday Honours for his invention of the personal identification number, Goodfellow regrets the lack of recognition and compensation for his inventiveness, since PIN codes are ubiquitous today.In 2016 he was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.

Languages of Scotland

The languages of Scotland are the languages spoken or once spoken in Scotland. Each of the numerous languages spoken in Scotland during its recorded linguistic history falls into either the Germanic or Celtic language families. The classification of the Pictish language was once controversial, but it is now generally considered a Celtic language. Today, the main language spoken in Scotland is English, while Scots and Scottish Gaelic are minority languages. The dialect of English spoken in Scotland is referred to as Scottish English.

List of Scottish breeds

This is a list of domesticated animal breeds originating from Scotland. To be considered domesticated, a population of animals must have their behaviour, life cycle, or physiology systemically altered as a result of being under human control for many generations.Scotland has produced some of the longest established breeds of domesticated animals still in existence. There are 37 individual breeds of animals from Scotland still in existence and three extinct breeds. The Soay Sheep has prehistoric origins, and the Galloway breed of beef cattle dates back several hundred years. New breeds have also been developed more recently in Scotland, such as the Scottish Fold cat, which dates from 1961.The North Ronaldsay Sheep is a most unusual breed, subsisting largely on a diet of seaweed, and the Boreray is the UK's rarest sheep, having been listed as "Category 2: Endangered" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Some breeds, such as the Shetland Pony and the Border Collie are well known throughout much of the Western world, whilst others such as the Scots Dumpy chicken are little-known, even at home. Nine breeds of dog have Scottish origins, including five terrier breeds. Indeed the relative isolation of many of Scotland's numerous islands has led to a preponderance of breeds from these places being represented. Various breeds are now extinct, including the Grice, an archaic and somewhat aggressive pig.

Media of Scotland

Scottish media has a long and distinct history. Scotland has a wide range of different types and quality of media.


A mòd is a festival of Scottish Gaelic song, arts and culture. Historically, the Gaelic word mòd (Scottish Gaelic: [mɔːt̪]), which came from Old Norse mót, refers to any kind of assembly. There are both local mòds, and an annual national mòd, the Royal National Mòd. Mòds are run under the auspices of An Comunn Gàidhealach. The term comes from a Gaelic word for a parliament or congress in common use during the Lordship of the Isles.

A Mòd largely takes the form of formal competitions. Choral events (in Gaelic, both solo and choirs), and traditional music including fiddle, bagpipe and folk groups dominate. Spoken word events include children and adult's poetry reading, storytelling and Bible reading, and categories such as Ancient Folk Tale or Humorous Monologue. Children can also present an original drama, and there are competitions in written literature. Unlike the National Mòd, local mòds usually only last a day or two. They attract a much smaller crowd and the only notable social event is the winners' ceilidh. As there are fewer competitions than in the National Mòd, this ceilidh is often more like a traditional ceilidh with dancing and guest singers between the winners' performances.

Culturally, mòds are comparable to an Irish Feis or the Welsh eisteddfod, but without the ancient roots or the fanciful nineteenth-century "druidic" pageantry of the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Public and bank holidays in Scotland

Bank and public holidays in Scotland are determined under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 and the St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007. Unlike the rest of United Kingdom, most bank holidays are not recognised as statutory public holidays in Scotland, as most public holidays are determined by local authorities across Scotland. Some of these may be taken in lieu of statutory holidays, while others may be additional holidays, although many companies, including Royal Mail, do not follow all the holidays listed below; and many swap between English and local holidays. Many large shops and supermarkets continue to operate normally during public holidays, especially since there are no restrictions such as Sunday trading rules in Scotland.


Saining is a Scots word for blessing, protecting or consecrating. Sain is cognate with the Irish and Scottish Gaelic seun and sian and the Old Irish sén - "a protective charm."Traditional saining rites may involve water that has been blessed in some fashion, or the smoke from burning juniper, accompanied by spoken prayers or poetry. Saining can also refer to less formal customs like making religious signs to protect against evil, such as the sign of the cross. In Shetland, the Scottish folklorist F. Marian McNeil refers to the custom of making the sign of Thor's hammer to sain the goblet that was passed around at New Year's celebrations.An old Hogmanay (New Year's) custom in the Highlands of Scotland, which has survived to a small extent and seen some degree of revival, is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining of the household and livestock. Early on New Year's morning, householders drink and then sprinkle 'magic water' from 'a dead and living ford' around the house (a 'dead and living ford' refers to a river ford that is routinely crossed by both the living and the dead). After the sprinkling of the water in every room, on the beds and all the inhabitants, the house is sealed up tight and branches of juniper are set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre. The juniper smoke is allowed to thoroughly fumigate the buildings until it causes sneezing and coughing among the inhabitants. Then all the doors and windows are flung open to let in the cold, fresh air of the new year. The woman of the house then administers 'a restorative' from the whisky bottle, and the household sits down to its New Year breakfast. Saining with juniper was also used in healing rites, where the evil eye was suspected to be the cause of the illness, but it apparently fell out of use by the end of the nineteenth century after a young girl with respiratory problems suffocated due to the amount of smoke that filled the house.Saining is a common practice in modern traditions based on Scottish folklore, such as blessing and protecting children and other family members. While many of the surviving saining prayers and charms are Christian in nature, others that focus on the powers of nature are used as part of Gaelic Polytheist ceremonies.

Saint Andrew's Day

Saint Andrew's Day is the feast day of Saint Andrew. It is celebrated on 30 November. Saint Andrew's Day (Scots: Saunt Andra's Day, Scottish Gaelic: Là Naomh Anndrais) is Scotland's official national day. It is a national holiday in Romania (since 2015). Saint Andrew is represented in the New Testament to be the disciple who introduced his brother, the Apostle Peter, to Jesus as the Messiah. He is the patron saint of Cyprus, Scotland, Greece, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, San Andres Island (Colombia), Saint Andrew (Barbados) and Tenerife.

