Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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James Howden

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James Howden (1832–1913) of James Howden and Co, marine and general engineer.

1832 Born on 29 February 1832 in Prestonpans, East Lothian, the son of James Howden and his wife, Catherine Adams.

Howden took up an engineering apprenticeship with James Gray and Co, a firm with an established reputation for stationary engines. His talents for technical drawing were considerable and even before his formal apprenticeship was concluded he was promoted to the position of chief draughtsman.

1854 He set as a consulting engineer and designer. He had already taken out a patent for rivet making and had sold the rights to a Birmingham company.

1859 Howden's first major contract came from Hendersons for the Anchor Line's ship Ailsa Craig. The order was for compound engines and water tube boilers, of Howden's own design, using steam at 100 lb pressure. This was a considerable advance on existing technology.

1862 Formed the company James Howden and Co.

The invention for which Howden is best remembered, and which added so much to his fortune, was the forced-draught system for boilers. He had begun to experiment with this in 1862 but it was not until the 1880s that he perfected it by utilizing waste gases to heat the air used in the combustion chamber. The effect of this was to provide a more efficient combustion process at varying speeds, using any quality of steam coal.

He was married first to Helen Burgess Adams, and then to Allison Moffat Hay, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Both of his wives predeceased him.

1913 Howden spent his working life in Glasgow, where he died on 21 November 1913.

1913 Obituary [1]

. . . Mr. Howden was born at Prestonpans, East Lothian, in 1832 . . . In 1854 Mr. Howden, then in his twenty-second year started in business for himself. About that time he designed machinery for rivet making and sold the patent to a Birmingham firm. This was the first of a long series of patents . . . His first contract for marine engines was made in 1859 with Messrs. Henderson of the Anchor Line in 1859 for the steamer Ailsa Craig . . . In 1862 Mr. Howden purchased ground in Scotland street and founded the firm of James Howden and Co. The business prospered, and this necessitated the erection in 1871 of larger works further west in the same street. . . . [much more]

1914 Obituary [2]

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