John Anderson, FRS, lived from 1726 to 13 January 1796. A natural philosopher and leading exponent of the importance of education for working people, he founded an educational institution that has since evolved into the University of Strathclyde. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Anderson was born at Rosneath, on the Rosneath Peninsula which separates Gare Loch and Loch Long in Argyll. Both his father and grandfather had been church ministers. After his father's death he was brought up by an aunt living in Stirling. Anderson completed his education at the University of Glasgow where, in 1756 at the age of 30, he became Professor of Oriental Languages.
In 1760 he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow and specialised in what at the time was the novel field of experimental physics. Amongst those he came into contact with during this period were James Watt and Benjamin Franklin. Among Anderson's achievements was the installation of Glasgow's first lightning conductor. In 1786 he published his pioneering physics textbook, Institutes of Physics, which over the next decade went through five editions. His work in the developing subject of physics led to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society.
A political radical, Anderson had long spent time outside his formal academic duties giving lectures to the "artisans" of Glasgow. He also became a strong supporter of the French Revolution, and invented both a new form of cannon, which he felt might assist the Revolution, and a method of sending political pamphlets from France into Germany suspended under small hydrogen balloons.
Anderson is remembered both for his contribution to physics and because he left his wealth to establish a school for "useful learning" in Glasgow, the Anderson Institute. Over the years this evolved, merged and changed, but was a direct ancestor of today's University of Strathclyde. Both the physics building and the library at the university are named after Anderson.