Monday, April 28, 2014

Canny Inventions

The other day, flipping channels, I saw part of an episode of Star Trek, the original series, with Scottie the chief engineer. It reminded me that I once saw an interview with James Doonan, in which I found out that he was renowned in Hollywood as a dialect coach. The interviewer asked, “So the engineer could’ve had a different accent?”

The actor replied, “Well, if he’d been asked by Kirk when the engines would be fixed, it wouldn’t be quite the same if he’d said, Si, Capitan, ma┼łana, for example, would it?” and went on to remark that after all the Scots were famous for their engineers.

Bingo, one blog subject: Scottish inventions! 


You probably already know that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but do you know who invented British flush toilets, and when? Sir James Harington in 1596, built one for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I in her Richmond palace, after publishing a treatise Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax, his name for his “wash-down closet.” She didn’t like it because it was too noisy. Under the name Angrez, it was more popular in France.

Scots have made contributions in so many fields that I couldn’t possibly list them all! But I thought I’d look at some inventions from Scotland that have influenced everyday life near or around  the modern household :


For example, after the terrible winter we’ve had, the streets of my city are filled with even more potholes than usual, and our new mayor, Bill Peduto, has been urging road crews to fix many of them as soon as possible. If not for John Loudon McAdam’s invention of the road substance named for him around 1816, our roads would be much worse!
Dr. William Cullin

Want a cold drink? A key figure in the 18th Century Scottish Enlightenment was William Cullin, physician, influential teacher, agriculturalist and chemist, who performed the first known demonstration of artificial refrigeration in 1748.

Sickles are back-breaking!
Whether or not you use a gas mower or a riding mower to mow your lawn, you can thank Alexander Spanks for his first patent for one in 1842, instead of bending over using a sickle or scythe (or importing a flock of geese or sheep to do it and fertilize your lawn at the same time….

If you want to watch television, you can thank John Logie Baird for inventing the first television, the first color television, and the first color television tube. 


A.G. Bell & Early Telephone 
Use your phone for a lot more than just calling someone? It was Scottish inventor and teacher of the deaf, Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the basic phone—and if you enjoy taking pictures with it, think of James Clerk Maxwell, a physicist whose work in electromagnetic and optics in the 19th Century led to the first color photograph .

As a writer and storyteller, I must point out some famous Scottish authors have contributed their imagined secondary worlds to enrich our own interior landscapes with characters like Peter Pan (Sir Jame M. Barrie); Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle); and others like Long John Silver, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, just a few of the fictional characters of Robert Louis Stevenson.  RLS is one of the three greatest Scottish authors, the others being Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. But that’s at least three other blog posts!


Long John Silver


It’s fascinating to learn about inventive contributions from any cultural background!

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