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British Industrial History

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William Shanks (1838-1919)

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William Shanks (1838-1919) of Thomas Shanks and Co

1919 Obituary [1]

Colonel WILLIAM SHANKS, V.D., was born at Johnstone, Renfrewshire, in 1838.

He was educated at Irvine Academy and Merchiston Castle, and afterwards served his apprenticeship in his father's firm, namely, that of Thomas Shanks and Co., makers of heavy machine-tools, Johnstone.

On the retirement of his father in 1880 he assumed the control of the business and interested himself greatly in the improvement of heavy machine-tools. Two years previously he introduced a new design of heavy boring machine which worked successfully in Great Britain and the United States. He also originated the double-bed type of lathe which effected a greatly improved distribution of cutting tools and their strains, and made possible the building of the huge lathes at present in use. Under his direction a very heavy planing machine although of moderate dimensions, was made for planing the first armour-plates applied to warships, while his other activities included a machine for making horse-shoes.

By 1883 the business had so grown that a large extension became necessary, and in that year the firm erected new works on a new site. These works were one of the first in the country to be lighted by electricity. Although for some years before his death he had ceased to be responsible for design, he continued as head of the firm.

His death took place at Johnstone on 29th July 1919, in his eighty-first year.

He was elected a Member of this Institution in 1884.

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