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James Young


(Paraffin Young)

1811 - 1883

Oil Shale Bings at Sunset, behind Broxburn
©2016 Gazetteer for Scotland

Oil Shale Bings at Sunset, behind Broxburn

Chemical Engineer. Born in Glasgow, the son of a joiner and carpenter. Young took evening classes at Anderson's College (Glasgow). He went on to assist Professor Thomas Graham (1805-69) in his chemistry lectures at the University of Glasgow and accompanied Graham when he moved to London. Young turned to industrial chemical processes and worked for a time in the manufacture of alkalis before experimenting with mineral-oil production.

Young developed the process of refining oil and created the world's first oil industry based on the oil shales of West Lothian. He entered into a partnership to create an oil-works in Bathgate in 1850. The remnants of the industry still scar the landscape of the area. The main product was paraffin for lighting and cooking, and hence his nick-name.

Young also collaborated with Professor George Forbes (1849 - 1936) to more accurately measure the speed of light.

He served as President of Anderson's College between 1868 and 1877. Having grown wealthy through his industrial ventures, Young was able to endow a Chair in Chemistry at the College. A friend of African explorer David Livingstone (1813-73), Young generously supported his expeditions. He also commissioned a statue of his mentor Thomas Graham which was erected in Glasgow's George Square.

He died at his home Kelly House, which once stood just south of Wemyss Bay in North Ayrshire, and lies buried in Inverkip. His memorials include the James Young High School in Livingston and a plaque at the Bennie Museum in Bathgate.


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