Robert William Thomson


Robert William Thomson was born in 1822 in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire. He was the 11th of 12 children and his family were local merchants and owned a woollen mill. Robert left school at 14 and went to live with his uncle in Charleston, USA. He worked as an apprentice to a local merchant. At 16 he returned to Stonehaven and taught himself sciences including chemistry, electricity and astronomy. A local weaver assisted him with mathematics. At 17 he started his inventions by improving his mother's tangle and built a ribbon saw.

Robert was an engineer and inventor. He was an engineering apprentice in Aberdeen and Dundee and then he worked in Glasgow and Edinburgh. He also worked in Dover as a railway engineer, supervising the use of explosives at Dover Cliffs.

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Rubber Pneumatic Tyre Inventor

Robert William Thomson is most famed for inventing the vulcanised rubber pneumatic tyre which he patented in 1845. Unfortunately at that time it was too expensive to make and not commonly used until 1888 when John Dunlop introduced his tyre. Stonehaven still celebrate his invention by holding a vintage and classic car rally each June in the town centre at the Market Square. His house was just across the street. However his Aerial Wheels were used in horse drawn carriages and made them much more comfortable and quieter.

Fountain Pen Inventor

Other inventions patented by Robert William Thomson include the fountain pen in 1851, a wheelchair with solid rubber tyres, a steam traction engine in 1867, detonating explosive charges electrically and the sprung mattress. His explosive charges invention saved many mine worker lives by making the use of explosives much safer.

In between inventing he worked in Java for an engineering company from 1852 to 1862. He continued inventing there and developed a portable steam crane, a machine to make refining sugar more efficient and a hydraulic dry dock. He met and married Clara Hertz whilst in Java. They had 4 children (2 sons and 2 daughters).

Robert William Thomson's health declined when he returned to Scotland in 1862 but he continued his inventions. These included solid India rubber tyres for road steamers and omnibuses.

Robert William Thomson died at home in Moray Place, Edinburgh in 1873, he was 50 years old.

There is a bronze plaque in his birthplace of Stonehaven, on the South side of the Market Square, where his home was, to commemorate his life. This was presented in 1922 by the Royal Scottish Automobile Club to mark his birth. There are also tourist information road signs about him as you enter Stonehaven.

More famous Scottish inventors and engineers.

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