Robert Stirling

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Robert Stirling
Robert Stirling.jpg
Reverend Dr Robert Stirling
Born (1790-10-25)25 October 1790
Methven, Perthshire
Died 6 June 1878(1878-06-06) (aged 87)
Galston, East Ayrshire
Nationality Scottish
Citizenship United Kingdom
Children Patrick Stirling b.1820
Jane Stirling b.1821
William Stirling b.1822
Robert Stirling b.1824
David Stirling b.1828
James Stirling b.1835
Agnes Stirling b.1838
Parent(s) Patrick Stirling and Agnes Stirling
Engineering career
Significant projects Stirling engine

The Reverend Dr Robert Stirling (25 October 1790 – 6 June 1878) was a Scottish clergyman, and inventor of the Stirling engine. Stirling was born at Cloag Farm near Methven, Perthshire, the third of eight children. He inherited his father's interest in engineering[citation needed], but studied divinity at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, becoming a minister of the Church of Scotland as second charge of the Laigh Kirk of Kilmarnock in 1816. He was Minister of Galston Parish Church from 1824 until 1878.


On 10 July 1819, Stirling married Jean Rankin. They had seven children:[1]

  • Patrick Stirling, born 29 Jun 1820, became a locomotive engineer
  • Jane Stirling, born 25 Sep 1821, fed ideas to her brothers[citation needed]
  • William Stirling born 14 Nov 1822, became a civil engineer and railway engineer in South America
  • Robert Stirling, born 16 Dec 1824, became a railway engineer in Peru.
  • David Stirling, born 12 Oct 1828, became the Minister of Craigie, Ayrshire
  • James Stirling, born 2 Oct 1835, became a locomotive engineer
  • Agnes Stirling, born 22 Jul 1838, became an artist

Engineering and science[edit]

Hot air engine[edit]

He invented what he called the Heat Economiser (now generally known as the regenerator), a device for improving the thermal/fuel efficiency of a variety of industrial processes, obtaining a patent for the economiser and an engine incorporating it in 1816. In 1818 he built the first practical version of his engine, used to pump water from a quarry.[2]

The theoretical basis of Stirling's engine, the Stirling cycle, would not be fully understood until the work of Sadi Carnot (1796–1832).

Optical instruments[edit]

While in Kilmarnock, he collaborated with another inventor, Thomas Morton, who provided workshop facilities for Stirling's research. Both men were interested in astronomy, and having learnt from Morton how to grind lenses, Stirling invented several optical instruments.


Robert, together with his brother James, an engineer, took out several further patents for improvements to the air engine and in the 1840s James built a large air engine driving all the machinery at his Dundee Foundry Company.

Bessemer process[edit]

In a letter of 1876, Robert Stirling acknowledged the importance of Henry Bessemer's new invention – the Bessemer process for the manufacture of steel – expressing a hope that the new steel would improve the performance of air engines.[3]


Rev. Robert Stirling died in Galston, East Ayrshire on 6 June 1878. He is buried in Galston Cemetery where a new gravestone was erected in December 2014 by public subscription replacing the original stone which was in a ruined state. A service of re-dedication is scheduled for Sunday 3 May 2015 at 11am in Galston Parish Church followed at 12.45pm at the site of the grave in Galston Cemetery.


In 2014 he was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame[4]


  1. ^ "Robert Stirling". 2009-05-18. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  2. ^ Sier, Robert. "Robert Stirling". Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  3. ^ Sier, Robert (1995). Rev. Robert Stirling, D.D. : a biography of the inventor of the heat economiser & Stirling cycle engine. Chelmsford, Essex: L. A. Mair. ISBN 9780952641704. OCLC 40634164. 
  4. ^ accessed 4 October 2014