Fairbairn, Sir Peter

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. September 1799 Kelso, Roxburghshire, Scotland
d. 4 January 1861 Leeds, Yorkshire, England
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British inventor of the revolving tube between drafting rollers to give false twist.
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Born of Scottish parents, Fairbairn was apprenticed at the age of 14 to John Casson, a mill-wright and engineer at the Percy Main Colliery, Newcastle upon Tyne, and remained there until 1821 when he went to work for his brother William in Manchester. After going to various other places, including Messrs Rennie in London and on the European continent, he eventually moved in 1829 to Leeds where Marshall helped him set up the Wellington Foundry and so laid the foundations for the colossal establishment which was to employ over one thousand workers. To begin with he devoted his attention to improving wool-weaving machinery, substituting iron for wood in the construction of the textile machines. He also worked on machinery for flax, incorporating many of Philippe de Girard's ideas. He assisted Henry Houldsworth in the application of the differential to roving frames, and it was to these machines that he added his own inventions. The longer fibres of wool and flax need to have some form of support and control between the rollers when they are being drawn out, and inserting a little twist helps. However, if the roving is too tightly twisted before passing through the first pair of rollers, it cannot be drawn out, while if there is insufficient twist, the fibres do not receive enough support in the drafting zone. One solution is to twist the fibres together while they are actually in the drafting zone between the rollers. In 1834, Fairbairn patented an arrangement consisting of a revolving tube placed between the drawing rollers. The tube inserted a "middle" or "false" twist in the material. As stated in the specification, it was "a well-known contrivance… for twisting and untwisting any roving passing through it". It had been used earlier in 1822 by J. Goulding of the USA and a similar idea had been developed by C.Danforth in America and patented in Britain in 1825 by J.C. Dyer. Fairbairn's machine, however, was said to make a very superior article. He was also involved with waste-silk spinning and rope-yarn machinery.
Fairbairn later began constructing machine tools, and at the beginning of the Crimean War was asked by the Government to make special tools for the manufacture of armaments. He supplied some of these, such as cannon rifling machines, to the arsenals at Woolwich and Enfield. He then made a considerable number of tools for the manufacture of the Armstrong gun. He was involved in the life of his adopted city and was elected to Leeds town council in 1832 for ten years. He was elected an alderman in 1854 and was Mayor of Leeds from 1857 to 1859, when he was knighted by Queen Victoria at the opening of the new town hall. He was twice married, first to Margaret Kennedy and then to Rachel Anne Brindling.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1858.
Bibliography
1834, British patent no. 6,741 (revolving tube between drafting rollers to give false twist).
Further Reading
Dictionary of National Biography.
Obituary, 1861, Engineer 11.
W.English, 1969, The Textile Industry, London (provides a brief account of Fairbairn's revolving tube).
C.Singer (ed.), 1958, A History of Technology, Vols IV and V, Oxford: Clarendon Press (provides details of Fairbairn's silk-dressing machine and a picture of a large planing machine built by him).
RLH

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

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