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Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887)


Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887)

Joseph Whitworth has been called the father of precision engineering who trained in the workshops of Henry Maudsley and later worked with Charles Babbage who was to become known as the father of computing. Whitworth had many inventions but it is his work on rifled weapons and artillery that earns him a place in military history. Whitworths reputation as a precision engineer meant that he was asked to design a replacement for the Enfield rifle, which had not performed well during the Crimean War. His design for a muzzleloader was only used by the Rifle Brigade for a short time despite being very accurate, due to its tendency to clog and jam. The rifle when used with a telescopic sight had a range of 1,800 yards making it one of the finest long range guns in the world at that time. Whitworth took the design principles of the rifle and started to apply them to an artillery piece while developing a breech loading mechanism. This weapon did not find much favour either but did see limited service with both sides during the American Civil War. The guns with the same hexagonal barrel section as the earlier rifle proved very accurate but lacked firepower when compared to contemporary artillery, and were in many ways too advanced for their time.

In 1897 Whitworth's company merged with Sir William Armstrong's company to form Armstrong-Whitworth which in turn merged with Vickers in 1927. Whitworth believed strongly in education and in 1868 started a fund for the mechanical training of young lads helping to establish the study of engineering at Manchester University.


Sir Joseph Whitworth, Baronet

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Sir Joseph Whitworth, Baronet, (born Dec. 21, 1803, Stockport, Cheshire, Eng.—died Jan. 22, 1887, Monte-Carlo), English mechanical engineer who won international recognition as a machine toolmaker.

After working as a mechanic for various Manchester machine manufacturers, Whitworth went to London in 1825 and at Maudslay & Company devised a scraping technique for making a true plane surface. Returning to Manchester in 1833, he opened his own toolmaking business. Between 1840 and 1850 he produced an original measuring machine and a system of accurate dimensional standards or master gauges to go with it. Even the common screw was not overlooked. In 1841 Whitworth’s standard screw threads were adopted by the Woolwich Arsenal.

By 1851 Whitworth’s machine tools had become internationally known for their accuracy and quality. He had exhibited his screw cutting lathes, his planing, drilling, slotting, and shaping machines, and his millionth-part measuring machine. By 1866 his factory employed 700 men and was equipped with 600 machine tools. He also did pioneering work in ordnance, inventing a method for casting ductile steel to replace hard steel, which is subject to fracture.

Whitworth helped found the chair of engineering and laboratories at Owens College, Manchester. In 1868 he established the Whitworth scholarships, setting aside an annual sum of £3,000 for the purpose. In 1869 he was created a baronet.


The Whitworth thread was the world's first national screw thread standard, [1] devised and specified by Joseph Whitworth in 1841. Until then, the only standardization was what little had been done by individual people and companies, with some companies' in-house standards spreading a bit within their industries. Whitworth's new standard specified a 55° thread angle and a thread depth of 0.640327p and a radius of 0.137329p, where p is the pitch. The thread pitch increases with diameter in steps specified on a chart.

The Whitworth thread system was later to be adopted as a British Standard to become British Standard Whitworth (BSW). An example of the use of the Whitworth thread are the Royal Navy's Crimean War gunboats. These are the first instance of mass-production techniques being applied to marine engineering, as the following quotation from the obituary from The Times of 24 January 1887 for Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803–1887) shows:

The Crimean War began, and Sir Charles Napier demanded of the Admiralty 120 gunboats, each with engines of 60 horsepower, for the campaign of 1855 in the Baltic. There were just ninety days in which to meet this requisition, and, short as the time was, the building of the gunboats presented no difficulty. It was otherwise however with the engines, and the Admiralty were in despair. Suddenly, by a flash of the mechanical genius which was inherent in him, the late Mr John Penn solved the difficulty, and solved it quite easily. He had a pair of engines on hand of the exact size. He took them to pieces and he distributed the parts among the best machine shops in the country, telling each to make ninety sets exactly in all respects to the sample. The orders were executed with unfailing regularity, and he actually completed ninety sets of engines of 60 horsepower in ninety days – a feat which made the great Continental Powers stare with wonder, and which was possible only because the Whitworth standards of measurement and of accuracy and finish were by that time thoroughly recognised and established throughout the country.

