Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Tuesday 12th December 2017 | Manchester, UK

Whitworth? Precisely

Arguably one of the greatest mechanical engineers of the late Industrial Revolution, was born in Stockport in 1803 to a congregational minister. Sir Joseph was developing his knowledge of machinery and engineering during an age of great technological advancements, alongside his renowned civil engineering contemporaries, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and George Stephenson.

One great innovation of his was created in 1840, a measuring technique called ‘end measurements’ that used a precision flat plane and measuring screw, a system which enabled precision of one millionth of an inch. This momentous design was displayed at Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in 1851. Shortly after, he devised the first nationally standardised system for screw threads, which was adopted by the railway companies. Whitworth was also commissioned by the War Department of the British government to design a replacement for the Enfield rifle. Whitworth’s design was superior in every way to the Enfield except in cost, and eventually wasn’t picked up by the British but was instead adopted by the French Army.

The name ‘Whitworth’ should be recognisable to most of the University of Manchester’s students, as the prominent Whitworth Park and Art Gallery, serve as memorials to Sir Joseph, established through his financial bequest to Manchester upon his death in 1887. Whitworth’s keen interest and strong belief in the value of technical and scientific education is evident, not only in his backing of the Mechanics’ Institution in Manchester in the first half of the 19th century, but also in the founding of the Whitworth Scholarship in 1868 for the advancement of mechanical engineering.

Whitworth Building is named in his honour as recognition of his achievements and contributions to education in Manchester. Whitworth’s philanthropic gesture has stood the test of time, as by the mid 1960’s the Whitworth Art Gallery had acquired the reputation as ‘The Tate of the North’. Since the 1980s it has also reached out to the wider community with education and events programmes to enhance public engagement with it’s collections and exhibitions.

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