The industrial revolution was based on the application of power to machines made mainly of metal. The entire exercise therefore hinged on certain crucial inventions which allowed metal of sufficient quality to be formed into parts to make the machines and build the engines to power them. Engineers have never been highly regarded in Britain, there was no place in the established social order and many struggled to make a living let alone a fortune. Without the work of these people however life as we know it today could never have existed.
It should be noted that the early engineers and inventors did not generally have the benefit of forming 'limited liability' companies, it was not Boulton & Watt Ltd, just Boulton & Watt. That meant they were personally liable for all debts of all business in which they were involved and the failure of one could mean the ruin of them all.
The alternative to forming a limited liability company was to set up in partnership, that meant they became liable for each others debts. If one business of one partner went bust it could not only ruin him but could also ruin his partners and through them third parties who were partners in another business (this legal penalty for partnerships remains in law today).
The limited liability company did exist in the late eighteenth century but they were extremely difficult to establish, the banking fraternity saw them as their own and were reluctant to allow others the same protection.
In Scotland an alternative was set up in the form of Joint Stock companies and the success of these had a lot to do with the throwing open of limited liability in the early nineteenth century.
Iron makers (Note: Technical detail on iron making and the associated works will be found in the section on Lineside Industries)
Abraham Darby - There are in fact three people of this name involved in the history of iron making. Abraham Darby the First was born in 1678 and his first patent was for a way of casting iron in sand to make pots in 1707. At the time charcoal was used for making iron and so much of the forest had been cut down to make charcoal the government banned the establishment of any more iron works. Mr. Darby bought an existing works at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire and experimented with coal and coke (which was already in use in maltings) in place of charcoal. The coke worked and he fount it could be burnt at higher temperatures, making the iron more 'runny' which allowed finer castings.
Darby's son, also called Abraham, supplied the parts for the steam engines of Savery and Newcomen. He was the first to use steam engines to pump water into reservoirs. allowing the water-wheel powered bellows to operate in dry periods. He then developed a new form of cast iron which was sufficiently free of impurities to be used in the making of nails (prior to this wrought iron was required for making rids and slitting these for nails).
Two engineers at this firm then developed a reverbatory furnace, in which the coke fuel and the ore are kept separate but the heat from the former is reflected down into the ore from a brick arch.
Darby adopted the idea of laying iron plates along the top of wooden rails along which horses could draw wagons regardless of the weather (this is more fully discussed in the section on Track & Gauge).
The third Abraham Darby (the grandson of the first) was responsible for the building of the famous Iron Bridge across the Severn in 1779, weighing about four hundred tons and spanning a gap of over a hundred feet it was assembled from finely cast interlocking parts that did not require nuts and bolts. The bridge stands to this day and is now part of the Coalbrookdale Industrial Museum.
Henry Cort (1740-1800).
Henry Cort owned an iron works and like most iron masters he was keen to find a way to improve the quality of iron. At the time the crude iron from the blast furnace could only be improved by re-heating and hammering to remove more of the carbon and other impurities. Cort developed a hot rolling process for iron heated until it was the consistency of a thick paste which produced better quality iron much faster. He then discovered that if molten iron was stirred the air would oxidise and remove some of the remaining carbon producing low carbon wrought iron. The combination of these two developments allowed his works to produce about fifteen times as much iron in a given time and with a given amount of fuel. The grooved rolling mill was a major advance, allowing bar-iron to be made at a much reduced cost and the market price of iron fell by about half as Cort's system spread.
Cort had a partner who was found guilty of fiddling government funds and as a partner Cort himself was equally liable so his patents were taken from him and thrown open to all.
John Wilkinson (1728-1808)
Known as Iron Mad Wilkinson (he even had an iron coffin made for himself which he kept ready in his office) he was a popular ironmaster. He established the first iron works at Bilston in Staffordshire in the 1740's and devised a method of boring holes through solid iron that allowed the building of better cannon. The boring technique was used in the making of the cylinders for James Watt's first steam engine in 1765. The bored-out cylinders reduced steam leakage and made the engine much more efficient. In the 1750's he was a joint patentee in the making of lead pipes that subsequently transformed British and world plumbing.
