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British Industrial History

Robert D. Napier

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Robert D. Napier
1868. Napier's patent friction clutch.

Robert D. Napier (c.1821-1885) of Napier Brothers

See Napier Genealogy.


The youngest surviving son of David Napier, was educated for a time at Liverpool, and later in London. In Australia his experience was chiefly that of marine engineering, afloat and on shore. Having invented the valuable "Differential Self-acting Friction Brake," he returned to Britain, about 1865-66, to patent and introduce this invention. Along with his brother John he established the business already referred to, and the firm was successful in applying the Friction Brake in many directions, especially in the well-known Napier Windlass. In papers submitted to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders by Robert, he discussed the "Special applications of the Differential Friction Clutch," which the president pronounced "one of the best mechanical inventions that had been brought under the notice of the Institution." He carried out an exhaustive series of experiments to determine "the velocity of steam and other gases" and "the true principles of the discharge of fluids," the results of which were embodied in further contributions to the Transactions of the Institution. In common with his brothers, he inherited much of their father's inventive ability; and in private life was very highly esteemed by all who knew him. He died at Glasgow in May 1885.

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