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British Industrial History

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Alfred Kirby Huntington

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1910. Biplane
1910. Biplane.
1910. Biplane.

Professor Alfred Kirby Huntington (c1851-1920), Professor of Metallurgy, Kings College, London (1879-1917)

1910 Patents in relation to founding or casting of metal

1910 Flew a biplane at Eastchurch[1].

1913 Having experimented for several years with a Dunne aeroplane, which he modified extensively, he eventually flew it himself at Eastchurch [2]

1920 Obituary [3]

ALFRED KIRBY HUNTINGTON died on April 17, 1920, at his London residence, Buckingham Street, Strand, in his sixty-ninth year.

The death of Professor Huntington removes from the metallurgical world a well-known personality, and from the Institute a prominent and valued member. He was trained at the Royal School of Mines under Dr. Percy, leaving it in 1877 as an Associate in Mining and Metallurgy, and proceeded to King's College, London, where he assisted Professor W. N. Hartley in his researches on ultra-violet absorption spectra, the forerunners of so much later work on the constitution of chemical compounds. He also assisted Sir William Siemens in his early experiments with the electric arc furnace, and carried out the preparation of some of the more refractory metals by its means.

When a separate department of Metallurgy was founded at King's College in 1879, Huntington was appointed to the chair, which he continued to occupy until last autumn, when he retired. Although the department never contained a large number of students, it was the scene of much active work, largely connected with the professor's private consulting practice in metallurgy.

Work in the assaying of gold and silver ores formed a large part of the teaching, and perhaps the greater number of the students passed out into the mining world, and became widely scattered.

Professor Huntington was specially interested in the non-ferrous metals, and kept a staff of assistants busy with chemical analyses and mechanical tests, as well as with research work. Problems of corrosion often attracted his attention, and he made many experiments to determine the electrolytic potential of alloys under varying conditions, with the object of throwing some light on their behaviour when exposed to sea-water. The study of locomotive fire-box stays led him to make experiments on the mechanical properties of metals at high temperatures, and for many years tensile and alternating stress tests were carried on in this direction, chiefly by his oldest assistant, Mr. R. A. P. Davidson.

Much care was expended on the details of the tests, and when, some years later, the results were embodied in a series of papers, the high quality of the experiments was recognized, although the curves and deductions from them did not escape criticism.

Other subjects which engaged his attention, and on which he published papers, were the separation of minerals by flotation, and the use of the planimeter in determining the composition of alloys.

He was associated with the Institute of Metals from its foundation, and took an active part in its proceedings down to the time of his death. He became a Vice-President in 1910, and during the session 1913-14 occupied the Presidential chair, being in office at the Ghent meeting, the first meeting of the Institute to be held abroad.

In addition to his Presidential Address in 1913, his contributions to the Journal of the Institute include "The Effect of Temperatures Higher than Atmospheric on Tensile Tests of Copper and its Alloys," 1912 ; "The Effect of Temperatures Higher than Atmospheric on Tensile Tests of Copper, and its Alloys, and a Comparison with Wrought Iron and Steel," 1914 ; and "The Effects of Heat and of Work on the Mechanical Properties of Metals," 1915.

He rarely missed a meeting of the Institute, and frequently took part in its discussions, his remarks being often enlivened by humorous criticisms, the Professor being inclined to enjoy a technical controversy. He continued to attend the meetings of the Council as a Past-President until April of this year. He acted as Chairman of the Publication Committee and of the Scientific and Industrial Research Committee, and was a member of the following other committees of the Institute : Finance and General Purposes, Library and Museum, Beilby Prize, Local Sections and Increased Membership.

Professor Huntington's activities were also extended to the Faraday Society and to the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, whilst during the war he took an active part in several Government committees, especially that on Nitrogen Products. Work of this kind occupied much of his time during the last few years.

The subject of flight engaged Professor Huntington's attention at an early date, and he made frequent balloon ascents, a form of sport for which his steady nerves, trained by long practice in the hunting-field and on the polo-ground, rendered him well fitted. He built and owned his balloons, and made many experiments with the object of improving them, occasionally leading to awkward contretemps, as when a new varnish, applied to a large balloon, refused to dry, and the entire fabric had to be cleaned with benzene. He made some long balloon voyages, on one occasion ascending from Brussels and landing at the foot of the Pyrenees.

With the advent of aeroplanes, his attention was turned in a new direction, and his experiments took the form of constructing a machine which he insisted on piloting himself, at an age when few men would care to make the attempt. The construction of the machine, in which his experience as a motorist stood him in good stead, passed through many vicissitudes, faced by the Professor with a dogged pertinacity which was characteristic of the man. He was well known in many scientific and technical circles, where his wide reading and experience and dry, occasionally caustic, humour made him an interesting companion. — C.A.D.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. FLIGHT, 30 April 1910
  2. FLIGHT, 1 March 1913
  3. 1920 Institute of Metals: Obituaries