Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Coal Gas Lighting - William Murdoch (1754 - 1839)

William Murdoch was born near Cumnock, East Ayrshire in 1754. In addition to his formal education (where he excelled at mathematics) he learned the principles of mechanics from his millwright father. At the age of 23, he walked the 300 miles to Birmingham to ask for employment by James Watt, who was famous for the development and manufacture of steam engines. Watt's partner, Mathew Boulton, was so impressed by Murdoch's wooden hat, made on a lathe, that he gave him a job. He soon proved his worth and within a few years he was a senior erector for Watt's engines. He also made a number of improvements and inventions to Watt's steam engines. Murdoch was also responsible for Britain's first working model of a steam locomotive which moved under its own power.

In 1792 Murdoch (he was also known as Murdock in England where the "ch" in his name caused problems) began experimenting with gas produced by heating coal for lighting. By 1794 he was producing coal gas with an iron tube piping through an old gun barrel and igniting it to produce light. His own house in Redruth in Cornwall was the first to be lit by gas. Moving back to Birmingham in 1798, he partially lit the Watt factory by gas and 1805 he fully lit a cotton mill in Manchester that eventually had over 900 gas lights. Unfortunately, Murdoch did not patent his system and so did not earn any money from it.

In 1817 Murdoch's new, larger house outside Birmingham was fitted with a number of his latest inventions, including gas lighting, a doorbell worked by compressed air and an air conditioning system with hot air circulating to the rooms and staircases.

Use the "Back" button on your browser or click here to return to the Index of "Scottish Inventions"

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

Separator line