Person/Organisation NameWilson; Robert (1803-1882); Mechanical engineer
EpithetMechanical engineer
ActivityInvented the screw propeller, demonstrating it in 1827, although the first patent was awarded to another inventor in 1836. Wilson also designed a self-acting motion for steam hammers that was key to making them practical for industrial use, among many other inventions.

In 1838 Wilson was appointed Works Manager at James Nasmyth's Bridgewater foundry in Patricroft near Manchester. He improved Nasmyth's design for a steam hammer, inventing the self-acting motion that made it possible to adjust the force of the blow delivered by the hammer – a critically important improvement. An early writer said of Wilson's gear, "... I would be prouder to say that I was the inventor of that motion, then to say I had commanded a regiment at Waterloo..." Nasmyth's steam hammers could now vary the force of the blow across a wide range. Nasmyth was fond of breaking an egg placed in a wineglass without breaking the glass, followed by a blow that shook the building.

From 1845 to 1856 Wilson was employed by the Low Moor Ironworks near Bradford in Yorkshire. While at Low Moor he improved the steam hammer with the "circular balanced valve". He returned to the Bridgewater foundry in July 1856, and became Managing Partner when Nasmyth retired at the end of that year. The company designed and manufactured machine tools, hydraulic presses, pumps and locomotives.Wilson built a very large double-acting steam hammer[b] for the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. The company was renamed Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. in 1867, and Wilson continued to be a partner until 1882.

Between 1842 and 1880 Wilson took out more than thirty patents for mechanical devices. In 1857 he became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. In 1873 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was also a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts. He was finally awarded £500 by the War Office for his double action screw propeller for torpedoes in 1880. Wilson died on 28 July 1882 in Matlock, Derbyshire, England at the age of 78.
NAS/2/1Letters patent no. 2577
NAS/1/11Registered engines
NAS/2Legal papers
NAS/3/1Letter book
NAS/1/1Packing press machine
NAS/1/1/1Plan, elevation and sections: press
NASJames Nasmyth
NAS/1Engineering drawings
NAS/1/18/1Robert Wilson's steam engine
IME/7/1/8/43R Wilson: proposal
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