My books on manufacturing

My books on manufacturing
My books on manufacturing history
Showing posts with label RSA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RSA. Show all posts

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Overseas exhibitors at the Great Exhibition

 Continuing my attempt to address the question of who else shaped the manufacturing world, I draw on a series of papers given to the Society of Arts in 1852 reflecting upon the Great Exhibition. One such had as its focus machines for working in metal and wood.

The author looks first at what I suspect was a bug bear, the gulf between scientific and practical men and the huge distrust each group had for the other. He then moves to machinery and looks first at early examples before focusing on clock making where he suggests some of the first machines were to be found.

In terms of shaping the manufacturing world, he sees a process of one idea leading on to the next, but, importantly, without national borders. So the British may come up with a new machine, for example for gear cutting, but then the French perhaps would improve on it. He explores wood working machines and again sees the interplay between artisans of different countries.

In relation to America he refers to all manner of contrivance used in workshops including first a foot-mortising machine for wood patented in 1827 by John McClintic of Pennsylvania. He then traces the machine to Liverpool and a patent for improvements granted in 1851. The point he makes is that invention is difficult, but is made much easier the more brains that are brought to bear on the problem. Collaboration is key and in this the Exhibition could offer a meeting place where inventors from different countries could see the fruits of each other’s labour.

Another paper had its focus on philosophical instruments, which was part of the section for which my great grandfather was responsible. The image, with kind permission of Weiss & Son for the post is a knife in the shape of a cross with 1851 blades made by Weiss for the exhibition.

The author lists some of the inventions that had by 1851 become almost commonplace: steam engines, the telegraph, photography and electromagnetism.  He then notes that in relation to agriculture each of chemistry, mechanics and astronomy have made their contribution. Once again he picks up the value of the interchange of ideas between countries.

The benefit of sharing ideas is brought into sharp relief in an encounter with a would be exhibitor who had spent years developing a particular machine only to be told that a number of similar machines had already accepted. He then offers a summary of the categories of instrument before looking in detail at astronomical instruments. He makes the point that would be exhibitors from overseas may have been put off by the risk of damage to their instrument in the course of travel to the exhibition. He then highlights two exceptions from Germany who instruments he praises highly.

Electromagnetism is his next focus beginning with Volta’s discovery in 1800 of voltaic electricity and then Oersted’s work in 1820 on the interaction of electricity and magnetism, from which the electric motor was conceived. We could add to this list of inventors, the English scientist Michael Faraday. The paper’s author instead takes his audience to the United States and a galvanic meter which enabled the measuring of longitude and then an electromagnetic clock.

Levelling and surveying instruments were exhibited by England, France and Belgium. Optical instruments ranged from microscopes to lighthouses. Thermometers were exhibited by the English Negretti and Zambra and the French Fastre. Photography originated in France and at the Exhibition was represented by Germany, Austria and England. Balances attracted a broader following with exhibits from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium , Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the USA. Calculating machines bring in the name Babbage, but not as an exhibitor. The best instrument was Russian made by Staffel. The exhibition was ‘rich with electric telegraphs’, with the British Electric Telegraph Company’s instruments taking pride of place. Prussia exhibited through Siemens and Halske. Cooke and Wheatstone are praised for keeping the UK ahead in telegraph technology. He concludes his talk by lamenting the lack of reward for British scientists, despite which they labour on.

The presentation on large steam engines begins with a lament on the limitations of the exhibition space which restricted the size of machine which could be exhibited. The well known British names are mentioned first but then a Belgian, French and Dutch, the latter particularly for land drainage. Fire engines were exhibited by France and Canada as well as the UK. Railway locomotives were dominated by the famous British makers. There were then manufacturing machines with Oldham’s Hibbert & Platt textile machinery. France, Belgium and the USA exhibited machines for working with cotton. There is a note that a future exhibition was planned for India. Wool machinery came from Yorkshire but also from France which produced the medal winning Mercier and Company. The most frequently mentioned name was Jacquard and this apparatus was shown as attached to a number of weaving machines. The other French invention of the circular knitting machine for the making of stockings was highlighted as only then recently taking the place of frame-knitting and so saving many hours of work. The section ends with printing machines and a further mention of Applegarth’s advanced machine previously highlighted in Ward’s account of the exhibition.

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is now available to pre-order

Phil Hamlyn Williams has completed his sixth book beginning an exploration of British manufacturing. His great-grandfather exhibited at the ...