William Fairbairn

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Sir William Fairbairn (1877)
The steamship Minerva built by Fairbairn on July 19, 1835 off Rapperswil on Lake Zurich

Sir William Fairbairn, 1st Baronet (born February 19, 1789 in Kelso , † August 18, 1874 in Moor Park , Surrey ) was a Scottish engineer .

life and work

Born the son of a farmer, Fairbairn showed mechanical talent at an early age and did an apprenticeship as a mill builder in Newcastle , where he made friends with the young George Stephenson . In 1813 he moved to Manchester to work for Adam Parkinson and Thomas Hewes. In 1817 he founded a grinding machine company with James Lillie.

Fairbairn studied all his life, joining the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1830 . In the early 1830s, he and Eaton Hodgkinson began the search for the optimal cross-section of iron girders. So it was that Robert Stephenson , the son of his childhood friend George, kept Fairbairn and Hodgkinson as advisors when he came up with the novel tube design for the Conwy Railway Bridge and Britannia Bridge , which would connect Anglesey to the British mainland, in the 1840s .

According to the “Fairbairn system”, the Hanoverian cotton spinning and weaving mill was built in 1853 - and William Fairbairn also provided the design for the factory building.

When the cotton industry experienced an economic decline, Fairbairn specialized in the manufacture of steam boilers for locomotives and shipbuilding. Fairbairn used his experience with the new tubular bridges to advance the construction of ships with iron hulls. By understanding a ship as a floating tubular spar, he criticized the then existing design standards dictated by Lloyd's of London and proved his ideas in his shipyard in Millwall with the ship Lord Dundas .

Fairbairn developed the Lancashire boiler in 1844. In 1861, at the request of the British Parliament , he and Hodgkinson conducted a study of metal fatigue by repeatedly dropping a 3 tonne weight on a wrought iron cylinder. This happened 3 million times before the metal broke, showing that a static load of 12 tons was required for this effect.


From 1855 to 1860 he was President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. In 1850 he was elected as a member (" Fellow ") in the Royal Society , which in 1860 awarded him the Royal Medal . In 1852 he was elected to the Académie des Sciences in Paris and in 1862 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 1869 he was given the hereditary title of Baronet , of Ardwick in the County of Lancaster . There is a statue of him in Manchester Town Hall. At his death in 1874 his son Thomas inherited his title of nobility.


  • An Account of the Construction of the Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges. Weale et al., London et al. 1849, ( digitized ).
  • Experiments to Determine the Effect of Impact, Vibratory Action, and Long-Continued Changes of Load on Wrought-Iron Girders. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 154, 1864, ISSN  0261-0523 , pp. 311-325, JSTOR 108871 .
  • Treatise on Iron Shipbuilding. Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, London 1865, ( digitized ).
  • The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart. Partly written by himself, edited and completed by William Pole. Longmans, Green, and Co., London 1877, ( digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : William Fairbairn  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Waldemar R. Röhrbein : Hannoversche cotton spinning and weaving mill. In: Klaus Mlynek, Waldemar R. Röhrbein (eds.) U. a .: City Lexicon Hanover . From the beginning to the present. Schlütersche, Hannover 2009, ISBN 978-3-89993-662-9 , p. 259 (with a small black and white copy of a lithograph from 1856).