An original example of the gunboat type engine was raised from the wreck of the SS Xantho by the Western Australian Museum. On disassembly, all its threads were shown to be of the Whitworth type. [2]

With the adoption of BSW by British railway companies, many of which had previously used their own standards both for threads and for bolt head and nut profiles, and the growing need generally for standardisation in manufacturing specifications, it came to dominate British manufacturing.

In the US, BSW was replaced when steel bolts replaced iron, but was still being used for some aluminium parts as late as the 1960s and 1970s when metric-based standards replaced the Imperial ones. [ citation needed ]


Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) - History

Sir Joseph Whitworth was probably the best mechanical engineer Britain had during his lifetime. He pioneered machine shop practices with setting the standards for machining, tool and die work, and designs. Most of Whitworth's achievements represented international firsts. He had forty-eight patents from 1834-1878, for machinery, artillery projectiles, cannons, tools, armor, and other improvements. One of his better know inventions was the Whitworth cannon and rifle with their corresponding projectiles.

There were seven breech-loading and five muzzle-loading 12-pounder (2.75-inch caliber) Whitworth rifled guns in the United States during the American Civil War. During a test trial in Southport Sands, England, in 1863, a 12-pounder breech-loading Whitworth rifle hit a target from 4.7 miles away.

On April 23rd, 1857, The Times reported that the Government School of Musketry, Hythe, Kent, 'has established beyond all doubt the great and decided superiority of Mr. Whitworth's invention. The Enfield rifle, which was considered so much better than any other, has been completely beaten. In accuracy of fire, in penetration, and in range, its rival (the Whitworth) excels it to a degree which hardly leaves room for comparison.'

Whitworth cannon were used at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Vicksburg, Mississippi, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Fort Fisher, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, as well as other American Civil War battlefields.

The above is an engraving from a photograph made by Elliott and Fry, London in 1882.


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Bible Encyclopedias

Bart. (1803-1887), English engineer, was born at Stockport, near Manchester, on the 21st of December 1803. On leaving school at the age of fourteen, he was placed with an uncle who was a cotton-spinner, with the view of becoming a partner in the business but his mechanical tastes were not satisfied with this occupation, and in about four years he gave it up. He then spent some time with various machine manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Manchester, and in 1825 moved to London, where he gained more experience in machine shops, including those of Henry Maudslay. In 1833 he returned to Manchester and started in business as a toolmaker. In 1840 he attended the meeting of the British Association at Glasgow, and read a paper on the preparation and value of true planes, describing the method which he had successfully used for making them when at Maudslay's, and which depended on the principle that if any two of three surfaces exactly fit each other, all three must be true planes. The accuracy of workmanship thus indicated was far ahead of what was contemplated at the time as possible in mechanical engineering, but Whitworth not only proved that it could be attained in practice, but also showed how it could be measured. He found that if two true planes were arranged parallel to each other, an exceedingly small motion towards or from each other was sufficient to determine whether an object placed between them was held firmly or allowed to drop, and by mounting one of the planes on a screwed shaft provided with a comparatively large wheel bearing a scale on its periphery, he was able to obtain a very exact measurement of the amount, however minute, by which the distance between the planes was altered, by observing through what angular distance the wheel had been turned. In 1841, in a paper read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, he urged the necessity for the adoption of a uniform system of screw threads in place of the various heterogeneous pitches then employed. His system of standard gauges was also widely adopted. The principles of exact measurement and workmanship which he advocated were strictly observed in his own manufactory, with the result that in the Exhibition of 1851 he had a show of machine tools which were far ahead of those of any competitor. It was doubtless this superiority in machine construction that caused the government three years later to request him to design, and estimate for making, the machinery for producing rifled muskets at the new factory at Enfield. He did not see his way to agree to the proposition in this form, but it was ultimately settled that he should undertake the machinery for the barrels only. Finding that there was no established practice to guide him, he began a series of experiments to determine the best principles for the manufacture of rifle barrels and projectiles. He ultimately arrived at a weapon in which the necessary rotation of the projectile was obtained, not by means of grooving, but by making the barrel polygonal in form, with gently rounded angles, the bullets also being polygonal and thus travelling on broad bearingsurf aces along the rotating polygon. The projectile he favoured was 3 to 31 calibres in length, and the bore he fixed on was 0.45 in., which was at first looked upon as too small. It is reported that at the trial in 18J7 weapons made according to these principles excelled the Enfield weapons in accuracy of fire, penetration and range to a degree "which hardly leaves room for comparison." He also constructed heavy guns on the same lines these were tried in competition with Armstrong's ordnance in 1864 and 1865, and in their inventor's opinion gave the better results, but they were not adopted by the government. In constructing them Whitworth experienced difficulty in getting large steel castings of suitable soundness and ductility, and thus was led about 1870 to devise his compressed steel process, in which the metal is subjected to high pressure while still in the fluid state, and is afterwards forged in hydraulic presses, not by hammers. In 1868 he founded the Whitworth scholarships, setting aside an annual sum of b3000 to be given for "intelligence and proficiency in the theory and practice of mechanics and its cognate sciences," and in the following year he was created a baronet. He died at Monte Carlo, whither he had gone for the sake of his health, on the 22nd of January 1887. In addition to handing over £ioo,000 to the Science and Art Department for the permanent endowment of the thirty Whitworth scholarships, his residuary legatees, in pursuance of what they knew to be his intentions, expended over half a million on charitable and educational objects, mainly in Manchester and the neighbourhood.


