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Peter Rothwell Jackson

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Peter Rothwell Jackson (1813-1899) of P. R. Jackson and Co

of Manchester


1899 Obituary [1]

Peter Rothwell Jackson was born in Liverpool on 22nd July 1813; but shortly afterwards his parents went to live in Bolton, where he commenced work at an early age, serving his apprenticeship as an engineer with the firm of Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell, at the Union Foundry, which was then one of the largest foundries in Lancashire, affording employment to about 400 men.

During his apprenticeship he made a foot lathe, to which amongst other devices he fitted two cylindrical brushes for cleaning boots, this being probably the earliest attempt at shoe-cleaning by machinery. He also invented an improved method of cutting screw-threads of various pitches on steel taps and other short screws, at that time a somewhat difficult operation.

Later he took out a patent, the first after Bramah's, for improvements in hydraulic presses, his attention having been drawn to this subject by the frequent bursting of the press cylinders at the Union Foundry; although the thickness of metal in them had been increased to as much as 8 inches, they frequently gave way. He therefore adopted the bold expedient of reducing the cylinder walls from 8 inches to only 7-8ths inch thickness, extending the main tension-bolts of the press so as to permit of the cylinder being supported from below, and securing the necessary circumferential strength by hooping the cylinder with three sets of wrought-iron hoops carefully shrunk on, after the manner subsequently adopted by Sir William Armstrong in the manufacture of heavy ordnance.

He was indeed anxious to apply this method to gun-making, but was dissuaded from doing so by his friend, Mr. John George Bodmer, who, while entirely approving of the plan, represented the difficulties he had himself experienced in trying to introduce novel ideas to government officials. The press cylinders thus strengthened proved highly successful; and the hydraulic presses as made by him continued in use until cast-steel hydraulic cylinders could be obtained at a reasonable cost.

In consequence of a dissolution of partnership in the firm, the works management at the Union Foundry devolved chiefly on himself when only about nineteen years of age and still in his apprenticeship. Although this position carried with it far too much responsibility for his years, it no doubt developed his capabilities, and proved most useful to him in after life.

When about twenty-two years old he left Messrs. Rothwells, and with his two brothers purchased the Wharf Foundry in Bolton. Being a sound mechanic and a most patient designer, he spared no pains to give the best possible form to any machine he had in hand, whether the main idea had originated with himself or with another. The ultimate success of Mr. Bodmer's plan for rolling railway-wheel tires was chiefly owing to the thought and pains Mr. Jackson bestowed upon working it out practically; he constructed the mill in such a way that it rolled the tires so exactly as to enable many of them to be shrunk on their wheels and put to work without either boring or turning. Even now the Jackson tire-mill is considered by competent judges to be capable of turning out better work than any other.

The same thought and care characterised the working out in all their details and accessories of his own inventions, in 1848 and 1854 respectively, of a hydraulic starting apparatus and of a wheel-moulding machine for toothed gearing. Of the former he gave a description to this Institution in 1848 (Proceedings April, page 12), when he had had it at work for two or three months. The moulding of toothed wheels by machinery has since become practically universal; and so perfectly were all the conditions met by his method that several of his earlier machines are still in successful operation, notwithstanding the adverse conditions under which they work, owing to the dust and sand inseparable from an iron foundry. The first of these moulding machines he described to the Institution in 1855 (Proceedings, page 41), with particulars of the work it had done during the eight or nine months it had been in operation since starting.

Both the rolling of the tires and the making of the hydraulic starting apparatus and of the toothed wheels were carried out by him at the Salford Rolling Mills, Manchester, established by him in 1840 for the manufacture of railway tires, and subsequently developed into a largo iron and steel foundry, and in recent years into electrical engineering works. He was one of the original Members of this Institution from its formation in 1847; and he used often to recall with interest the fact that he had attended the first meeting, held in Birmingham on Wednesday 27th January 1847, under the presidency of George Stephenson, at which the Institution was established (Proceedings 1897, pages 259-260). His death took place at his residence, Blackbrooke, Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, on 8th February 1899, in the eighty-sixth year of his age.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1899 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries Minutes of the Proceedings