Denny, William

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. 25 May 1847 Dumbarton, Scotland
d. 17 March 1887 Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Scottish naval architect and partner in the leading British scientific shipbuilding company.
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From 1844 until 1962, the Clyde shipyard of William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton, produced over 1,500 ships, trained innumerable students of all nationalities in shipbuilding and marine engineering, and for the seventy-plus years of their existence were accepted worldwide as the leaders in the application of science to ship design and construction. Until the closure of the yard members of the Denny family were among the partners and later directors of the firm: they included men as distinguished as Dr Peter Denny (1821(?)–95), Sir Archibald Denny (1860–1936) and Sir Maurice Denny (1886– 1955), the main collaborator in the design of the Denny-Brown ship stabilizer.
One of the most influential of this shipbuilding family was William Denny, now referred to as William 3! His early education was at Dumbarton, then on Jersey and finally at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, before he commenced an apprenticeship at his father's shipyard. From the outset he not only showed great aptitude for learning and hard work but also displayed an ability to create good relationships with all he came into contact with. At the early age of 21 he was admitted a partner of the shipbuilding business of William Denny and Brothers, and some years later also of the associated engineering firm of Denny \& Co. His deep-felt interest in what is now known as industrial relations led him in 1871 to set up a piecework system of payment in the shipyard. In this he was helped by the Yard Manager, Richard Ramage, who later was to found the Leith shipyard, which produced the world's most elegant steam yachts. This research was published later as a pamphlet called The Worth of Wages, an unusual and forward-looking action for the 1860s, when Denny maintained that an absentee employer should earn as much contempt and disapproval as an absentee landlord! In 1880 he initiated an awards scheme for all company employees, with grants and awards for inventions and production improvements. William Denny was not slow to impose new methods and to research naval architecture, a special interest being progressive ship trials with a view to predicting effective horsepower. In time this led to his proposal to the partners to build a ship model testing tank beside the Dumbarton shipyard; this scheme was completed in 1883 and was to the third in the world (after the Admiralty tank at Torquay, managed by William Froude and the Royal Netherlands Navy facility at Amsterdam, under B.J. Tideman. In 1876 the Denny Shipyard started work with mild-quality shipbuilding steel on hulls for the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, and in 1879 the world's first two ships of any size using this weight-saving material were produced: they were the Rotomahana for the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand and the Buenos Ayrean for the Allan Line of Glasgow. On the naval-architecture side he was involved in Denny's proposals for standard cross curves of stability for all ships, which had far-reaching effects and are now accepted worldwide. He served on the committee working on improvements to the Load Line regulations and many other similar public bodies. After a severe bout of typhoid and an almost unacceptable burden of work, he left the United Kingdom for South America in June 1886 to attend to business with La Platense Flotilla Company, an associate company of William Denny and Brothers. In March the following year, while in Buenos Aires, he died by his own hand, a death that caused great and genuine sadness in the West of Scotland and elsewhere.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
President, Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland 1886. FRS Edinburgh 1879.
Bibliography
William Denny presented many papers to various bodies, the most important being to the Institution of Naval Architects and to the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. The subjects include: trials results, the relation of ship speed to power, Lloyd's Numerals, tonnage measurement, layout of shipyards, steel in shipbuilding, cross curves of stability, etc.
Further Reading
A.B.Bruce, 1889, The Life of William Denny, Shipbuilder, London: Hodder \& Stoughton.
Denny Dumbarton 1844–1932 (a souvenir hard-back produced for private circulation by the shipyard).
Fred M.Walker, 1984, Song of the Clyde. A History of Clyde Shipbuilding, Cambridge: PSL.
FMW

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

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