Steel makers (Note: Technical detail on steel making and the associated works will be found in the section on Lineside Industries)
In the 1830's Britain was the worlds largest producer of iron and about two and a half million tons a year was being turned out by the smelting works. At the time plain pig iron was selling for about £3 a ton, high quality wrought iron (used for railway rails) cost about £9 a ton and steel fetched upwards of £50 a ton. Steel was made in small quantities using a 'crucible' method, developed by Henry Huntsman of Doncaster in the eighteenth century. Steel was so expensive it was only use for tools, cutlery, instruments and weapons.
Sir Henry Bessemer (1813-1898)
Bessemer was born into a wealthy family with interests in a type foundry, they lived in a country town and he was often found exploring the simple machinery then in use. After leaving home Bessemer tried his had at many jobs and trades with some success but he was thirty before he made serious money. His sister was something of an artist and asked him for some gold paint, he was surprised at the cost and experimented with a sample to find out what it was made of. It turned out to be powdered bronze and he worked out a way of making it himself. The process had to be secret so the plant he built had to be almost completely automatic, a feat in itself. He managed to keep the secret for forty years and made a fortune from selling the bronze powder. This gave him the money to work on other inventions, he got a Gold Medal for designing a steam sugar press for the West Indies and developed the first continuous casting of sheet glass using chilled rollers to draw the glass ribbon from the furnace.
The Crimean war brought his attention to the manufacture of weapons and he designed a self-stabilising shell for use in smooth-bore cannon. This put too great a strain on the cannon and he began to look at ways of making steel. By chance he discovered that air would burn away the carbon in the iron and tried blowing air through molten iron. This worked, the heat of the oxygen in the air burning with the carbon in the iron kept everything hot so after the conversion the molten iron could be poured out. He found that by adjusting the length of the blow through he could obtain iron or steel of almost any grade.
He announced the converter at a lecture in 1856 and several were soon in use.
It was then discovered that the Bessemer system did not work when there was a lot of phosphorus in the ore (Cort's puddling process was able to burn the phosphorous out). As most British ore is tainted by phosphorous this reduced the utility of the Bessemer converter for several years until S. G. Thomas solved the problem (see below). By importing iron from Sweden and Spain, and using the ore from Cumberland, Bessemer was still the largest producer of steel in Britain, and that meant in the world. In 1862 the first Bessemer steel rails were laid at Camden Goods Station and in 1863 steel was used for the first time in ship building. When Bessemer retired in 1873 nearly all the steel was being made by his system but by the time he died in 1898 the Siemens open-hearth method had largely replaced it.
Sir William Siemens (1823-1883)
Siemens arrived in Britain from Prussia in 1843 with little English but with a set of inventions he wished to promote and sell. His first real success was a water meter he developed in 1852, for which Manchester Corporation placed an order for ten thousand. There had been a series of Cholera outbreaks, notably the London epidemics of 1831 and 1849, and corporations were looking at ways of arranging clean water supplies. These had to be paid for and that meant a water meter was required. The water meter gave Siemens financial security and funded his future research.
It was already widely realised that a lot of heat was being wasted in various machines, notably the steam engine. Siemens, as well as others, began looking at ways of using the waste heat to pre-heat the fuel or boiler water supplies. It took many years of work but eventually his brother patented a simple 'regenerative' furnace which used this idea in 1856 and a year later an British inventor patented a regenerative blast furnace for smelting iron. The Siemens brother continued the development and discovered that instead of using coal or coke for fuel they could convert this material into a gas and use that more effectively. The final patent of 1861 was for an open hearth furnace using a gaseous fuel pre-heated by the exhaust gasses. The first application was in glass making, where the system soon became popular due to its low running costs. This lead to the wider adoption of the furnace in the production of iron and finally in the production of steel.
Siemens method was to melt pig iron, with its high carbon content, then add iron ore which is basically rust, iron and oxygen. The oxygen then burnt away the carbon in the mixture. This approach was modified by a Frenchman called martin, who used a mix of pig iron and scrap iron and by 1900 the Siemens Martin process was more widespread than the Bessemer system for making steel. The Siemens family were also instrumental in the development of the electric telegraph networks throughout the world.
