The importance of business in Glasgow

This week Glasgow University Archive Services has been celebrating the rich history of Glasgow businesses in conjunction with Glasgow for Business Week. The history of business and the history of Glasgow’s rise in prominence are closely intertwined. Put simply, without business Glasgow could well have remained anonymous.

Art and design might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the history of business but is has been hugely important to Glaswegian commerce. The Stoddard-Templeton collection (see our catalogue) is filled with wonderful designs that were inspired by art and design from around the globe. Even the James Templeton factory building was inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice! One of the most important commissions James Templeton & Co received was the Glasgow Cathedral carpets, making this business, quite literally, part of the fabric of Glasgow.


In terms of architecture, Glasgow has been very obviously affected by business. Without the money that came from businesses, it would have not been possible to build the many grand edifices that make up the city centre. One, the Teachers building in St Enoch Square, is still known by the brand it used to house and was its headquarters for more than a century. Not far from the Teachers building lies the old Wylie & Lochhead store which now houses House of Fraser, the company which bought it in the fifties.

One of the most important Glaswegians, Lord Kelvin, chose to start a business in Glasgow. His company made scientific instruments and he worked with optical engineer James White. Optics have a particularly important place in the history of Glasgow business; Barr & Stroud loaned Captain Scott the rangefinder for his final, ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic and Barr & Stroud also were integral in the First and Second World Wars.

Glaswegian businesses have helped put Glasgow on the map in places somewhat less remote than Antarctica. The North British Locomotive Co., made up of three businesses that joined forces in 1903, was the largest locomotive building company in Europe. It sent locomotives as far afield as New Zealand; this video tells the story of the two thousandth locomotive that was sent to South Africa. Another business that exported its products was Tennent’s, who shipped to 126 destinations from Adelaide to Zanzibar. Anchor Line, who have origins in nineteenth-century Glasgow, made the first British merchant ship journey through the Suez Canal. It was also a business that helped spread Glaswegians far and wide, promoting emigration to Canada particularly.

Promotion and marketing is part and parcel of business life and its history gives a fascinating insight into contemporary trends; Anchor Line promotional posters clearly show trends in art and design. The Scottish Milk Marketing Board successfully promoted milk throughout the twentieth century with its use of ‘Fred the Cat’. When Teachers launched their new ‘self-opening’ bottle it was given a massive campaign which helped the product dominate the market for fifteen years. These examples show the importance of Glaswegian businesses on a both national and international scale.

Today Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland but only a few centuries ago it was one of the smallest. Its businesses have helped it to become an international hub of art, design and science and long may the close relationship Glasgow has with its businesses continue.


The Scottish Business Archive continues to offer services to the Scottish business community, providing a corporate archive service. To find out more about preserving your business’ history contact us.

Categories: Archive Services

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1 reply


  1. Business history and archives – ABH 2017 – University of Glasgow Library

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