Scotland shows off 100 things it gave the world

They are the inventions, ideas and internationally renowned creations that Scotland has given the world.

An exhibition showing off 100 things Scotland gave the world in Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

Hundreds of years’ worth of achievements that had a global impact, often from the most humble of beginnings, have been distilled into a major new exhibition in Scotland’s capital.

The National Library of Scotland has trawled its archives of almost 15 million items to produce an “A-Z of achievement” covering everything from arts, politics, economics and philosophy to sport, science and food.

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Famous inventions such as the telephone, television, steam engine and penicillin are showcased alongside lesser-known developments.

These include the postage stamp, the decimal point, canals, breakfast marmalade, the ­digestive biscuit and the kaleidoscope children’s toy.

The exhibition, which is said to reflect the “personal selections” of senior staff rather than be a definitive account of Scotland’s global contribution, features more than 80 different subjects and rarely seen items.

It offers a rare chance to see the original rules of golf, laid down in Leith in 1744, the magnum opus produced by the “father of economics” Adam Smith in 1776, the world’s first overdraft, which was authorised by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1728, and the first collection of songs to feature Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne, written in 1788.

The origins of ceilidh dancing, curling and cycling are all charted, while the exhibition showcases the achievements of conservationist John Muir, explorer David Livingstone, town planner Patrick Geddes and football icon Sir Alex Ferguson.

Staged to coincide with the 2014 Year of Homecoming, the exhibition features precious documents and volumes dating back to the Middle Ages and is brought back up to date with the latest instalment of Grand Theft Auto from Edinburgh-based Rockstar North, which became the world’s biggest selling computer game earlier this year.

Among the literary developments are the first appearance of the Sherlock Holmes tale Hound of the Baskervilles, originally in The Strand magazine, a first edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark, Britain’s first comic-book superhero, and the development of “tartan noir” since William McIlvanney’s ­Laidlaw novel in the mid-1970s.

Andrew Martin, Modern Scottish Collections Curator, said: “We wanted to look at things that have had a real impact outside Scotland and were unique at the time. We started off trying to come up with different themes but it seemed to be easier to do an A-Z which is really wide-ranging, but also entertaining. We really wanted to have a lot of humour in there and include stories that would surprise people, as well as the familiar ones.”

Manuscripts curator Maria Castrillo, added: “Many of the successes shown in the ­exhibition still impact on how we live today.”

The free exhibition is open until 18 May.

A-Y (because there is no Z in new list of what Scotland has given world)

Auld Lang Syne

The instantly recognisable song of friendship, penned by Robert Burns, in 1788, which has long-heralded the start of a new year around the world.

James Bond

Not only was the secret agent Scottish himself, hailing from Glencoe, and was originally played by Edinburgh-born Sean Connery, but author Ian Fleming was also of Scottish descent.

Ceilidh dancing

None other than Cliff Richard appears in the exhibition, on archive STV footage, demonstrating the kind of moves seen every weekend at weddings, balls, village hall gatherings and Burns Suppers.

The Dandy

The celebrated children’s comic, first published by DC Thomson in 1937, that gave the world Desperate Dan, Bananaman and Korky the Cat, but wound up last year.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Edinburgh printers Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell invented the world’s pre-eminent and longest surviving English language encyclopaedia between 1768 and 1781.


Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest hour as Aberdeen manager came when he led the club to European Cup Winners Cup glory against Real Madrid in 1983.


With some 13 per cent of Scots boasting flame-coloured hair, and almost half carrying the red hair gene, the exhibition raises a class of ginger to the gingers with the “other” national drink, Irn-Bru.

Sherlock Holmes

The famous creation of Edinburgh-born author and physician Arthur Conan Doyle, one of many literary figures to be showcased in the exhibition.


The Carron Iron Company’s first furnace opened in Falkirk 1760, and by 1800 it was the largest smelting works in Europe, with 1,000 employees.


Scotland’s first popular comic, Edinburgh-born Sir Harry Lauder, was hailed by none other than Winston Churchill as “Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador” thanks to his repertoire of songs and gags.


One of the most enduring childhood toys was actually invented by a serious and highly-regarded Jedburgh scientist, Sir David Brewster, in 1817.


Five generations of the Stephenson engineering dynasty built some of the world’s greatest lighthouses.


David Livingstone and Mary Slessor were among the Scots to put their education and faith to use in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

New Lanark

The 18th-century cotton mill village founded by industrialist David Dale near the Falls of the Clyde was one of the earliest attempts to create a business model based on social responsibility.


The epic poem published by James MacPherson in 1760 about the legendary third century Celtic warrior.


The origins of the oil industry can be traced back to the mid-19th century when chemist James Young became the first person to refine mineral oil on a commercial scale.


The radio, the television and the mobile phone would not exist if Edinburgh-born James Clerk Maxwell had not discovered the relationship between electricity, magnetism and light in 1865.


The invention of radio detection and ranging technology was pioneered in the 1930s by Angus-born Robert Watson-Watt and proved vital in the RAF’s Battle of Britain victory.

Steam Engine

Greenock-born James Watt teamed up with Englishman Matthew Boulton to patent his steam engine invention, a key development in Britain’s industrial evolution.


With roots dating back at least to the mid-18th century, Vivienne Westwood’s famous couture features in the exhibition to demonstrate how it still features in cutting-edge fashion.

Urban Planning

Patrick Geddes, from Aberdeenshire, led the renewal of Edinburgh’s Old Town in the late 19th century and is still regarded as Scotland’s most ground-breaking town planner.

Vacuum Flask

Fife chemist and physicist James Dewar is credited with coming up with the original concept for what was to become the “Thermos” flask.


The world’s most popular spirit, more than 2500 brands of which are now sold in around 200 markets around the world.

The Amazing Mr X

Britain’s first super-hero, who made his debut appearance in The Dandy in 1943, was created by Jack Glass.


The famous first national park set up in California by East Lothian-born John Muir, who emigrated with his family to the US at the age of just 11.