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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

Great Scot! 14 Commonly Used Scottish Inventions

"Watson, have you heard?  I'm only one of many Scottish inventors."
"Watson, have you heard? I'm only one of many Scottish inventors."

From the time we brush our teeth in the morning until we set the alarm before going to bed at night, we humans use inventions constantly. For the most part, we do so without a thought to the inventor. In truth, if we stopped to give a moment’s gratitude to these creative geniuses, we’d never get anything done! This week, though, I’d like to focus on some Scottish inventors because, well, I just didn’t realize how much of an impact the Scots have had on the rest of humanity. Think I’m using hyperbole? Keep reading. I suspect you’ll be as surprised as I was at the commonplace things given to us by Scottish minds.

Imagine Life Without Your Phone

Admittedly, I’m not talking about that little rectangular thing that some people can’t stay away from for more than five minutes. But the Smartphone wouldn’t exist without the invention of the telephone. You, I’m sure, know the name of its creator: Alexander Graham Bell.

As often happens, Mr. Bell’s invention wasn’t exactly what he was going for. He worked as a teacher of the deaf, did research on hearing and speech, and experimented with hearing devices. During a visit with his deaf mother, he came up with an idea for “electronic speech.” The fruit of this idea was the microphone. His continued work led Bell to create a device he called the “electrical speech machine.” We call it the telephone.

Ironically, as an instrument for long-distance communication, the telephone was, in Mr. Bell’s opinion, a nuisance and an intrusion. He couldn’t work with one in the room.

Alexander Fleming returned from vacation to find mold growing in his petri dish.  This happy accident resulted in the development of penicillin.
Alexander Fleming returned from vacation to find mold growing in his petri dish. This happy accident resulted in the development of penicillin.

What’s in Your Petri Dish?

This next Scot is another Alexander and, like Mr. Bell, he’d been working on something else when he stumbled across the invention that would make him famous. Scottish physician, Sir Alexander Fleming, had been doing research on staphylococcus, a common bacteria. In 1928, he had some staph in a petri dish in his lab. He intended to put it into an incubator before leaving to go on a two-week vacation. Somehow he forgot and left it sitting on the lab bench. A Penicillium mold spore, possibly coming from nearby labs where molds were being studied, got into the dish.

When Dr. Fleming returned from his vacation, he discovered “mold juices” in his culture and noted a weakening of the structure of the bacteria. After doing more research and experiments, Fleming determined that not all molds had an antibacterial effect, only certain strains of Penicillium. His work led to the development of the life-saving antibiotic, penicillin. The introduction of this drug into medicine significantly decreased severe illness and death caused by bacterial infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and many others. In 1945, Dr. Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Got Toast?

If you enjoy toast at breakfast (or any other time) thank Alan MacMasters. He didn’t invent toast. That happened back in the mists of time. But, in 1893, he did invent the first electric toaster. The story is that he was working on lighting technology for the London Underground when his bread got a little too close to the electric elements. He ended up with burnt bread and an idea. He developed the idea into a product and sold it to the Crompton Company. They presented it to the world as the Eclipse Toaster. Unfortunately, Mr. MacMasters’s toaster had some wiring problems. The metal wires kept melting! But other creative minds at General Electric and Westinghouse, as well as freelance problem-solvers, continued to improve on MacMasters’ idea. In 1928, toasters took off commercially with the invention of sliced bread (I’m not kidding).

Alexander Cumming's S-Bend pipe paved the way for flushing toilets.
Alexander Cumming's S-Bend pipe paved the way for flushing toilets.

Building a Better Toilet

Toilets have existed in some form at least since the Neolithic Period. Until relatively recently, though, they all presented the same BIG problem: the stink! Waste generally went in a straight line from the toilet to the depository (river, sewer, etc.). Then the smell from the pooling waste traveled back up. In the 19th century, Alexander Cumming changed that and led the way for the modern flushing toilet. He realized that there was an easy solution: bend the pipe. He created the S-pipe and life has been more pleasant ever since.

But What Else Have the Scots Done?

The above inventions have really improved life but many more things have come from Scotland. Here are ten more things Scots have contributed to humanity:

1) A Better Steam Engine: James Watt didn’t invent the steam engine but his improved design is credited with greatly contributing to the Industrial Revolution.

2) Artificial Refrigeration: In 1756, at the University of Glasgow, William Cullen gave the first public demonstration of refrigeration. Using a chemical process, he produced ice. While no one, at the time, saw a commercial use for this process, it eventually led to the invention of refrigerators.

3) Color Photography: In the mid-19th century, Jack Clerk Maxwell, displayed the first colored photography.

4) Television: As you enjoy an episode of your favorite tv episode, give a thought to its inventor, John Logie Baird, who also later developed colored television.

Dr. Henry Faulds came up with the idea of fingerprinting while at an archaeological dig.
Dr. Henry Faulds came up with the idea of fingerprinting while at an archaeological dig.

5) Fingerprinting: Dr. Henry Faulds, the story goes, came up with the idea of fingerprinting while looking at fingerprints on ancient pottery at an archaeological dig.

6) Hypodermic Needles: Alexander Wood came up with the idea while studying bees and their stingers.

7) The Vacuum Flask: Do you love how your thermos keeps your coffee hot? Thank Sir James Dewar who created the device.

8) Disposable Contact Lenses: I’m old enough to remember the general rejoicing when disposable contacts came out. They were developed by Scotsman Ron Hamilton—in his backyard makeshift lab.

9) MRIs: This significant advance in diagnostic imaging was the fruit of hard work by a team at the University of Aberdeen in 1980.

10) ATMs: James Goodfellow invented the first automatic teller machine in 1966. Believe it or not, there are still people living who remember life before ATMs and the necessity of having to schedule withdrawing money during banking hours. God bless Mr. Goodfellow!

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post. Please LIKE and SHARE. To SUBSCRIBE for FREE, just click on the “Sign Up” button in the upper right of the page.

Slan go foil!

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