Basic threading

It is said that the Greeks invented the screw back in the 5th century BC. The Romans invented the first screws for going into wood. These were made of bronze and silver and the threads were made by filling them, or by soldering a wire that had been wound in a spiral.

The first written reference to a screw was in the early 1400´s. Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs from around the same time (the late 1400’s) for machines that could cut screws apparently passed unnoticed, because the first machine of this type was built in 1568 by a French mathematician, Jaques Besson.

The first nuts and bolts appeared in the middle 1400´s. The bolts were just screws with straight sides and a blunt end. The nuts were handmade and very crude. When a match was found between a nut and a bolt, they where kept together until they were applied in an industrious manner.

Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803

1887), an English mechanical engineer and inventor was born in Stockport in 1803. At the age of fourteen he became an apprentice to a cotton-spinner in Derbyshire. In 1821 he moved to Manchester where he found work as a mechanic. In 1833 he set up his own machine shop.

[In the nineteenth century, most factories that needed a fastener would device their own system. Clearly this resulted in all sorts of compatibility problems.

Sir Joseph Whitworth was early impressed with the idea that if it were possible for all engineers to use the same sized taps and dies, not only a very great saving would be effected, but all work would be much better done. He therefore made a collection of all the screw threads of the different firms in England, and in 1841 he devised a standardized threading system which was a compromise of them all.

The system was at once adopted by the railways, and very soon became a universal standard – British Standard Whitworth (BSW). The Whitworth thread form was based on a 55 degree thread angle and rounded roots and crests.

Twenty years later in America a thread form called the Sellers form was introduced, as the US Standard later to be known as the American National Coarse (A.N.C) and National fine (N.F) threads. The Sellers thread used a thread angle of 60 degrees and flattened roots and crests.

Leonardo da Vinci designed a machine for cutting screws in the late 1400´s.


Sir Joseph Whitworth

“Not unnaturally bashfulness was seldom, if ever, part of Joe’s character. Nevertheless he must have blushed many times whenever he read the fictitious magazine accounts of his upbringing or years later, as a preliminary to his many lectures, he would have sat in silence through the introductory pleasantries offered by welcoming chairmen. Invariably, they repeated the spurious stories based on a make-believe boyhood which have now passed into the biographical scripts as true record. Yet he himself remained silent. Somewhat dishonestly he chose never to put the record straight: why?”

You may not be able to pick a Whitworth wrench out of a line-up but if you’re a British-car enthusiast you will surely recognize the name.

Whitworth (1803–1887) is known, or ought to be known, for so much more than the uniform system of screw threads named after him. He devised intricate machine tool designs and a way of manufacturing truly plane surfaces designed a micrometer accurate to two-millionth of an inch built mechanized roadsweepers, hydraulic forging presses, knitting machines, and the famous hexagonally rifled guns he promoted the Atlantic telegraph, endowed colleges, and was a philanthropist of the highest order. To put the latter into context consider that in their final years, he and is wife bequeathed some £1.8 million—a staggering £100 million in today’s values!

This first full-length biography seeks to remedy “his present diminutive renown,” something the author and his colleagues consider “a downright scandal” and injustice. Author Atkinson, himself a toolmaker and draughtsman (as well as Labour MP 1964–87 and governor of Imperial College of Science and Technology), does his original trade and his subject proud. He unabashedly takes to task “the continual denigration of engineering” that is, he argues, the result of “anti-engineering bigotry . . . [i.e.] the rift between thinking and making.”

