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Archibald Barr

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Archibald Barr (1855-1931) of Barr and Stroud, was a graduate of the University and Regius Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics, 1889 to 1912. He was awarded an honorary LLD in 1914.

Born near Paisley, Barr studied at the University and graduated BSc in 1878 and DSc in 1890. In 1876 he became Young Assistant to the Regius Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics, James Thomson, and in 1884 he was appointed Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Yorkshire College of Science, later the University of Leeds.

Barr returned to Glasgow in 1889 to take the Regius Chair. He had already formed a design consultancy business with William Stroud, the Professor of Physics in Leeds, and the two men formed a successful company, Barr and Stroud, designing and later manufacturing rangefinders and other optical equipment for military and naval use. Barr became the senior partner and the head of the design team at the firm's Anniesland factory, and in 1912 he resigned his chair to focus on the firm's development.

During his period at the University, the number of students studying Engineering rose from thirty-nine to more than 200. He raised £40,000 from local industrialists and charitable bodies to build Glasgow's James Watt Engineering Building in 1901, and he persuaded companies to donate most of the £14,000 required for the purchase of the scientific equipment installed in its laboratories. He was influential in organising the new Faculty of Science in 1893 and successfully campaigned for a lectureship in Electrical Engineering, which was established in 1898.

1889 Birth of son Archibald Douglas Stirrat Barr[1] (died 1957)

1891 Professor of Civil Engineering & Mechanics, lived in Govan with Isabella Y Barr 29, Archibald D S Barr 2, Morag I M Barr 1[2]

1931 Obituary [3]

Professor ARCHIBALD BARR succeeded James Thomson to the Chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow University in 1889, and retained the position for twenty-four years. He was born near Paisley in 1855, and upon leaving Paisley Grammar School served an apprenticeship with Messrs. A. F. Craig and Company.

In 1876 he graduated in engineering science at Glasgow University, and thereafter for eight years was assistant to Professor James Thomson.

In 1884 he was appointed to be Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering in the Yorkshire College, Leeds, and during his five years there equipped the engineering laboratory. In 1889 he succeeded Professor Thomson and at once set about the re-equipment of the engineering department at Glasgow. As a result of his work the James Watt Engineering Laboratories were opened in 1900.

Dr. Barr will also be widely remembered as the inventor, in conjunction with Dr. William Stroud, of the Barr and Stroud range- finder. It was while at Leeds that he became associated with Dr. Stroud, who was Professor of Physics at the college, and their invention was made within three weeks after noticing an advertisement of the War Office asking for an instrument to measure ranges for gun fire.

In 1892 their instrument was tested on H.M.S. "Arethusa," and its success established a demand for it which was met in 1895 by the opening of a workshop for its assembly.

In the following year Dr. Barr read a paper before the Institution on "Telemeters and Range-Finders for Naval and other Purposes."

In 1904 the first portion of the existing factory at Anniesland was opened, and by 1914 the factory was employing 900 men and supplying range-finders to nearly every important government. During the War the works were considerably extended.

Dr. Barr also invented many instruments connected with the fire-control system of a modern warship, and about the year 1912 developed an electrically operated torsion-meter for measuring the power of large prime- movers. During the War, despite the demands of the increasing output of the works, he found time to devise a torpedo depth recorder, a bomb-dropping sight for aircraft, a height-finder for anti-aircraft services, and a submarine periscope. He also took a prominent part in establishing the manufacture of optical glass in this country on an improved basis.

After the War he became interested in the "Optophone," an instrument enabling the blind to read ordinary type by the aid of a photo-electric cell, and his many other activities included the invention of a pump for producing very high vacua, and a series of instruments for the production of contour maps from air survey photographs.

Dr. Barr had been a Member of the Institution since 1884, and served on the Council from 1907 to 1919. He was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Fellow of the Royal Society, to which honour he was elected in 1923. In 1914 he was made a Doctor of Laws of Glasgow University.

His death occurred on 5th August 1931.

1931 Obituary [4]

PROFESSOR ARCHIBALD BARR, LL.D.,F.R.S., an Original Member of the Institute, died at his home in Milngavie, Dumbartonshire, on August 5, 1931, in his seventy-sixth year. He acted as Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Glasgow Meeting, 1910, and served upon the Council from 1910 to 1915.

Born at Glenfield, Renfrewshire, he was educated at Paisley and Glasgow University, and in 1876 was appointed as assistant to Professor James Thomson - brother of Lord Kelvin - in the Engineering Department of Glasgow University, afterwards becoming Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Yorkshire College, Victoria University, Leeds.

