29th June 1822

Fountain pen inventor is born in Stonehaven

Robert William Thomson had shown an aptitude for innovation from a very early age – and in adulthood he found work as a civil engineer and, later, railway engineer. He was also a significant innovator.

He made a vital contribution to the construction industry when he devised a way for explosions to be triggered by an electrical charge. Until that point, the only way to blast away large pieces of rock was for workers to light a fuse manually and retreat to a safe distance before it blew.

Thomson’s method was immediately recognised as an important safety improvement and he was employed in Dover to manage a workforce of 500, which used his method to blast away large areas of rock. After this, he was employed on the Eastern Counties railway, which was working on plans for a line from London into East Anglia.

However, two of his most notable inventions would have far more personal applications.

Bicycle tyre patent

The first was a pneumatic tyre, for which he was granted multiple patents, including one in the United States on 8 May 1847, when he was aged just 25.

As Thomson himself described it in his patent application, the invention “consists in the application of elastic bearings round the tires of the wheels of carriages for lessening the power required to draw the carriages, rendering their motion easier, and diminishing the noise they make when in motion. I prefer employing for the purpose a hollow belt composed of some air and water tight material such as sulphurized caoutchouc or gutta-percha, and inflating it with air, whereby the wheels will in every part of their revolution present a cushion of air to the ground or rail or track on which they run.” Thomson didn’t only see his pneumatic tyres being used on carriages, but also on “bath-chairs, rocking-chairs and other like articles used commonly either in pleasure-grounds or within doors.”

Thomson’s tyre patent seemingly went unnoticed by another Scottish inventor, John Boyd Dunlop, who developed his own inflatable tyre 40 years later. Dunlop had been born in North Ayrshire but was living in Belfast by the time he invented the tyre. Dunlop’s tyres were initially developed for use on pedal cycles, and quickly became a popular brand in that field.

Thomson’s fountain pen

Soon after being granted the patents for his pneumatic tyre, Thomson turned his attention elsewhere and, according to the Stonehaven Journal of 13 March 1873, “he sent in a design for the great Exhibition of 1851, which gained some credit, and in that Exhibition a useful little invention of his was manufactured and sold – the fountain pen.”

Thomson died in Edinburgh in March 1873, aged 50.



Other events that occured in June

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