White, Sir William Henry

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. 2 February 1845 Devonport, England
d. 27 February 1913 London, England
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English naval architect distinguished as the foremost nineteenth-century Director of Naval Construction, and latterly as a consultant and author.
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Following early education at Devonport, White passed the Royal Dockyard entry examination in 1859 to commence a seven-year shipwright apprenticeship. However, he was destined for greater achievements and in 1863 passed the Admiralty Scholarship examinations, which enabled him to study at the Royal School of Naval Architecture at South Kensington, London. He graduated in 1867 with high honours and was posted to the Admiralty Constructive Department. Promotion came swiftly, with appointment to Assistant Constructor in 1875 and Chief Constructor in 1881.
In 1883 he left the Admiralty and joined the Tyneside shipyard of Sir W.G. Armstrong, Mitchell \& Co. at a salary of about treble that of a Chief Constructor, with, in addition, a production bonus based on tonnage produced! At the Elswick Shipyard he became responsible for the organization and direction of shipbuilding activities, and during his relatively short period there enhanced the name of the shipyard in the warship export market. It is assumed that White did not settle easily in the North East of England, and in 1885, following negotiations with the Admiralty, he was released from his five-year exclusive contract and returned to public service as Director of Naval Construction and Assistant Controller of the Royal Navy. (As part of the settlement the Admiralty released Philip Watts to replace White, and in later years Watts was also to move from that same shipyard and become White's successor as Director of Naval Construction.) For seventeen momentous years White had technical control of ship production for the Royal Navy. The rapid building of warships commenced after the passing of the Naval Defence Act of 1889, which authorized directly and indirectly the construction of around seventy vessels. The total number of ships built during the White era amounted to 43 battleships, 128 cruisers of varying size and type, and 74 smaller vessels. While White did not have the stimulation of building a revolutionary capital ship as did his successor, he did have the satisfaction of ensuring that the Royal Navy was equipped with a fleet of all-round capability, and he saw the size, displacement and speed of the ships increase dramatically.
In 1902 he resigned from the Navy because of ill health and assumed several less onerous tasks. During the construction of the Cunard Liner Mauretania on the Tyne, he held directorships with the shipbuilders Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, and also the Parsons Marine Turbine Company. He acted as a consultant to many organizations and had an office in Westminster. It was there that he died in February 1913.
White left a great literary legacy in the form of his esteemed Manual of Naval Architecture, first published in 1877 and reprinted several times since in English, German and other languages. This volume is important not only as a text dealing with first principles but also as an illustration of the problems facing warship designers of the late nineteenth century.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
KCB 1895. Knight Commander of the Order of the Danneborg (Denmark). FRS. FRSE. President, Institution of Civil Engineers; Mechanical Engineers; Marine Engineers. Vice- President, Institution of Naval Architects.
Bibliography
1877, A Manual of Naval Architecture, London.
Further Reading
D.K.Brown, 1983, A Century of Naval Construction, London.
FMW

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

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