Who are the latest inductees?

Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame 

The Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame was launched in 2011 by The Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland (IESIS), and is supported by engineering institutions, museums and trade bodies in Scotland, including Scottish Engineering.

The Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame tells the story of Scotland’s engineering contribution to our civilisation through the achievements and lives of the inductees. There are now 39 inductees, each an inspirational role model whose lives inspire young people into engineering.


Each of our inductees to the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame made several notable contributions to the world of engineering. We have noted in brackets after each name one of their interests which particularly caught the eye of the judges this year.

  • James Newlands (Public health engineer)
  • Robert W Thomson (inventor)
  • George Balfour (of Balfour Beatty - hydropower)
  • James Blyth - (wind power)
  • Stephen Salter - (wave power)
  • Graeme Haldane - (Heat pump)
  • George Forbes - (Niagara Falls hydro scheme)
  • Alexander C Kirk – (Innovator)

More information:

James Newlands (1813-1871)

James was educated at Edinburgh High School and Edinburgh University. He was apprenticed as an architect at Edinburgh Corporation and later worked at the School of Agriculture at Edinburgh University where he designed agricultural buildings and then was in private practice as an architect and surveyor.

In 1847 he was appointed as the first Borough Engineer at Liverpool. He carried out a detailed survey of the Borough and designed what is considered to be the first integrated sewage system in the world.

When he started this work the life expectancy in Liverpool was 19 years. When he died it double that figure. He therefore made a huge difference to the health of the citizens of Liverpool. Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), the Chief Engineer of the London Metropolitan Board of Works who made a similar contribution to the health of the people of London by engineering a sewerage system for London, ‘stood on the shoulders’ of Newlands in that endeavour.

He took a holistic view of his role - for example: “Newlands believed that physical surroundings also affected mental outlook and moral wellbeing.”1

Newlands was a very good draughtsman and a musician. He ‘wrote copiously for Encyclopaedia Britannica and other publications’ A ‘lad o’ pairts’.

The provision of sewerage in towns and cities is not much spoken about but it is one of the greatest contributions that engineering has made to mankind. In relation to health, it stands up beside the discovery of penicillin. James Newlands kick-started that provision. That is a legacy of first order importance. He can be recognised as the ‘father’ of public health engineering, of municipal engineering.

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

Robert William Thomson (1822 – 1873)

Robert was born in Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, on 29 June 1822 Robert was the eleventh of twelve children of a local woollen mill owner. He left school at the age of 14 and went to live with an uncle in Charleston, USA. Two years later he returned home and taught himself chemistry, electricity, and astronomy with the help of a local weaver who had a knowledge of mathematics. He served an engineering apprenticeship in Aberdeen and Dundee before joining a civil engineering company in Glasgow. Then, he went to work for an Edinburgh firm of civil engineers.

After his return from the USA, Robert’s father gave him a workshop, and by the time he was 17 years old he had rebuilt his mother’s washing mangle so that the wet linen could be passed through the rollers in either direction; had successfully designed and built a ribbon saw; and had completed the first working model of his elliptic rotary steam engine which he perfected in later life.

Whilst employed in Edinburgh as an assistant to a civil engineer he was involved in some major building and demolition projects. During this time, he devised a new method of detonating explosive charges remotely by the use of electricity. Compared with the established “light the blue touch paper and run” routine of the day, Robert’s new and relatively safe technique must have saved countless lives over the years, especially in mines throughout the world.

At the age of 19, he started for London to push the ideas which he had conceived of firing explosives by electricity. He took his invention to Michael Faraday, who approved of it, and Sir William Cubitt, possibly on the strength of Faraday’s opinion, gave young Thomson employment in carrying out blasting operations near Dover for the South Eastern Railway. He was next employed by Robert Stephenson but eventually formed his own railway consultancy in 1844.

Thomson was only 23 when in 1845 he applied for the patent that would leave his mark on the world – Patent No. 10990. He was also granted a patent in France in 1846 and in the USA in 1847.

Robert went on to patent (No. 12691) the principle of the fountain pen in 1849. In 1852, he accepted a post in Java working as a sugar plantation engineer improving existing machinery for the production of sugar and designing new equipment, including the first mobile steam crane and a hydraulic dry dock.

