John Playfair: making history

John Playfair was born in 1748 in Benvie, Angus, where his father was a parish minister.

He was educated at home until the age of 14, before being sent to St Andrews University with the aim of also entering the church.

However, once there he proved to be a brilliant mathematician.

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After moving to Edinburgh in 1773 he mixed with many of the luminaries of the Enlightenment, including Dugald Stewart, a fellow mathematician, the economist Adam Smith, right, the chemist Joseph Black, and architect Robert Adam.

Playfair went on to become a chair of maths and then professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh University, and also served as general secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

He was also responsible for bringing his orphaned six-year-old nephew, William Henry Playfair, to Edinburgh in 1794. William, went on to be the most influential Edinburgh architect of the 1800s and played a leading role in shaping much of today's World Heritage Site, including Donaldson's school for the deaf, the Royal Scottish Academy building and the National Gallery of Scotland.

John's brothers were another architect James Playfair and engineer William Playfair.