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Harold Medway Martin

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Harold Medway Martin (1864-1933) of the editorial staff of Engineering

1864 Born

Educated in Wakefield and Central Technical College, South Kensington

1881 Apprentice at Black, Hawthorn and Co, Gateshead

1887 Technical and scientific expert on staff of Engineering magazine

An original member of the Steam Nozzles Research Committee, working on steam turbine nozzles

1930 Member of IMechE.

1933 Obituary [1]

HAROLD MEDWAY MARTIN joined the editorial staff of Engineering over forty-six years ago and remained with that journal for the rest of his life. He was gifted with a rare combination of qualities as mathematician, physicist, practical engineer, and journalist, which he used to the fall in carrying out valuable original researches in addition to his editorial work. He will be remembered particularly by members of the Institution for his work in connexion with the Steam Nozzles Research Committee from its inception in 1914 until its dissolution in 1930.

Mr. Martin was born at Royston, Hertfordshire, in 1864, and in 1881 commenced an apprenticeship with Messrs. Black, Hawthorn and Company, locomotive and marine engineers, of Gateshead.

In 1885 he obtained a Whitworth Scholarship, and proceeded to the Central Technical College, South Kensington, where he was awarded the Clothworkers' Scholarship in the same year.

In 1887 he commenced his long association with Engineering which was terminated by his death on 17th November 1933, in his seventieth year. Mr. Martin's original works covered a very wide range. He published researches on the theory of the short boiler, gland leakage, strength of rotating disks, lubrication of gear teeth, heat transfer in condenser tubes, and the theory of convergent nozzles at speeds beyond the critical.

In addition, he was the author of two books, now out of print, "Statically Indeterminate Structures and the Principle of Least Work," and "The Design and Construction of Steam Turbines." He was responsible for the design of the apparatus used in the experimental work of the Steam Nozzles Research Committee. His valuable researches on steam turbines attracted great attention and led to notable economies being effected. He was also an original member of the Government Sub-Committee on Lubricants and Lubrication.

In 1917 he initiated experiments at the National Physical Laboratory on the effect of pressure on viscosity. Mr. Martin was also interested in bridges and did important work on the theory of the stiffened suspension bridge.

In 1931 he was awarded the distinction of Fellowship by the Council of the City and Guilds of London Institute.

He had been a Member of the Institution since 1930.

1933 Obituary[2]


The passing of the years must, in the nature of things, lead to the passing of friends and coworkers, but, in the optimism of active life, one is never prepared for the break when it comes. Always, it is a shock to find that someone who took a close part in the duties and occupations of every day will never again appear to discuss the work of the week, or to comment on the fresh news that every day brings. It is our sad duty, this week, to have to record the death of Harold Medway Martin, who for forty-six years was a member of the editorial stall of Engineering, and who, both by the large amount of work he himself did, and the assistance he was always ready to give to others, built up a position in the office which it will, be hard to refill. Martin, with but little inclination to take part in outside affairs, and not a ready speaker in public, was in a small company, or in private conversation, able with ease to more than hold his own and brought to any subject of discussion the acute comments of an exceptional brain and of a wide and wise reading.

With a somewhat abrupt and nervous manner, which perhaps appeared unsympathetic to a stranger, he hid a kindness of heart which permitted him no unfair comment on either men or affairs. He was in no way uncritical of others, hut his criticism was fair and kindly. Only with those whom he believed to he trying to make an unfair case, or to push some baseless notion, did his patience fail. In such cases he permitted himself a type of comment verging on the unprintable. Martin’s technical knowledge in his own sphere was precise and ordered and that sphere was a wide one. It embraced, indeed, practically the whole of modern: physics and its application to engineering problems. His mathematical equipment was of the first order-and enabled him to deal with the fundamentals of any problem with which he was confronted. In mathematics, however, purely as a mental exercise, he took little interest. To him they were means to an end, not an end in themselves.