Due to ill-health, Robert returned to Edinburgh in 1862. His ill-health does not appear to have slowed him down though, as in 1867 he developed the first successful mechanical road haulage vehicle, a steam traction engine. By 1870 ‘Thomson Steamers’ were being manufactured in the UK and exported around the world. Robert died on 8 March 1873 at his home in Edinburgh at a relatively early age of 50 and was buried in the Dean Cemetery. Even this didn’t stop him as the last of the 14 patents registered in his name, this time for elastic belts, was filed later that year by his wife.

R W Thomson was the Scottish inventor of the pneumatic tyre. The pneumatic tyre (or “aerial wheel” as he referred to it) would eventually transform road travel from a succession of bumps and jolts, to a quiet smooth ride by providing a cushion of air between the road and the vehicle itself.

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

George Balfour - 30 November 1872 – 26 September 1941

George Balfour was one of the most outstanding figures in the electrical supply industry of Great Britain in the 20th Century. Moreover, he was equally well known for the important civil and electrical engineering contracts carried out under his responsibility, by the firm associated with his name, Balfour Beatty. He had great administrative gifts and a wealth of technical and business experience which made his speeches in Parliament of particular value from the engineering viewpoint. He was an engineer and Conservative Party politician. He was born in Portsmouth of Scottish parentage and spent the early part of his career in Scotland. He served his long parliamentary career representing a constituency in London and lived much of his life in England. He owned a country estate at Foss south of Loch Tummel for many years. The house and part of the estate were submerged when the Loch was raised in level as part of the Tummel Garry Hydro Scheme in 1951.

George Balfour was born at Portsmouth in 1872 and received his technical education at Portsmouth Technical Institute and later at the University College, Dundee. In 1888 he commenced a five years' apprenticeship with Urquhart, Lindsay and Company, of Dundee, remaining until 1894. He then joined James Maxwell and Sons, and subsequently Lowden Brothers and Company, Ltd., electrical contracting firms based in Dundee. He was also for a short period an assistant engineer in the electric lighting department of the Corporation of Edinburgh, but later returned to Lowden and Co, where he became manager of works and later a director.

His chief activities were the planning and construction of municipal tramways and light railway systems. He departed Dundee for London in 1903 and he joined J. G. White and Company, the UK branch of the J. G. White Corporation based in New York, a firm undertaking similar work. He remained with White for six years, as commercial engineer, transforming several unsatisfactory schemes into prosperous commercial undertakings.

In 1909 he established the London based firm of Balfour, Beatty and Company, Ltd., with the principle to undertake the construction of electric supply and associated works. The company secured several important contracts, the most notable of which was the Lochaber hydroelectric power scheme involving the driving of a 15-mile tunnel, passing under Ben Nevis, from Loch Treig. In addition to this great engineering feat, the firm had several remarkable works abroad to its credit; in Iraq, the Kut barrage was constructed between 1934 and 1938 and the Habbiniyah scheme was commenced shortly before WWII. The construction of Hydro schemes throughout Scotland and the Kut Barrage in Iraq resulted in another major wartime commission, the construction of the Churchill Barriers that close off the Eastern entrances to Scapa Flow following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in 1939.

In addition to this construction work, George Balfour continued to give significant attention to the financial and commercial development of electrical developments. In 1909 he became a founding Director of the Scottish Power Company which was formed following the acquisition of the Scottish Central Electric Power Company. Therefore in their very first year Balfour Beatty became closely identified with electricity development in Scotland. The Scottish Central Company owned a small 800kW power station at Bonnybridge near Stirling that supplied 400 square miles in the Stirlingshire area, its principal customer being the Falkirk and District Tramway Company. By the end of 1927 the finances of the Scottish Power Company had grown sufficiently to enable the Company to embark on an extensive programme of expansion throughout Scotland. In addition to the existing operation it progressively acquired control of the Grampian Electricity Supply Company, the Fife Electric Power Company, the North of Scotland Electric Light and Power Company, the Scottish Southern Electric Supply Company, the Ross-shire Electric Supply Company and many other municipal and company undertakings throughout the UK. When the Scottish Power Group were eventually nationalized in 1948 they were supplying over 500 million units a year over an area of 13,000 square miles across Scotland.

While George Balfour and his colleagues were pushing on with the development of electricity supplies in the heart of Scotland, they had the vision to realize that the Highland lochs held the key to the production of cheap electric power. The problem was then, as now, to transmit power, generated in remote areas, over considerable distances to the centres of population economically enough to make the development and sale a commercial proposition. The solution of the problem was made easier by the establishment of a national grid system of main transmission lines under the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926.

