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British Industrial History

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William Bird

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William Bird (c1805-1884) of William Bird and Co

1884 Died in his 79th year

1884 Obituary in the Letters column of The Engineer[1]

"We believe that we are right in stating that one of the leading characters of the English iron trade passed away on Wednesday last, when Mr. William Bird, the founder and for many years the chief of the firm of William Bird and Co., died in his seventy ninth year.

The deceased gentleman founded the firm of William Bird and Co. in 1829, and retired from it in 1872, after an active business life of nearly half a century; and through his energy, practical knowledge, singleness of purpose, and well-known straightforwardness, he raised his house to eminence, and in time almost monopolised the English iron trade with Germany. But such a sphere did not satisfy his ambition. Wherever he saw an opportunity to open new channels for the English iron trade, or when an importation of foreign makes appeared advantageous, he never hesitated to undertake the business.

It was principally owing to his influence that a contract for forty locomotives was given to Messrs. Schneider, of Creusot, by the Great Eastern Railway Company of England. He looked upon iron as one of the principal levers in the development of civilisation, to which he devoted all his energy as a declared free-trader. He was one of the first to point out to the old East India Company the importance of railways for their country, and lived long enough to enjoy the triumph of his opinions.

He was also one of the founders, and to the end of his life one of the directors, of the San Paulo Railway - one of the most prosperous of the Brazilian Railway enterprises, which still gives the highest dividends; he was for over thirty years a director of the London Joint Stock Bank, and for a long time a magistrate for the county of Middlesex.

When after the success of the first World's Exhibition in London a second was held in Paris, it fell to the lot of our Mr. William Bird to represent to a great extent the English iron rolling trade. He had a very complete, and for the time very large, assortment of sections in Paris, and having acted on the International Jury, he received as an acknowledgment for the services rendered the Cross of the Legion of Honour.

Mr. William Bird foresaw the importance of the discoveries of Sir Henry Bessemer and Mr. Mushet, and the consequent revolution of the English iron industry, and he assisted its development by large importations of spiegeleisen from Germany, and later on of ferro-mangnanese, for the production of the highest classes of steel.

Wherever we look we find his keen eye fixed on the future, singling out what was practicable; faithful to all obligations undertaken, Liberal in the best sense of the word, without any party feeling, a cosmopolitan, inasmuch as he considered the world as his home, and the well-being of the many as the object of his life; just towards everyone. Such is his picture as it rises before our eyes and as we desire to see it handed down to posterity. Requiescat in pace! "
(Formerly William Bird and Co.)
2, Laurence Pountney-hill, February 1st.

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