You might know that golf, Scotch and haggis come from Scotland, but did you know the blockbuster video game “Grand Theft Auto” does as well? As Scots go to the polls today to vote on whether to stick with the United Kingdom or splash out on their own, politicians from both sides have used a long list of Scottish inventions to inspire the electorate. Here are just 10 Scottish exports to the world.
One of the most popular breeds of dogs has its origins in Scotland. Dudley Coutts Majoribanks, the first Baron Tweedmouth, famously bred the first golden retriever at his estate in the Scottish Highlands. In Lord Tweedmouth’s stud book, he notes the mating took place in 1868 between a yellow Wavy-Coated Retriever named Nous and a somewhat rare, and now extinct Tweed Water-Spaniel named Belle. From that mating came four yellow puppies: Crocus, Cowslip, Ada and Primrose. It would be another 64 years before the breed was recognized in the United States by the American Kennel Club. See more of our coverage (and photos!) on a Highland reunion for golden retrievers.
Adhesive postal stamp
Scotsman James Chalmers is often credited as the inventor of the adhesive postage stamp. As a bookseller in the early 1800s, he wanted a faster postal system for letters and started promoting the idea of a single rate of postage. Its central tenet was an adhesive stamp that could be canceled. In 1840, the idea came to fruition with the world’s first adhesive stamp, the Penny Black featuring a profile of Queen Victoria.
This is the team sport that never fails to captivate the NewsHour’s newsroom when the Winter Olympics roll around. Members of teams slide a large, heavy stone across a sheet of ice toward a target area, and two sweepers with brooms follow it along the ice, sweeping furiously to change the stone’s path. The first written record of the game was in 1540 when a notary at Paisley Abbey in Paisley, Scotland, wrote about a challenge between a monk and a representative of the Abbot. Then the game was played on frozen lochs and ponds but has since evolved to be played before televised audiences in large indoor ice rinks. It officially became an Olympic sport in 1998.
The ATM, or “hole in the wall” as it’s known in Britain, was the work of two different Scots. Scottish inventor James Goodfellow patented the Personal Identification Number (PIN) technology and thought up the idea for a cash dispenser in the mid-1960s. Another Scot, John Shepherd-Barron came up with the idea of a 24/7 machine that would dispense paper cash. His first machine was established outside London by Barclay’s Bank in 1967. According to Retail Banking Research, there are now an estimated 3 million ATM’s worldwide.
Dolly the sheep
Named after country singer Dolly Parton, the world’s first cloned mammal lived at the Roslin Institute outside Edinburgh. Scientists created her from a single adult cell in a test tube before transferring the embryo to a surrogate mother. She was born in 1996 and lived to the age of six. She died on Valentine’s Day 2003 of an incurable lung disease that infects sheep. Dolly is now on display at the National Museums of Scotland for all to see.
This discovery was one of the most important in the history of medicine. Penicillin kills or prevents the growth of bacteria and can help treat infections like pneumonia and scarlet fever. In 1928 Alexander Fleming, a Scot, discovered it almost by accident in his disheveled London laboratory. He’d left moldy Petri dishes stacked up in the sink and when he started cleaning them found one that had all the staph bacteria killed. A sample found it was from the penicillium family. It took more than a decade, a team of chemists, and World War II, when bacterial infections soared, to bring the true benefits of the discovery to light.
The Macadam road
John Loudon McAdam was born in Ayr, Scotland, in 1756. He would go on to revolutionize road construction, making it simpler and more effective. In the 1820s he engineered a system that used piles of small stones bound together into a crust that was then placed on top of existing, native soil. The first stretch of macadam road in the United States was completed in 1822 between Hagerstown and Boonsboro, Maryland.
It was 1926 when John Logie Baird demonstrated a working television to the world for the first time. Two years later the Scottish inventor went on to make the first overseas broadcast from London to New York over phone lines. In 1928 he also introduced the world to the first color television. That same year a handful of General Electric executives who lived in Schenectady, New York, got television receivers in their homes and were able to see the broadcast of “The Queen’s Messenger” on their 3-inch by 3-inch screens.
“Grand Theft Auto”
The action-adventure video game series has sold more than 150 million units and achieved cult-like status with its millions of devotees around the world. The series launched in 1997 and is the invention of Edinburgh-based software developer Rockstar North. The original game was dreamed up a decade earlier in Dundee, Scotland. Most of the games are set in fictional American locales that strongly resemble New York, Miami and Southern California. But within them are nods to their Scottish origins: in one game you can jump out of a plane using a tartan parachute, in another there’s a billboard that says “Come to Dundee.”
Last in this list, but certainly not least, is the toilet. The oldest known indoor toilet is believed to be at the neolithic village of Skara Brae, Orkney. Dating from sometime between 3200 BC and 2200 BC, the sewer system was basic but involved flushing waste into a drain with pots of water. Thousands of years later, Scotsman and watchmaker Alexander Cummings patented a design for the flushable toilet. He invented the S-trap, which uses water to prevent odors from making their way out of the sewer. It’s still used today.
Alexis Cox contributed to this report.