Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Griffiths, Robert

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GRIFFITHS, ROBERT (1805–1883), inventor of a screw propeller, was born at Lleweny Farm, in the Vale of Clwydd, on 13 Dec. 1805. He showed an early inclination for mechanical pursuits, and was, on his own choice, apprenticed to carpentry in North Wales. When a boy he executed some highly creditable ornamental woodwork at Cefn, and constructed three harps, upon which instrument he became a skilful player. He afterwards went as pattern-maker in an engine works in Birmingham, where an uncle resided. In spite of some jealousy he did such good work that he speedily secured a foremanship. His name is first recorded in the patent office in 1835, as the inventor of a rivet machine. In 1836, jointly with John Gold, he patented a very successful glass-grinding and polishing machine; and, a year later, in collaboration with Samuel Evers of Cradley, he obtained a patent which greatly facilitated the making of hexagon nuts. In 1845 Griffiths patented a marked improvement in machinery for making bolts, railway spikes, and rivets. The same year, on account of his wife's ill-health, he migrated to France, and at Havre, in conjuntion with M. Labruère, founded engineering works, at which were manufactured most of the ironwork for the railway then being constructed from Havre to Paris. The revolution of 1848 having brought trade to a standstill, Griffiths parted with all his property to compensate and send home the mechanics who had accompanied him to France. Meanwhile Griffiths had been busy improving the atmospheric railway, and took out patents with Mr. Bovill, the leading features of which were the using of a vacuum on one side as well as a plenum on the other to act on the piston, and the closing of the atmospheric pipe. After the closing of his French works Griffiths experimented upon the screw propeller, and in 1849 took out a patent for an amended method of screw propulsion, which was largely adopted in the navy. Further improvements were patented by Griffiths in 1853 and 1858, adding to the idea of separate blades and less vibration still further efficiency and reduction in cost. An improved form of 'protector' was Griffiths's last patent of note, though in 1878 he invented a serviceable plan of placing the screw propeller a distance equal to two-thirds of its diameter aft the end of the run. Griffiths secured other patents for an electric hair brush, intended to prevent hair turning white; supplementary improvements in bolt and rivet making; and an automatic damper for steam boilers, as well as a method of preventing scale in boilers, the two latter protectors being obtained jointly with Mr. C. W. Copeland. Griffiths read a number of valuable papers before the Society of Naval Architects and at the Royal United Service Institution, chiefly relating to his own original experiments. He died in June 1883.

[Memoir in Engineering, 29 June 1883.]

J. B-y.