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Dundee Industry

Dundee Industry

Remembering Dundee’s industries, past and present

In the 19th century, the development of linen mills, whaling and ship-building, followed by jute, jam and journalism – the famous ‘three Js’ – enabled Dundee and its busy port to flourish. By hosting oil rigs, wind turbines and cruise ships today, the River Tay and the port of Dundee are still key to the city’s economy, but console games technology and life sciences have taken over from more traditional manufacturing sectors. This panel honours Dundee’s diverse array of key industries, past and present.

Dundee Industry cartoon

1. Production of Levi’s jeans

Dundee’s Levi’s jeans factory opened on Dunsinane Industrial Estate, off the Kingsway, in 1972 and closed in 2002.


2. Weaving loom

By the mid 1800s, Dundee’s mills were weaving Baltic flax into a coarse cloth called Osnaburg Linen. The finished fabric was used for sailcloth and wagon covers, and some of it was also made into clothing for enslaved people. As the cost of flax increased, many of the city’s mills switched from weaving linen to jute, as Dundee’s jute industry took off.


3. Gaming

Abertay University was the first in the world to introduce computer games degrees, and over 40 gaming companies have now set up in the city. Popular video games created here include Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, both created by DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North).


4. Oil rigs

The port of Dundee has become an important hub for oil rig decommissioning, refits and repairs.


5. Ship-building

Many small shipyards once operated on the banks of the River Tay. The three largest were Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd (otherwise known as W B Thompson & Co Ltd), Gourlay Brothers & Co (Dundee) Ltd, and Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd.


6. Furniture-making

Dovetail Enterprises (1993) Ltd is an amalgamation of two long-established Dundee charities: Royal Dundee Blindcraft Products (Blindcraft) and Lord Roberts Workshop (LRW). Dovetail continues to offer employment and training for those disadvantaged in the workplace due to disability, and the company now creates high quality beds, furniture, doors and door-sets.


7. NCR

Makers of cash registers and ATMs, NCR had a large factory near Camperdown Park, from 1947 to 2009.


8. Whisky bonds

Dundee had several ‘whisky bonds’ (a type of secure warehouse) with the most famous being Robertson’s Bond on Seagate.

9. Keiller’s Marmalade

In the 1760s, Mrs Janet Keiller turned locally-grown, seasonal soft fruits and sugar-beet into jam. She also modified a quince recipe to create ‘chip’ (shredded peel) marmalade, using imported oranges. Janet’s son took over the business in 1775 and, by 1869, James Keiller and Sons was the largest confectionary business in Britain.

10. Whaling

The use of whale oil and water to soften jute fibres for processing meant the whaling industry lasted longer in Dundee than in most other British ports. Whalebone was also an important commodity, and was used in the same way we might use plastic today.


11. Wind turbines

Wind turbines for the forthcoming Inch Cape wind farm – one of Scotland’s largest offshore renewable energy projects – are currently being assembled at the port of Dundee.


12. Journalism

David Couper Thomson took over his family’s publishing business in 1884, and the company officially became known as DC Thomson from 1905. ‘The Courier’ and ‘Evening Telegraph’ are still widely read, along with titles like ‘The Scots Magazine’ and ‘The Sunday Post’ and children’s comics, ‘Beano’ and ‘The Dandy’.


13. Michelin

The Michelin factory in Dundee created millions of car tyres from 1971 to 2020, and in 2006 it was the first UK factory to install wind turbines. The site has since become Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc, hosting entrepreneurs and manufacturers who are focusing on diversity and climate change.


14. Valentines of Dundee

Valentine and Sons Ltd was founded in 1851 by James Valentine, a Royal-appointed photographer, and by the early 1900s, the company was synonymous with colourful picture postcards, greetings cards and Christmas cards. Hallmark took over the business in 1970, and the factory closed in 1994.


15. Timex

The Timex watch factories in Milton and Camperdown were built after World War II and by the mid-Sixties, Timex was Dundee’s single largest employer – particularly among women. The Camperdown factory closed in August 1993, ending 47 years of production.


16. Keiller’s Dundee Cake

As well as making marmalade, Janet Keiller came up with iconic Dundee Cake – an all-butter sultana cake, believed to be adapted from a 16th century recipe.

This panel was stitched by

Jean Davidson

Christine Don

Ervin Mackie

Lynne Potts

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