George Forbes was born in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, on April 5, 1849. He was widely known as an electrical engineer and many of his inventions have inspired much of the technology used today. Forbes was highly educated having attended and graduated from three different colleges in his country. His father, Professor James David Forbes, was later Principal of one, St. Andrews University.
At 24, Forbes was appointed the position of Professor presiding over Natural Philosophy studies at Anderson’s University. While there, he researched the velocity of light. In 1880, he resigned and began dedicating all of his time to researching electrical engineering and power. His work on the City and South London Railway was groundbreaking. Forbes was admitted into the French Legion of Honour a year later.
In 1882, Forbes became the manager of the British Electric Light Company. During his time there, he experimented with different ways to establish electric connections. His invention, Improved Means for Establishing Electric Connections between Surfaces in Relative Motion Applicable to the Collectors of Dynamo Machines, would grant him much success and is the blueprint for the universal use of electricity hundreds of years later. Forbes sold this patent to George Westinghouse’s company, Westinghouse Electric.
He published seven titles throughout his life including The Transit of Venus, Lectures on Electricity and Alternating and Interrupted Electric Currents. Forbes also contributed to many scholarly journals.
Forbes’ most notable work was acting as a supervising engineer for hydro electric schemes in several countries. He worked in South Africa, Egypt, India, and New Zealand. From 1891 to 1895, he also worked in the United States in Niagara Falls, New York. In 1906, he settled in Pitlochry and never married. Much like Nikola Tesla, he lived in poverty in his later years. He died in his home on October 22, 1936. The University of Strathclyde honored his memory fifty years later by naming one of their newly erected student hall after him.