Local Authorities and other statutory undertakers had, not unnaturally, been eager to supply cities and towns but had been reluctant to venture into rural areas. In 1922 the Grampian Electricity Supply Company was formed by the Duke of Atholl and others, with Parliamentary powers to construct hydroelectric works utilizing the water power resources chiefly of the Perthshire Highlands, and to transmit and distribute electric power throughout an area of supply which covered the counties of Perth, Kinross and Forfar and parts of Inverness-shire, Argyllshire and Stirlingshire.

The original promoters of the Grampian Company experienced difficulties in obtaining the necessary financial support, and at the end of 1922, they asked George Balfour (who by now had an unrivalled reputation in the industry, and had just formed Power Securities Corporation) to provide the required expert technical and financial support. After negotiation, Power Securities acquired a controlling interest in the Grampian Company (which was shortly afterwards transferred to the Scottish Power Company), and Balfour Beatty became engineers and managers of the Grampian Company as they were of the other electricity undertakings of the Scottish Power Group.

Balfour Beatty then embarked upon the pioneering hydro-electric power development and construction in the Scottish Highlands, in one of the wildest and least populated areas of the British Isles and at a time when hydro-electric power had scarcely been developed at all in Britain. The eventual capital expenditure entailed was some £8m.

It is remarkable that George Balfour also became interested in politics. He stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Govan Constituency in Glasgow in 1910 and 1911 and he was successful in 1918 as Unionist candidate for the Hampstead constituency which he represented for the rest of his life. He also served, at Lord Reith's invitation, as chairman of a committee appointed to investigate the cement industry.

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

James Blyth (4th April 1839, Marykirk, Kincardineshire - 26th September 1941, Glasgow)

James Blyth was born in Marykirk, Kincardineshire, on 4 April 1839. He attended the Marykirk parish school and later, the Montrose Academy before winning a scholarship to the General Assembly Normal School, Edinburgh in 1886. After graduating as a Bachelor of Arts from The University of Edinburgh in 1861, Blyth taught mathematics at Morrison's Academy in Crieff and established the technical and scientific curriculum for the newly established George Watson's College in Edinburgh. In 1880 Blyth was appointed Freeland Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's College, Glasgow.

Whilst teaching at the technical college he pursued an active research programme with a particular interest in the generation and storage of electricity from wind power. Blyth was liked by his students and colleagues who admired his hard working nature, down-to-earth attitude and willingness to roll up his sleeves. He was also well known in the local community through a series of popular lectures and demonstrations.

In July 1887 Blyth built a cloth-sailed wind turbine in the garden of his holiday cottage in Marykirk and used the electricity it produced to charge accumulators; the stored electricity was used to power the lights in his cottage, which thus became the first house in the world to be powered by wind-generated electricity. The turbine produced enough power to light ten 25-volt bulbs in a "moderate breeze" and could even be used to power a small lathe.

The final design of his wind turbine operated for the next 25 years and produced surplus electricity which Blyth offered to the people of Marykirk to light the main street of the town. But his offer was rejected. In 1895 he licensed the Glasgow engineering company, Mavor and Coulson, to build a second, improved turbine, which was used to supply emergency power to the Psychiatric Hospital[1], Infirmary and Dispensary of Montrose; the system operated successfully for the next 30 years.

Blyth's original wind generator was the first known structure by which electricity was generated from wind power, but its lack of a braking mechanism meant it was prone to damage in strong winds. An improved design of the turbine built for the Montrose Psychiatric Hospital went some way towards solving this problem but it could not be guaranteed not to stall in very strong winds.

In 1891 Blyth presented a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh espousing his belief in the benefits of renewable energy sources, particularly wind but also wave energy Later that year he was awarded the Brisbane Gold Medal by the Royal Scottish Society of Arts for his work in producing electrical energy from wind, but his wind turbine was not considered to be economically viable.

Also in 1891 Blyth patented his “wind engine” under patent number GB19401

Blyth's other research interests included the relative efficiency of different forms of lighting, telephone communication, and microphones; he also contributed entries on a number of topics for the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

Professor Stephen Hugh Salter MBE, born South Africa, 7th December 1938

Stephen moved to Scotland mid-1960s to work in Artificial Intelligence at University of Edinburgh, has been resident since.

Stephen was part of the team that developed Freddy the robot in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh – the first intelligent robot with tactile manipulator (as designed and built by Stephen).

Stephen is the inventor of the touch screen (apparently in parallel with others) using a Perspex sheet over a CRT for recognising a pre-verbal child’s reactions to visual stimuli. Stephen is also the inventor and developer of the Edinburgh Duck, commonly known as the Salter Duck wavepower device, and the inventor and designer of the absorbing wavemaker, needed to test wavepower devices, now used globally.