The reader possessed of a sense of history will inevitably draw comparisons between Whitworth’s and Henry Royce’s brand of perfectionism. So does Atkinson, who makes some choice observations on the subject of “skilled improver” vs. “inventive genius.” Our knowledge of the Victorian period of mechanical engineering in particular, and the mores and values of that period in general, is moved along a good measure with this fine book.

At the end one can only concur with the author: it is our loss not to have known more of a great—and conflicted—man. Includes chronology, family tree, bibliography, index.


1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Whitworth, Sir Joseph

WHITWORTH, SIR JOSEPH, Bart. (1803-1887), English engineer, was born at Stockport, near Manchester, on the 21st of December 1803. On leaving school at the age of fourteen, he was placed with an uncle who was a cotton-spinner, with the view of becoming a partner in the business but his mechanical tastes were not satisfied with this occupation, and in about four years he gave it up. He then spent some time with various machine manufacturers in the neighbourhood of Manchester, and in 1825 moved to London, where he gained more experience in machine shops, including those of Henry Maudslay. In 1833 he returned to Manchester and started in business as a toolmaker. In 1840 he attended the meeting of the British Association at Glasgow, and read a paper on the preparation and value of true planes, describing the method which he had successfully used for making them when at Maudslay's, and which depended on the principle that if any two of three surfaces exactly fit each other, all three must be true planes. The accuracy of workmanship thus indicated was far ahead of what was contemplated at the time as possible in mechanical engineering, but Whitworth not only proved that it could be attained in practice, but also showed how it could be measured. He found that if two true planes were arranged parallel to each other, an exceedingly small motion towards or from each oilier was sufficient to determine whether an object placed between them was held firmly or allowed to drop, and by mounting one of the planes on a screwed shaft provided with a comparatively large wheel bearing a scale on Its periphery, he was able to obtain a very exact measurement of the amount, however minute, by which the distance between the planes was altered, by observing through what angular distance the wheel had been turned. In 1841, in a paper read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, he urged the necessity for the adoption of a uniform system of screw threads in place of the various heterogeneous pitches then employed. His system of standard gauges was also widely adopted. The principles of exact measurement and workmanship which he advocated were strictly observed in his own manufactory, with the result that in the Exhibition of 18 51 he had a show of machine tools which were far ahead of those of any competitor. It was doubtless

this superiority in machine construction that caused the government three years later to request him to design, and estimate for making, the machinery for producing rifled muskets at the new factory at Enfield. He did not see his way to agree to the proposition in this form, but it was ultimately settled that he should undertake the machinery for the barrels only. Finding that there was no established practice to guide him, he began a series of experiments to determine the best principles for the manufacture of rifle barrels and projectiles. He ultimately

arrived at a weapon in which the necessary rotation of the projectile was obtained, not by means of grooving, but by making the barrel polygonal in form, with gently rounded angles, the bullets also being polygonal and thus travelling on broad bearing surfaces along the rotating polygon. The projectile he favoured was 3 to 3I calibres in length, and the bore he fixed on was 0-45 in., which was at first looked upon as too small. It is re-

ported that at the trial in 1857 weapons made according to these principles excelled the Enfield weapons in accuracy of fire, penetration and range to a degree " which hardly leaves room for comparison."

He also constructed heavy guns on the same lines these were tried in competition with Armstrong's ordnance in 1864 and 1865, and in their inventor's opinion gave the better results, but they were not adopted by the government. In constructing them Whitworth experienced difficulty in getting large steel castings of suitable soundness and ductility, and thus was led about 1870 to devise his compressed steel process, in which the metal is subjected to high pressure while still in the fluid state, and is afterwards forged in hydraulic presses, not by hammers.

In 186S he founded the Whitworth scholarships, setting aside an annual sum of £3000 to be given for " intelligence and proficiency in the theory and practice of mechanics and its cognate sciences, " and in the following year he was created a baronet. He died at Monte Carlo, whither he had gone for the sake of his health, on the 22nd of January 1887. In addition to handing over £100,000 to the Science and Art Department for the permanent endowment of the thirty Whitworth scholarships, his residuary legatees, in pursuance of what they knew to be his intentions, expended over half a million on charitable and educational objects, mainly in Manchester and the neighbourhood.


