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British Industrial History

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William Bown

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William Bown (1834-1900) of William Bown, inventor of ball bearings and other components fo the bicycle and sewing machine industries.

1834 November. Born in Birmingham the son of John Bown, a Dray Man, and his wife Martha.[1]

1841 John Bown 40, lived in Birmingham, with Martha Bown 38, William Bown 6, John Bown 5, Benjamin Bown 1, Mary Bown 11, Harriet Bown 9, Eliza Bown 6, Martha Bown 3[2]

1851 John Bowen 56, lived in Birmingham with Martha Bowen 48, Mary Bowen 21, Harriet Bowen 19, Eliza Bowen 17, William Bowen 16, powder flask maker, John Bowen 14, Martha Bowen 12, James Bowen 9, Anne Marie Bowen 7, Edwin Bowen 4[3]

1861 Living at 136 Farm Street, Birmingham: William Bown (age 26 born Birmingham), a Brass Founder. With his wife Emily Bown (age 24 born Birmingham). Also two lodgers.[4]

1862 Company formed

1867 Listed as a Shuttle Maker of 45 Brearley Street.[5]

1870 Patent. '2781. And to William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Shuttle Manufacturer, for the invention of "an improved arrangement of feed regulator for sewing machines."'[6]

1871 Living at 388 Summer Lane / Brearley St, Birmingham: William Bown (age 36 born Birmingham), a Manufacturer of Sewing Machines. With his wife Emily Bown (age 34 born Birmingham). Also his nephew James Flavell (age 6 born Birmingham). Two servants.[7]

1874 Patent. '715. And William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Manufacturer, has given the like notice in respect of the invention of "improvements in horse clippers."'[8]

1876 Patent. '3266. To William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Manufacturer, for the invention of "improvements in the construction of wheels or rollers for roller skates and for other purposes."'[9]

1876 Patent. '3817. And William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Manufacturer, has given the like notice in respect of the invention of "improvements in sewing machine shuttles."'[10]

1877 Patent '3531 introducing the first ball race pedal which even today the design remains basically the same. They used the name 'Aeolus' for various products including the pedals.[11]

1877 Patent to William Bown and Joseph Henry Hughes for "bearings for velocipedes, carriages and other purposes".[12]

1877 Notice warning anyone infringing his patent of adjustable ball bearings.[13]

1878 Patent. '653. To William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Manufacturer, for the invention of "certain improvements in apparatus for clipping or shearing horses and other animals."'[14]

1878 Patent. '1274. To William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Manufacturer, for the invention of "certain improvements in springs for gloves and other purposes, and in the means used for securing springs to gloves or other articles."[15]

1878 Patent. '3303. To William Bown, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, Manufacturer, for the invention of "certain improvements in attachments and accessories for sewing-machines, parts of which are applicable for other useful purposes."'[16]

1879 Patent for improvements to bicycles, tricycles and other velocipedes etc. [17]

1880 Patent for improvements in tricycles and parts of bicycles to William Bown and John Derry [18]

1881 Living at Melton House, Park Road, Handsworth: William Bown (age 46 born Birmingham), a Manufacturer employing 96 men and 60 females - and a Widower. With his nephew James W. Flavell (age 16 born Birmingham), a Clerk.[19]

1883 Court case. 'BOWN v. HUMBER AND OTHERS,- The hearing of this case was resumed yesterday, in the Chancery Division, before Mr. Justice North. William Bown, of Birmingham, was the plaintiff, and he sued the defendants, Messrs. Humber, Marriot, and Cooper, of Beeston, in Nottinghamshire, for damages for infringing letters patent granted to Joseph Henry Hughes, dated September 19th 1877, the title of the patent being for improvements in the bearings of bicycles and velocipedes or carriages....Frederick Bramwell was further examined on behalf of plaintiff, and was subjected to a long cross-examination by Mr. Davey, Q.C. At the conclusions of the witness's evidence, Mr. Aston stated that in the event of the defendants producing evidence to show that Edlin's, Keen's, and Humber and Marriot's machines, as produced in Court, were made and in use before Hughes's patent were granted, he would not proceed further with the action.'[20] [21]

1890 Court case against the Centaur Cycle Co and mentions his employee Thomas Hughes and his patent of 1877.[22]

1891 Cycle manufacturer, lived in Harborne[23]

1891 Court case against the Hart Cycle Co and William Edward Hart, Junior.[24]

1891 Patent. Rowley B. Turner and William Bown - elastic tires and rims for the wheels of bicycles, tricycles, and other velocipedes and carriages.[25]

1891 Patent. Albert H. Overman and William Bown for "velocipede and other lamps".[26]

1892 Patent. William Bown and Robert Chalmers for "lamps for bicycles, tricycles, and other velocipedes or carriages"[27]

