James Blyth

1839 – 1906

James Blyth

Engineering Achievements

Blyth was born in Marykirk, Kincardinshire in 1839, educated at the General Assembly Normal School in Edinburgh and then worked as a tutor in mathematics and classics, returning to the University of Edinburgh in 1859, graduating in 1861 taking mathematics and natural philosophy. He taught at Morison’s Academy and George Watsons before taking up the post of Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson’s College, Glasgow, a predecessor of Strathclyde University.

After experimenting with windmills he made his breakthrough moment in July 1887, Blyth built a cloth-sailed wind turbine in the garden of his holiday cottage in Marykirk and used the electricity it produced to charge accumulators; the stored electricity was used to power the lights in his cottage, which thus became the first house in the world to be powered by wind-generated electricity. The turbine produced enough power to light ten 25-volt bulbs in a "moderate breeze" and could even be used to power a small lathe. 

In 1895 he licensed the Glasgow engineering company, Mavor and Coulson, to build a second, improved turbine, which was used to supply emergency power to the Psychiatric Hospital of Montrose. The system operated successfully for the next 20 years.

Britain's first public utility turbine began operation at Costa Head, Orkney, in 1951—sixty-four years after Blyth's original experiment to generate electricity using the wind.


Blyth's other research interests included the relative efficiency of different forms of lighting, telephone communication, and microphones; he also contributed entries on a number of topics for the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

"His students – gone forth from the classroom, and radiated over the country and to far corners of the world... all bear in the secret structure of their minds the impress of Professor Blyth's teaching, and will cherish through life, with reverence and affection, the memory of their teacher and friend"  Obituary – Professor James Muir

  1. 1839 Born in Marykirk
  2. 1861 Graduated from The University of Edinburgh
  3. 1861-71 Taught at Morrison's Academy and George Watson's College
  4. 1871 Completed his Master of Arts
  5. 1880 Appointed Freeland Professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson's College, Glasgow
  6. 1886 Whilst teaching at the technical college he pursued an active research programme with a particular interest in the generation and storage of electricity from wind power
  7. 1887 -July He built a cloth-sailed wind turbine in the garden of his cottage in Marykirk and used the electricity it produced to charge accumulators; the stored electricity was used to power the lights in his cottage, which thus became the first house in the world to be powered by wind-generated electricity. The system was in operation for 25 years.
  8. 1895 Installed a wind turbine at an asylum in Montrose
  9. 1906 Year of death
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