John Robison (inventor)

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John Robison's house at 9 Atholl Crescent in Edinburgh
Memorial to Sir John Robison, St Johns Episcopal Church, Edinburgh

Sir John Robison KH FRSE FRSSA (11 June 1778, Edinburgh – 1843) was a Scottish inventor and writer on scientific subjects. He was the son of Professor John Robison.


He was born in Edinburgh on 11 June 1778, the son of John Robison and Rachel Wright.[1]

Robison was educated at the Royal High School and the University of Edinburgh.

Around 1795 he entered the cotton-spinning industry, first in Paisley and then moving south to Manchester.

In 1802 he entered the service of Nizam of Hyderabad as contractor for the establishment and maintenance of military service. He left India a wealthy man, in 1815.

In 1816 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and served as its General Secretary from 1828 to 1840. His proposers were John Playfair, David Brewster and James Jardine.

In 1821, with David Brewster he jointly founded the Scottish Society of Arts. He served as its Secretary from foundation until 1824, Vice President 1828-9 and 1833-4, and as President 1841-2.[2]

In the 1830s he is listed as living at 9 Atholl Crescent, a large townhouse in Edinburgh's fashionable west end.[3]

From 1834 he was the Edinburgh Commissioner of Police.

He received the Guelphic Order in 1837 from William IV and knighted in 1838.

He died at his final house in Edinburgh, 13 Randolph Crescent,[4] on 7 March 1843. A memorial exists to Sir John Robison on the south wall of St Johns Episcopal Church in Edinburgh a few hundred metres east of his house.

Notable Inventions[edit]


  • Tapered wood screws (1829)
  • Pneumatic cheese press (1830)
  • Furniture casters (1835)
  • Improved gas cooker (1839)
  • Improved gas lighting (1839)
  • Improved camera lucida (1841)
  • Machine for creating curved files (1842)


He married twice, firstly in 1816 to Jean Grahame who died in 1824 and secondly to Miss Benson who died in 1837.[6]