Sidney Gilchrist Thomas (1850-1885)
Mr Gilchrist Thomas was a junior clerk in a police court in London's East End. His father had a good living and Sidney was planning to go to a London university to study medicine. The death of his father meant he had to seek work but he continued his studies at home. He had an interest in chemistry and built up a competent home laboratory, he was aware of the phosphorous problem in the Bessemer converter and spent his evenings trying to find a way of extracting the phosphorous from the ore. He worked on the theory from 1871 until 1875, then spent another three years in practical experiments with his cousin Percy Gilchrist and patented the process in 1877 before announcing the solution to the world in 1878. The solution was to line the converter with a 'basic' material such as limestone instead of the acidic silica fire brick then in use. The phosphorous and iron combined during the Bessemer process to form phosphoric acid which could not combine with the silica. The basic lining soaked up the acid and produced a slag of limestone and phosphorous which was a potentially valuable fertiliser.
It was another year before anyone took him seriously and a few more years after that before he felt able to resign from his job as police clerk.
He then looked at what to do with the basic slag, the Germans were already grinding it for use on the land but the British steelworks were still dumping it on waste ground or at sea.
He had contracted tuberculosis in about 1880 and the disease finally killed him in early 1885 at the age of thirty five.
The basic process devised by Thomas could be used with both the Bessemer and Siemens systems and facilitated the use of high phosphorous ores all over the world.
Boulton, Matthew (1728-1809)
The English inventor Boulton invented the first successful process for inlaying steel and from 1769 to 1775 he financed James Watt's work on steam engines. In 1775 he formed a partnership with Watt to build steam engines and of the two it was Boulton's head for business which brought them their success. In 1790 he patented a steam powered press for making coins. This machine allowed him to establish the copper coinage for Britain which remained in use until the 1970's.
Joseph Bramah (1748-1814)
Perhaps best known today for his design for a toilet flushed with water Mr. Bramah was originally a cabinet maker (the improved toilet was developed after he had built several cabinets or 'closets' to house earlier toilets being fitted in houses).
In his day he was famous for an 'unpickable' lock he patented in 1784. Bramah developed a series of useful inventions including a hydraulic press (1795) and a beer pump (1801) to pull beer from casks in a cellar to the bar and a wood planing machine (1802) which was used for many years at the Woolwich Arsenal. He devised the first machine to successfully number bank notes for the Bank of England but his greatest contribution to life today was that he employed and trained a great many mechanics, engineers and inventors who went on to develop the essential machine tools which allowed industry to develop.
1794 the ball-bearing invented but it was 1907 before the modern ball bearing was constructed by the Swede Sven Wingquist. The Sweedish company that started producing the new ball bearing, SKF, still holds a strong international position today.
Henry Maudslay (1771-1831)
This man was probably the most important inventor in the history of machine tools, although he received no formal apprenticeship (seven years in those days). Probably his most important inventions were the 'slide rest' and the 'lead screw' for lathes. Prior to this the tool for the job was held by the worker on a heavy wooden beam and pressed against the revolving work piece by hand. Maudslay's designs were not a new idea, Leonardo da Vinci had sketched similar machines, but Maudslay's slide rest combined with a lead screw and a set of interchangeable gears produced the worlds first practical lathe and the first machine able to produce standardised screw threads. The machine was considered remarkable at the time as it was entirely made of metal. In the early part of the nineteenth century Maudslay was employed by a French royalist refugee Marc Brunel (the father of the famous railway engineer I. K. Brunel) to build machines to automate the manufacture of pulley blocks for the Navy. Each warship would require upwards of fifteen hundred blocks for the sails and guns. The job took six years to complete and involved no less than forty three machines all powered by a single steam engine. The plant was a complete success and represents one of the first examples of mass-production techniques in industry.
Joseph Clement (1779-1844)
Having worked with a local blacksmith Mr. Clement went on to work for both Brahama and Maudslay before setting up on his own account designing and making specialised tools. He introduced many improvements to existing machines and produced the first metal planing machine able to work large pieces of metal, up to six feet square. He was employed by Charles Babbage to produce the parts for the Calculating Engine.
James Nasmyth (1808-1890)
Nasmyth's most important invention was the steam hammer which he developed to allow him to forge the wrought iron paddle shaft for Brunel's iron ship the Great Britain. This was bigger than any wrought iron shaft had ever been and the simple trip-hammers of the day were too small and light for the job.
