10 great Scots who shaped U.S. history

A Scottish vote for independence this week brings to mind Scotland’s global influence in the three centuries the country has been part of the United Kingdom. One realm of Scottish impact OCLC highlights in a 2013 report, Not Scotch, but Rum: The Scope and Diffusion of the Scottish Presence in the Published Record, is materials published in Scotland, by Scottish people, and about Scotland. Authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson and are just two of the many popular literary figures to shape Scotland’s national identity.

Scottish influence in the history of North America is also particularly strong. As Scots decide the future of their country, here are 10 figures in U.S. history with Scottish ties:

Andrew Carnegie – A  benevolent Scottish immigrant from Dunfermline, Carnegie’s wealth from the steel industry funded libraries and research groups which still operate today. Fittingly, a seven-box collection of materials related to the philanthropist is at Carnegie Mellon University.

Andrew Mellon – Another industrialist whose philanthropic work continues today as the Mellon Foundation, Andrew Mellon’s father was a Scots-Irish immigrant. One of Mellon’s positions was U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and he later established the National Gallery of Art with his own collection.

John Muir – A California namesake, Muir was born in Dunbar, East Lothian, and is perhaps best know for his exploration of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains during the 19th century. He founded the Sierra Club and devoted his life to wilderness preservation, including the Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. An extensive collection of Muir correspondence and papers are at University of California, Berkeley and University of the Pacific.

Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor of the telephone, Bell was born in Edinburgh and was one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society. He became its second president. Library of Congress holds a large collection about the Bell family, however various repositories hold letters to and from Bell. In one at Brigham Young University, Bell is nominated for membership to the National Geographic Society.

The "real" Uncle Sam was Samuel Wilson, a Scottish-American meatpacker from Troy, NY. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Uncle Sam – Born in Massachusetts, Samuel Wilson’s Scottish ethnicity goes back to his grandfather. Wilson acquired the nickname “Uncle Sam” as he became more involved in settling the Troy, NY, community. During the war of 1812, his meatpacking business supplied fresh, inspected meat to the Northern Army. Soldiers from Troy recognized his barrels, which had a U.S. stamp on them so over time he became associated with U.S. Army property. His eventual personification as the American patriot “Uncle Sam” is especially reflected in music.

Alexander Winton – From Grangemouth, Winton designed and raced automobiles and is credited for inventing the semi-truck. He founded the Winton Motor Carriage Company, whose records can be found at The Henry Ford.

James Monroe – The fifth president of the United States and one of the founding fathers, Monroe’s great-grandfather was from Scotland.

Samuel Houston – Houston, Texas, is named after Sam Houston, who was of Irish-Scottish descent and brought the land which would become Texas into the United States. A large collection of his papers are at Stephen F. Austin State University.

David Dunbar Buick – Founder of the Buick Motor Company, he was born in Arbroath, Angus, and moved to Detroit with his parents at age two.

Johnny Cash – Musician Johnny Cash traced his ancestry to Scottish families. Styles of gospel and folk music, which Cash was known for, also have roots in Scottish musical tradition.

Please mention other influential Scots in the comments below. Thank you!

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