In Germany, the feast day is celebrated as Andreasnacht ("(St.) Andrew's Night"), in Austria with the custom of Andreasgebet ("(St.) Andrew's Prayer"), and in Poland as Andrzejki ("Andrew's (festivities)"), in Russia as Андреева ночь ("Andrew's night").

Scottish clan

A Scottish clan (from Gaelic clann, "children") is a kinship group among the Scottish people. Clans give a sense of shared identity and descent to members, and in modern times have an official structure recognised by the Court of the Lord Lyon, which regulates Scottish heraldry and coats of arms. Most clans have their own tartan patterns, usually dating from the 19th century, which members may incorporate into kilts or other clothing.

The modern image of clans, each with their own tartan and specific land, was promulgated by the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott after influence by others. Historically, tartan designs were associated with Lowland and Highland districts whose weavers tended to produce cloth patterns favoured in those districts. By process of social evolution, it followed that the clans/families prominent in a particular district would wear the tartan of that district, and it was but a short step for that community to become identified by it.

Many clans have their own clan chief; those that do not are known as armigerous clans. Clans generally identify with geographical areas originally controlled by their founders, sometimes with an ancestral castle and clan gatherings, which form a regular part of the social scene. The most notable gathering of recent times was "The Gathering 2009", which included a "clan convention" in the Scottish parliament.It is a common misconception that every person who bears a clan's name is a lineal descendant of the chiefs. Many clansmen although not related to the chief took the chief's surname as their own to either show solidarity, or to obtain basic protection or for much needed sustenance. Most of the followers of the clan were tenants, who supplied labour to the clan leaders. Contrary to popular belief, the ordinary clansmen rarely had any blood tie of kinship with the clan chiefs, but they took the chief's surname as their own when surnames came into common use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thus by the eighteenth century the myth had arisen that the whole clan was descended from one ancestor, with the Scottish Gaelic of "clan" meaning "children" or "offspring".

Scottish country dance

Scottish country dance (SCD) is the distinctively Scottish form of country dance, itself a form of social dance involving groups of couples of dancers tracing progressive patterns. A dance consists of a sequence of figures. These dances are set to musical forms (Jigs, Reels and Strathspey Reels) which come from the Gaelic tradition of Highland Scotland, as do the steps used in performing the dances. Traditionally a figure corresponds to an eight bar phrase of music.

Country dancing, which is arguably a type of folk dancing, first appears in the historical record in 17th century England. Scottish country dancing as we know it today has its roots in an 18th century fusion of (English) country dance formations with Highland music and footwork. It has become the national ballroom dance form of Scotland, partly because "Caledonian Country Dances" became popular in upper class London society in the decades after the Rebellion of 1745. When it first became popular around the 18th century it was as a shorter, quicker form of dance that was a light relief from the more courtly dances normally danced. Derived from early British forms of country dancing, SCD is related to English country dancing, contra dancing, cèilidh dancing, Old time dancing and Irish set dancing due to the combination of some of these dance forms in early Country dance forms and later cross-over introduced by their overlapping influences via dancers and dance masters.

Scottish country dancing (a social form of dance with two or more couples of dancers) should not be confused with Scottish highland dance (a solo form of dance). There is a certain amount of cross-over, in that there are Scottish country dances that include highland elements as well as highland-style performance dances which use formations otherwise seen in country dances, but these are relatively few when the two dance forms are considered each as a whole.

Scottish cuisine

Scottish cuisine is the specific set of cooking traditions, practices and cuisines associated with Scotland. It has distinctive attributes and recipes of its own, but shares much with wider British and European cuisine as a result of local and foreign influences, both ancient and modern. Traditional Scottish dishes exist alongside international foodstuffs brought about by migration.

Scotland's natural larder of game, dairy products, fish, fruit, and vegetables is the chief factor in traditional Scots cooking, with a high reliance on simplicity and a lack of spices from abroad, as these were historically rare and expensive.

Scottish units

Scottish or Scots units of measurement are the weights and measures peculiar to Scotland which were nominally replaced by English units in 1685 but continued to be used in unofficial contexts until at least the late 18th century. The system was based on the ell (length), stone (mass), and boll and firlot (volume). This official system coexisted with local variants, especially for the measurement of land area.

The system is said to have been introduced by David I of Scotland (1124–53), although there are no surviving records until the 15th century when the system was already in normal use. Standard measures and weights were kept in each burgh, and these were periodically compared against one another at "assizes of measures", often during the early years of the reign of a new monarch. Nevertheless, there was considerable local variation in many of the units, and the units of dry measure steadily increased in size from 1400 to 1700.The Scots units of length were technically replaced by the English system by an Act of the Parliament of Scotland in 1685, and the other units by the Treaty of Union with England in 1706. However many continued to be used locally during the 18th and 19th centuries. The introduction of the Imperial system by the Weights and Measures Act 1824 saw the end of any formal use in trade and commerce, although some informal use as customary units continued into the 20th century. "Scotch measure" or "Cunningham measure" was brought to parts of Ulster in Ireland by Ulster Scots settlers, and used into the mid-19th century.

Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa ( or UP-hel-ee-ə; literally "Up Holy [Day] All") can refer to any of twelve fire festivals held annually in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, in the middle of winter to mark the end of the yule season. The main festival involves a procession of up to a thousand guizers in Lerwick and considerably lower numbers in the more rural festivals, formed into squads who march through the town or village in a variety of themed costumes. In Lerwick girls and women are excluded from participating as guizers, despite discussions in 2018 and 2019.

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