James Nasmyth - Encyclopedia

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NASMYTH, JAMES (1808-1890), Scottish engineer, was born in Edinburgh on the 19th of August 1808, and was the youngest son of Alexander Nasmyth, the "father of Scottish landscape art." He was sent to school in his native city, and then attended classes in chemistry, mathematics and natural philosophy at the university. From an early age he showed great fondness for mechanical pursuits, and the skill he attained in the practical use of tools enabled him to make models of engines, &c., which found a ready sale. In 1829 he obtained a position in Henry Maudslay's works in London, where he stayed two years, and then, in 1834, started business on his own account in Manchester. The beginnings were small, but they quickly developed, and in a few years he was at the head of the prosperous Bridgewater foundry at Patricroft, from which he was able to retire in 1856 with a fortune. The invention of the steam-hammer, with which his name is associated, was actually made in 1839, a drawing of the device appearing in his note-book, or "scheme-book," as he called it, with the date 24th November of that year. It was designed to meet the difficulty experienced by the builders of the Great Britain steamship in finding a firm that would undertake to forge the large paddle-wheel shaft required for that vessel, but no machine of the kind was constructed till 1842. In that year Nasmyth discovered one in Schneiders' Creuzot works, and he found that the design was his own and had been copied from his "scheme-book." His title, therefore, to be called the inventor of the steam-hammer holds good against the claims sometimes advanced in favour of the Schneiders, though apparently he was anticipated in the idea by James Watt. Nasmyth did much for the improvement of machine-tools, and his inventive genius devised many new appliances - a planingmachine ("Nasmyth steam-arm"), a nut-shaping machine, steam pile-driver, hydraulic machinery for various purposes, &c. In his retirement he lived at Penshurst in Kent, and amused himself with the study of astronomy, and especially of the moon, on which he published a work, The Moon considered as a Planet, a World and a Satellite, in conjunction with James Carpenter in 1874. He died in London on the 7th of May 1890.

His Autobiography, edited by Dr Samuel Smiles, was published in 1883.

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