DANIEL ADAMSON 1820 -1890
The following was
composed by The
Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society for
inclusion in the Annual Report of Manchester City Council of 1890.
The name of DANIEL
which will be long remembered in
connection with the Manchester
Ship Canal, is also assured a place amongst the distinguished engineers
part which he took
in the development of steam engineering and the use of
steel. Born at Shildon, in 1818 (sic),
Adamson became apprenticed, when seventeen years old, to the celebrated
Hackworth, at the Stockton and Darlington Railway. After
serving here for six years, he was
appointed managing draughtsman and superintendent engineer to the same
This post he held until 1847, when he became manager of the Shildon
belonging to this Company. In 1849 he
left the service of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and after
a short period the position of manager to the Heaton Foundry,
Stockport, he in
1851, commenced business on his own account as Engineer and Boiler
Newton Moor Iron Works, near Manchester.
About this time he inaugurated a series of reforms and improvements in
the construction and manufacture of steam boilers, with which his name
become associated. The first of these
consisted in the introduction of the flanged seam for flue tubes, to
the ordinary lap ring seam which was then generally used.
According to Adamson’s method, the flue tubes
made in welded sections, the ends of which are provided with a flange
having a radius of one inch to one and a quarter inches in the
bend. Between the two flanges a hoop of flat plate
is placed, and the seams are riveted up by rivets passing through the
one ring, the hoop, and the flange of the next ring. The seam
thus formed not only adds enormously
to the strength of the tube in resisting
collapse, but also completely overcame the difficulties which had been
previously experienced through the effect of the expansion of the flue
bulging the end plates. Adamson in 1852
patented this device, which in later years has been generally adopted,
still forms one of the features of Lancashire boilers.
Adamson early recognised the part which steel was destined to play in engineering construction, and successfully carried through its application in the manufacture of boilers. It appears that his application of steel began about 1857 (Proceedings Iron and Steel Institute, 1879, p.113), in making a locomotive for Messrs Talabot, of Paris, to haul iron-stone from the Bonner mines in Algeria to the coast. Only puddled steel could then be got sufficiently ductile, and that was produced at the Mersey Steel and Iron Works Company’s works at Liverpool. About that time Mr. Bessemer patented his famous process for steel manufacture, and Mr. Adamson at once prepared to use the new material for boiler making, and in 1860 he made the first Bessemer steel boilers for Messrs Platt Bros., of Oldham. These boilers were 30 feet long by 7 feet 6 inches diameter, and were made of plates only 5/16ths thick for working at a pressure of 80lb. ; no better proof of the thoroughness with which Mr. Adamson completed his task can be give than the fact that these identical boilers have remained in use to this day. But in spite of Adamson’s strong advocacy of the new material, it was very little used by others for many years, chiefly because it was found too unreliable, owing to want of knowledge in the choice of treatment of the metal. Originally, steel of tensile strength of forty tons to the square inch was used, but complete success was not obtained until a milder variety having a tensile strength of thirty to thirty two tons, with 20% elongation was adopted, whereas now-a-days, in the best practice, engineers are content with a strength of 24 to 28 tons per sq. inch, and an elongation of not less than 20% in a length of ten inches. Steel plates made by the Bessemer or Siemens process, as are not only stronger, but more uniform in quality than iron, they are practically not liable to blistering or lamination as were even the best iron plates, and they are tougher and more ductile and even less liable to deterioration in work than iron plates. In all first-class boiler work steel plates are now practically used, to the exclusion of iron.
When steel was first used, it was found that the plates were seriously damaged by the operation of punching the rivet holes, and, to overcome this difficulty, Adamson in 1862 introduced the method of drilling holes, to avoid distressing the plates. On Mr. Adamson’s plan, the plates are bent to their final form, and the holes are drilled through the plates when in the position they will occupy in the finished state. The plates are then taken apart, the burrs formed by drilling removed, and the plates and seams riveted up. In this way the holes fall quite true and fair when brought together, thus avoiding all such drifting as was customary with the punched holes to the detriment of the plate. The holes also being true, each rivet completely fills its hole, and takes up its proper proportion of the stress, whereas in the rough and irregular surfaces of the punched holes, some rivets might be taking an undue share of the strain, thus causing rupture at a point below the strength of the seam taken generally. Thus the seam is strengthened and made more reliable, it is less liable to leakage, the material is better utilised, and the work is altogether better and more neatly finished.