Harold Medway Martin, who was born at Royston in Hertfordshire; on May 21, 1864, was one of the later children of a large family, of which two distinguished members were Henry Newell Martin, the' biologist, who worked with Huxley, and Mary Jane' Martin, who became the wife of Professor James Ward, and was the first woman to gain first-class honours in the Moral Science Tripos at Cambridge; Martin was educated at the Northern Congregational School at Sileoats, Wakefield, and leaving there, mi the year 1881, was apprenticed to Messrs. Black, Hawthorn and Company, of Gateshead. He passed through the various shops and after completing his time remained with the firm, as an improver; in the drawing office. In 1885 he obtained a Whitworth Scholarship, being fourth on the list in that year, and a Clothworkers’ Scholarship at the Central Institution of the City and Guilds of London Institute, and proceeded to the College, where he took the course in mechanical and civil engineering under the late Professor Unwin. He was at once promoted to the second year course and passed the examination for the Diploma in 1887. Martin remained in touch and in very friendly relations with Professor Unwin during the remainder of the long life of that eminent engineer. Some recognition of Martin’s later work and the credit he had brought to his College was made in 1931, when he was made a Fellow of the City and Guilds Institute.

Martin joined the staff of Engineering on July 18, 1887, having been recommended to Dr. Maw, at that time Mr. Maw, by Professor Unwin. From that date until his death on Friday of last week; his great scientific and engineering ability was single-heartedly devoted to the interests of the journal he served. His life work will be found in our columns, which offer an enduring memorial of one who did more than any other worker to establish the scientific basis of steam turbine design in this country, and added important sections to modern knowledge on lubrication, heat transfer; suspension bridge design and indeed to a range of engineering problems which it is impossible to specify in detail. We, and many others, who have an adequate appreciation of the value of his contributions to engineering science, have long felt that his work has not received the recognition from outside that its importance justified. For this Martin’s own personality was partly to blame. He knew nothing of self-advertisement. His interest was in his work, not in himself. No one could have been more pleased when a serious worker communicated with him to discuss the details of any of his investigations, and no one could have taken - more trouble to lend the weight of his judgment and knowledge, when opportunity arose, to assist in the development of design or practice; but he had no ability in the direction of pushing his own interests. He had no stoic indifference to the opinion of the world, but at the same time he had no inclination to court its personal favours. In attempting to give some idea of the extent of Martin’s contributions to engineering science, we are at once met hy the difficulty of selection from among the extensive series of papers and articles which represent forty-six years of labour. He naturally did not reach the summit of his intellectual eminence at a hound, and much of his early work for this journal was such as naturally falls to the lot of a junior, hut he showed, his quality almost at once by the paper on “ Arched Ribs and Voussoir Arches,” which appears in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers for 1888, and for which he received the Miller Prize. This early contribution to the proceedings of one of the engineering institutions was not followed up by any extended activity in the same outside field, and the remainder of his work appeared in our columns with the exception of the paper entitled “ The Theory of the Steam Turbine,” which, in conjunction with Mr. R. H. Parsons, he read before the Junior Institution of Engineers in 1907, and also the article on “ Steam Turbines,” which, with the same co-worker, he contributed to the twelfth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

An attempt to give an adequate list of Martin’s contributions to our own pages would fill’ many columns. He was a steady and continuous worker, and although he was throughout his life troubled with indifferent health, this had hut little effect on his productive capacity. Indeed, a period of illness, or convalescence, was frequently utilised in the consideration or reconsideration of some technical problem, with an ultimate greater fertility. As we have said, his sphere was wide, but the first place must certainly be given to his work on steam turbines and' thermodynamics generally. His articles on these subjects covered a period of at least thirty years. At times, especially when his name was becoming known to workers in these fields, the articles appeared under his own name, but in general they were anonymous. Covering the sphere of turbine design proper, we may mention two articles on “ The Compound Steam Turbine,”, which appeared in the early part of 1905, and were followed by seven articles entitled “ The Compound Reaction Steam Turbine,” in the latter part of the following year. BKs general studies, which these articles represented, led him to give attention to the underlying principles of the design of some of the details of turbine construction, and the writing of such articles as that on “ The Practical Proportioning of the Reaction Steam Turbine,” which appeared in 1907, and “ Labyrinth Packings,” in 1908.

