Scotland; and in 1850, forming a partnership with Mr. John Thomson, C. E., he settled in Glasgow.
Meanwhile he had been busy in purely scientific pursuits not connected with his calling, and the value of his work was generally recognized. He was elected to various learned societies, and in 1853 was made a fellow of the Royal Society of London. The same year he became a member of the British Association, in which he subsequently held several important positions. During the Dublin meeting of the Association in 1857, the honorary degree of LL. D. was conferred upon him by the university of that city as a mark of the eminence he had gained as a physical investigator. He was then but thirty-seven years old.
In 1855 he was made Regius Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics in the University of Glasgow, a position which he held with distinction for seventeen years. He was an able instructor, his aim being to develop the understanding of the student by the cultivation of natural knowledge, and to beget those habits of close observation and persistent and exact verification which are so essential to the scientific worker in any field.
Prof. Rankine was the first President of the Institution of Engineers of Scotland, and in 1861 was made President of the Philosophical Society of Glasgow, contributing many papers to the Proceedings of that Society, and on a wide range of topics. The honors he won in his profession, and in thermo-dynamics, were rivaled by his achievements in naval architecture, to which his attention was for some time given.
His writings were exceedingly voluminous. His published treatises and manuals included, among others, "Manual of Applied Mechanics," "Manual of the Steam-Engine and Other Prime Movers," "Civil Engineering," "Useful Rules and Tables," "Cyclopædia of Machine and Hand Tools," "Manual of Machinery and Mill-Work," besides a very long catalogue of papers on physics, especially thermodynamics, applied mechanics, etc. His style was a model of scientific writing—elegant, exact, lucid in explanation and apt in illustration. In short, his was a mind of the first order, his original investigations were of the highest value, and his excellent influence as an instructor in moulding the minds of his students will be far-reaching.
His early death was the penalty of overwork, and was preceded by an impairment of vision and a derangement of the heart's action that were very distressing. He yielded to the demand for bodily rest when it became imperative; but it was too late. His is another name added to the long list of those who, understanding perfectly the limits of human endurance, seem to think that their case is exceptional, that their organisms can be continuously overworked with impunity, and so go on, heedless of the dumb protests of the abused body, until the ruin is utter and irrevocable.