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6 Scottish Inventions That Changed the World

Ross Kelly

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Scottish inventions
From the television to the telephone, DIGIT explores some of the most famous Scottish inventions.

Innovation runs through Scotland’s veins. In 2021, the nation’s digital technology sector is a source of great excitement, producing boisterous startups specialising in fintech, cybersecurity and tech for good.

This wave of innovation isn’t just limited to the tech startup scene though. Across a range of areas, spanning manufacturing, energy and finance, the country is developing a reputation as a hotbed of innovation and attracting global attention.

This ongoing success rests on a firm foundation of historical innovation, expertise and ingenuity.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, through the industrial revolution, an era of clashing empires and periods of unparalleled technological innovation, Scotland played its part in shaping the world we live in today.

From simple inventions which improve our daily lives to lifesaving, transformative technologies, Scotland has given birth to groundbreaking technologies.

In no particular order, here are six of the most famous Scottish inventions.


1. Television

Scottish inventions

It’s hard to envisage a world without television. For decades, people around the world have been glued to their screens as major global events unfolded. Through their screens, viewers can see the world, take in other cultures or simply meander their way through channel after channel.

And we have a Scotsman to thank for this transformative invention. In 1926, John Logie Baird successfully demonstrated the first working television.

Two years later, in February 1928, Logie Baird once again blazed a trail when he achieved the first trans-Atlantic television transmission.


2. Dolly the Sheep

Scottish inventions

Cloning is usually a topic confined to the realms of science fiction. However, in 1996, one of the most monumental scientific achievements of the 20th century was achieved at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin institute.

On 5th of July 1996, ‘Dolly the Sheep’, the first mammal ever cloned, was born. Cloned using an adult cell, Dolly’s birth marked a significant moment for science, and for Scotland.

Dolly lived to the ripe old age of seven, producing six healthy lambs in her life.


3. The Telephone

Scottish inventions

Much like the television, it’s hard to imagine our lives without the telephone. For the vast majority of human history, communication was hindered due a range of reasons.

With the advent of this arguably greatest of Scottish inventions, communication changed forever, enabling people to communicate over far greater distances. In the decades following, the telephone changed the world and made it that bit smaller.

Alexander Graham Bell secured a patent for the telephone in 1876. Born in Edinburgh in 1847, as a young man he emigrated to Canada before settling in the United States.

Notably, Graham Bell’s invention came about through research into hearing devices. His mother and wife, both of whom were deaf, inspired Bell to explore ways to assist people with hearing impairments.


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4. MRI Scanner

Scottish inventions

While MRI technology itself was pioneered by a team from the University of Nottingham in the 1970s, breakthroughs in the use of MRI tech were made in Scotland.

A team from the University of Aberdeen, led by Professor John Mallard, was responsible for creating the first operational full-body MRI scanner.

MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce images of organs in the body.

Today, they are used by health practitioners globally, but the first breakthrough came in 1980 when the first images were produced.


5. The Steam Engine

Scottish inventions

None of the aforementioned Scottish inventions would have been possible without the steam engine.

And while Scotsman James Watt didn’t invent the steam engine, his work to improve the technology in the late 18th century helped fuel the industrial revolution which transformed Britain into a global economic powerhouse.

In 1764, while repairing a Newcomen steam engine, Watt is said to have taken notice of the wasted steam the Newcomen produced. From here, he sought to build upon the design and improve the engine.

It was in 1765 that Watt had his eureka moment, the use of a separate condenser. By introducing this, Watt greatly enhanced efficiency by stopping the engine from wasting precious energy.


6. The ATM Machine

Scottish inventions

With the use of cash dwindling and millions using contactless via their cards or smartphones, it’s hard to believe that at one point it was difficult to get cash in a fast, easy manner.

Paisley-born James Goodfellow is credited with the creation of the first automated teller machine in 1966.

The concept of an automated cash dispending machine had been around for several decades by that point. However, the development of a fully functional system had not quite been mastered yet.

Working for Smiths Industries, Goodfellow eventually came up with the system we know very well today – the use of a readable card combined with a personal identification number.

Today, there are millions of ATM machines worldwide, providing people with cash at any time on-demand.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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