Scottish Communication Pioneers

In today’s modern world of endless communication options, it’s difficult to imagine a time when a basic landline telephone was considered to be futuristic. When Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first US patent for the telephone in 1876, he considered the instrument to be an unwelcome intrusion when he was working, and reportedly refused to have one in his study. One wonders what he may have thought of the 21st century where being separated from their cellular phones for even just a short while is unthinkable for many people, and experiences and opinions are communicated in 140 characters or less.

Best known for the invention of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell is one among many Scottish inventors who made a lasting impact on the lives of millions, whether they are aware of it or not. In the field of communications the earliest recorded inventor was William Ged (1690-1749), an Edinburgh-born goldsmith who created the process of stereotyping – an early form of copying as an alternative to the then laborious process of printing. In 1783, Scotsman Thomas Bell patented the process of roller printing to replace copperplate printing.

Born in Arbroath in 1782, James Chalmers is unofficially credited with streamlining the postal system, initially between Edinburgh and London, by inventing the adhesive postage stamp and the system of cancelling stamps, which is still used today. The system of light signaling as a form of communication between ships was devised by Vice-Admiral Philip Howard Colomb (1831-1899) of Knockbrex, Dumfries and Galloway.

Ranked at number 44 in the 2002 list of the 100 Greatest Britons, John Logie Baird of Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, invented the world’s first working television, and later the first colour television tube. The electromechanical system invented by Baird was soon replaced by other inventors’ electronic systems; he nonetheless played an important role in the invention of the television. He has also been named as one of the ten greatest Scottish scientists in history and is featured in the Scottish Science Hall of Fame.

Born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, in 1937, James Goodfellow OBE, invented and patented the Personal Identification Number (PIN) technology that is widely used today. He is also acknowledged as the inventor of the ATM – Automatic Teller Machine – which made us of a machine readable encrypted card in conjunction with a PIN keypad. In 2006 Goodfellow was awarded an OBE for his inventions, which anyone who previously had to stand in a queue at the bank to withdraw cash can tell you, have certainly have made life a lot simpler.