Top ten Scotsmen – as voted for by History Scotland followers

23 May 2019
| Ten greatest Scotsmen
To celebrate Father’s Day in the UK on 16 June, we asked for your favourite Scotsman and here’s the top ten.

To celebrate Father’s Day in the UK on 16 June, we asked for your favourite Scotsman and here’s the top ten. nb, our use of the word Scotsmen is delibrate since this was a poll ahead of Father's Day. For content on Scotswomen, click here.

1 Robert Burns (1759-96)

Scotland’s national bard was a popular choice, with his worldwide fame and ongoing significance through his works, ranging from the Hogmanay favourite Auld Lang Syne through to works including Scots Wha Hae, To a Mouse and Tam o’Shanter.

The life of Burns is celebrated at the Burns Birthplace Cottage and Museum in his birthtown, Alloway in Ayrshire, as well as the many statues situated in towns around the world.

Further reading: Robert Burns: the Complete Poetical Works

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2 Andrew Carnegie (1835-1913)

Carnegie is one of the millions of Scots who left his homeland to make a new life overseas, making his fortune in the US. Carnegie was born in Dunfermline in Fife and left Scotland with his family at the age of thirteen. After starting work in a cotton factory in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, he went on to make his fortune in the steel business.

In his final years, Carnegie was a philanthropist and donated much of his fortune to those less fortunate and he also established a worldwide network of free libraries and a number of educational establishments including the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.

Further reading: Andrew Carnegie by David Narsaw

3 Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955)

Born in Darvel, East Ayrshire, Alexander Fleming was a scientist and pharmologist best known for his discovery of penicillin, for which he received the Nobel Prize jointly with fellow scientists Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain.

He was knighted for his contribution to scientific knowledge in 1944.

Further reading: Alexander Fleming & The Antibiotic Revolution by Kevin Brown

4 John Muir (1838-1914)

The founder of America’s national parks, John Muir was born in Dunbar, East Lothian, and like Andrew Carnegie, moved to the USA during childhood. He is known as the ‘father of National Parks’ for his role in establishing the Yosemite National Park in California and co-founding the Sierra Club which, after his death, established other national parks.

Further reading: John Muir: The Scotsman who Saved America's Wild Places by Mary Colwell & Jonathan Porritt

5 Allan Ramsay (1713-84)

Born in Edinburgh as the eldest son of the celebrated author and poet of the same name, Allan Ramsay learnt his craft in London, perfected it in mainland Europe and then returned to Scotland in 1738. His works include a portrait of the Duke of Argyll that was later used on Royal Bank of Scotland banknotes.

Further reading: Allan Ramsay by William Smeaton

6 Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Historian, novelist and poet Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771. His works of fiction are some of the best-loved in Scottish literature and include Waverley, Rob Roy, The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe.

His life is remembered at his former home Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders, the house that he remodelled and made his own, stocking it with books and treasures from around the world.

Further reading: The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott

7 Adam Smith (1723-90)

‘Father of Economics’ Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, and was one of the greatest minds of his day. His Wealth of Nations, written in 1776, was the first modern book of economics and influenced the works that followed it for decades. He is commemorated by a statue in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Further reading: Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

8 Thomas Telford (1757-1834)

Telford was born in Eskdale, Dumfriesshire and rose from being a self-taught stonemason to become one of the greatest engineers the world has ever seen. He built bridges, canals and roads, many of which are still used today. The Shropshire town of Telford is named after him, as are several bridges and buildings.

Further reading: Man of Iron: Thomas Telford & the Building of Britain by Julian Glover

9 James Watt (1736-1819)

Born in Greenock in 1736, Watt achieved fame through his engineering works and inventions, including the concept of horsepower and the steam condenser. Much of his work was carried out whilst in partnership with Matthew Boulton at the firm Boulton and Watt. The SI unit of power is named after him.

Further reading: James Watt: Making the World Anew by Ben Russell

10 Sir William Wallace (c.1270-1305)

Perhaps one of the world’s best known Scotsmen, William Wallace was born in Elderslie, Renfrewshire in around 1270 into a noble family. With Andrew de Moray as one of the leaders of the First War of Scottish Independence he secured victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Further reading: William Wallace by Andrew Fisher.

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