Stephen is co-inventor of Digital Displacement Hydraulics initially needed for the power take-off of wavepower and wind turbines now being applied to all manner of off-road, construction and materials handling machinery.

And also co-inventor of water bag blast attenuation systems for reducing the radius of evacuation during unexploded bomb defusing or disruption, and inventor of autonomous cloud-making ships to increase cloud density and alter the albedo of the planet to reduce global heating.

Stephen is a teacher and mentor to many of the leading Scottish engineers and Entrepreneurs who have gone on to develop renewable energy devices and systems.

Two companies, Artemis Intelligent Power and Edinburgh Designs arose directly from Stephen’s wave related work, both founded by members of his team Win Rampen, Matthew Rea and Doug Rogers. Pelamis Wave Energy, founded by Richard Yemm, which has sadly folded, produced some of the first wave energy to supply the national grid. Its founders have gone on to Quoceant which is still working on marine energy in different forms. AWS was founded by Simon Grey, another of Stephen’s students and team members. Taken as a whole, Stephen has been the catalyst for inward investment to Scotland of between £200 - £300M.

The absorbing wavemakers that he needed to test his own Duck device have been continuously developed by Edinburgh Designs and have been sold and installed in many countries. They are now recognised as the gold standard for tank testing.

The Digital Displacement hydraulics initiated by Stephen have been developed into an entire class of machines which radically improve the efficiency of many construction/agriculture/materials handling machines – often leading to 40 – 50% reduction in fuel consumption whilst also increasing the likelihood of electrification for smaller machines. Artemis now belongs to Danfoss, one of the biggest global hydraulics companies and employs 80 people in Loanhead.

The people on Stephen’s wavepower team of the 1970s -80s have spread out to work on any number of engineering challenges, many of them in the renewable energy field

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

Dr TGN (Graeme) Haldane, born 14 December 1897, died 24 June 1981

Graeme was born in Edinburgh, educated at the Royal Naval Colleges, Osborne, and Dartmouth, then Trinity College Cambridge. He was part of the development of the national grid, and also designed and built the first domestic heat pump in the world at his home, Foswell, near Auchterarder

Abstract of David Banks (2015) Dr T. G. N. ‘Graeme’ Haldane — Scottish Heat Pump Pioneer, The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology, 85:2, 250-259

“Dr T. G. N. ‘Graeme’ Haldane was a visionary proponent of a national, rational electricity strategy. He was a pioneer of the National Grid and displayed a keen, early interest in nuclear power and renewable energy sources. It appears that he was the first engineer in Britain (and, possibly, internationally) to construct, monitor and document the performance of a heat pump system for space heating. He built his experimental heat pump system at the Foswell Estate, Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland. The environmental heat source that he used was the estate’s water supply, which is likely to have been derived from groundwater springs in the estate grounds. In this case, Haldane’s heat pump can be described as Britain’s earliest ground-source heat pump.”

Heat Pump development is a key part of society’s response to climate change and as we approach the 100th anniversary of Haldane’s pioneering development it is worth recognising his vision and achievement. Use of heat pumps also provides a way to make the grid more resilient in future use of wind and solar power as it provides a way to shift electrical demand by storing heat.

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

George Forbes 5 April 1849 - 22 October 1936

George Forbes was born at 3 Park Place, Edinburgh. He was the second son of James David Forbes and Alicia Wauchope. His father was later Principal of St Andrews University. Forbes was educated at Edinburgh Academy and the University of St Andrews. He later studied at Christ's College and St Catharine's College, Cambridge.

From 1872 to 1880 he was Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's University, which later became part of the University of Strathclyde. He moved away from Scotland for the next twenty years or so. He returned in 1906 to live in a simple house he had built near Pitlochry which incorporated his extensive library and an observatory. The house still stands and is now a holiday let and memorial to Forbes.

George Forbes worked on hydro electric power generation, motor and dynamo design and the use of electricity as the motive power for transport. In 1880 he moved to London and was commissioned to report on how the City and South London Railway should be powered. He recommended the electrical system adopted and subsequently the entire London Underground followed the same advice. In 1885 he patented carbon brush current collectors for rotating electrical motors or dynamos. From 1891 to 1895 he was the electrical consulting engineer on the earliest large-scale Niagara Falls hydroelectric scheme (a very small and unsuccessful scheme had been built three years earlier). He also advised on other schemes in India (1893), South Africa (1895), New Zealand (1896) and Egypt (1898).