He designed the thing in a single evening in 1839 and had it built within a few months. It was a clever machine and he claimed it could be set so as to crack an egg resting in a wine glass with one blow whilst the next 'could shake the parish'. This lead to the development steam pile-driver in the 1840's which revolutionised the construction of quays and bridges. He also invented a nut-shaping machine, a flexible shaft for driving small drills, an hydraulic punching machine and proposed the use of chilled cast-iron shot. Nasmyth retired at the age of forty eight and moved to Kent where he took up astronomy and made valuable observations of the sun and moon. He died at the age of eighty two.
Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887)
Whitworth developed the technique for making perfectly flat surfaces on metal. The surfaces were so smooth that if laid together they could only be separated by sliding one across the other. He invented machines for drilling, planing, cutting, punching and slotting metal. He devised an improved method of adding 'rifling' to the barrels of firearms, increasing both their accuracy and range and he discovered new way of making ductile steel for guns. The 'Whitworth' rifle was considered too advanced for the British army but it was adopted by the French and saw service in several other armies. He developed the 'standard screw gauge' in 1830 and a machine that could be used to measure down to a millionth of an inch, both of which allowed the production of much more precise machine tools. He set up a series of scholarships and foundations which operate to this day providing funds for the training of engineers. Whitworth saw the problem of standards for screw threads as the key to many problems of industrialisation and he set about researching threads for nuts and bolts. His greatest contribution to modern life was the establishment of a standard for screw threads, officially adopted in 1841. He was a great believer in standards and even tried to introduce a standard size candle and candle holder as the former so seldom fitted well in the latter.
The 'Whitworth' thread used on nuts and bolts is actually derived from set of gear ratios for lathes cutting threads. Standards are notoriously difficult to maintain however and thread standards proliferated. Up to the 1960's the British motor industry used British Standard Fine (BSF) threads, the BA series uses the BSF thread with bolt heads and nut sizes related to the shank width by a fixed ratio. In the 1960's the British motor industry adopted the American 'Unified' series of threads, already widely used in their motor car industry (which in Britain meant Ford and Vauxhall). This American thread series is often referred to as the AF series but this is because the Americans took the BA idea of matching shanks to bolt head and nuts with a fixed ratio and quoting the distance across the flats or 'AF' on the head or nut to define the size. In the present context the single most interesting nut and bolt is the dome headed 6BA bolt which, with a short length of sleeving, makes a good basis for the steam dome on an N gauge steam loco.
Engine Builders & Railway Engineers
Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729).
English blacksmith and inventor. In association with John Calley (or Cawley), invented (1705) an engine in which steam admitted to a cylinder was condensed by a jet of cold water and the piston driven by atmospheric pressure; entered partnership with Thomas Savery, whose primitive steam engine for pumping water from mines (patented 1698) he improved and built into a practical working engine in common use in collieries (from 1712).
William Jessop (1745-1814)
Mr. Jessop was born in Devonport, Devon, and became a pupil of civil engineer John Smeaton, working on canals in England and Ireland first with him and then independently. Jessop was chief engineer 1793-1805 of the Grand Union Canal, which linked London and the Midlands over a distance of over ninety miles. He was the chief engineer for the Barnsley, Rochdale, and Trent navigation, and the Nottingham and Ellesmere canals. Jessop built the first canal in England entirely dependent on reservoirs for its water supply (the Grantham Canal 1793-97), and designed (with Thomas Telford) the Pontcysyllte aqueduct over the river Dee. He was also involved in the construction of several docks and harbours, In 1789 Jessop designed the forerunner of the iron rail that later became universally adopted for railways and also developed the first practical points for his track. Points had existed for many years but Jessop's design, made of iron and incorporating moving switch blades, was the first which would allow a self propelled engine to negotiate them. Jessop used this track and point system for a railway he built at Loughborough in Leicestershire. Jessop was also chief engineer of the Surrey Iron Railway, which was built in 1801-02. One of the partners in Benjamin Outram & Company (founded 1790) which became Butterly Company in XXX until 1968 when name changed as the firm was divided into two; Butterly Engineering and Butterly Building Materials (which became Butterly Brick in 1985).
Benjamin Outram (1764-1805)
Mr Outram's name crops up a lot in regard to railways but he was primarily a civil engineer. He was taken on as assistant to William Jessop for a large canal building job in 1788 and later formed a partnership with Jessop to form the company which became the Butterley Ironworks and evolved into Butterly Engineering and Butterly Brick (see under Jessop above). Outram is credited with introducing iron railways for colliery traffic and he is probably responsible for the first scheduled (horse drawn) passenger railway services.