1894 Patent. William Bown, Joseph H. Hughes and Arthur Louks for velocipedes.[28]

1894 Married Clara Buncher in Harborne[29]

1900 Died in Hatton Asylum, Birmingham[30]


1900 Obituary[31]

'DEATH OF MR. WILLIAM BOWN. Our obituary contains notice of the death of Mr. William Bown, which occurred on Saturday, at his residence, 365, Harborne Road. Mr. Bown, who was born in Birmingham in November, 1834, was well-known in connection with the sewing-machine and cycle trades, and was until five years ago managing director of William Bown (Limited), a company which was formed to take over his business in 1892. At a much earlier period, however, than that his name became almost famous as the inventor of the "Aeolus ball bearing." The early bicycles- "bone-shakers," as they are now called - which came to us from France, just before the Franco-German war, had the wheel spindles enclosed simply in a smooth gun-metal bearing. The great object of the builders of improved bicycles was to reduce friction, and thereby enable the machine to run as easily as possible. Roller bearings were first introduced with this object, and then ball bearings were tried - that is to say, the spindles rested upon steel balls contained in a case. The difficulty, however, was to arrange for making good the areas of the balls and of the portions of metal resting upon them; and this was first accomplished by an invention of Mr. Bown, patented in 1877, whereby the journal was made adjustable. Mr. Bown, who had commenced business in a very small way as a machinist - chiefly in connection with sewing machines - was an indefatigable experimenter and a far-seeing man. The possibilities of the cycle trade early became manifest to him, and, having achieved fame by his bearings, he at once began to develop this side of his business. Following upon the gain in lightness brought about by the invention of the spider-wheel, the designing of a practicable ball-bearing gave the trade the most marvelous impetus it had up to that time received. For a long period the "AEolus" bearing was the best device of its kind, and bicycle and tricycle makers paid large sums in royalties for its use, while the reputation it, brought Mr. Bown, together with the ingenuity and skill which he brought to bear upon other details of cycle construction, enabled him to build up a large business. In 1892 this business, carried on in Summer Lane, was turned into a limited company with a capital of £100,000, and the plant and machinery were largely added to, while the work people numbered about a thousand. A stamping and engineering works at Bracebridge Street, Aston, with about 250 men, was added, but this has been sold. The "AEolus" bearing was at length superseded, and Mr. Bown's other earlier patents ran out, with the result that the invention became the common property of the trade. Prior to this, however, the invention, like others in the cycle trade, had given rise to a long and expensive law suit, that of Bown v. Humber. The trade mark "AEolus" has been retained for the cycles and parts turned out by the firm. Mr. Bown was one of the earliest to experiment with spring frames, and he brought out a spring-jointed fork with a view to reducing the vibration felt ... the handles. The present lightness of construction, however, was then undreamt of, and the contrivance, on account of its addition to the weight of the machine, did not gain much favour. The introduction of the pneumatic tyre, too, checked enterprise in that direction for a time. Though he took no part in the development of the pneumatic tyre, Mr. Bown was one of the first to realise its possibilities and to adopt it. A number of ingenious cycle accessories, with various patented contrivances in other Departments of trade, testify to Mr. Bown's ingenuity, and the sewing machine business was also continued. Until the state of his health compelled him to retire, about five years ago, Mr. Bown was most assiduous in attention to business, it being no uncommon thing for him to be present when the works opened in the morning. He was a self-made Birmingham man, but was notable for his cultured tastes and his universal courtesy. His employes and others who were associated with him all remember him, not only for his kindly and unassuming manners, but for many acts of generosity unostentatiously performed. One of his principal hobbies was floriculture, and during his residence at Holly Lawn, Beech Lanes, he became quite famous as an exhibitor of orchids, azaleas, and other flowers. Mr. Bown leaves a widow, but no children, but a second cousin, Mr. William Bown, is associated with the business.'


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1851 Census
  2. 1841 census
  3. 1851 census
  4. 1861 Census
  5. 1867 Post Office Directory of Birmingham
  6. [1] Gazette Issue 23677 published on the 11 November 1870. Page 24 of 58
  7. 1871 Census
  8. [2] Gazette Issue 24082 published on the 31 March 1874. Page 20 of 52
  9. [3] Gazette Issue 24361 published on the 8 September 1876. Page 13 of 44
  10. [4] Gazette Issue 24383 published on the 14 November 1876. Page 27 of 60
  11. T. Pickering
  12. Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 11 April 1890
  13. Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 26 December 1887
  14. [5] Gazette Issue 24557 published on the 1 March 1878. Page 28 of 72
  15. [6] Gazette Issue 24574 published on the 19 April 1878. Page 14 of 56
  16. [7] Gazette Issue 24624 published on the 13 September 1878. Page 11 of 46
  17. Birmingham Daily Post, Friday, August 1, 1879
  18. Birmingham Daily Post, Friday, July 16, 1880
  19. 1881 census
  20. Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 28 June 1883
  21. Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 06 March 1884
  22. Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 04 November 1890
  23. 1891 census
  24. Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 28 April 1891
  25. Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 09 October 1891
  26. Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 11 December 1891
  27. Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 08 January 1892
  28. Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 08 March 1895
  29. BMD
  30. national probate calendar
  31. Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 30 July 1900