James Nasmyth

James Nasmyth / Engineers

Born 19 August 1808 in Edinburgh, the son of the artist Alexander Nasmyth, James was educated at Edinburgh High School and the School of Arts. In 1829 he became an assistant to Henry Maudsley in London, working in the Lambeth Engine Works. He had obviously been interested since his schooldays in engineering, particularly steam engines, building successful steam engine models while at school.

Two years later, in 1831, he set up his own engineering workshop in Edinburgh, then moved to Manchester the next year. He finally opened the Bridgwater Foundry at Paticroft in 1837, close to the junction of the Bridgewater Canal with the newly opened Liverpool and Manchester Railway. This was in the very heart of the Industrial Revolution, going full blast.

Nasmyth's special focus was on the design and manufacture of machine tools, in addition to which he manufactured a variety of other machines; hydraulic presses, pumps, over 100 steam locomotives and various high-pressure steam engines. He is known mainly for his invention of the steam hammer. This made possible the forging of large machine parts, including the drive shaft for Brunel's vessel the SS Great Britain, originally designed with huge paddle wheels. (It eventually used screw propellers, but Nasmyth's steam hammer was seized on as a valuable tool for the Industrial Revolution.) br>At his factory in Paticroft, he improved efficiency by introducing a prototype assembly line. This was also brought in to undermine the power of the craft unions, Nasmyth being an implacable foe of restrictive labour practices.

Aged 48, he retired from engineering to pursue his hobby of astronomy, building his own reflecting telescopes. He was the first astronomer to observe solar flares, and published a key paper on the surface of the moon in 1874.

He died in London, on 7 May, 1890.