Rankine, William John Macquorn

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b. 5 July 1820 Edinburgh, Scotland
d. 1872
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Scottish engineer and educator
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Rankine was educated at Ayr Academy and Glasgow High School, although he appears to have learned much of his basic mathematics and physics through private study. He attended Edinburgh University and then assisted his father, who was acting as Superintendent of the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway. This introduction to engineering practice was followed in 1838 by his appointment as a pupil to Sir John MacNeill, and for the next four years he served under MacNeill on his Irish railway projects. While still in his early twenties, Rankine presented pioneering papers on metal fatigue and other subjects to the Institution of Civil Engineers, for which he won a prize, but he appears to have resigned from the Civils in 1857 after an argument because the Institution would not transfer his Associate Membership into full Membership. From 1844 to 1848 Rankine worked on various projects for the Caledonian Railway Company, but his interests were becoming increasingly theoretical and a series of distinguished papers for learned societies established his reputation as a leading scholar in the new science of thermodynamics. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1853. At the same time, he remained intimately involved with practical questions of applied science, in shipbuilding, marine engineering and electric telegraphy, becoming associated with the influential coterie of fellow Scots such as the Thomson brothers, Napier, Elder, and Lewis Gordon. Gordon was then the head of a large and successful engineering practice, but he was also Regius Professor of Engineering at the University of Glasgow, and when he retired from the Chair to pursue his business interests, Rankine, who had become his Assistant, was appointed in his place.
From 1855 until his premature death in 1872, Rankine built up an impressive engineering department, providing a firm theoretical basis with a series of text books that he wrote himself and most of which remained in print for many decades. Despite his quarrel with the Institution of Civil Engineers, Rankine took a keen interest in the institutional development of the engineering profession, becoming the first President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, which he helped to establish in 1857. Rankine campaigned vigorously for the recognition of engineering studies as a full university degree at Glasgow, and he achieved this in 1872, the year of his death. Rankine was one of the handful of mid-nineteenth century engineers who virtually created engineering as an academic discipline.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1853. First President, Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, 1857.
Bibliography
1858, Manual of Applied Mechanics.
1859, Manual of the Steam Engine and Other Prime Movers.
1862, Manual of Civil Engineering.
1869, Manual of Machinery and Millwork.
Further Reading
1873, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 21.
J.Small, 1957, "The institution's first president", Proceedings of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland : 687–97.
H.B.Sutherland, 1972, Rankine. His Life and Times.
AB

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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