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John Henderson Porter

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John Henderson Porter (1824-1895)

Steam Engine Boiler Makers

1852 of the Iron Roofing Works, Birmingham


1896 Obituary [1]

JOHN HENDERSON PORTER was born on the 10th of June, 1824. His career dates from the early days of railway enterprise, which gave rise to a great demand for iron roofing and ironwork construction generally, in which he was engaged as assistant to his father then established at Southwark.

He interested himself greatly in the important industry of galvanizing iron and in 1842 brought back from Paris, where he had studied the process and its adaptations, skilled workmen with whose aid he commenced operations in this country. It may be interesting to record that he launched the enterprise by dipping the first sheet of iron with his own hands. Walker’s patent for corrugating iron expiring at this time, Mr. Porter at once led the way in applying galvanized iron corrugated for roofing and other purposes.

In 1848 he took out a patent for iron girders, and another for applying corrugated iron for floors and roofs, in which he made use of corrugated iron arches, laid with concrete; also of horizontal plates corrugated to a special form. Both these kinds of flooring were constructed by him for cotton mills and for iron bridges supplied to foreign governments. In these matters he was, however, in advance of his time and anticipated by more than twenty years inventions upon the same lines now meeting with adoption.

Succeeding to his father’s business, Mr. Porter removed to Birmingham, where his firm was engaged for several years in the construction of iron roofs, bridges, piers, dock gates and lighthouses, including several cast-iron lighthouses for the Russian Government and others of wrought-iron framing for the Spanish Government. One of the latter, the Buda Lighthouse, 150 feet high to Mr. Porter’s design, formed the subject of a Paper read in 1861 at a meeting of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, where the lighthouse was temporarily erected.

Besides many other bridges erected abroad, the Lambeth Suspension Bridge over the Thames was constructed by Mr. Porter’s firm to the design of Peter Barlow, in 1862.

From 1867 to 1875 Mr. Porter was engaged with James Duncan in the manufacture of beet root sugar at Mr. Duncan’s factory at Lavenham in Suffolk, where the sugar beet was extensively cultivated by the farmers to supply the factory, under special arrangement. He wrote a pamphlet on this subject in 1870 and also dealt with it in a Paper read at the Ixworth Farmer’s Club in 1874. The utilization of the residual pulp for stock feeding was an important branch of this system; and a practical demonstration of its value for that purpose was made in an extensive range of cattle-feeding sheds erected at the factory, which was highly successful in its results.

The industry, however, failed to establish itself in this country, notwithstanding Mr. Duncan’s spirited enterprise, and Mr. Porter, who was now practising as a Consulting Engineer in London, next had his attention directed to the softening and purifying of water, for which purpose he made use of the Clark process. This had previously only been available, and in but few instances, for the treatment of water on a very large scale; but Mr. Porter succeeded in utilizing it in suitable plant of his own design for the purpose of “softening and filtering water in large quantities within small space,” as expressed in the specification of the patent which he obtained in 1876. This was followed by other patents for further improvements in the process, now well known as the Porter-Clark process, to the development of which his attention was continually devoted till the time of his death.

Mr. Porter was possessed of a natural faculty and taste for construction, with great power of initiation and organization. With these qualities were combined force of character and a considerate bearing which commanded the respect and regard of equals and subordinates alike.

In private life he was genial and humorous, modest and retiring, and he was much respected by all who knew him intimately. He was a great reader and had a fine taste for art and a happy power of expression in conrersation and in writing. After an illness of three months from 'Lymphangeites' he expired on the 14th of October, 1895.

Mr. Porter was elected an Associate, on the proposal of Mr. I. K. Brunel, on the 3rd of December, 1850, and on more than one occasion took part in discussions at the Institution.



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