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John Weems

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John Weems (c1805-1881) of J. and W. Weems


1881 Obituary [1]

WE regret to record the death, at the age of 76, of Mr. John Weems, the well-known founder of the old-established business of Messrs J. and W. Weems, Perseverance Iron Works, Johnstone.

Born at Crieff, in Perthshire, Mr. Weems served his apprenticeship with his father as a coppersmith and plumber, but fully half a century ago be left his native town and settled in Jobnstone. As that was about the time that lighting by coal gas was introduced into Paisley and Johnstone, he energetically followed the new system of artificial lighting and was soon enabled to establish a large gas-fitting business, and eventually he became distinguished as a gas engineer.

As an inventor Mr. Weems was possessed of great fertility of resources. His first patent was taken out for an ingeniously constructed ashpan for preventing dust and concealing the ashes, and for these ashpans such a large demand arose that in order to meet it, be found it advisable to erect works in Glasgow for their manufacture. The patent was ultimately handed, under a royalty, to Messrs. R. Laidlaw and Son, the eminent gas engineers of Glasgow.

Mr. Weems's next patent was connected with cotton spinning, the invention in this instance consisting of a simple arrangement for coiling the cotton rove on the card cans. It was highly appreciated and extensively taken advantage of by the master spinners.

Another subject which early occupied his mind was the manufacture of lead pipes, and after devoting some years of study to it be was enabled to devise machinery of a very perfect character for making lead, load-composition, and block-tin pipes by the employment of hydraulic pressure. He subsequently invented a machine for making a lead-encased tin pipe, consisting of an actual tin pipe in the inside of a lead pipe, both being produced at one operation under the hydraulic pressure of 200 tons on the square inch.

Mr. Weems's next conception was the idea of making solid brass tubes by hydraulic pressure, and for that purpose he forthwith constructed what was at the time the largest hydraulic press in the world. One of the curious and unexpected discoveries which Mr. Weems made in connexion with that matter was that when the brass block out of which the tube was to be formed came to be subjected to a pressure of about 4000 tons the zinc separated from the copper with which it was alloyed in the brass, producing only a zinc tube, and leaving the copper behind. That result formed a really great contribution to physical and chemical science, in as much as it demonstrated the fact that the atoms of the brass alloy which had been united by fusion into an apparently homogeneous body did not constitute a perfect chemical combination, or chemical compound, bur had only been made to assume a new mechanical arrangement. Mr. Weems next turned his attention to the construction of hydraulic machinery for making rifle bullets and his machines for this purpose are now in operation in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, as also in the arsenals of a number of foreign Governments, and in various ammunition factories. He likewise invented a machine for enclosing, by hydraulic pressure, the telegraph wires in lead pipes, run underground, instead of overhead as at present; and in this connexion it is worthy of mention that Mr Weems laid down the first telegraphic communication in Ireland. For his last-mentioned invention he was awarded a gold medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851 ; and on that occasion be had the honour of exhibiting and explaining the invention to the Queen. The inventive labours of Mr. Weems were, as we have said, of a very varied character. For example, he gave much of his time and attention to plans for warming and ventilating hospitals, asylums, &c., and there are at least two asylums in Renfrewshire which may be given as affording practical example of the success of his systems. His fame in such matters reached Russia, the Imperial Government of which invited him to hold audience with a number of State dignitaries; and the result was that be contracted for the warming and ventilating arrangements for a host of public institutions in that country, one of them being a poor-house having about 2000 inmates; and he also supplied the apparatus for warming and ventilating the Emperor's private box in the opera house. As another example, we may mention that he brought his inventive faculties to bear in devising machinery for drying and desiccating purposes, applications of which may be found in many places. His capacity in the direction just indicated was exhibited in a notable manner in connexion with improvements in the manufacture of floorcloth, in which he effected a complete revolution; for, while the time formerly occupied in the production of a finished fabric extended over a period of fourteen months, Mr. Weems's invention reduced it to six weeks, and gave rise to the gigantic piles of building which have since been erected for carrying on the manufacture in Kirkcaldy, Bristol, London, New York, and elsewhere, and of which Messrs. J. and W. Weems were the architects and engineers. Mr. Weems was likewise successful in scheming steam traps, self-acting furnace dampers, and noiseless fans for smiths' fires, orders for all of which were received from our own and other Governments. He also produced some curious novelties in the department of rotary engines, in the invention of which he also spent much effort. His inventions are so numerous that they cover some forty patents - not confined to one particular manufacture, but branching in many directions.

Having made a moderate competency, Mr. Weems retired from business about eight years ago. He has left a widow and family, one of the latter being Bailie Weems, who is the principal partner of the firm of J. and W. Weems, who are largely engaged in making heavy machinery and gas-lighting appliances.



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