Watt, James 1736-1819.
Scottish engineer and inventor who had a career in mathematical instrument making but went on to produce an improved version of the Newcomen steam engine which had a separate condenser (patented in 1769). Thirteen years later in 1782 he introduced the double acting cylinder in which the steam is used to drive the piston in both directions. He also devised the planetary motion and other means for converting reciprocating action into rotary motion and the centrifugal governor for regulating speed.
Richard Trevithick (1771-1833)
Trevithick was a Cornish engineer who mainly worked in mines, inspired by Robert Murdock he was the first man to try using high pressure steam in his engines. In 1797 he made working models of high-pressure stationary and locomotive engines and in 1800 he built a full size high-pressure stationary steam engine. Trevithick built a steam powered road carriage, the first vehicle to convey passengers by steam, which ran on Christmas Eve, 1801. This machine had a conventional carriage body suspended between two nine foot (3m) diameter driving wheels with a smaller wheel about three foot (1m) in diameter at the front and the engine mounted under the passenger compartment. During the celebrations after the run the engine caught fire but Trevithick went on to build more road locomotives. Unfortunately no one took any great interest and he abandoned the work. He built the world' s first successful steam railway locomotive in 1803, capable of pulling ten tons at speeds of up to ten miles per hour and was the first engineer to use exhaust steam to increase draft in the locomotive chimney. This locomotive proved too heavy for the track but it did prove that a smooth steel wheel could pull a load along smooth steel rails without needing a cog wheel or similar arrangement. In 1805 he built another rail-mounted machine to the same basic design, this latter was the first loco to run with flanged wheels on iron rails. It was Trevithick's work which proved that the friction of smooth wheels on track provided adequate traction for ordinary grades. He went on to apply high-pressure steam engines to rock boring, dredging, and agriculture
Robert Stirling (1709-1878)
A Scottish clergyman Robert Sterling is remembered for developing an engine (patented in 1816) which uses a sealed system of chambers. The gas in the one chamber is heated by an external source and expands, this expansion drives the piston and delivers the energy. The gas is then passed to a cooling chamber and then to a compressor which returns it to the heating chamber. The energy required to compress the cooled gas is less than is produced by the expansion of the hot gas so the engine drives its own compressor.
George Stephenson (1781-1848)
Stephenson persuaded the promoters of a railway between Stockton and Darlington (intended to carry coal from mines to the docks) to consider the use of steam locomotives and set up a company (Robert Stephenson & Co) to build the engines for them. He was appointed chief engineer for the project and although he would have made more money if his own cast iron rails were used he recommended the use of wrought iron (then a new invention). The job started in 1822 and the line was opened in 1825. George Stephenson designed the locomotive Locomotion for the Stockton & Darlington in 1825 but it was his son Robert who became the most important engine designer.
This was before the match (or Lucifer as they were known) had been invented and the Locomotion's boiler fire was lit with a magnifying glass the engineer used for lighting his pipe. Even before the Stockton & Darlington railway was finished George had started work on the Liverpool & Manchester line. Some people wanted to use stationary steam engines hauling wagons with ropes along the line but Stephenson pressed for locomotives and eventually a trial was arranged at Rainhill. It was Robert Stephenson's revolutionary Rocket with its efficient cylinders and multi-tube boiler which won the day.
Robert Stephenson (1803-1859)
George's son had a curious career, supported by his fathers determination that he received a proper education he soon became a mining engineer. In 1823 he was made the managing partner in Robert Stephenson & Company, a firm set up by his father with Quaker friends to manufacture steam locomotives. He then spent three years organising a series of mines in Colombia (a project which failed through no fault of the young Stephenson) and he returned to Liverpool in 1827 to resume work at the engine factory. It was here that he made his major contributions to the design of locomotives and his Lancashire Witch was the direct for-runner of the Rocket with inclined cylinders powering the four foot eight inch driving wheels directly. This locomotive used fire tubes to carry the hot smoke through the water in the boiler, earlier steam engines were built much like a kettle, a sealed box with a fire underneath. The fire tubes increased the efficiency of the engine dramatically and became a standard feature of all steam engine boilers.
The multi-tube idea was originally invented by a French engineer by the name of Marc Seguin, a British engineer by the name of Henry Booth heard of this and suggested it to George Stephenson for inclusion in the design of the Rocket.