These three improvements which Daniel Adamson has been prominent in bringing forward are the characteristics of the modern stationary type of boiler in this country, which is constructed for working pressures up to 200lbs. per square inch, and it would appear that Mr. Adamson has scarcely received a proportionate amount of credit for these important achievements. Moreover when Adamson commenced boiler making the manufacture of stationary boilers was carried on upon the rudest rule of thumb methods, and Adamson was the first to bring the system into the construction and manufacture of these boilers by proportioning all parts with a careful regard to the forces to be met. In this way he not only greatly reduced the weight of the boilers in proportion to their strength, but having recognised the economic advantages of using steam at high pressure, he set about to construct boilers for pressures greatly in excess of those then in vogue, and, as early as 1855, he had made a boiler and engine which worked successfully with a steam pressure of 150lbs. Ever since the theory of multiple expansion was propounded, he was a firm believer in the principle, and in 1861, he made the first quadruple expansion engine ever constructed.
In the investigation of the metallurgy of iron and steel, Adamson took a leading part, and few men could boast of a more intimate acquaintance with the properties of these metals based on experience. Some idea of the amount of labour Mr. Adamson bestowed upon the investigation of the mechanical properties of iron and steel, may be formed from his own remark that up to 1869 he had tested from 30,000 to 40,000 specimens of steel suitable for boiler plates. Not only were his tests more thorough and complete than any which had preceded them, but he also made a chemical analysis of all samples tested, and was amongst the first to make practical use of chemical analysis for ascertaining the mechanical properties of iron and steel. Adamson proved by his experiments that it was possible to obtain qualities of mild steel which would be superior to the best iron for bridge building and other structures, as well as for boiler work, and in this way he aided materially in bringing about the more extended use of steel in place of iron. In the early days of steel great difficulty was also experienced in welding the new material, and Adamson was the first to point out the conditions under which successful welding was possible.
Mr. Adamson also took an extremely active part in opening out the Lincolnshire iron fields, and he was the first to erect a furnace at Frodingham, in 1866, depending entirely on its supplies upon ores found in the district. The greatest difficulty was, however, in working the ore, as it could not be fused at the usual temperature of the blast furnace, owing to the presence of a large quantity of lime mixed with the ore, and a want of silica and alumina. This experience was gained at great cost, but the difficulty was ultimately overcome by the addition of Lincoln siliceous ore, which is combined with a large quantity of alumina, and these works have since been very prosperous.
It yet remains to refer to the crowning work of Adamson’s life, which consisted of rescuing the Manchester Ship Canal scheme, and rendering it a practically possible undertaking. It is a thrice-told story how Adamson, by force of argument, succeeded in arousing the enthusiasm of the teeming millions of Lancashire workers in support of the great scheme, how bravely he fought the parliamentary battle in the face of the opposition of the greatest vested in the Empire, how the reverses which would have sufficed to paralyse the powers of less sturdy men only served to spur Adamson on to renewed efforts, and how he finally led the scheme to triumphant victory.
In the great popular agitation which carried the Ship Canal Bill, Adamson was the chief actor, but finding himself less successful in dealing with the financial difficulties he retired, leaving others to carry out the work. In the course of a few years this great monument to the ability and energy of Mr. Adamson will be completed, and it is matter of the deepest regret that he should not have been spared to see the accomplishment of the great work.
Mr. Adamson took an active share in the work of the leading technical societies, at the meetings of which he was a regular attendant and frequent speaker. In 1877 he was elected a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers. In 1888, the Iron and Steel Institute gave expression to their high opinion of his merits by electing him their President, and in the same year he was presented with the Bessemer Gold Medal of that body. He was elected a member of The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1881, under the Presidency of Mr. Binney.
End of this Obituary
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