In 1880 Forbes left Glasgow to turn his attention to electrical engineering rather than physics and astronomy. The City and South London Railway Company commissioned him to report on the options for powering their transport system. The railway was originally intended for cable-hauled trains, but owing to the bankruptcy of the cable contractor during construction, this was reviewed. Forbes proposed a system of electric traction using electric locomotives powered by a third rail —an experimental technology at the time. The railway became the first major system to use the technology and later the entire London Underground followed the same advice.

In 1882, Forbes became manager of the British Electric Light Company, manufacturers of carbon filaments and arc lamps. He experimented with using carbon for the brushes in electric motors, rather than wire or gauze and in 1885 took out a patent for the Improved Means for Establishing Electric Connection between Surfaces in Relative Motion Applicable to the Collectors of Dynamo Machines. The patent rights were subsequently sold to Westinghouse. This advocated carbon as a current collector for rotating electrical machines. The invention was outstandingly successful and it is in universal use in electricity generation to the present day.

His scheme for the harnessing of Niagara was formally considered by the International Niagara Commission in 1890. Following successful demonstrations of long-distance high voltage power transmission the Cataract Construction Company was formed to implement a scheme in 1891 and Forbes was appointed Consulting Engineer for the project. He stayed there from 1891 to 1895 to supervise the work.

Largely due to his experience on the Niagara scheme Forbes was employed by other governments and companies to advise on the feasibility of infrastructure scale hydro-electric schemes. He carried out studies in India during 1893 and South Africa during 1895. In 1896 he surveyed the Huka Falls in New Zealand, and in 1897-98 he was engaged by the Egyptian government to propose a scheme for the Cataracts of the Nile.

Between 1903 and 1906 he changed field again and went to work for the British Admiralty where he developed a gunnery rangefinder that was used in the first world war and was still in use by the Navy at the outset of the Second World War.

He was highly influential in getting large scale applications of electric power implemented in practice. Proposed the electric system for operating the London Underground – the first large scale application of the technology – which with modern refinements is essentially still in use.

Invented the carbon brush for electric motors and dynamos.

Carried out the feasibility studies for many of the earliest infrastructure scale hydro-electric schemes in the world and in particular was the electrical consulting engineer on the first large scale system at Niagara.

A polymath with outstanding contributions in several fields. In addition to the work above:

Proposed the existence of a ninth planet in the solar system.

Invented a range finder for naval guns used for 30 years.

An example of a brilliant scientist and engineer who was too modest and did not regard financial reward as particularly important and so failed to capitalise on his inventions and contributions. He latterly relied on the charity of former colleagues who understood his huge impact and he died in relative poverty.

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

Alexander Kirk (1830 – 1892)

Born near Carnoustie and educated at the University of Edinburgh, Alexander worked for various Scottish engineering companies including Youngs Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Co. in Bathgate, John C Elder and Co and Napier and Sons in Glasgow

While working for James Young in 1862 Alexander developed an air cycle refrigeration machine based on the Stirling engine which was significantly more reliable and efficient than previous designs and served as the archetype for this type of machine for the next 20 years. He was the manager of John Elder and Co’s Fairfield Engine Works and developed the triple expansion steam engine in 1874 – the first of this type of engine in the world. It reduced coal consumption for marine engines by 25% and rapidly superseded the compound steam engine. He served as President of IESIS from 1887 to 1889

Alexander was recognised by his peers as “a distinguished engineer, and of world-wide fame” (IESIS obituary) and “one of the cleverest, shrewdest and most honourable of Marine Engineers” (Institution of Civil Engineers obituary). His design of refrigeration machine was the first “to gain industrial significance” and paved the way for the establishment of the frozen meat trade from Australia, New Zealand and South America (Thévenot, 1979). The triple expansion piston steam engine served as the basis for all marine engines from its commercial introduction by Kirk in 1881 through to the end of the second world war when it was replaced by marine diesel engines and steam turbines. Kirk’s three major contributions – improvements in the distillation of paraffin from shale oil, the air cycle refrigeration system and the triple expansion steam engine would each qualify him for entry to the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame. The fact that he is responsible for all three of them indicates the esteem in which he should be held – as Robert Dundas, the President of IESIS, said in announcing his death in 1892, “In him we have lost one of our ablest members”

To read the full citation please visit engineeringhalloffame.org

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