2020 has been a year of adversity for everyone. It has shifted our perspective on how we live our lives, on how we socialise, and on how we see our home. For some, that might have been a harsh awakening, but for me (a Kiwi living very far from home) it ignited a sense of immense pride in my new home, Scotland!
There was never any doubt in my mind that this country was a place of hard work, of inspiring drive and ambition, of resilience, and of incredible beauty. But learning just how much Scotland has offered the world was a hugely inspiring path to walk. There is nothing quite like a country that punches well above its weight on the global stage.
Now we will all know the most common Scottish inventions like golf, Harry Potter, Irn Bru, Lewis Capaldi, or the tyre; but join me as I recall some of the other incredible inventions Scotland has offered the world, proving that Scotland really is the country that could. And no, for once we’re not talking about whisky.
1. The Television
The box. The heart of the home. The busiest family member through lockdown no doubt, and a piece of technology that is quite simply, hard to imagine living without. Aptly named one of the most prominent inventions in modern times, this magical invention was thanks to Scottish Engineer, John Logie Baird.
“Baird demonstrated the first working television system way back in January of 1926 and just two years later he achieved the first transatlantic television transmission. Baird was committed to the television throughout much of his life and was also responsible for inventing the first colour television.” (Scotland.org)
2. The Kaleidoscope
While this beautiful invention might not be an everyday use, type invention. Which is a shame for us all really. It is a great source of entertainment, and also an amusing invention of immense beauty which has been around for more than 200 years. It is also the brainchild of Scottish inventor Sir David Brewster, and this ‘hypnotic device was born in 1816’. (theculturetrip)
“Born in the small Scottish country town of Jedburgh, Brewster was uncannily intelligent – building his own telescope from scratch aged just 10 years old and this early interest in optics continued throughout his life.” (Scotland.org) Although sadly for Brewster, an error at the patent office meant his invention was able to be “quickly and crudely copied by opportunistic entrepreneurs, meaning that he saw little of the financial rewards.”
3. The Refrigerator
A somewhat ironic Scottish invention is the refrigerator, considering just how cold Scotland is over the winter. But this brilliant invention was also invented by a talented Scotsman – this time in Professor William Cullen back in 1748. Showcasing his discovery to his cohorts at Glasgow University, while he didn’t commercialise it immediately, it is now one of the most common household appliances in the world.
Not only did this invention increase the time frame of perishables, it also allowed for better storage, it allowed foods to travel to different places, and with more than ‘500 million refrigerators in use across the globe’ today… I think he was on to a winner there!
4. The Toaster
From a chilling invention to one of warmer beginnings, Scotland is also to thank for the humble toaster! Edinburgh born Alan MacMasters invented the appliance in 1893 – a full 35 years before the invention of sliced bread!
“Legend has it that MacMasters came up with the idea thanks to 'inspiration' from another Scottish invention - whisky. After drinking half a bottle of whisky one evening while working on lighting technology for the London Underground, he noticed that the electrical elements ran so hot they were burning his nearby bread.” (Scotland.org) Something about these inventions tells me the Scots like their food…
Now we shift the dial to a truly life changing invention, and one that marked the start of modern antibiotics in 1928 - Sir Alexander Fleming’s invention of penicillin. The 1945 Nobel Prize winner, and considered the 3rd most prolific Scot behind Robert Burns and William Wallace, discovered it somewhat by accident and in doing so, put Scotland on the map alongside the antibiotic revolution.
“Fleming was experimenting with the influenza virus in the Laboratory of the Inoculation Department at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Often described as a careless lab technician, Fleming returned from a two-week vacation to find that a mould had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate. Upon examination of the mould, he noticed that the culture prevented the growth of staphylococci.” (Helio)
And that was it, Penicillin was invented!
6. Criminal Fingerprints
It’s hard to believe modern criminology without fingerprinting, and it’s also hard to imagine the accuracy of detective work without criminal identifying fingerprints. But until 1880, it wasn’t common. In fact, Scottish Doctor and Missionary Henry Faulds invented the use of fingerprinting in 1880 while working on an archaeological dig in Japan.
“He came up with the idea while working on archaeological digs in Japan and noticing finger prints on shards of ancient pottery.” (Scotland.org) A huge addition to forensic science, and another tick for Scotland!
7. Grand Theft Auto
The game that sparked the criminal term, 'Grand Theft Auto' is one of the most popular games of all time. A landmark game for now Rockstar North, this game took the world by storm, and was the brainchild of Scottish video game design duo, David Jones and Mike Daily. “Remember the Kincaid Bridge in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? Yep, you guessed it — this rail bridge is based on Scotland’s iconic Forth Bridge in Edinburgh.” (theculturetrip)
Whether you’re a gamer or not, and whether you agree with the criminal activity the game centres around or not, the game quickly became a cult classic. With game technology developing at the lightning speed it does, for this game to still be a household name since its release for PlayStation in 1997, it says a lot.
8. Special Air Service (SAS)
Last, but definitely not least – the Scots have a long history of defending themselves and fighting off enemies, so much so, they even invented the SAS! Colonial Sir David Stirling, born in Doune, was a Scottish aristocrat who served with commandos in the Second World War.
“By 1941, feeling discouraged by his team’s lack of action, he convinced senior officers to let him mobilize a small group of comrades to destroy enemy lines in North Africa - a move that changed the nature of warfare as we know it. Since its inception, the SAS has taken part in missions in Afghanistan, Vietnam, and the Falklands, among others.” (The Scotsman)
It’s incredible the sheer magnitude of inventions that link back to talented Scots, or that were invented on Scottish soil – the list could quite literally go on for days. Not only is Scotland the little country that most definitely could, it’s still very much the country that CAN… and based on history, it will.