Orphaned at a very early age, Short succeeded in enrolling at the University of Edinburgh in 1726. There, he became a disciple of the famous mathematician Colin McLaurin (1698-1746). However, Short obtained his degree from the prestigious St. Andrews University in 1753. McLaurin advised Short to specialize in the working of astronomical-telescope mirrors, including those made of glass and speculum, a copper-tin alloy then used for the purpose. Short became so skilled that his fame soon spread across Europe. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in 1738, he settled in London. A founder of the Edinburgh Philosophical Society, he became a corresponding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1757. He produced about 1,370 telescopes, 110 of which are extant.