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British Industrial History

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William Muir

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1856. Slide lathes.

William Muir (1806–1888) of William Muir and Co

1806 Born on 17 January at Catrine, Ayrshire, Scotland, the second of the four children (three sons and a daughter) of Andrew Muir, a farmer and businessman. His father was a cousin of William Murdoch, who invented gas lighting.

1831 He worked for Henry Maudslay. At Maudslay, Sons and Field's he was promoted to foreman and made responsible for constructing a steam carriage, for which he received a handsome gratuity.

March 1836 he left to join Holtzapffel and Co, toolmakers of Charing Cross and Long Acre, as assistant and representative for a few months, before becoming a foreman at Bramah and Robinson in Pimlico.

1840 Muir was asked to join Joseph Whitworth; he moved to Manchester where Whitworth had established his business. Muir designed a road sweeping machine for Whitworths.

Muir made a collection of the various screw pitches then in existence and identified a mean pitch for common threads which was adopted as the "Whitworth pitch". Later Muir, when in business for himself, developed a mean pitch for fine threads.

1842 He left Whitworths in June and established a workshop in Berwick Street, Manchester, where he had room for a small forge, his lathe, and a bench. Business increased and he outgrew the Berwick Street accommodation.

1847 Working from 59 Oxford Street, Manchester (see advertisement)

c.1847 Jointly with Mr. Edmondson, Muir occupied much larger premises in Miller's Lane, Salford [1]. Mr. Edmondson occupied the top floor as a Railway Ticket Printing Office; Muir manufactured the printing, dating, and other machines, as well as conducting business as a machine-tool maker.

1852 Muir was asked to supply the Woolwich Arsenal with machinery for making interchangeable rifle sights; and with business increasing, he built the Britannia Works in Sherborne Street, Strangeways, and took on partners.

1852 Built the Edmondson Railway Ticket Machine

1853 he was granted patents on lathes and machines for grinding edge tools and for cutting out garment pieces.

1863 William Muir, Engineer, Britannia Works, Manchester.[2]

1888 Died on the 15th June.

Cutting Tools: In an article about reamers in the American Machinist, John Randol wrote: 'Nobody knows how old this idea of a notched reamer tooth was when Mr. Muir of Manchester, England. patented it as applied to mill teeth. In a lot of samples sent by Muir to New York, illustrating his practice under his patent, was a small taper-fluted reamer, as remembered, under an inch diameter, very much more deeply notched with a coarse left-hand square thread than is our American tool-room practice, undoubtedly a good and free-cutting tool.'[3]

1888 Obituary [4]

WILLIAM MUIR was born at Catrine, a village in Ayrshire, on 17th January 1806, being the son of Mr. Andrew Muir, farmer and contractor, of that place.

He early evinced a liking for mechanical pursuits, and after receiving an ordinary middle-class education was bound apprentice to Mr. Thomas Morton of Kilmarnock, with whom be stayed for five-and-a-half years.

In 1824 he entered the employment of Messrs. Girdwood and Co. of Glasgow, makers of cotton spinning machinery, into which class of work he had already obtained some previous insight in connection with the Catrine Cotton Works. While in Glasgow he attended classes at the university, and by study after work hours improved his knowledge of mechanics and mathematics.

In 1829 he was again employed by the Catrine Cotton Company, who made their own manufacturing machinery; and in 1830 he spent some time in lathe work with Henry Houldsworth of Glasgow.

On 7th September 1830 he left Scotland, and after visiting Liverpool proceeded to Cornwall, where on 18th October he commenced an engagement at Hayle Foundry.

In March 1831 he left for London, and entered the shops of Messrs. Maudslay and Field, where he soon became a foreman. The work upon which he was there engaged presented a considerable range in variety, including the construction of a steam carriage for use on common roads, with two cylinders acting direct on the crank axles, for carrying out the ideas of Admiral the Earl of Dundonald, then Lord Cochrane.

At that time Mr. James Nasmyth was engaged at these works as draughtsman, and Mr. Joseph Whitworth as a fitter.

In 1836, after spending six months with Mr. Holtzapffel as assistant and representative, he became foreman to Messrs. Bramah and Robinson, where he remained until 1840, when Mr. (afterwards Sir Joseph) Whitworth induced him to go to Manchester and become manager in his works.

In this position he did much excellent work, and, besides being intimately associated with the elaboration of the Whitworth system of screw threads, he was also engaged in the design and construction of the road-sweeping machine, a new knitting machine, a radial die-box, a 6-inch screw-cutting foot-lathe, a new boring bar, a bolt-screwing machine, a small planing machine, a planing machine for circular work, and the radial drill.

In June 1842, having made the acquaintance of Mr. Thomas Edmondson, the originator of the railway ticket, who was in need of assistance in the production of machines for printing the tickets, he started for himself in Berwick Street, Manchester, as a maker of railway-ticket printing machinery.

The premises were soon outgrown, and jointly with Mr. Edmondson he took a large building in Miller's Lane, Salford, subsequently removing to Strangeways, Manchester, where he commenced the erection of the large establishment now known as the Britannia Works.

In 1852 he supplied various labour-saving machine-tools and appliances for government use at Woolwich arsenal; and two years later, in connection with the establishment by government of the Enfield small-arms factory under the late Sir John Anderson, he designed and manufactured machinery for the construction of rifle-sights on the interchangeable principle.

In connection with screw-cutting lathes he invented a releasing motion and an arrangement for making right and left hand screws, with other important improvements now in general use.

Amongst his inventions were also improved shrilling and milling machinery, a double grindstone in which by regulated contact two stones dress each other and keep their grinding surfaces in fit condition, and many other machine-tools. His automatic machinery for winding cotton balls and bobbins is in very general use.

Some years ago he retired from active business and settled at Brockley, London, where after a few months' illness he died on 15th June 1888, in the eighty-third year of his age.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1863.

1888 Obituary [5]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'Henry Maudslay & the Pioneers of the Machine Age' by John Cantrell & Gillian Cookson, Tempus 2002
  2. 1863 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  3. [1] American Machinist, 3 Oct 1895, p.790
  4. 1888 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  5. The Engineer 1888/08/24