He was a close and instructed student of all published information relating to turbine design and performance, while his friendship with many of those who were working in the turbine field put him in touch with much unpublished information, and as a result he was led to many original investigations on the subject and the production of a more detailed and considered series of articles supplementary to his earlier ones, and embodying the results of his own work, and his study and interpretation of the results obtained by others. These articles, entitled “ The Steam Turbine,” ran through the greater part of our latter volume of the year 1911. They presented a complete study of the art of steam turbine design as it existed at that time, and presented to the designer a body of data and theory previously lacking. Based on these and other articles he had contributed to our columns, and embodying his later studies, he wrote his treatise on the subject, T/ae? Design and Construction of Steam Turbines, which was published by Messrs. Longmans, Green and Company, in 1913. This work, which he described as a manual for the engineer, presented to the turbine designer a considered study of the whole range of turbine design, and reduced much which had been rule of thumb to a rational scientific basis. It is clear, however, that the last word on the steam turbine was not to be said in the year 1913, and Martin retained his interest in the subject and made it one of his main studies during the succeeding years. This work resulted in many further articles in our columns, of which we may mention a series entitled, “ A New Theory of the Steam Turbine,” which appeared in 1918, and “The Proportioning of Steam Turbine Blading,” which appeared in 1922. The first-of these two series of articles, like many other of his more important contributions, was reprinted in pamphlet form.

In addition to his main turbine articles, the fruitful period in this subject, beginning with his “ Compound Steam Turbine ” articles of 1905, was marked by a long series of studies of turbine details. Many of these represented the results of original researches and as falling within this class we may mention two articles on “ The Strength of Rotating Discs,” appearing in 1912 and 1923; “The Rims of Rotating Discs,” appearing in 1926; “Some Suggested Errors in Nozzle Experiments,” 1913; and “ The Reaction of a Steam Jet,” 1914. Among numerous other contributions in the same field to which reference may be made were “The Calculation of Critical Speeds,” 1921; “ Rotating Discs of Conical Profile,” 1923 ; and “ Steam Leakage in Dummies of the Ljungstrom Type,” 1919. The articles we have mentioned are but a small part of the total number devoted to practically every aspect of steam turbine design which Martin wrote. They indicate, however, his fertility in a field in which he achieved a position of quite exceptional authority.

We have already said something of the breadth of his interests and learning, and that his turbine studies did not prevent him from employing his mathematical and analytical abilities on other subjects is abundantly clear from the remarkable list of articles on other matters which he contributed to our columns. It is only possible to mention a few of these, but as examples of some embodying the results of original researches, and of which he himself was very justly proud, we may mention “The Strength of Short Boilers” of 1891; “The Strength of Hooks ”; “ The Lubrication of Gear Teeth,” 1916 ; “ The Screw Viscosity Pumps,” 1922.

In connection with the article on “ The Lubrication of Gear Teeth ” it may he said that lubrication was a subject which fascinated him and to which he gave much attention. His considered opinions on the subject were given in a series of articles entitled “ The Theory of Lubrication ” which we published in the year 1915. On this subject his point of view was not shared by all workers. His opinions were original and his own, and he never had difficulty in adducing theoretical and experimental considerations to support his contentions. As bearing on this field, his work in connection with the Michell hearing should he mentioned. He realised the importance of this invention immediately it was brought to his attention, and contributed many articles to our columns dealing with its design and applications. As an example, we may cite his “ Theory of the Michell Thrust Bearing,” of 1920.

The laws of heat and the behaviour of gases, with related problems applicable in a very wide field of mechanical engineering, also received his attention, and as an example of a brilliant exposition of the basic conditions of many of these problems we would specifically mention his series on “ The Kinetic Theory of Gases,” which appeared in 1925. We are not sure if he would himself have selected this series for special mention, but they appear to us to illustrate his analytical power and faculty of exposition at their best. In this field of heat problems he himself selected “ The Laws of Heat Transfer ” of 1923, as representing a definite original contribution to the subject. This article ran into four issues of our journal. A further important series in this field was his “ Theory of the Surface Condenser,” of 1914.

