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Template:Infobox Engineer Sir Joseph Whitworth, Baronet (21 December 1803 – 22 January 1887) was an English engineer and entrepreneur.


Early life[]

Whitworth was born in Stockport, the son of Charles Whitworth, a teacher and Congregational minister), and at an early age developed an interest in machinery. He was educated at Idle, near Leeds; his aptitude for mechanics became apparent when he began work for his uncle.[1]


After leaving school Whitworth became an indentured apprentice to an uncle who was a cotton spinner in Derbyshire. This was for a four year term after which he worked for another four years as a mechanic in a factory in Manchester. He then moved to London where he found employment working for Henry Maudslay, the inventor of the screw-cutting lathe, alongside such people as James Nasmyth (inventor of the steam hammer) and Richard Roberts.

Whitworth developed great skill as a mechanic while working for Maudslay, developing various precision machine tools and also introducing a box casting scheme for the iron frames of machine tools that simultaneously increased their rigidity and reduced their weight.

Whitworth also worked for Holtzapffel & Co (makers of ornamental lathes) and Joseph Clement. While at Clement's workshop he helped with the manufacture of Charles Babbage's calculating machine, the Difference engine. He returned to Openshaw, Manchester, in 1833 to start his own business manufacturing lathes and other machine tools, which became renowned for their high standard of workmanship. Whitworth is attributed with the introduction of the thou in 1844.[2] In 1853, along with his lifelong friend, artist and art educator George Wallis (1811-1891), he was appointed a British commissioner for the New-York International Exhibition. They toured around industrial sites of several American States, and the result of their journey was a report 'The Industry of the United States in Machinery, Manufactures and Useful and Applied Arts, compiled from the Official Reports of Messrs Whitworth and Wallis, London, 1854.'

In 1850, architect Edward Walters was commissioned to build The Firs for Whitworth. This was a grand mansion at Fallowfield, Manchester, which still stands today, functioning as Chancellors Hotel & Conference Centre.

Accuracy and standardisation[]


Graphic representation of formulas for the pitches of threads of screw bolts

File:Screw making machine, 1871.png

screw making machine from 1871

File:Whitworth rifle.jpg

Whitworth rifle

Whitworth popularized a method of producing accurate flat surfaces (see Surface plate) during the 1830s, using engineer's blue and scraping techniques on three trial surfaces. Up until his introduction of the scraping technique, the same three plate method was employed using polishing techniques, giving less accurate results. This led to an explosion of development of precision instruments using these flat surface generation techniques as a basis for further construction of precise shapes.

His next innovation, in 1840, was a measuring technique called "end measurements" that used a precision flat plane and measuring screw, both of his own invention. The system, with a precision of one millionth of an inch, was demonstrated at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

In 1841 Whitworth devised a standard for screw threads with a fixed thread angle of 55° and having a standard pitch for a given diameter. This soon became the first nationally standardized system; its adoption by the railway companies, who until then had all used different screw threads, leading to its widespread acceptance. It later became a British Standard, "British Standard Whitworth", abbreviated to BSW and governed by BS 84:1956.

Whitworth rifle[]

Whitworth was commissioned by the War Department of the British government to design a replacement for the calibre .577-inch Pattern 1853 Enfield, whose shortcomings had been revealed during the recent Crimean War. The Whitworth rifle had a smaller bore of 0.451 inch (11 mm) which was hexagonal, fired an elongated hexagonal bullet and had a faster rate of twist rifling [one turn in twenty inches] than the Enfield, and its performance during tests in 1859 was superior to the Enfield's in every way. The test was reported in The Times on 23 April as a great success. However, the new bore design was found to be prone to fouling and it was four times more expensive to manufacture than the Enfield, so it was rejected by the British government, only to be adopted by the French Army. An unspecified number of Whitworth rifles found their way to the Confederate states in the American Civil War, where they were called "Whitworth Sharpshooters".

The Enfield rifle was converted to Snider-Enfield Rifle by Jacob Snider, a Dutch-American wine merchant from Philadelphia. By converting existing Enfield rifles this way, the cost of a "new" breech-loading Snider-Enfield rifle was only 12 shillings.

