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Francis Hodgkinson

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Francis Hodgkinson (1867-1949)

1949 Obituary [1]

"It is with regret to have to record the death on Friday, November 4th, of Mr. Francis Hodgkinson, Honorary Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University, New York, N.Y., and retired consulting mechanical engineer to the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co, of South Philadelphia. He was very well known on both sides of the Atlantic amongst those concerned with steam turbine design and construction, and was an early associate of Sir Charles Parsons. His home was at 2, Northern Drive, Short Hills, New Jersey, but he died in the home of his son after an accident which resulted in a broken hip. He was over eighty-two years of age.

Mr. Hodgkinson was born in London in 1867, and received his early education at the Royal Naval School at New Cross. He continued his technical studies with the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, and the Rutherford College of the University of Durham at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

His apprenticeship was served with the Lincoln firm of Clayton and Shuttleworth, and from 1882 to 1885 he worked on agricultural machinery and steam engines. In 1885 he joined the firm of Clarke, Chapman, Parsons and Co., and worked in the shops and drawing-office. He was superintendent of outside erection for Parsons steam turbine machinery until about 1890.

In 1890 there was a change. He became an Engineer Officer with the Chilian Navy, and saw service in the Chilian Revolution. On leaving the Chilian Navy he decided to remain in South America, and in 1891 he joined the staff of Mr. Percy Burbank, a consulting engineer in Lima, Peru, and was a representative of the British Thomson Houston Company. In 1892 he took a position as engineer in charge of an ores melting and copper mining company in the Cordillera, Peru. But he remained with that company for only two years... Read more "

1950 Obituary [2]

"FRANCIS HODGKINSON, whose death occurred on 4th November 1949, was one of the pioneers in steam turbine development in the United States. Born in London, England, on 16th June 1867, he was educated at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, and at Durham University. He served his apprenticeship as machinist from 1882 to 1885 with Messrs. Clayton and Shuttleworth, Lincoln, which firm built steam engines. He was next employed with Messrs. Clarke, Chapman, Parsons and Company, where some of the earliest Parsons' turbines were built. When Sir Charles Parsons formed his own company, Hodgkinson joined that firm, advancing to superintendent of field construction.

In 1890, Mr. Hodgkinson became an engineer in the Chilean Navy. Later he strung the telephone lines and worked on electric power plants in Peru.

He returned to the Parsons firm and rose to shop superintendent by 1896. In that year, George Westinghouse acquired Parsons' American patents, and, by arrangement, Hodgkinson went to Pittsburgh, Pa., to direct the design and construction of steam turbines. From 1896 to 1916 he was chief turbine engineer of Westinghouse Machine Co ; he was from 1916 to 1927 chief engineer, and from 1927 to 1936 consulting engineer, of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. Mr. Hodgkinson reached retirement age in 1936 but remained consultant for the Westinghouse Company. Upon retirement, he was appointed Honorary Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University, New York.

Francis Hodgkinson possessed great courage and resourcefulness. In introducing the steam turbine in America, he faced disbelief in, and hostility towards, the use of steam turbines in power plants. This opposition was overcome later by the demonstrated performance of turbines of Hodgkinson's design. He also had the task of educating material suppliers and shop workmen in the needs and production methods of steam turbine manufacture. His early shop training proved a great asset in this work as he could show workmen how parts should be made. Hodgkinson's ingenuity is evidenced by over a hundred patents on turbine details. His versatility is shown by the continued development of Westinghouse turbines under his direction.

Mr. Hodgkinson took an active part in the work of professional engineering societies. He became a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a Fellow in 1939, and was elected an Honorary Member in 1947 in recognition of his outstanding achievements in American steam turbine development. He served as vice-president from 1939 to 1941. In 1938, he received the Holley Medal of the Society for his engineering developments. Hodgkinson served on many of the Society's Committees, in particular as chairman of the important Power Test Codes Committee, where he was responsible for the form and completion of many of the present codes. He contributed many papers to this and other American engineering organizations.

Francis Hodgkinson became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1929. In 1931, he was awarded the Willans Premium for his paper on "Journal Bearing Practice".

Many other honours were bestowed on him such as the Silver Medal of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in 1904, the Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1931, and the honorary degree of Mechanical Engineer by the Stevens Institute in 1935.

Mr. Hodgkinson took a keen interest in the prime mover activities of the International Electrotechnical Commission and served as an American representative at its Committee meetings in New York, 1926 ; Bellagio, 1927; The Hague, 1928 ; London, 1929 ; Stockholm, 1930; The Hague and Brussels, 1935 ; and Torquay in 1934. It was largely through his initiative and drive that standard international codes for the purchase and test of steam turbines and internal combustion engines were prepared and adapted by the Commission.

Mr. Hodgkinson had a ready wit and a facility for debate. He could be very plain spoken at times. He early surrounded himself with a group of able young engineers many of whom became leaders in the profession. Engineers everywhere recognized his inherent ability and honesty of purpose. In his death, America has lost one of its ablest engineers and a leader in the profession."

A. G. Christie, Hon. M.I.Mech.E.

Additional Information [3]

'.... Hodgkinson continued as chief turbine engineer for Westinghouse until 1916, when he became chief engineer, a position he held until 1927. After that, he served as consulting engineer, and, during the 1930's, spent many months in Japan as the Westinghouse consultant on turbines bought by the Japanese navy. He was also consulted on the mountings of the 200-inch reflecting telescope at Mount Palomar, California.

'After his retirement in 1936, he remained a consultant for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. In the tradition of that less celebrated but more constructive breed of empire-builders who for more than a century carried British industrial technology to the United States and other parts of the world, Hodgkinson braved skepticism and hostility toward the use of steam turbines in electric power plants. He overcame opposition by the success of his designs and by his skill and persistence in educating both suppliers and workmen, an achievement much aided by his solid background in shop work.

'Practically all commercial steam turbines built by Westinghouse were originated by him and designed under him; the first commercial steam turbine generating station was designed by him and installed in the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. in 1899-1900. Around him there developed a group of young engineers, many of whom became leaders in their profession.

'Although well-grounded in mathematical theory, Hodgkinson remained a thoroughly practical steam engineer, always ready to argue details of design and construction on grounds of both theory and practical experience. Eventually, he took out more than a hundred patents in steam turbine design.'

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