Robert designed the Planet, the first loco to haul goods on the Liverpool & Manchester line. This locomotive set the basic pattern for British freight locomotives, the boiler contained over a hundred fire tubes but more importantly the cylinders were mounted under the boiler between the wheels, driving a cranked rear axle.
In 1830 Robert followed his father into railway building and at the age of twenty seven he surveyed the route for the London & Birmingham Railway, at over a hundred miles this was the longest railway ever proposed at the time. Building this line took him five years, he had to deal with about thirty different firms of engineering contractors and where they could not cope he had to take over personally. He was an honest man, he spoke of how easy his work had been compared to the pioneers he followed and refused a knighthood when it was offered. He died in 1859 at the age of fifty six, his life shortened by overwork, and was buried at Westminster Abbey next to Thomas Telford.
Charles Blacker Vignoles (1793-1875)
Vignoles is one of those figures which history seems to have ignored. He was a soldier and surveyed parts of the Americas before becoming one of the pioneering civil and mechanical engineers in the early years of the British railway system. Following a series of disagreements (mainly with the Stephensons) he went abroad and in his later life divided his time between Britain, Europe and Russia. His legacy includes the flat bottom rail used on modern railways (introduced in 1837) but he also developed a distinctive design of locomotive with a large single driving wheel at the rear with a set of four, un-powered, smaller wheels to carry the boiler. This design of locomotive features in prints of early continental railways and proved successful in passenger work. Vignoles is recognised as one of the most important of the early Civil Engineers. He was admitted to the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1827 and was elected to become the first ever Professor of Civil Engineering (at University College).
Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859)
Born of a French Royalist refuge father and an English mother (his middle name was his mothers maiden name) Brunel followed his father as an engineer. By the age of sixteen he had been educated in Britain and France and had worked in engineering workshops making everything from clocks to machine tools. His father had invented a tunnelling shield and was appointed engineer in charge of the first big tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe. This was a massive undertaking and took eighteen years to complete. When his father was ill Isambard took charge and was nearly killed on several occasions. In 1829 he was appointed by the city of Bristol to build a suspension bridge of his own design over the river Severn at Clifton. In 1833 the merchants of Bristol, alarmed at the growing importance of Liverpool, decided they wanted a railway line to London. Brunel was appointed the chief engineer of the project, originally called The Bristol Railway but better known as the Great Western Railway.
Sir Charles Parsons (1854-1931)
Developed the first practical steam turbine engines, the breakthrough was to use a series of turbine on a common shaft, each one absorbing only part of the power from the flow of steam. Parsons turbines used steam generated in a separate boiler which was passed through a chamber containing fixed blades secured to the case with moving blades secured to the drive shaft. The interaction between the forces of both on the flow of steam caused the turbine to revolve.
Having developed the engine Parsons went on the devise a high speed dynamo so that it could generate electricity. His first successful turbine generator, built in 1884, ran at 18,000 revs per minute and most people reading about it in the press thought an extra 0 had slipped through as a printing error. The superiority of the high speed turbine as a machine for generating electricity was soon accepted. Early generators had capacities of perhaps 20 horse power, by 1888 they were in the 200 horse power range and by 1905 they had reached 6,000 horsepower.
Parsons then went on to develop marine turbine engines and in 1897 the Navy staged a review of the Fleet at Spithead as part of Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee celebration. Parsons took his turbine powered launch the 'Trubinia' along and during the review he took the small craft along the line of ships, easily outrunning the picket boats sent to stop him. Small boats armed with torpedoes were already a problem and a new class of ship, the torpedo boat destroyer, had been developed to keep them away from the fleet. The turbine engine gave the destroyers the speed to intercept the small craft. The photo below was taken a few years later, it was scanned from a 1930s book on engineering.
Fig ___ Turbina running at speed.
Lanchester was a polymath, he made important contributions to the theory of aeronautics and produced the first motor car which was not just a motorised horse carriage.
In the field of aeronautics he developed the theory of turbulence, realising that the most important destabilising forces acting on an aircraft were those generated at the wing tips. He tried to get his research published in 1894 but no one was very interested and a number of glider pilots were killed due to loosing control of the aircraft in flight. It was only about thirteen years after the Wright brothers successful powered flight in the USA that the importance of Lanchester's work was recognised and changes to the design of aircraft were made to make them easier to fly.
