Bodmer, Johann Georg

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b. 9 December 1786 Zurich, Switzerland
d. 30 May 1864 Zurich, Switzerland
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Swiss mechanical engineer and inventor.
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John George Bodmer (as he was known in England) showed signs of great inventive ability even as a child. Soon after completing his apprenticeship to a local millwright, he set up his own work-shop at Zussnacht. One of his first inventions, in 1805, was a shell which exploded on impact. Soon after this he went into partnership with Baron d'Eichthal to establish a cotton mill at St Blaise in the Black Forest. Bodmer designed the water-wheels and all the machinery. A few years later they established a factory for firearms and Bodmer designed special machine tools and developed a system of interchangeable manufacture comparable with American developments at that time. More inventions followed, including a detachable bayonet for breech-loading rifles and a rifled, breech-loading cannon for 12 lb (5.4 kg) shells.
Bodmer was appointed by the Grand Duke of Baden to the posts of Director General of the Government Iron Works and Inspector of Artillery. He left St Blaise in 1816 and entered completely into the service of the Grand Duke, but before taking up his duties he visited Britain for the first time and made an intensive five-month tour of textile mills, iron works, workshops and similar establishments.
In 1821 he returned to Switzerland and was engaged in setting up cotton mills and other engineering works. In 1824 he went back to England, where he obtained a patent for his improvements in cotton machinery and set up a mill near Bolton incorporating his ideas. His health failing, he was obliged to return to Switzerland in 1828, but he was soon busy with engineering works there and in France. In 1833 he went to England again, first to Bolton and four years later to Manchester in partnership with H.H.Birley. In the next ten years he patented many more inventions in the fields of textile machinery, steam engines and machine tools. These included a balanced steam engine, a mechanical stoker, steam engine valve gear, gear-cutting machines and a circular planer or vertical lathe, anticipating machines of this type later developed in America by E.P. Bullard. The metric system was used in his workshops and in gearing calculations he introduced the concept of diametral pitch, which then became known as "Manchester Pitch". The balanced engine was built in stationary form and in two locomotives, but although their running was remarkably smooth the additional complication prevented their wider use.
After the death of H.H.Birley in 1846, Bodmer removed to London until 1848, when he went to Austria. About 1860 he returned to his native town of Zurich. He remained actively engaged in all kinds of inventions up to the end of his life. He obtained fourteen British patents, each of which describes many inventions; two of these patents were extended beyond the normal duration of fourteen years. Two others were obtained on his behalf, one by his brother James in 1813 for his cannon and one relating to railways by Charles Fox in 1847. Many of his inventions had little direct influence but anticipated much later developments. His ideas were sound and some of his engines and machine tools were in use for over sixty years. He was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1835.
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Bibliography
1845, "The advantages of working stationary and marine engines with high-pressure steam, expansively and at great velocities; and of the compensating, or double crank system", Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 4:372–99.
1846, "On the combustion of fuel in furnaces and steam-boilers, with a description of Bodmer's fire-grate", Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 5:362–8.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1868–9, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 28:573–608.
H.W.Dickinson, 1929–30, "Diary of John George Bodmer, 1816–17", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 10:102–14.
D.Brownlie, 1925–6, John George Bodmer, his life and work, particularly in relation to the evolution of mechanical stoking', Transactions of the Newcomen Society 6:86–110.
W.O.Henderson (ed.), 1968, Industrial Britain Under the Regency: The Diaries of Escher, Bodmer, May and de Gallois 1814–1818, London: Frank Cass (a more complete account of his visit to Britain).
RTS

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

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