So far we have referred only to articles falling generally into the sphere of mechanical engineering, but many of the problems of civil engineering also received Martin’s attention. As we have already said, he contributed to the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers immediately after joining the staff of this journal, and problems of civil engineering, particularly those' relating to bridge design, were dealt with by him on very many occasions. He was at one time particularly interested in indeterminate structures, and one of his earliest studies was an academic consideration of the stresses in a four-legged table. On the general subject of indeterminate structures he contributed a series of articles to our columns, in 1894 and 1895, entitled “ Statically Indeterminate Structures and the Principle of Least Work.” His early interest in civil subjects which these articles indicated was never lost, and as we have said Martin continually produced articles on bridge design and practice. Probably the most important of these, representing the most original work, were those on “ The Stiffened Suspension Bridge,” which appeared in 1927 and 1928. Bridges, however, in no way exhausted his attention to and interest in civil engineering works, and he produced many articles on earthwork, stresses in large dams, the flow of water, &c. In connection with dam design in particular, mention should be made of his famous controversy with Professor Karl Pearson. This arose from Martin’s criticism of a memoir entitled “ An Experimental Study of the Stresses in Masonry Dams,” written by Professor Pearson and Mr. A. E. Campbell Pollard and published in 1907. The controversy, which largely turned on the interpretation of Wilson and Gore’s experiments, ultimately extended from our own columns to those of Nature, and finally Pearson admitted that Martin’s contentions were right. The incident was a good illustration of Martin’s independent intellectual power and his just faith in his own understanding. He was awed by no great names.

In dealing with the range of Martin’s work and interests, it is difficult to know where to stop, but, before leaving our short selection from his contributions to our columns, it is necessary to refer to his series of articles on “ The Elements of the Lanchester-Prandtl Theory of Aeroplane Lift and Drag,” which appeared in 1924. Martin was certainly one of the first to appreciate the importance of Dr. Lanchester’s contributions to the theory of the aeroplane, and endeavoured to place those contributions in the position they deserved in the development of aeroplane theory. He it was, we believe, who first used the expression “ the Lanchester-Prandtl Theory,” and realised that of the two names that of Lanchester should stand first. Martin’s connection with this subject was an excellent illustration of his remarkable mathematical and analytical power. Dr. Lanchester’s book is not an easy one, but Martin, coming new to the subject, realised, after but little study, that much claimed by others had been established and published by Lanchester years before.

In this tribute to one whose name will not be forgotten among those who really design things, and do not merely follow some earlier worker, we have, so far, confined ourselves almost entirely to his contributions to our columns. As we have said, these contributions constitute his life work and his memorial, and he had few outside interests. None the less, the position he had won among turbine designers led to his appointment, in 1914, as an original member of the Steam Nozzles Research Committee, set up by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association. He was a very active member of this Committee, and was mainly responsible for the design of the nozzle tester with which such good work was done, and which has, in essentials, been adopted elsewhere. He was also an original member, of the Official Sub-Committee on Lubricants and Lubrication, appointed by the Government in 1917, and was responsible for initiating the National Physical Laboratory experiments on the effect of pressure on the viscosity of lubricants.

In reading this brief account of Martin’s career and the work he did, it is well to remember that through it all he was no leisured or cloistered worker. From first to last, he was an active member of our staff, taking his full share, especially in earlier years, of the day by day occupations which naturally arose in the conduct of the journal. At one time he regularly attended the meeting of the British Association and other bodies, reporting the proceedings for our columns, and took his full share of the inspections and visits which form part of the day to day routine. With increasing age and indifferent health, he was relieved from many duties of this kind, but to the last attended and reported meetings of the Royal Institution, particularly those dealing with advanced physics. He wrote no shorthand, but his quickness of brain and knowledge of what was being talked about enabled him to produce a, report which was frequently a more ordered account of the subject than the lecturer’s own remarks. We have said that his reading was wide and wise. This made him a valued leader writer, able to illustrate an argument, or make a point, by examples or instances from the past, his memory for detail being remarkable. He had definite opinions on current affairs, and knew how to express them, the apt turn of phrase or the appropriate literary quotation or reference being ever at hand.

Although Martin took little part in outside affairs, he did not hesitate to attend and speak at meetings of some of the technical institutions when the subject under discussion was one in which he was particularly interested or to which he could contribute original information. Not being a ready speaker, he wrote out his remarks beforehand and committed them to memory, so that they were always logical and coherent. His delivery, however, was not good, and he spoke rather nervously, so that the value of his contribution was probably not always realised. It was usually at meetings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at which he spoke, but, owing to his natural diffidence in pushing his own claims, he did not become a member of this body until as recently as 1930. He was a much older member of the Junior Institution of Engineers, and that body honoured both Martin and itself by making him an Honorary Member in 1921.

