Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887)

Joseph Whitworth has been called the father of precision engineering who trained in the workshops of Henry Maudsley and later worked with Charles Babbage who was to become known as the father of computing. Whitworth had many inventions but it is his work on rifled weapons and artillery that earns him a place in military history. Whitworths reputation as a precision engineer meant that he was asked to design a replacement for the Enfield rifle, which had not performed well during the Crimean War. His design for a muzzleloader was only used by the Rifle Brigade for a short time despite being very accurate, due to its tendency to clog and jam. The rifle when used with a telescopic sight had a range of 1,800 yards making it one of the finest long range guns in the world at that time. Whitworth took the design principles of the rifle and started to apply them to an artillery piece while developing a breech loading mechanism. This weapon did not find much favour either but did see limited service with both sides during the American Civil War. The guns with the same hexagonal barrel section as the earlier rifle proved very accurate but lacked firepower when compared to contemporary artillery, and were in many ways too advanced for their time.

In 1897 Whitworth's company merged with Sir William Armstrong's company to form Armstrong-Whitworth which in turn merged with Vickers in 1927. Whitworth believed strongly in education and in 1868 started a fund for the mechanical training of young lads helping to establish the study of engineering at Manchester University.

How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, TDP. (19 August 2001), Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887),

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