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James Blyth (1839-1906)

Professor James Blyth was a Scottish electrical engineer who was also an academic at Anderson’s College in Glasgow. Blyth was a pioneer in harnessing the wind for electricity generation. In his early years, Blyth studied his BA and MA at the University of Edinburgh before he was appointed to the position of professor of Natural Philosophy at Anderson’s College in 1880. In 1887 Blyth built a 33m cloth-sailed wind turbine in the garden of his Marykirk holiday home. The electricity produced by the turbine charged accumulators that, in turn, were used to power the lights in his home. This was the first house powered by wind-generated electricity in the world. In total, the turbine produced enough power to light ten 25-volt bulbs in a ‘moderate breeze.’ Blyth spent the next few years experimenting with designs before being awarded a UK patent for his wind engine in 1891. He built a second, and more improved turbine in 1895. Blyth licensed a Glasgow engineering company named Mavor and Coulson to build a turbine at the Montrose Lunatic Asylum which supplied it with emergency power. The turbine successfully operated for 30 years. Unfortunately, Blyth’s turbines did have a considerable flaw which meant they did not have a braking mechanism. Though his improved design of his second turbine went steps to address this issue, it could not guarantee to stall in intense winds. This meant that his turbine was prone to damage.

Despite this, Blyth was a pioneer in the use of wind for the generation of electricity by building the first wind turbine in the world. Previously, it was thought to be the American Charles Brush, who built his in the winter of 1887. However, new research proves that Blyth managed to build his first. Blyth died in 1906 but his turbine at the Montrose Asylum lasted until 1914, when it was dismantled.


James Blyth (1839 – 1906)

T.J. Price – James Blyth — Britain’s First Modern Wind Power Pioneer, Wind Engineering, Vol 29, no 3, 2005

James Blyth – Grace’s Guide