He returned in 1889 to Glasgow as Regius Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics in that University, holding the Chair until his retirement in 1913. Here he collected funds to build the James Watt Engineering Laboratories, which were opened in 1900. Professor Barr was a Past-President of the Royal Philosophical Society, Glasgow, of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, of the Engineering Section of the British Association, and of the Scottish Aeronautical Society. He supervised the first motor-car reliability trials held in Scotland in 1901, was convener of the engineering section of the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901, and was chairman of the committee which organized the first aviation meeting held at Lanark in 1921.

Professor Barr was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1923, was a member of the Institutions of Civil and Mechanical Engineers, and was made doctor of laws of the University of Glasgow in 1914. His great knowledge of mechanics was applied particularly to range-finders, and he was Chairman of the engineering firm of Barr and Stroud, Ltd., Glasgow, manufacturers of these instruments. He installed the first American milling machine to come to Scotland. He invented the naval range-finders adopted by the British Admiralty and most foreign powers, special height-finders for anti-aircraft services, as well as electrical and fire-control instruments for use between fire-control positions and gun stations on war vessels, and numerous other instruments required in various branches of civil engineering.

Professor Barr took great interest in his students and in their careers ; he was always their confidant, and whenever he could assist them in their onward progress he was more like a father to them than one merely concerned with their academic work. His genial nature will cause him to be missed in Glasgow, where he was always ready to give his services and advice in the advancement of scientific knowledge, and his support in any technical Institute which had this for its object. Like his great colleague in the Glasgow University, the late Lord Kelvin, he had no pride in his knowledge, but was a humble student seeking to fathom the unknown.

1931 Obituary.[5]

1931 Obituary[6]


It is with great regret that we record the death of Professor Archibald Barr, which occurred at his home m Milngavie, Dumbartonshire, on August 6 last. Although his name was known throughout the world in connection with the Barr and Stroud rangefinder, his activities covered a much wider field, and quite apart from this most successful invention, Professor Barr will long be remembered for his untiring efforts for the advance of technical education. Born in 1855 in Paisley, he received his early education in the Grammar School of that town, and later proceeded to Glasgow University. Here he showed such promise that, at the age of 21, he was appointed to the James Young Assistantship in the department of Civil Engineering and Mechanics. Before detailing his scholastic achievements, it may be mentioned that he served his apprenticeship with Messrs. A. E. Clay and Company, Mechanical Engineers, Paisley, spending part of this time in classwork in Glasgow. He thus acquired that practical knowledge of workshop materials and processes, the absence of which frequently renders futile the ideas of the inventor. At the time of his appointment to Glasgow University, the chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics was held by James Thompson, and no doubt Barr’s close association with this eminent scientist was of great value in directing his abilities in the soundest directions.

While assistant to Thompson, Barr was successful in obtaining his Doctorate in Science, and in 1884, he was appointed to the Chair of Mechanical Engineering in Yorkshire College, subsequently incorporated in Leeds University. About this time, there was considerable controversy among engineering teachers about the most desirable equipment for technical laboratories, some holding with Professor Perry that very simple apparatus was sufficient to demonstrate fundamental principles, and others that the plant should closely simulate that which the students would later meet in practice. While not holding that an engineering laboratory should be a factory m minature, Dr. Barr was a firm believer in the value of adequate equipment of the type now commonly recognised as essential, and both at Leeds and at Glasgow, to which he returned later, he completely revolutionised the laboratories. The buildings which he designed at Leeds cost about 10,0002., and his work at Gilmore Bill resulted in the magnificent “ James Watt ” laboratories. Dr. Barr became Regius Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow University in 1889, in succession to James Thompson, his illustrious predecessors, also including Lewis Gordon and Macquorn Rankine. He retired from the chair in 1913, but before passing on to his work in the practical field, tribute should be paid to his outstanding qualities as a teacher. While he was at Leeds, the number of engineering students increased threefold, and during his tenure of the Chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow, with which his teaching work will always be particularly associated, the number of students increased from 36 to well over 200. He will be remembered by his many students for his clear and convincing explanations of the fundamental principles underlying any problem. He was a ready and lucid speaker, with a fund of humour, and wide human sympathies which enabled him to command the interest and constant attention of his classes, and to keep in close touch with his students individually outside the lecture room.

