Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Stanley, William Ford Robinson

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STANLEY, WILLIAM FORD ROBINSON (1829–1909), scientific instrument maker and author, born at Buntingford, Hertfordshire, on 2 Feb. 1829, was son of John Stanley (1804–1865), a mechanical engineer, inventor, and builder, by his wife Selina Hickman (1809–1881). After scanty education at private schools at Buckland, Hertfordshire, Stanley as a boy successively worked in his father's unsuccessful building business (1843), obtained employment as a plumber and joiner in London through the good offices of his uncle and godfather, William Ford Hickman, who enabled him to attend classes in technical drawing and modelling at the Birkbeck Institution; he then joined his father in 1849 at an engineering works at Whitechapel, where he first substituted for the wooden wheel and spokes of the tricycle, the steel-wired spider wheel which has since become universal. For five subsequent years he was in partnership with a builder at Buntingford, where he commenced studies in architecture, astronomy, geology, and chemistry which he continual through life.

In 1854 Stanley left Buntingford, and with 100l. capital rented a shop and parlour at 3 Great Turnstile, Holborn (now rebuilt), and at his father's suggestion started business for himself as a metal and ivory worker and maker of mathematical and drawing instruments, at first in wood but afterwards in metal. A cousin, Henry Robinson, soon joined him with a capital of 100l., but died in 1859. In 1855 his 'Panoptic Stereoscope,' a simplified and cheapened form of stereoscope, brought financial profit, and he started a metal drawing instrument branch, taking an additional shop at Holborn Bars and a skilled assistant. In December 1861 he patented the application of aluminium to the manufacture of mathematical instruments, and next year made a straight line dividing machine for which he was awarded the only medal for mathematical instrument work at the International Exhibition of 1862. This success brought him much work at home and abroad and laid the foundation of his later fortunes. He greatly improved the elegance and stability of surveying instruments, especially the theodolite. In 1866 he published 'A Descriptive Treatise on Mathematical Drawing nstruments,' which became the standard authority (7th edit. 1900). The rapid growth of the business led to the opening of branches at Lincoln's Inn, at London Bridge, and at Norwood, and in 1900 the firm became a limited company, with a capital of 120,000l., under the title of W. F. Stanley & Co.

Stanley's scientific inventions, besides improvements in cameras, lenses, and surveying instruments, included a meteorometer, for recording wind direction, pressure, temperature, moisture, and rainfall (patented in 1867), an integrating anemometer (1883; described in Quarterly Journal Roy. Meteor. Soc. ix. 208 seq.), a machine for measuring the height of human beings automatically — one of the first modern 'penny in the slot' machines (1886; cf. caricatures in Moonshine, 6 Oct. 1888, and Scraps, 8 Dec. 1888), and spirometers, a machine for testing lung capacity (1887; cf. caricature by H. Furniss in Yorkshire Evening Post, 6 Sept. 1890).

Stanley's versatile interests embraced geology, astronomy, anthropology, phrenology, painting, music, the drama, photography, and wood-carving. In the intervals of business he lectured and wrote on scientific subjects for learned societies. He became a member of the Physical Society of London in 1882, a fellow of the Geological Society in 1884, and of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1894. An accomplished musician, artist, and architect, he was the composer of part songs; exhibited three oil paintings at the Marlborough Gallery in 1891; and designed his own residence at Norwood. He was fond of foreign travel, and visited Palestine and Egypt in 1889, and Switzerland in 1893. To Norwood, whither Stanley retired in later life, and where he took a prominent part in philanthropic and municipal affairs, Stanley was a generous benefactor. There he designed and on 2 Feb. 1903 opened to the public the Stanley Public Hall and Gallery at a cost of 13,000l. for the purpose of lectures, concerts, and entertainments. A clock tower and hall were added in 1904. A further benefaction was a technical school, which was opened in 1907, for the education of boys as skilled scientific mechanics. The school met with instant success, and Stanley subsequently presented the buildings to the public with an endowment valued at 50,000Z. In 1907 Stanley was made an honorary freeman of Croydon, and a clock tower was unveiled in South Norwood to commemorate his golden wedding.

Stanley died at his residence, Cumberlow, South Norwood, on 14 Aug. 1909, and was buried at Crystal Palace cemetery. He married on 22 Feb. 1857 Eliza Ann Savoury, but had no issue. Many Croydon and Norwood hospitals, charities, and technical schools benefited under his will.

Besides the work already mentioned Stanley published : 1. 'Proposals for a New Reform Bill,’ 1867. 2. 'Photography Made Easy,' 1872. 3. 'Stanley's Pretty Figure Book Arithmetic,' fol. 1875. 4. 'Experimenta1 Researches into the Properties and Motions of Fluids,' 1881, (this work, which embodies the results of much study and research, was commended by Darwin and Tyndall; a supplementary work on sound motions in fluids was unfinished, and remains in manuscript). 5. 'Surveying and Levelling Instruments, theoretically and practically described,' 1890; 3rd edit. 1901. 6. 'Notes on the Nebular Theory,' 1895. 7. 'Joe Smith and his Waxworks,' 1896. 8. 'The Case of the Fox: a Political Utopia,' 1903.

[William Ford Stanley, his Life and Work, mainly autobiographical, by Richard Inwards, 1911; The Times, 16 Aug. 1909; Croydon Times, 18 Aug. 1909; Engineer, 20 Aug. 1909; Engineering, 28 Sept. 1909 (an account of his inventions); Norwood News, 28 Aug. 1909; Quarterly Journal Geol. Soc. 1910, vol. lxvi. p. lii.; Astron. Soc. Monthly Notices, 1910, lxx. 300.]

W. B. O.