Men of the Time, eleventh edition/Armstrong, William George
ARMSTRONG, Sir William George, C.B., LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., son of the late Mr. William Armstrong, a merchant and alderman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by the daughter of Mr. William Potter, formerly of Walbottle Hall, Northumberland, was born in 1810. He was educated at the school of Bishop Auckland, and afterwards articled to an eminent solicitor at Newcastle, who subsequently adopted him as a partner; but a strong bent for scientific pursuits eventually diverted him from the law. Early in life he commenced investigations on the subject of electricity, which resulted in the invention of the hydro-electric machine, the most powerful means of developing frictional electricity yet devised. For this he was elected, whilst a very young man, a Fellow of the Royal Society. He then invented the hydraulic crane, and, between 1845 and 1850, the "accumulator," by which an artificial head is substituted for the natural head gained only by altitude; and extended the application of hydraulic power to hoists of every kind, machines for opening and closing dock gates and spring bridges, capstans, turntables, waggon-lifts, and a variety of other purposes. For the manufacture of this machinery he and a small circle of friends founded the Elswick Engine Works, near Newcastle. There, in December, 1854, he constructed the rifled ordnance gun that bears his name. In 1858 the Rifle Cannon Committee recommended the adoption of the Armstrong gun for special service in the field, and Mr. Armstrong, on presenting his patents to the Government, was knighted, made a C.B., and appointed Engineer of Rifled Ordnance, with a salary of £2000 a year. Between the years 1858 and 1870 the Armstrong gun and the position of Sir W. G. Armstrong in reference to the Government underwent many changes; but the leading feature of the gun, whether rifled or smooth, muzzleloading or breech-loading, is in the coiling of one wrought-iron tube over another until a sufficient thickness is built up. The Armstrong gun has been largely adopted by foreign Governments. Sir William Armstrong extended the system to guns of all sizes, from the 6-pounder to the 600-pounder, weighing upwards of 20 tons, and within three years introduced three thousand guns into the service. The Committee of Ordnance of the House of Commons, in their report, July, 1863, state that they "have had no practical evidence before them that even at this moment any other system of constructing rifled ordnance exists which can be compared to that of Sir W. Armstrong." In February, 1863, Sir William resigned his appointment, and rejoined the Elswick manufacturing company. In the same year he acted as President of the British Association meeting held at Newcastle-on-Tyne. In that capacity he drew attention to the gradual lessening of our supply of coal, and the probability of actual exhaustion at some future time. The discussion suggested by this important address led to the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into all the circumstances connected with our national coal supply, and he was nominated a member of this Commission. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1862, and the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford in 1870. Sir William is a Knight Commander of the Danish Order of the Dannebrog, of the Austrian Order of Francis Joseph, and of the Brazilian Order of the Rose. He was nominated a Grand Officer of the Italian Order of SS. Maurice and Lazarus in 1876. Sir W. G. Armstrong has taken an active part in the inquiries concerning the operation of the Patent Laws, he being very hostile to them in their present forms. He has been President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and also of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society.