Prof. James Blyth

1839 - 1906

Academic and inventor. Born in Marykirk (Kincardineshire), the son of an inn-keeper, Blyth was educated at the local parish school and Montrose Academy, followed by the University of Edinburgh, from where he graduated in 1861. He taught at Morrison's Academy (Crieff) and George Watson's College (Edinburgh) before, in 1880, accepting an appointment as Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's College in Glasgow, which became the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College in 1886. He served in this position until his death.

Blyth demonstrated the world's first wind turbine to generate electricity in July 1887, some months before the American generally credited with its development, and gained a UK patent in four years later. He experimented with different designs and installed a 10-m (33-feet) cloth-sailed turbine in the garden of his holiday cottage in Marykirk, using it to power electric lighting in the house. He offered the surplus power to the villagers for street-lighting, but they turned him down regarding electricity as the work of the devil. In 1895, he built a vertical-axis turbine in the grounds of the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum and supplied electricity commercially.

He was awarded a medal by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, but his invention was never exploited as it was not considered economically viable. He died at his home in Great Western Road in Glasgow and lies buried at Marykirk. He is remembered by a plaque in the University of Strathclyde.

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