FAIRBAIRN, Sir WILLIAM, Bart., was b. at Kelso, in Roxburgshire, in 1789. Hav ing learned a little reading, writing, and arithmetic at the parish school of Mullochy, in Ross-shire, and afterwards got some six months' instruction from an uncle, he was apprenticed to an engine-wright at Percymain colliery, North Shields. When his apprenticeship terminated, F. wrought for two years in London, and then visited many places in England, Wales, and Ireland, working a short time at each, in order to observe the various practices of different localities. Eventually, he commenced business on his own account in Manchester in 1817. It was a struggle in which, without money or connections, only great abilities and perseverance would have succeeded. The first great improvement introduced by F. was the substitution of iron for wood in the shigt ing of cotton-mills, and the substitution of light for heavy shafting where metal was already in use. This exchange economized the cost of machinery, and enabled the motion to be speeded tram 40 to 160 revolutions per minute. F. was amongst the earliest of the iron ship-builders, and has originated various improvements in their con struction. The firm has built more than a hundred vessels, varying from the smallest size up to the war-frigate of 2,600 tons.
In 1834-35, F. and Mr. E. Hodgkinson were invited by the British association for the advancement of science to seek out the cause of certain supposed defects in the iron produced by hot-blast furnaces, and a very interesting report thereon appears in the Transactions of the association. Nearly at the same time, F. tested the strength of the various kinds of iron of Great Britain, the report of which appears in the Transac tions of the philosophical society of Manchester, and contains much useful information for engineers. Another report, published in the Transactions of the royal society, gives the tenacity of boiler-plates of various thicknesses, and determines the best mode of riveting. He also made a long series of experiments on the resistance of hollow tubes or cylinders to collapse from outward pressure, leading to valuable practical results.
The first idea of a tubular bridge across the Menai strait is due to Robert Stephen son, but its realization is due to F. more than to all other men. Stephenson's idea was a circular tube, supported by chains; but the Britannia and Conway bridges are rectangu lar structures, strengthened by a series of cells at the top and bottom, and without chains or any other support from pier to pier. The present form results from a long series of experiments upon model tubes—circular, egg-shaped, and rectangular—which were conducted entirely for a long time by F., and latterly, with the aid of Mr. E. Hodgkinson, as a mathematician, to deduce a law from the tabulated results of experi ments. F. erected more than a hundred bridges upon this principle. See TUBULAR BRIDGE. P. was a fellow of the royal society; corresponding member of the institute of France, and of the royal academy of Turin; LL.D. of Edinburgh; was president of the British association for the advancement of science, 1861-62; was a chevalier of the legion of honor; and was created a baronet in 1869. His son Thomas was chairman of the art treasures exhibition at Manchester, 1857; was a commissioner for the exhibitions or 1851 and 1862; was high-sheriff of Hampshire, 1870; and was, in 1857, offered the honor of knighthood, which he declined. F., amongst other works and papers, pub lished: On Canal Steam Navigation; The Strength and other Properties -of Hot and Cold Blast Iron; The Strength of Iron at Different Temperatures; The Strength of Locomotive Boilers; The of Repeated Meltings on the Strength of Cast Iron; The Irons of Great Britain; The Conway and Britannia Tubular Bridges; Useful Information for Engineers, 1st, 2d, and 3d series; and A Treatise on Mills and Mill-work. He died in Aug., 1874. See Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart., by W. Pole (London, 1877); and Smiles' Lives of the Engineer's.