After the work on aerodynamics Lanchester looked into the design of motor cars. After two years work he tested his first motor car in 1896 then designed a new engine and transmission and tested the second prototype a year later. His design won the Gold Medal at the Automobile Club of Great Britain trials in 1899 and the Lanchester marque continued in production, latterly by Daimler, into the 1950's. Lanchester invented the epicyclic gear, the foot-pedal accelerator, magneto-ignition, pull-on hand brake, worm transmission gear, pre-selector controlled gear box, cantilever springing and forced lubrication.
Sir Neville Barnes Wallis (1887-1979)
He began his professional life working for an engineering firm in London and then moved to the Vickers works at Barrow to work on airships. Vickers closed down their airship department for a time in the early 1920's and he went to Switzerland to teach. He returned to Vickers to work on the R100 airship, for which he designed the geodesic structure to allow the gas-bags to support the rigid outer shell. This technique was then used in the Vickers Wellesley bomber which flew to Australia and the Wellington bomber which proved itself so robust in the second world war. During the war he designed the bouncing bomb to attach German dams supplying water to the industrial areas of the Rhur. After the war he invented and developed the swing-wing aircraft, worked on submarine design and devised a lightweight 'duralumin' bridge.
Sir Frank Whittle (1907- xxx)
Whittle developed the internal combustion gas turbine engine which was used in the early jet aircraft. The air ministry did not have any faith in his idea so, following a successful military career with the RAF, he set up his own company, Power Jets Ltd, to develop turbine engines. Whittle had a reputation for eccentricity, money was always tight and he had a habit of shooting at passing rabbits from his office window. On hearing that his firm was often referred to as 'The Cherry Orchard' he asked one of the suppliers on a visit to the works why that should be. The supplier explained that the name referred to the Chekhov play in which people wandered on to the stage said something quite irrelevant and wandered off again. Whittle couldn't see the connection and the man went on to describe his last visit; "A young boy brought in a cup of tea, then you jump up and fire a rifle through your window. Next one of your directors comes in and asks whether he can afford to have a three inch gas pipe put in, then the same small boy comes in through another door with another cup of tea."
Whittle developed the jet engine in the face of absolute indifference from the government and the air ministry whilst in Germany his ideas were taken up and used to produce high speed fighter aircraft that caused the Allies real problems during the later stages of the Second World War. Once his engine had been demonstrated however the air ministry took notice and the first successful flight of the resulting aircraft, the Gloster E.28/39 came in May of 1941. The jet engine is too expensive to use for normal power generation but all the power companies maintain a set of generators coupled to big Rolls Royce turbines for dealing with sudden loads. For example when a popular TV programme ends several million people will get up, go to the kitchen, and switch on their 3 kW electric kettles. This places a short duration but massive load on the national grid system for which these big gas turbine generators are the only practical solution.
John Smeeton (1724-1792).
Famous for rediscovering the secret of modern cement in the 1750's (lost since Roman times) he was the originator of the term 'civil engineer' which he coined the term to differentiate himself from the growing number of engineers graduating from Military colleges. Smeaton proved that overshot water wheels were twice as efficient as the common undershot type and contributed to the development of the Newcomen steam engine. He was employed in a wide range of projects including harbour works as well as mills and factories powered by wind, water and steam.
Thomas Midgley (1889-1944)
In 1921 Mr Midgley discovered that adding tetraethyl lead (TEL) to petrol eliminated engine knocking and this was then added to all motor fuels until the 1980's. He went on to develop chlorofluorocarbon or CFCs in the 1930s, used as refrigerants they were a major step forward and formed the basis of refrigeration systems for the next 60 years. Midgley caught polio in 1940 and invented a complex hoist to get hismelf in and out of bed, unfortunately this all went horribly wrong and one morning it strangled him to death at the age of 55.
Lead from motor exhausts was later found to be causing lead poisoning on a massive scale around the world and TEL was gradually eliminated by the use of 'lean burn engines' (although these employ benzine as a petrol additive, which is itself rather unpleasant chemical). CFCs were then found to be causing damage to the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere and in 1992 most developed countries agreed to end CFC production by 1996. Thanks to TEL and CFCs Mr Midgley has gone down in history as the single individual organism that has done more damage to the earths biosphere than any other in the history of the planet.