James Beaumont Neilson

Posted in Scottish Scientists

Born on 22 June 1792 at Shettleston, then a village to the south of Glasgow, Neilson began work as a pit mechanic at the age of 14. His father was an enginewright at Govan Colliery. Studying in his spare time, he managed to become a foreman at the Glasgow Gas Works in 1817, when he was 25.

At this time, British ironworks were convinced that the best method of smelting iron involved the use of a cold air blast. Neilson, however, was convinced that hot air would be more efficient (which seems logical, but smelting was not yet a science). He demonstrated his idea at the Clyde Ironworks, Glasgow, and it was immediately obvious that he was on to a winner. It became possible to triple iron output per ton of coal and permitted the Scots to use the immense resources of black-band ironstone which had remained untouched since David Mushet had first discovered them in 1801.

Neilson patented his method in 1828, having to defend his rights in three court trials. Remaining at the Glasgow Gas Works for 30 years, he became manager and engineer. He was also firm supporter of education for the working man, having ably demonstrated the benefits of this personally.

He died on 18 January 1865, at Queenshill, Kirkcudbright. His invention had provided the Scottish Industrial Revolution with a massive injection of energy.