Queen Victoria opened the first meeting of the British Rifle Association at Wimbledon, in 1860 by firing a Whitworth rifle from a fixed mechanical rest. The rifle scored a bull's eye at a range of 400 yards (366 m).

Breech-loading artillery[]

Whitworth also designed a large rifled breech loading gun with a 2.75 inch (70 mm) bore, a 12 pound 11 ounce (5.75 kg) projectile and a range of about six miles (10 km). The spirally-grooved projectile was patented in 1855. This was rejected by the British army, who preferred the guns from Armstrong, but was used in the American Civil War.

While trying to increase the bursting strength of his gun barrels, Whitworth patented a process called "fluid-compressed steel" for casting steel under pressure, and built a new steel works near Manchester. Some of his castings were shown at the Great Exhibition in Paris ca. 1883.

Awards and memorials[]

Whitworth received many awards for the excellence of his designs and was financially very successful. In 1850, then a Fellow of the Royal Society and President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, he built a house called The Firs in Fallowfield, south Manchester. In 1854 he bought Stancliffe Hall in Darley Dale, Derbyshire and moved there with his second wife Louisa in 1872. He supplied four six-ton blocks of stone from Darley Dale quarry, for the lions of St. George's Hall in Liverpool. He endowed the Manchester Whitworth Institute, where the hospital was later founded in memory of his wife.[citation needed]

A strong believer in the value of technical education, Whitworth backed the new Mechanics' Institute in Manchester (later UMIST) and helped found the Manchester School of Design. In 1868, he founded the Whitworth Scholarship for the advancement of mechanical engineering. In recognition of his achievements and contributions to education in Manchester, the Whitworth Building on the University of Manchester's Main Campus is named in his honour, and graduation ceremonies are held in its Whitworth Hall. The University's Whitworth Art Gallery and adjacent Whitworth Park were established as part of his bequest to Manchester after his death. Nearby Whitworth Park Halls of Residence also bears his name, as does Whitworth Street, one of the main streets in Manchester city centre, running from London Road to the south end of Deansgate. Near The Firs a cycleway behind Owens Park is called Whitworth Lane. In Darley Dale is another Whitworth Park.


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Plaque from the memorial in Whitworth Park, Darley Dale erected in 1894

File:The Grave of Sir Joseph Whitworth Bart.jpg

The grave of Sir Joseph Whitworth Bart. in the grounds of St Helen's parish church, Darley Dale, Derby (Whitworth's grave is the central tomb)

In January 1887 at the age of 83, Sir Joseph Whitworth died in Monte Carlo where he had travelled in the hope of improving his health. He was buried at St Helen's Church, Darley Dale, Derbyshire. A detailed obituary was published in the American magazine The Manufacturer and Builder (Volume 19, Issue 6, June 1887). He directed his trustees to spend his fortune on philanthropic projects, which they still do to this day. Part of his bequest was used to establish the Whitworth Art Gallery, now part of the University of Manchester.

See also[]



  1. Bradshaw (1985); pp. 57–58
  2. Edkins, Jo. "Small units". Imperial Measures of Length. Jo Edkins. Retrieved 2009-09-23. 


  • Atkinson, Norman (1996). Sir Joseph Whitworth: "the World's Best Mechanician". Gloucester: Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-7509-1211-1. 
  • Bradshaw, L. D. (1985). Origins of Street Names in the City of Manchester. Radcliffe: Neil Richardson. ISBN 0-907511-87-2. 
  • Kilburn, Terence (1987) Joseph Whitworth: Toolmaker, two editions, 1987 and 2002
  • Kilburn, Terence ( ) Darley's Lady Bountiful: Lady Louisa Whitworth
  • Lea, F. C. (1946). Sir Joseph Whitworth: a Pioneer of Mechanical Engineering. London: Longmans, Green. 
  • Template:Roe1916
  • Whitworth, Joseph (1873) Miscellaneous papers on mechanical subjects: Guns and Steel. London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer
Preceded by
William Fairbairn
President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Succeeded by
John Penn
Preceded by
Robert Napier
President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
Succeeded by
John Penn

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