The greatest Scottish inventions

In honour of Burns Night, we celebrate the best technology to come from north of the border. Sup a wee dram to these visionaries...


Possibly Scotland’s most famous invention, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone is a controversial one – because many people maintain that he "stole" the idea from American inventor Elisha Gray, or at least came up with it later.

Whatever the truth, Bell succeeded in getting the patent, and the rest is history. And there's no denying he was a scientific genius, racking up patents for the photophone and wax phonograph, and creating an induction balance metal dectector – in a bid to save the life of US President James Garfield from an assassin's bullet.

Bell's mind would've been well and truly boggled by modern smartphones, but his telephone was the starting point. Oh, and Gray is generally credited with inventing the music synthesiser, so don’t feel too bad for him and his legacy.


An early form of plastic, Bakelite was used in the construction of many electrical products like radios and telephones during the first half of the 20th century, where its high resistance to heat, electricity and water was an advantage. While the patent was awarded to a Belgian named Leo Baekeland, the concept of thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin may have been thought up first by Scots electrical engineer Sir James Swinburne. See, it goes both ways.

Image credit: Ollie-G


Another contentious one, the invention of television is generally credited to Scotsman John Logie Baird, and if we define “television” as the broadcast of moving images, he was the first to do so (privately, in 1925) – but only at a speed of 5fps. By January of 1926, he had upped the speed to 12.5fps and demonstrated it to the press and scientific community. We've come a long way since then – at CES 2013, Samsung and LG showed off curved OLED TVs.

Steam engine

While the concept of a steam engine goes all the way back to ancient Greece, James Watt’s developments to the existing Newcomen engine (used to pump water out of mines) made steam power the driving force (quite literally) behind the Industrial Revolution, and him one of the architects of the modern world. He also came up with the concept of horsepower as a measurement of energy, and his name has been immortalised in the word we use for a unit of power: the watt.

Fax machine

The first example of what would today be considered a fax machine was invented by Scots engineer and clockmaker Alexander Bain, who was awarded a patent in 1843 for a machine able to make a copy of an image via transmission.

Grand Theft Auto

One of the most famed game franchises in the world was created in Edinburgh, by a development studio then called DMA Design – now Rockstar North. DMA had previously garnered attention for the Lemmings games, but the ultra-violent top down crime ‘em up and its sequels elevated the company to AAA status. Grand Theft Auto V is out this Spring – we can't wait.

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