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Engineers remembered for their enduring achievements

Institution News team

2014 marks the momentous centenary of the First World War and is also an occasion to commemorate some eminent contributions to engineering.

Many of the people remembered here were born in the nineteenth century, a time of exciting and widespread international development in railways and steam engines. A number of women are celebrated for their pioneering engineering achievements, despite often being denied – by society and institutional rules – the chance to progress alongside men. And best wishes for a happy ‘significant’ birthday to all those, whose achievements we can applaud during their lifetime.

Anniversary of birth

Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) Four-hundred-and-fifty years after his birth, we all have many reasons to celebrate Galileo’s innovative thinking. Mechanical engineers might like to focus, perhaps, on one of his finest works about kinematics and strength of materials, called Two New Sciences.

Thomas Newcomen (circa 24 February 1664 – 5 August 1729) was an English inventor who created the first practical steam engine for pumping water, the Newcomen steam engine.

John Smeaton FRS (8 June 1724 – 28 October 1792) was an English civil engineer responsible for the design of bridges, canals, harbours and lighthouses. He was also a capable mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed civil engineer, and often regarded as the "father of civil engineering".

John Ramsbottom (11 September 1814 ­– 20 May 1897) A railways and locomotives man, in 1852 Ramsbottom invented the split piston ring, which provided a tight seal of the piston against the cylinder with low friction. His other inventions included the Ramsbottom safety valve, the displacement lubricator, and the water trough. He was President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1871.

Sir Dugald Clerk KBE FRS (1854 – 1932) was a Scottish engineer who designed the world's first successful two-stroke engine in 1878 and patented it in England in 1881.

Herbert William Garratt (8 June 1864 – 25 September 1913) was an English mechanical engineer and the inventor of the Garratt system of articulated locomotives. He took his locomotive expertise to many countries in South America in the early 1900s.

Frederick Hawksworth (10 February 1884 – 13 July 1976) was the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway (Great Britain) (GWR). Under his leadership, the design tradition continued, but he incorporated more welded construction, leading to a smoother appearance.

Sir Ernest John Hutchings Lemon OBE (9 December 1884 – 15 December 1954) was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway and later one of its three Vice-Presidents. During the run-up to the Second World War Lemon was made Director-General of Aircraft Production and made crucial improvements in this area.

Celebrated women in engineering

Tabitha Babbitt (1784 – circa 1853) was an early American tool maker who is credited with inventing the first circular saw used in a saw mill in 1813. Having observed men using the difficult two-man pit saw, she observed that half of their motion, and considerable effort, was wasted. The first circular saw she made is in Albany, New York. She also shares the invention of machine-cut nails with Eli Whitney. As a Shaker, Babbitt never patented any of her inventions.

Hertha Marks Ayrton  (28 April 1854 – 23 August 1923), was an English engineer, mathematician and inventor. She was awarded the Hughes Medal by the Institution of Electrical Engineers for her work on electric arcs and ripples in sand and water.

Victoria Alexandrina Drummond MBE (14 October 1894 – 25 December 1978) was the first female marine engineer in Britain and first woman to become a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. She was a god-daughter of Queen Victoria, and began her career as an apprentice in Scotland. During World War II, she served at sea as an engineering officer in the British Merchant Navy and received awards for bravery under enemy fire. She was Chief Engineer from 1959 until her retirement in 1962.

Dorothée Aurélie Marianne Pullinger MBE AMIMechE (13 January 1894 – 28 January 1986) was a pioneering automobile engineer and businesswoman. In 2012 she was inducted into the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.

Constance Fligg Elam Tipper (6 February 1894 – 14 December 1995) was an English metallurgist and crystallographer. She specialized in the investigation of metal strength and its effect on engineering problems. During World War II she investigated the causes of brittle fracture in Liberty Ships, vessels built in the US between 1941 and 1945, which were the first all-welded pre-fabricated cargo ships. In 1949, she became Reader, the only full-time female member of the Faculty of Engineering at Cambridge University at that time.

Mary (Molly) Isolen Fergusson OBE (28 April 1914 – 30 November 1997) was a British engineer, the first female fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, elected in 1957. In 1948 she became the first female senior partner in a UK civil engineering firm.

Marie (Maria) Louise Killick (1914 – 2000) was an English audio engineer who patented the truncated-tip sapphire stylus in 1945 for playing gramophone records.

150 years since the death of:

John Fowler (11 July 1826 – 4 December 1864) An English agricultural engineer who was a pioneer in the use of steam engines for ploughing and digging drainage channels. His many inventions significantly reduced the cost of ploughing farmland, and also enabled the drainage of previously uncultivated land in many parts of the world.

60 years since the death of:

Edmund Bruce Ball (21 May 1873 – 17 June 1944) This English hydraulics engineer went on to become the President of the Institution in 1939.

50 years since the death of:

Verena Winifred Holmes (23 June 1889–20 February 1964) An English mechanical engineer and inventor. She specialised in marine and locomotive engines; diesel and internal combustion engines. Holmes was the first woman member elected to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (1924), and a strong supporter of women in engineering. She was a co-founder of the Women's Engineering Society, set up in 1919, and its President 1930-31.

Richard Roberts (22 April 1789 – 11 March 1864) was a British patternmaker and engineer whose development of high-precision machine tools contributed to the birth of production engineering and mass production. It is thought that his innovations influenced the work of the most famous machine tool engineer, Joseph Whitworth.

Happy Birthday!

Ruth Hayward (born 29 July 1934), is an engineer, sculptor, and philanthropist. A lifelong resident of San Diego, in 1987 she was honoured with a Tribute to Women & Industry (TWIN) award by the YWCA for her work as an engineer at General Dynamics/Electronics, where she spent 38 years. Her work there included underground detection of explosives.

Joan Elizabeth Higginbotham (born 3 August 1964) is an American engineer and a former NASA astronaut. She flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-116 as a mission specialist. During her career, she supported and managed vehicle testing and actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center.

Tessy Thomas (Malayalam: ടെസ്സി തോമസ്) (born in 1964) is the Project Director for Agni-IV and Agni-V missiles in Defence Research and Development Organisation. She is the first woman scientist to head a missile project in India


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