At no time was his health robust, his frail body being overtaxed by his quick and ever active intellect, while increasing age and the death of his wife in distressing circumstances some few years ago had lowered the vitality he had. This caused him to conserve his energy, and for a considerable number of years he had attended the office only part of the day. None the less, he had no wish to be relieved from duty. His work was his remaining life interest. In the course of his long service on the staff he had been ill and away so many times that on this last occasion no alarm was felt. He had been absent but a few days and it was assumed that he would appear again in due course, as in the past. It was, however, not to be. He has gone to his rest. His memorial is in his work, which all may read, but his memory is for his friends, who carry in their hearts a picture of industry and fairness, ability and kindliness, which they will retain to the end."

1933 Obituary[3]


In the death of H. M. Martin I feel that I have lost one of my best friends, and one who was always most ready to help in and to discuss any problem which might be under consideration, and to give one the full benefit of his very wide knowledge and experience. The profession of engineering is poorer by one whom I always looked upon as one of the foremost engineering physicists of the time. He combined, in a very unusual manner, the journalist, the practical engineer, the engineering physicist and the mathematician, a combination very rarely met with in one man. He never took a University degree, but he was a Whitworth Scholar, and thus had a thorough practical and theoretical training, and he was an example of what can be attained without a University course. The University is not the only way of procuring a good education. His knowledge of mathematics, physics, thermodynamics, and engineering, together with his power of applying them and of expressing himself, and thus transferring his knowledge and work to others, has proved to be of the greatest value to those engaged, not only in engineering, but in many other walks of life. I have been in close touch with him for nearly forty years, and feel much indebted to him, not only for benefits arising from his literary work, but also for help in many other ways, which he was always only too ready to give. In spite of almost continuous ill-health, he continued to work right up to the end, and one often felt that if he had been content to take things easier his health might have been better, and that possibly in the end he might have been able to do more. But he was always only too anxious to get on with whatever he had in hand.

Besides his writing for Engineering, he did much other most valuable work. Of his many activities, one may be mentioned with which I was closely connected—his work on the Steam Nozzles Committee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the British Electrical and Allied Industries Research Association. He designed the most successful apparatus for this research, and one that has been copied closely by various turbine manufacturers for further research in their works. This research, which is fully reported on in the Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, resulted in a much better understanding of the conditions necessary to obtain high efficiency in steam nozzles, and has contributed largely to improvements in the efficiency of steam turbines, especially of the impulse type. It has been estimated that the cost of this research, which was considerable, is saved in one month in the saving of coal in power stations. His contributions to this work, and his many articles on steam turbines, have been of the greatest service to the turbine industry, and few realise how much they owe to him. They invariably showed real knowledge, not only of the physical and thermodynamical conditions in a turbine, but also an appreciation of the engineering limits which had to be obeyed. Here his grasp of the mathematical, thermodynamical and mechanical conditions showed to advantage.

The range of subjects on which he wrote was remarkable, and only a few that I happen to remember can be mentioned. He contributed important articles on lubrication, especially on the theory of oil films in bearings and gears, on the properties and thermodynamics of steam, on the transfer of heat in condensers, on the stresses in dams, on the stresses in turbine discs, on the theory of the stresses in stiffened suspension bridges (articles on the latter attracted much attention in the United States and elsewhere), and many others involving the strength of materials, thermodynamics, physics, &c. But it was not only as an engineering journalist that he was remarkable, he was also a first-class physicist, and well up in the modem theories of the atom and molecule, on which he did much original work. No one but Martin could have given the lucid reports of the lectures of Lord Rutherford, Sir J. J. Thompson and others at the Royal Institution.

It is seldom that in one man so many and diverse activities are combined, and Engineering is not only a loser of a unique member of their staff, but the whole engineering and physical world feels the loss due to his death. I feel that I have been unable to do justice to his memory in this very brief note, but it will last for ever in those who feel, like me, that they have lost a friend and adviser who can never be replaced. I shall ever remember the pleasant and profitable times spent in his company discussing all sorts of subjects, on which he was only too ready to give the benefit of his wide knowledge."

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Mechanical Engineer Records