It was in 1888 that Dr. Barr, who was at that time at Yorkshire College, began experimental work on rangefinders with Dr. Stroud, who then occupied the Chair of Physics at the College. The two professors were in the habit of discussing scientific problems to their mutual advantage, and as both had given previous evidence of inventive ability, it is not surprising that the germ of some of their later inventions arose from these discussions. It is interesting to note, however, that it was an advertisement which appeared in Engineering in 1888, which first turned the attention of the professors to the subject of rangefinders. The advertisement was issued by the War Office, and called for proposals from persons desirous of submitting Infantry rangefinders for competitive trials. Dr. Barr, seeing the advertisement, suggested to Dr. Stroud that they should design an instrument to meet the specified conditions, and should submit it for trial. This proposal was carried out, the main features of the instrument being thought out in a few weeks. It should be said that at that time, neither of the inventors was familiar with earlier rangefinders, and that they approached the problem as new. The instrument was thus in every way an original one, and it is a remarkable tribute to the designers to be able to say that its main features have remained unchanged to this day. The first rangefinder was tested at Aldershot in competition with others of various forms. It was of the single-observer type, with which the inventor names have since been so closely associated, but the competition was not confined to instruments of this class. The.results obtained were promising, and a second instrument was made with a view to further trials. The second trials, however, led to disappointment, mainly in consequence of certain optical details of the instrument having been altered with a view to cheapening production. As a result, the Watkins two-observer instrument was retained by the Army as the standard Infantry rangefinder for many years. Even at the outbreak of war in 1914, the Barr and Stroud rangefinder had only been adopted to a very small extent in the British Army, although it had been supplied in large numbers to Continental Powers. During 1915 and 1916, however, the firm were supplying more instruments per week to the Army than the total number supplied to it prior to the war.

The lack of success of the instrument in the Army trials was more than retrieved by the results of trials in the Navy. In 1891, the Admiralty advertised publicly for proposals in connection with naval rangefinders, and also directly asked Professors Barr and Stroud to submit an instrument'. By this time, Professor Barr had moved to Glasgow, but his association with Professor Stroud was unbroken. An instrument designed to meet the Admiralty requirements was constructed under Professor Barr’s personal supervision. The mechanical parts were made by Mr. James White, of Glasgow, and the optical parts by Mr. Adam Higler, of London. The instrument was tested at Chatham in 1892, and its accuracy more than satisfied the specified requirements. As a result, the Admiralty ordered five rangefinders of an improved type in 1895. The first of these was the first Barr and Stroud rangefinder to be actually sold. The parts were made by the same firms, and the assembly and adjustments were carried out in Professor Barr’s own house. A considerable demand for rangefinders followed, and a workshop was secured for adjusting and finishing the instruments, and to serve as an office, in Byres-road, Glasgow. Two years later, a further works had to be taken, and in 1904, the work in sight justified the erection of a factory in which all the processes of manufacture could be carried out under one roof. This building was erected at Aimiesland, on the west side of Glasgow, and formed the nucleus of the present works. The latter were fully described in Engineering, vol. lxxxi, page 579 e< seq (1906), and again in vol. cviii, page 133 e2 seq (1919), together with the firm’s more important products. In addition to rangefinders of various types, these include fire-control gear, an electrically-operated torsion meter, torpedo depth recorders, periscopes, and the well-known Barr and Stroud sleeve-valve engine.

Professor Barr undertook much consulting work in the testing of engine and boiler plants, and contributed freely to the papers and discussions of engineering and scientific societies in Glasgow and London. The paper which he and Dr. Stroud read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1896, created very great interest. He served at different times as president of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, the Royal Philosophical Society and the Scottish Aeronautical Society. He supervised the first motor-car reliability .trials held in Scotland in 1901, and was Convener of the Engineering Section of the Glasgow International Exhibition in the same year. The wide scope of his interests is further shown by the fact that he was chairman of the committee which organised the first aviation meeting in Scotland, held at Lanark in 1910. From 1921 till the time of his death he was chairman of the Governors of the Royal Scottish National Institution for the care of mentally defectives. He took the keenest interest in all problems of manufacture and factory development, more particularly as regards welfare work, and visited the United States in 1896 to study production methods in that country. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1923, was a member of the Institutions of Civil and of Mechanical Engineers, and was made a Doctor of Laws of Glasgow University in 1914. The painting of Professor Barr which we reproduce on the previous page is by Mr. Fiddes Watt."

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