Joseph Whitworth

Sir Joseph Whitworth, 1st Baronet (21 December 1803 – 22 January 1887) was an English engineer, entrepreneur, inventor and philanthropist.[1] In 1841, he devised the British Standard Whitworth system, which created an accepted standard for screw threads. Whitworth also created the Whitworth rifle, often called the 'sharpshooter' because of its accuracy and considered one of the earliest examples of a sniper rifle.

At his death in 1887, he bequeathed much of his fortune for the people of Manchester, with the Whitworth Art Gallery and Christie Hospital partly funded by Whitworth's money. Whitworth Street and Whitworth Hall in Manchester are named in his honour. Whitworth was created a baronet on 7 October 1869.

Whitworth was born in Stockport, Cheshire, the son of Charles Whitworth, a teacher and Congregational minister, and at an early age developed an interest in machinery. He was educated at Idle, near Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire his aptitude for mechanics became apparent when he began work for his uncle.

After leaving school Whitworth became an indentured apprentice to his uncle, Joseph Hulse, a cotton spinner at Amber Mill, Oakerthorpe in Derbyshire. The plan was that Whitworth would become a partner in the business. From the outset he was fascinated by the mill's machinery and soon he mastered the techniques of the cotton spinning industry but even at this age he noticed the poor standards of accuracy and was critical of the milling machinery. This early exposure to the mechanics of the industry forged in him the ambition to make machinery with much greater precision. His apprenticeship at Amber Mill lasted for a four year term after which he worked for another four years as a mechanic in a factory in Manchester. He then moved to London where he found employment working for Henry Maudslay, the inventor of the screw-cutting lathe, alongside such people as James Nasmyth (inventor of the steam hammer) and Richard Roberts.

Whitworth developed great skill as a mechanic while working for Maudslay, developing various precision machine tools and also introducing a box casting scheme for the iron frames of machine tools that simultaneously increased their rigidity and reduced their weight.

Whitworth also worked for Holtzapffel & Co (makers of ornamental lathes) and Joseph Clement. While at Clement's workshop he helped with the manufacture of Charles Babbage's calculating machine, the Difference engine. He returned to Openshaw, Manchester, in 1833 to start his own business manufacturing lathes and other machine tools, which became renowned for their high standard of workmanship. Whitworth is attributed with the introduction of the thou in 1844.In 1853, along with his lifelong friend, artist and art educator George Wallis (1811–1891), he was appointed a British commissioner for the New York International Exhibition. They toured around industrial sites of several American states, and the result of their journey was a report 'The Industry of the United States in Machinery, Manufactures and Useful and Applied Arts, compiled from the Official Reports of Messrs Whitworth and Wallis, London, 1854.'

In 1850, architect Edward Walters was commissioned to build 'The Firs' for Whitworth. This was a grand mansion at Fallowfield, Manchester, which still stands today, functioning as Chancellors Hotel & Conference Centre.

Whitworth received many awards for the excellence of his designs and was financially very successful. In 1850, then a Fellow of the Royal Society and President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, he built a house called 'The Firs' in Fallowfield, south Manchester. In 1854 he bought Stancliffe Hall in Darley Dale, Derbyshire and moved there with his second wife Louisa in 1872. He supplied four six-ton blocks of stone from Darley Dale quarry, for the lions of St. George's Hall in Liverpool. He was conferred with Honorary Membership of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland in 1859.

A strong believer in the value of technical education, Whitworth backed the new Mechanics' Institute in Manchester (later UMIST) and helped found the Manchester School of Design. In 1868, he founded the Whitworth Scholarship for the advancement of mechanical engineering. He donated a sum of £128,000 to the government in 1868 (approximately £6.5 million in 2010) to bring "science and industry" closer together and to fund scholarships.

In January 1887 at the age of 83, Sir Joseph Whitworth died in Monte Carlo where he had travelled in the hope of improving his health. He was buried at St Helen's Church, Darley Dale, Derbyshire. A detailed obituary was published in the American magazine The Manufacturer and Builder (Volume 19, Issue 6, June 1887). He directed his trustees to spend his fortune on philanthropic projects, which they still do to this day. Part of his bequest was used to establish the Whitworth Art Gallery, now part of the University of Manchester.