Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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James White (1824-1884)

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of Glasgow, maker of optical instruments

1850 James White (1824-1884) founded the firm of James White, optical instrument maker in Glasgow and was involved in supplying and mending apparatus for Professor Thomson's university laboratory and working with him on experimental constructions.

By 1854, White was already producing electrical instruments - electrometers and electrical balances - from Thomson's designs.

1857, White entered into a short-lived partnership, White and Barr, with John Barr which lasted until 1860 when it was dissolved and White reverted to his previous company name of James White.

1861 White was declared bankrupt in August 1861, and then discharged four months later.

1870 White was largely responsible for equipping Thomson's laboratory in the new University premises at Gilmorehill.

From 1876, White was producing accurate compasses for metal ships to Thomson's design, and this became an important part of his business in the last years of his life. He was also involved in the production of sophisticated sounding machinery that Thomson had designed to address problems encountered in laying cables at sea, helping to make possible the first transatlantic cable connection. At the same time, he continued to make a whole range of more conventional instruments such as telescopes, microscopes and surveying equipment. White's association with Thomson continued until he died.

After his death, his business continued under the same name, being administered by Matthew Edwards and David Reid.

1884 Raised most of the capital needed to construct and equip new workshops in Cambridge Street, Glasgow. At the Cambridge Street premises, the company continued to make the compass Thomson had designed during the 1870s and to supply it to the Admiralty. At the same time, the firm became increasingly involved in the design, production and sale of electrical apparatus.

1901 Matthew Edwards left to set up his own company.

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